In the digital age, nonprofit organizations, like all businesses, need to market online to succeed. But marketing a nonprofit can differ from marketing a for-profit business. Instead of trying to increase sales, nonprofits need digital marketing to raise awareness, funds, and involvement.
Digital marketing, with its myriad channels and tools, is crucial to the success of a nonprofit. When you know what resources are out there and how to use them effectively, you can use digital marketing to increase your positive impact in the real world.
Why marketing can be tough for nonprofits
Even if you are on top of your online marketing from day 1, this aspect of running a nonprofit can be tough. Digital marketing success as a nonprofit starts with understanding what you’re up against, so that you can overcome challenges like:
By being aware of these common issues, nonprofits can create a plan that succeeds in spite of them.
How to create a nonprofit marketing plan
Before diving in, you should create a digital marketing plan for your nonprofit organization, just like any other business or for-profit company would. It’s an important part of a business plan that helps you use all of your resources—including your time, energy, staff, and budget—appropriately. First, it’s important to know how digital marketing works as a process. At its simplest, digital marketing involves 5 key steps, each of which should be covered in your plan.
1. Define your digital marketing goals
The first step of any marketing plan is to define your goals. What do you specifically hope to accomplish with your digital marketing efforts? Set your goals carefully—they should be SMART goals, which means specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely, rather than abstract or unreasonable.
Continually measuring your results against your goals will help provide consistency and direction for your efforts. As needed, you can adjust your goals to more realistically reflect what can be done and what methods work best for your organization. Although it’s important to have upfront goals, it’s difficult to know for sure what strategies and expectations will be most effective until you have begun actively employing them.
2. Understand your audience
The purpose of marketing is to connect with and engage your target audience. The best way to do that is to know who your audience is and understand important things about them, like their concerns, desires, and pain points. It’s crucial to research your audience and learn as much about them as possible. Use that information to determine the best way to reach them. There are several tactics you can use to find your target audience, such as:
3. Refine your message
With your goals and audience in mind, you can then start to craft the message you want to send through your marketing materials. Take the time to refine that message so it’s just right for your audience but still supports your goals. Whatever your message is, it should be clear, engaging, and memorable for your audience.
Like your goals, your message should be open for revision, in order to stay relevant to your efforts as they evolve. It’s vital that the messaging of your organization matches its actions, and that it’s consistently promoted throughout every level of the organization.
You may have 1 message or multiple messages, depending on your goals and the scope of your projects. It can be helpful to keep your initial messaging simple. This will give both your organization and your audience a clear idea of what you’re about and where you want to go. You can always broaden your message as your organization gains more experience and develops its identity.
4. Create and distribute your content
Next, it’s time to create content centered around your message and share it with your audience.
In some cases, this may be relatively simple. You might craft a marketing email or a new series of blog posts. In other cases, creating your content can be far more involved, like if you’re creating a podcast or promotional video.
Once you know what content you plan to create, you can think about the best ways to share it. Tools like a content studio may be helpful to keep your branding streamlined. Based on what you know about your audience, consider what you will distribute through which channels. And by using an all-in-one Marketing Platform, you can do much of this work from a single place.
Again, it’s best to start simple. You’ll learn from each channel and campaign what works best, so that you can change as you grow. Be realistic about how much bandwidth you have to craft and share content, and focus on what works.
5. Track, measure, and refine your efforts
Finally, make a plan to track everything you do and measure the results against your goals and budget. You will need a clear idea of how your efforts perform to know whether your strategy is working or not. If your results don’t match your goal, you may need to adjust your strategy.
Measuring results is a vital part of the process that helps you ensure that your goals are achievable and your strategies are consistent with your core objectives. Both qualitative and quantitative data are extremely valuable in terms of building the best marketing strategy possible. Take a close look at your data, but also be sure to track the feedback you receive from your audience in their responses to emails, social posts, and surveys.
Digital marketing strategies for nonprofits
Digital marketing offers many different ways to reach your audience, all of which can be hugely beneficial for nonprofits. To decide what’s best for your organization, it’s helpful to know more about the benefits of each tactic and how to use it for your needs.
With the many options available to you, it can be tempting to take on more than you can manage. It’s important to choose the best strategy for your organization, your goals, and your capabilities. It will serve you much better to do an excellent job engaging with your audience on a few platforms than to garner a smattering of content and spotty engagement on many different platforms.
Content marketing involves creating digital content and resources, like blog posts and white papers, and sharing that content with your audience. Your content should be unique and interesting, but there are a few basic qualities that good content has in common. High-quality content should be:
Infographics are a powerful content marketing asset you can use to illustrate why your cause matters to your target audience. Providing information in the quickest, most digestible format possible is practical and effective. This is especially the case for important but complex data. There are a few good rules of thumb to follow when it comes to the use of infographics in your online marketing strategy:
CRM (customer relationship management) is the management of interactions between an organization and its audience. Marketing CRM software streamlines these interactions by automating many activities relating to customer relationship management, like generating leads and collecting consumer data. This is especially useful for nonprofit organizations that face inconsistent staffing. Automating customer relationship tasks takes some of the burden off of actual staff members and allows long-term consistency with little training.
Email marketing is a great way to generate leads and keep your audience up-to-date with the goings-on of your organization. Email marketing is especially useful to nonprofits because it’s so easy to automate, often managed via CRM software.
However, while email marketing can be a great tool, it should be used thoughtfully. Send emails with information and initiatives that are likely to really grab the interest of your audience, don’t spam them with every minor effort or company update. And as with other facets of digital marketing, it’s important to constantly measure the success of your email marketing campaign against your goals.
It may sound out of place for an organization that isn’t looking to profit off of their marketing endeavors, but digital advertising and nonprofits do go hand-in-hand. This channel is effective for building awareness and fundraising.
Ads can be attached to your content in a wide variety of ways. You can create an ad for social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram, or even on a search engine itself. However, it’s important to research which platforms or search engines do or don’t offer advertising, and what their rules are for doing so. For example, many platforms will not monetize content that is considered “explicit.” In addition to funding, online ads are also helpful for getting your brand and your message out there.
Social media marketing is an absolute necessity for any organization. Because social media is used pervasively, it’s just as important for your nonprofit organization to have social media profiles as it is to have a fully-functioning website. The following strategies can help your social media presence be as effective as possible:
Videos are a simple and effective means to communicate with your audience. They offer a compelling way to make your audience feel more engaged and establish your tone in a way that other mediums often can’t match. While video can be expensive to create, it doesn’t have to be.
It’s important to put as much effort as you can into video production, but ultimately telling your story is much more important. Speak honestly and passionately about your goals, and look for a narrative way to reinforce the cause that you support. This is the heart of a video marketing campaign for a nonprofit.
Similar to video marketing, webinars are a useful way to connect with and educate your audience about the work you do and why you do it. Webinar software like Google Hangouts allows your audience to interact in conference calls with your organization in real-time. Webinars are extremely useful in terms of engaging your audience and organizing volunteer efforts, without the huge cost of publishing materials or renting space for a physical conference. If you have an upcoming bakesale to raise money, for example, you could host a webinar ahead of time to teach volunteers how to run the event.
It’s important to make sure your website is aligned with your marketing message, easy for your customers to navigate and use, and search engine optimized. Websites are incredibly valuable (arguably even indispensable) resources for nonprofit organizations. Having an obvious central hub that acts as both a resource for information about your organization and a point of contact with it is essential. Your audience needs to know what you do and where they can find you.
Want to amplify your channels? Pursue a partnership
Partnerships can be a great way to make up for sparse resources. A partnership is an operation where 2 or more companies share resources to boost their online marketing presence. In some cases, a partnership may even just entail cross-promotion of each other’s products or services. There are some simple ways you can ensure your partnership works to the benefit of everyone involved:
Free marketing tools for nonprofits
There are many marketing tools that you can use, free of charge, for your organization.
Mailchimp offers a wide range of free marketing tools and channels, including email, marketing CRM, 1-click automations, websites, and more. (And when you’re ready for paid features, Mailchimp also offers a discount for nonprofit organizations.) Other useful content marketing tools include:
Search engine optimization (SEO) marketing tools
Social media marketing tools
Marketing grants for nonprofits
For the marketing efforts that aren’t free, you can apply for funding. There are a number of different grants available exclusively to nonprofit organizations looking to better market what they do. Google Grants and the YouTube Nonprofit Program are 2 examples of advertising grants provided to nonprofits by private organizations. Meanwhile, there are many government grants for nonprofit operations provided on the federal, state, and local levels.
Additional resources and further reading
As you continue to grow your nonprofit organization through your marketing efforts, these resources will help you keep a pulse on your industry.
With every new strategy and effort, you will learn what works for your audience and improve. Keeping people engaged with your cause makes all the difference.