Nonprofit organizations exist to spark positive change.
The money these organizations receive doesn’t go to members as profit — it goes straight to fundraising campaigns and resources needed to achieve social welfare or community goals.
Because nonprofit organizations are meant to operate with the lowest possible costs, they often have smaller teams with restricted budgets, making it harder to run widespread marketing campaigns. Luckily, spreading awareness, generating funds, and forming a dedicated community are all possible with the right nonprofit marketing tactics.
What is nonprofit marketing?
Nonprofit marketing applies strategies to capture public attention and encourage action from an audience. Whereas traditional marketing aims to make sales, nonprofit marketing strategies typically have three goals:
- Spread awareness
- Solicit donations
- Gain volunteers
These goals are interrelated. Nonprofits earn donations and volunteers by spreading awareness. As an organization’s volunteer base increases, so do awareness and donations — and the more donations, the larger the potential budget to generate buzz.
Because nonprofits rely on help from others and usually focus on local causes, relationship building is central to their marketing strategies. These campaigns must generate trust between a nonprofit and its community to retain donors and volunteers to further impact.
How’s nonprofit marketing different from traditional marketing?
The key difference between traditional and nonprofit marketing is in the messaging. For-profit and nonprofit organizations use the same marketing tactics, such as search engine optimized (SEO) blog posts and pay-per-click (PPC) ads, but differ in goals.
For-profit businesses sell products and services with a main objective in mind: earn revenue. The aim is to gain as many direct purchases from customers as possible. Their message often focuses on individual interests — buy these shoes to run like an athlete, use our software to increase productivity levels.
Nonprofit businesses seek donations and volunteers instead of profit. In return, they offer tax savings, community support, and a sense of fulfillment. The messaging focuses on the satisfaction that comes from contributing to the greater good and supporting meaningful causes.
For example, say you work for a charitable organization that trains rescued dogs to be therapy animals for older people. To attract volunteers and donations, you might share content that expresses how contributing to such a worthwhile cause affects an entire community: fewer stray dogs and happier, healthier older people. Your focus won’t be on individual benefits, like running faster or working smarter, but instead on the greater good.
3 tips for creating a nonprofit marketing plan
A traditional marketing plan is a roadmap for developing and executing various marketing strategies with the goal of making sales. Nonprofit marketing plans include the same features, like a budget and resources, but focus on earning donations and voluntary participation rather than profit.
Here are three tips for creating a thorough and effective nonprofit marketing plan.
1. Define goals and methods
A marketing plan turns an organization’s core mission and long-term goals into realistic and actionable items.
To understand this better, let’s use the example of the therapy dog nonprofit. A key objective is to give stray dogs a better life. Here are a few goals to achieve this:
- Recruit 15 more volunteers
- Expand rescue radius by 20 miles
- Increase web traffic to website by 50% to grow brand awareness
Some methods for achieving these goals might be:
- Publish photos and videos of success stories and adoption-ready dogs
- Start a volunteer base in a neighboring town
- Create blog content and share it on all platforms
Set SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely) to ensure action items are well-thought-out and achievable in the timeframe available.
2. Understand your target audience
A target audience describes the intended viewers of an organization’s content. Nonprofits often have several segments in a target audience, including clients, donors, and volunteers, that require different messaging to encourage action.
Define each segment thoroughly. These micro-analyzed groups, also known as customer personas, outline unique traits attributed to each type of person you’re trying to reach.
Here’s a hypothetical customer persona for a climate change nonprofit volunteer:
As you develop a deeper understanding of your customer personas, refine and adapt your marketing strategies to their interests and habits.
For instance, to engage a segment of 20–25-year-old students who are searching for volunteer work to bolster grad school applications, send an email with the subject line “Save puppies and gain scholarships — volunteer today!” Personalizing the subject line and adjusting publishing times increases the chances they’ll engage and take action.
You could also research what social media platforms this demographic is on to post relevant content where they’ll likely see it. Advertising with in-person events or print materials on college campuses would also mean meeting this target audience where they are.
3. Choose marketing strategies
Before planning this year’s marketing campaign for your nonprofit, decide which marketing strategies will reach your target audience and help you meet your organization’s goals.
For instance, if your target audience is older individuals, find which methods reach them. Social media platforms like Facebook might be preferable to TikTok, for example.
In addition to the platforms you use, consider other factors like time of year. Using email campaigns to reach donors before Christmas might be most effective because it’s the giving season and people might feel more generous. During tax season, they might be less inclined to make a donation.
Now, what marketing strategies should a nonprofit use? Budgets and staffing resources don’t always allow for a team to execute five strategies at once, so here are some methods worth prioritizing:
Sending a few direct emails to new donors and volunteers might not translate into conversions, but a weekly newsletter with content that your audience values goes a long way. Email marketing raises brand awareness, increases engagement, and makes you visible in people’s inboxes.
If weekly newsletters are too much strain, consider monthly emails outlining project and fundraising goals and any vacant slots that need volunteers.
Use quality content, engaging subject lines, and persuasive language to encourage readers to take action in email copy. Avoid salesy calls to action (CTAs) and constant emailing — you don’t want to get flagged as spam.
Social media marketing
Nearly 60% of the world’s population uses social media, meaning it has expansive potential to showcase an organization’s mission and reach new customers.
Before posting, research what platforms your target audience uses, when they’re online, and what type of content they like to consume. Then, strategically post on the right platforms to interact with potential donors, volunteers, and clients.
Ensure all content is consistent, relevant, and expresses the organization’s goals to create a cohesive brand experience and reiterate your message.
If you’re tight on content creation resources, consider reposting content from your audience, aka user-generated content (UGC). This is an excellent way to engage with real people who are interested in your organization. It also helps you reach your target audience with authentic content they can connect with. People trust other people’s experiences — 88% of people say they consult reviews when researching a local business — so showcasing your fans’ posts might just persuade more people to check out your cause. For example, ask followers to upload 15-second clips explaining why they donated to your nonprofit or what it means to volunteer to raise visibility and leave positive impressions.
People are more likely to support a cause if they trust the people associated with an organization, so organize events for your executives to share the mission. Ask presenters to speak transparently about the cause and what’s needed to accomplish goals so audience members feel in the know. A speaker’s expertise on a subject could increase audience trust in the organization and its mission too.
You don’t need to start with a TED Talk. Even speaking at a local 50-person event allows speakers to share powerful stories to raise awareness and resonate with an audience of potential volunteers or donors.
A website is a central information hub that all emails, social media posts, and blog posts refer back to. A single piece of content won’t typically answer all of a person’s questions. But if your website is linked from social profiles and in email copy, and if blog posts contain internal links to other webpages, you’ll increase website traffic and provide readers with more information.
You can also use CTAs throughout the site to encourage conversion. For example, placing a “Learn more” button in the header and footer makes it easy for visitors to get in touch.
You don’t need extensive resources to create an effective site — visual web development platforms like Webflow allow you to build stunning websites without coding expertise.
Create an all-in-one marketing platform with Webflow
Building a network for email campaigns, social content, and public speaking events takes time.
When building your nonprofit marketing campaign, start with a great website. With resources like marketing tools and nonprofit website design templates, Webflow can help you showcase your organization’s core values to the people who care about your cause.