One of the most difficult parts of running a nonprofit is the administrative work and fundraising that happens behind the scenes. When you’re focused on meeting your nonprofit’s goals, the last thing you need is to miss those goals because you’re behind the curve when it comes to marketing your mission and the work that you do.
The key to making connections and drawing support is to work smarter, not harder, to reach potential supporters. Sharing your nonprofit’s work and thinking in marketing terms – like you might if you were running a for-profit business – can help you meet or exceed your fundraising and support goals.
With those out of the way, you can spend more time and resources on the projects that matter most to you and your supporters.
Here are some ways to market your nonprofit in a way that won’t leave your supporters with a sour “used car salesman” taste in their mouths:
1. Define Your Target Audience
Let’s face it: not every person you meet is going to relate with what your nonprofit does and want to support you.
Actually, that’s a great thing. There’s no company or nonprofit that appeals to every human being universally. And that’s what allows your work to really stand out.
Instead of using blanket approaches to raise funds or find support, look to audiences – groups of people – who are most likely to support the work that you do.
For example, if you run a nonprofit that’s dedicated to saving local ecosystems, look for individuals who are committed to the local landscape and already support other groups, like bird watching clubs, or events, like cleanup days, that are similar to yours.
When you’ve defined your target audience, you can better target your messaging to that audience specifically. Even if you’ve been doing okay with generic messaging, targeted messaging will not only resonate with your audience, but will encourage audience members to truly commit to your nonprofit, rather than to support simply through a one-time donation.
2. Prioritize Your Goals
If your nonprofit is like most, you probably have more goals than you could ever realistically hope to reach. Having audacious goals isn’t a bad thing but struggling to meet any of them because you’re trying to reach all of them is.
In order to better reach your goals, you need some clarity as to which are the most important and which can sit on the back burner. To do this, sit down with a list of the goals you’d like your nonprofit to meet in the next quarter, year or five years.
Then organize these goals by type and by urgency. Seasonal fundraisers or holiday events, for example, might take greater priority in the fall and winter but may not be top priority at a March planning meeting.
Work with your board to establish the most important goals for the period you’re working with and then divide these goals into actionable steps. As you break each goal down to its components, consider how you might delegate the work and how volunteers or donors might be able to assist.
When you know how your supporters can support you, you can develop calls to action and impactful messages to rally their aid. This type of focused goal prioritization can help you to form the rest of your marketing strategy. And in return, a well-formed marketing strategy will help you get the assistance that you need to reach those goals.
3. Make Your Messaging Clear
You never want your audience or even casual observers to wonder what exactly you do. Often, nonprofit founders get caught up with the cause that they want to support but have difficulty articulating what they do and for whom/what they do it.
This becomes a problem when you represent your nonprofit at a local festival or try to develop copy for a webpage or brochure. Even if you’re passionate about what you do, strangers are going to have a hard time connecting the dots.
You want your messaging to be crystal clear so that potential supporters can resonate with your mission and line up behind you to support it. It’s your job to answer the reporter’s questions of “who, what when, where, why and how” so that your supporters don’t have to pick around for answers on their own.
If potential supporters can’t grasp ahold of your nonprofit’s purpose within the first few seconds of a conversation or the first couple of paragraphs on a brochure, chances are they’re not going to keep pressing further to figure out what it is that you do.
4. Brand Your Mission
Once you have your marketing messaging ironed out, you can use that messaging to establish your nonprofit’s brand. While you’re perhaps not using branding in the ways that a for-profit business would: to display items or design advertisements, it’s still essential that you make your nonprofit stand out through a united branding package.
What does this mean?
Your nonprofit needs a uniform look and feel that makes it recognizable to outsiders and familiar to supporters. This includes things like a united color scheme, a logo, and other colors or shapes that make sense on everything from your website to brochures and volunteer shirts you hand out at a rally.
If you don’t know where to start when it comes to branding, reach out to a marketer or graphic artist who understands nonprofits’ needs and will help you to broadcast your message while drawing new support.
5. Mind Your Social Media Presence
One of the best ways to connect with your audience is to reach them online through popular social media outlets. Not only is social media something you’re probably already familiar with on a personal level, but it’s also free.
If you have a united branding force in action, you can use your logo and voice to portray your nonprofit online – even if you’re the only one who’s manning the social media pages. If you have other volunteers or staff members running your nonprofit’s social media accounts, then branding and a united voice are even more essential to keep your messaging cohesive.
You may be tempted to jump into social media with both feet but take it slowly at first. Look into social media platforms that you already know and let your nonprofit gain traction there first.
Some brands (both non- and for-profit) try to take on too much too quickly and lose focus or burn out. If you’ve got a small crew, focus on one or two platforms that you know very well. You’ll get more traction from a vibrant presence on a small number of platforms you can use competently than you will on a half-dozen platforms that you don’t know as well and can’t use effectively.
6. Give Your Nonprofit an Online Homebase
Your nonprofit needs to be online. There are many reasons why this is true, but one of the biggest unique needs for nonprofits to be online is that local physical communities can only offer so much support.
When your nonprofit is online, donors from around the country and around the world can learn about the work that you’re doing. They can also jump right in to support you, if you’ve enabled online donations on your site.
You can use your website to share content about what your nonprofit is doing and give volunteers an opportunity to learn more about how they can get involved on the ground. And for those who don’t live physically close to your nonprofit’s operating region, they can keep up to date with newsletters and support you financially – all from the comfort of their own homes.
7. Show off Your Work
Regardless of the status of your website, you need to show off your nonprofit’s work if you want to continue to draw support and enthusiasm for the cause you support. There are many ways that you can show off your work, from your blog to brochures, to speaking events and community outreach opportunities.
The way that you show off your work is entirely up to you, and only you know which avenues are best for your nonprofit specifically. Some nonprofits have the opportunity for very public representation, such as at rallies or in public broadcasts. Others work more quietly and display their work in meaningful places for those who they support and who support them.
Only you and your board know which channels are best for displaying your work, but once you identify them, don’t hold back. Share news of recent projects, preferably with rich photographs and a compelling story built in.
When potential supporters can connect with the work you’ve already done, they’re much more likely to get onboard with your ongoing and future projects. Don’t be afraid to show off a little to help drum up excitement for the work that you do!
8. Keep in Touch with Your Supporters
In business, it’s always more lucrative to retain an existing client than it is to recruit and onboard new ones. Likewise, in the nonprofit sector, it’s more lucrative to retain your existing supporters than it is to recruit new ones, even though you’re probably not considering your supporters in purely financial terms.
But your supporters are going to have a hard time staying engaged and igniting the passion that they have for your cause if they don’t know what you’re up to. This is why communication with supporters is absolutely critical.
And in the digital age, it’s easier than ever to engage your supporters in an intentional and straightforward way. You can use social media pages to post quick updates and photos and turn to your email newsletter to send info about upcoming events and volunteer opportunities.
If your supporters tend to be of a not-so-technologically-minded lifestyle (there’s nothing wrong with that!), reach out to them through avenues where they’ll be able to connect with your message. Send paper newsletters via direct mail or reach out to your local newspaper with press releases about upcoming events or changes in your nonprofit’s board membership.
9. Engage in Your Community
Many nonprofits engage in their community as a way of giving back to those who support them. Some even exist simply to give back to their communities.
Whether you support local initiatives or are invested in global mission half a world away, your local community should be aware of the good work that you’re doing. You never know who’s going to resonate with your message or where your next supporters are going to come from.
Engaging with your local community is easy. You can simply show up at festivals and contribute literature and conversation for those who attend. If you’ve got a larger budget or are particularly community-focused, you might even use a fundraising dinner or youth event as a cornerstone event in your yearly lineup.
If you’re already sharing stories and photos of your work, it won’t be hard to include your local community in this storytelling endeavor. Make posters to display outside of your local headquarters or draw on stories from local volunteers to share during stage time at a community harvest festival.
Put it all Together
Marketing your nonprofit is all about spreading the word to support the cause you’re already sold out for. When you have the support you need, your workload becomes all about doing the field work you want to be doing and leaving the administrative stuff on the desk where it belongs.
There’s no need to reinvent the wheel to market your nonprofit when there are so many simple business marketing tips that apply to any organizational style. Borrow from the expert marketer’s playbook and soon your nonprofit will get more recognition and support than you might have imagined possible.