By Published On: April 19, 2023

Nonprofit marketers are constantly challenged by the less-than-adequate budgets they’re typically given to work with. Some argue that cause-focused companies would do better if they spent more on marketing.1 I fully agree but arguing that point is for another day. For now, let’s focus on how you as a NP marketer can get the most from the budget you have.

First, a word about donor appeals. While important, they’re just one small part of your larger marketing pie. The tips I’m offering here are more like ingredients that go into the pie. When combined, they’ll will a have a sweet effect on your overall fundraising efforts. So, lets’ get cooking.

Be trendy

I don’t mean donning your newest athleisure wear outfit (although I wouldn’t blame you if you did). I mean jumping on the marketing trends bandwagon. There’s a reason this stuff is trending—because it works.

STORYTELLING. For-profit companies, who’ve been busy talking about their product features since the beginning of time, recently jumped on the storytelling bandwagon because they see the power it has. But nonprofits have long been doing it. And you should keep doing it, even after the trend becomes passe. Nobody has better stories to tell than companies who do work that makes a real difference in the world.

When thinking about which stories to tell, keep your goals in mind. If fundraising is at the top of your list, tell a story about someone who benefited directly from the money you’ve raised. If creating awareness is important, tell stories that people will find interesting enough to want to share with others (because sharing—aka free marketing—is your secret sauce for getting the most from your budget). If it’s volunteers you’re after, tell stories about the stellar ones you already have.

VIDEO MARKETING. Videos have become one of the most popular and effective ways of capturing the attention of audiences across the globe.2 So use them often and put them everywhere (social media, emails, website, campaign landing pages, YouTube).

They can be any length and can be tweaked with captions and transcripts for greater accessibility. And they don’t have to cost a lot to make. Sometimes a less-than-perfect video taken with your phone can have more impact than a slick, highly produced one. Especially in the nonprofit realm. Not sure what to say? You could start by telling a story. 😉

CONTENT MARKETING. Creating content specific to your organization’s point of view is the best way to differentiate your brand. Make a structured plan that outlines where and when you’ll distribute your content. There are lots of tools available to help you do this. Or you can create a spreadsheet and a process for posting them manually (this may work better for smaller orgs).

The most important thing to do is make that plan. And then follow it as best you can. Don’t try to recreate the wheel for every piece of content. Repurpose copy and images to use in multiple places. Tap your colleagues for content ideas. Use ChatGPT or some other generative AI tool to get talking points (full disclosure: It gave me a few ideas for this blog). If you’re not sure where to put your content, do some research to learn where your audience hangs out online (more on that below).

PERSONALIZATION. This is probably more of a best practice than a trend these days. People expect their experiences with brands to be personalized. Use your marketing automation tool to populate emails with dynamic content (name, membership level, events attended, etc.). Make custom landing pages specific to audience segments and the action you want them to take. Use chatbots for welcoming visitors back to your website.

And then there’s good old-fashioned snail mail. I’m a volunteer for a nonprofit in my community and every quarter we hand address appeal letters to the biggest donors thanking them in advance for helping us reach our goals—we’ve tested its efficacy and found it significantly increases donations every time we do it.

Get curious

You can spend boatloads of time and money learning about your target audience. But you don’t have to. Try a survey—you can write and administer it yourself with the help of a tool like Survey Monkey (there’s a free tier). Your community already believes in what you’re doing and will be more than willing to participate. Interviewing certain people about the value they find in being a member of your organization will also give you deep insights you can’t get from anyone else.

Your website analytics can tell you a lot about your audience by providing stats on pages people visit, like how long they stay and where they came from. Email analytics will tell you if your messages are resonating with audiences by looking at click rates (not just open rates—those can be misleading). And social media analytics will tell you about engagement habits. Take a close look at this data and use it to adjust your strategies along the way.

Give your brand a once-over

How long has it been since you reviewed your brand voice and visuals to make sure they reflect who you are today? If it’s been more than a few years, you should probably get to it. Because things change, people change, design trends change, and your brand needs to keep up.

Even the biggest, most well-known nonprofits review and adjust their brand positioning regularly to keep in line with their goals. Big Brother Big Sisters completely revamped their brand to connect better with younger, prospective mentors (“Bigs”). The UK’s Teach First brand was visually fragmented with an inconsistent voice. Their staff wanted them to take a bolder stance—and that’s exactly what their playful new brand did.

If you’ve never been involved in a rebranding initiative, don’t worry. Branding doesn’t have to be scary. Companies like ours are here to help in whatever capacity you need.

Stay up on tech

The tools available to marketers these days are virtually endless. Some you need, some you don’t. Marketing automation is great for streamlining email campaigns and social media scheduling. Virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR) can help you create immersive experiences and bring your mission to life, like creating a virtual tour of your facility.

AI writing tools can help you create content, and AI predictive tools use real data to define audience values and drivers, giving you the insights you need to create more meaningful messages and campaigns. Chatbots are any easy way to provide personalized interactive experiences and answer commonly asked questions. And social media listening tools will help you monitor and analyze conversations related to your mission and programs so you can adjust your messaging as needed.

These tips should get you thinking about the myriad ways you as a nonprofit marketer can maximize your limited time and budget. Now get out there and do your thing—and let us know if you need help. Our history with nonprofits goes way back and we’d be honored to lend you hand.

About the Author: Danette Knickmeier

Danette Knickmeier
The number of hats Danette wears at the agency rivals the number of toppings you can put on a pizza. Now seven years into her second residency at cat&tonic, she enjoys putting her many talents to use, including (but not limited to) account services, project management, strategic planning, copy and content writing, general operations, and snack ordering. Her wicked planning skills and natural ability to keep projects on task—without annoying all parties involved—make her our go-to, get-it-done person. Danette’s first stint at [c&t] lasted six years before she got the itch to try on a few larger agencies for size. She grew professionally and made several life-long friends in those days, but she missed the small agency vibe and was eagerly welcomed back by her life-long [c&t] friends.
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