The Roadmap to Marketing A Nonprofit’s Mission

Co-Written with William Scheller

For many fundraisers, the concept of marketing is one that has taken a backseat in their non-profit. Creating a strategic marketing plan for the organization’s mission isn’t something that has been discussed in enough board meetings.

But if you ask anyone in a successful business about marketing, they’ll all say the same thing: Marketing is critical.

Why? Because, let’s face it: Even if you sell the most brilliant product in the history of mankind, no one is going to buy it if they don’t know it exists! The same concept applies to a nonprofit: No matter how noble your mission, no one can support it if they’re not aware of it. And your support is all about endowment.

Experienced fundraisers know that marketing is the key to raising awareness of your mission and establishing your reputation. They understand that focusing on marketing can help a non-profit skyrocket its fundraising results.

If you’re a business, marketing helps customers discover your products and gains their trust and confidence, leading to a transaction. If you’re a nonprofit, it works the same way: Marketing raises awareness of your mission, earns prospects’ trust and confidence, and turns them into donors.

Whether you’re a small nonprofit or a large, nationwide charity, this guide will direct your marketing efforts to efficiently connect to your target audience. You’ll learn tips on marketing your nonprofit through direct mail, social media, email, public relations, and paid advertising. And it doesn’t matter if you’re relying on annual campaigns, or have evolved to include planned giving — the basic concepts are the same.

An important note: Many of the helpful links in this guide lead to tips and techniques for business marketing. That’s because the fundamentals of marketing are the same. Instead of marketing a product, fundraisers are marketing a mission, a gift plan, or a capital campaign.

Marketing Fundamentals for Your Nonprofit

Begin by understanding your target audience, refining your brand identity, and defining your unique selling proposition.

A nonprofit’s target audience is the people who will support its mission.

The brand identity is how your organization communicates what it stands for, and what it does. It’s how your nonprofit communicates its mission to the world.

The unique selling proposition is what makes your nonprofit stand out in the crowd. It’s what makes donors support your nonprofit, instead of the nonprofit next door that serves the same mission.

Identify your target audience

To begin attracting supporters and donor prospects to your nonprofit, you’ll need to identify the person who is most likely to be aligned with your mission. This is your target audience—the person you should always have in mind as you design and market your nonprofit and its materials. Understanding how and why your target audience makes a donation will help you make informed decisions as you set up and build your fundraising efforts, and ultimately will be key to determining which marketing tactics will deliver the most donations (in business lingo, this equates to sales or conversions).

Define core demographics

If you’re a new nonprofit, it can be helpful to create a profile of your potential audience. Picture the person who will align themselves with and support your mission. As you’re creating your fundraising campaigns, consider the defining characteristics of your core demographic. Factors such as age, income level, cultural traditions, political leanings and personal beliefs will all have an impact on the level of support you receive.

Create a roadmap to build trust

As you consider the relationship you wish to build with your target audience, consider that all donations are given based on the trust your nonprofit develops.  Trust consists of three core components:

  1. Credibility: Does your nonprofit deliver on the expectations donors have of you meeting the goals of your mission?
  2. Care: Does your nonprofit have the ability to anticipate and meet the future needs of your mission?
  3. Congruency: Does your nonprofit share the core values of your target audience?

Develop measurement metrics

It is said that “without a destination, you will never know when you’ve arrived.”

This goes for understanding what you wish to accomplish with your marketing efforts.  Benchmarking your starting point and growth objectives is critical to understanding your progress, or lack thereof.

A subscription to Google Analytics will provide you with a breakdown of your audience demographics by age, location, gender, and interests. Google for Nonprofits has a specific guide to tracking relevant insights and stats — including measuring the success of your marketing campaigns, and seeing where your website visitors are coming from.

Social Media

Social media can offer invaluable insights about your supporters. Whether you’re using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or another social channel to engage with your audience, each new follower’s interests, activities, and preferences will help give you a greater understanding of your target audience.

Learn more about your target audience by checking out their profiles to understand their lifestyles and activities.  Most platforms show analytics, and you should frequently check these to make sure you are reaching the right people.  Authentic interaction will also help build relationships and trust, so prompting your audience to respond and then replying to comments is a great strategy.

On Instagram, for example, encouraging your followers to tag you in photos where they’re attending fundraisers, volunteering to help your mission, or benefiting from your mission in some way will give you a good idea of how your nonprofit’s brand fits into their daily lives. Does your organization rescue dogs? Encourage users to tag you in photos of their canine companions, and study the photos for clues that could guide your next marketing mailer. Create a contest, in which the winner’s dog photo is used in your next fundraising appeal.

A top tip for Instagram is to create content that is sharable or provides a lot of value to your audience. Instagram favors content that has high engagement (likes, shares, or comments), and will boost your account in its algorithm. Valuable content that relates to your mission is essential.

In addition, participate in online communities and forums where your supporters already interact. Join conversations and pay attention to topics of discussion; you might discover unmet needs that will help you refine your gift plan offerings.

Target your supporters

The ultimate goal of your research is to define a profile for your target audience, using details to identify their personality.  Keep their needs and desires in mind as you fine-tune your planned gift offerings and formulate your marketing strategy. Ask yourself, will this content resonate with your audience? Should you post an inspirational Instagram post? A donor story? A sponsored Sunday feature on a rescue dog’s new life?

Now that you’ve identified the persona of your target audience, you can determine where, when, and how to most effectively engage these supporters throughout their donor journey.

Create your brand identity and unique selling proposition

Your target audience needs a compelling reason to choose your nonprofit over any others that share your mission. So how do you differentiate your nonprofit to make sure you stand out against the competition? (Yes, even in the nonprofit world, there’s competition.) The key is having a strong brand identity.  The following section explains how to build a successful brand by setting clear expectations for your nonprofit and delivering on them consistently.

Make a promise

A brand is the promise that your nonprofit makes to its supporters and those it serves. Your brand identity is not only the image that your organization projects, it’s the set of expectations that your supporters associate with that image. A good brand signals to your supporters what your nonprofit stands for and how it will carry out its mission.

Define your brand identity

Establishing your brand identity begins with deciding what sort of promise you want to make to your supporters and those you serve. Are you committed to empowering at-risk communities through education? Do you work to save important habitats from destruction?  How do you achieve your mission?

If you’re having trouble identifying your brand, try asking yourself the following questions: What are my nonprofit’s core values? Who does my mission serve, and what problems do I solve for them? What are the unique features and benefits of my nonprofit’s services or offerings? What does my nonprofit offer that no one else does? What emotions do I want my supporters to feel when thinking of my nonprofit’s brand?

Brand strategists often work with brand archetypes. There are 12 archetypes developed by Carl Jung that businesses and non-profits can align with. Discovering your brand archetype and working your brand strategy around your mission can help ensure that your message and identity stay consistent across platforms.

Form your unique selling proposition

Together, the differentiating qualities of your brand can be summarized and packaged to form a unique selling proposition or USP. A USP is a bold, expressive statement that conveys the unique benefits your nonprofit offers over the competition.

Think of it as an elevator pitch.  If you rescue abandoned dogs, you might say, “We’re giving forgotten canines new hope and forever homes.”

Test various USPs at different stages of the donor experience to see which one works best.

Practical market research methods

Find your competitive advantage to optimize your marketing efforts through developing a better understanding of your supporters’ wants and needs.

Make market research the foundation of your operation to help you stay connected to the pulse of your target audience and discover meaningful insights to guide strategic decisions about your nonprofit’s direction and marketing. Common ways to collect information directly from your target audience (known as “secondary market research”), include examining data from your analytics and social media sites, as well as reviewing research that has already been compiled, gathered, organized, and published by others.

Should you need to gain additional insights, you could conduct “primary market research,” which involves going directly to a source – usually customers and prospective customers in your target market – to ask questions and gather information. Primary research can be expensive, but if your nonprofit is planning on executing a major campaign, it will yield insights to deliver greater results.

When you conduct primary research, you’re typically gathering two basic kinds of information:

  1. Exploratory. This research is general and open-ended, and typically involves lengthy interviews with an individual or small group.
  2. Specific. This research is more precise, and is used to solve a problem identified in exploratory research. It involves more structured, formal interviews.

Types of primary research are:

  • Interviews (telephone or face-to-face)
  • Surveys (online or mail)
  • Questionnaires (online or mail)
  • Focus groups

The following tips are designed to help you get started with your own market research and gain a deeper understanding of your target audience without resorting to comprehensive primary research.

  • Watch which campaigns work (and which don’t)

Successful fundraisers run on data. Do supporters respond better to direct mail, or email? Did the pledge card with the picture of a puppy get a better response, or was it the one with the older, injured dog? You can do keyword searches on Google using tools to determine prospect interest, and track your website traffic volume through Google Analytics.

  • Capture information from supporter questions and habits

Paying close attention to the details your supporters share via email, social media, and conversations can help you inform and update your approach. Do your supporters tend to be animal lovers? Liberal? Conservative? Have children or grandchildren? Are you receiving a lot of questions about a specific aspect of your mission? Receiving ongoing requests for information about a particular gift plan? Considering how you communicate with your supporters can help you better understand the unique needs of your target audience.

If you are just beginning your marketing strategy and do not have a lot of engagement on social media platforms, there are other methods of discovering what your audience wants to know. There are sites available like www.answerthepublic.com, which allows you to access the top questions asked in search engine on a particular topic related to your mission.

A quick search of “animal rescues” brings up questions such as “Why are animal rescues important?” and “How do I rescue an animal?” Using these questions as a starting point can help you create relatable content quickly.

  • Send out surveys

What’s important to your supporters? What other nonprofits or causes do they support? What aspects of your nonprofit would they like to see improve? Encourage supporters to leave feedback, which will help you learn more about their expectations.

If you have an engaged social media following, you can also use the survey feature in your Instagram stories. Not only does this technique allow you to obtain information about your audience’s thoughts about your mission, but you are also creating new content. This is a highly effective method of engagement.

  • Get personal

Don’t just sit behind your desk making phone calls. Arrange in-person visits with prospects and donors. Any time you are able to meet with supporters face-to-face, you have a chance to deepen your relationship and build trust. What questions are they asking? How do they interpret your nonprofit’s purpose and value?

  • Use social media

Social media is an excellent platform to connect directly with your audience. You can present ideas to followers, involving them in the evolution of your marketing programs. Pay attention to what generates the most interaction, to ensure repeat success down the line. Both Twitter and Instagram allow users to tag their posts with hashtags, creating content streams that surface other relevant posts (and their followers), painting a much broader picture of other nonprofits your prospects support, and directing you to potential “influencers.”

As businesses are quickly finding out, Tiktok is no longer a kids app. It is being used by some of the most social media savvy brands in the world to promote their mission. Millennials are quickly taking over this platform, and it would be negligent to leave this app out of your marketing strategy. Creating fun content on a highly engaged platform can help you reach a larger audience. Anyone can go viral on Tiktok, and as many non-profits have already discovered, it only takes one 15 second video to become flooded with online donations.

Using all of the available information paints a more complete picture of your target audience, keeping your marketing efforts responsive and relevant.

How to Set and Reach Your Marketing Goals

Before you launch a new marketing campaign, identify what you want to accomplish.  What is most important to your nonprofit mission and a particular campaign? Setting goals will allow you to track what worked (and what didn’t) to help refine future strategies.

Define a Goal

What is the marketing objective of your campaign?  Nonprofits typically seek the following:

Engagement

Does your campaign seek to have prospects actively participate in some area of marketing efforts? Audience engagement can be achieved through meaningful social shares and hashtags, participation in giveaway contests to build mailing lists, or producing value-adding blog content through response to provocative postings.

Awareness

When awareness of your nonprofit’s mission is high, your target audience can quickly and correctly identify your brand. Your branding and the overall look both contribute to supporters’ ability to understand what your nonprofit is about.

Some approaches for increasing awareness could include launching a paid ad campaign, partnering with a complementary nonprofit or business, or creating shareable content that establishes your expertise about your mission, who you serve, and the problems you can help overcome. Shareable evergreen content can become a passive form of marketing that can still be effective months down the road.

Donations

A common goal of nonprofit campaigns is to increase donations.

If you’re receiving visits to your website or landing page but are receiving few donations (conversions), you may not be reaching your target audience or creating a compelling proposition. In such cases, it may be time to revise strategies and tactics or perhaps offer a matched donation program.

Prospecting

Perhaps your goal is to develop a larger email database.  If you haven’t been gaining as many followers or subscribers as you’d like, you may need to “sweeten the offering” by providing incentives, like giveaways.

Visits

Visits represent the number of people browsing your website. A visitor might browse around for information about your mission, then make a donation, while another quickly looks around and then walks out. You could launch a paid ad campaign to draw more visitors to your site, or collaborate with a complementary site on a cross-promotional social media campaign.

Conversions

Your conversion rate is calculated by dividing the number of donations by the number of visits. For example, if a landing page receives 10 donations and 200 visits, the conversion rate for that landing page is 5%.  If prospects are clicking on your gift plans but not donating, you may need to review copy and test variations of your landing page (A:B testing).  You could try running a promotion or reach out to an influencer on social media for support.

What does success look like

You’ve chosen an objective, but how will you know if the campaign is a success?  The following metrics can be used to help understand how your campaign is progressing and can also provide insights into potential optimization strategies.

Know your metrics

Setting a measurable goal is imperative to developing a productive marketing campaign. What variables will help realize the magnitude of success for a campaign?

  • Engagement might be tracked by the number of times (clicks) an email newsletter is “opened,” or how many likes and comments a social media post generates.
  • To measure awareness, you might track how many repeat donors you gain after launching your campaign, the search volume of your brand name, and the direct traffic to your site.
  • Increasing donations, visits, and building a follower or subscriber base can be measured by percentage increase. Think about your cost/benefit ratio that brings you to break-even and what percent increase you’d like to see. For example, your aim could be to increase annual donations per month by 30% by the end of the year, or to increase your number of Instagram followers by 50% within a year from the campaign launch date.  These variables would assign a monetary value to each new individual based on historical valuations.

Now that you know what numbers to track, record the current status of those numbers and where you’d like them to be in about a month.  You can track your progress on an Excel spreadsheet or jot them down in a notebook; however, you’ll need to know where you started (your baseline) in order to learn from your data later.

Avoid premature conclusions

It’s tempting to check on your numbers frequently, but reserve any preliminary conclusions until after a month has passed. Give your campaign enough time to perform.

Track the numbers

Once your campaign has been running for one month, take a look at the statistics you’re tracking. Record the changes in your spreadsheet or notebook, alongside your starting point data. Also, look up your year-over-year data for this metric to help interpret seasonal fluctuations or trends. Make note of any other promotions or marketing efforts and the dates for each as well, so you have a sense of other factors that could be affecting your results.

Make adjustments based on your insights

If you’re on track to reach your goal, continue to monitor your campaign’s activity and record results each month. You might think about investing even more into your campaign. For example, if your paid ads are performing well, you may want to build on that momentum by increasing your bids or daily budget. Or if a partnership with another nonprofit proved fruitful, you might consider reaching out to an influencer to collaborate on another social platform.

If your efforts aren’t producing the results you were hoping for, adjust your approach.

While there are many more aspects to creating successful nonprofit marketing campaigns, this primer provides a sound foundation to direct strategic branding to build solid relationships with high opportunity donation segments.

For more information on marketing for nonprofits with custom and turnkey solutions, contact PlannedGiving.com.

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