Marketing to Non-Profits

Non-profits surround us, playing as significant (or maybe more significant) a role as for-profit groups. The YMCA, battered women shelters, food banks, and Habitat for Humanity stand side-by-side with churches, soccer teams, and fraternities as a few examples of non-profits contributing to the improved quality of daily life. One thing most have in common is a stunning lack of marketing dollars. This needn’t be a dead end, but does call for creative approaches.

The average American adult is exposed to 5,000 marketing messages every single day (!). Therefore, the first step is justifying your group’s existence in the public mind, which means understanding why your non-profit exists. Are you a social group? Do you raise money to prevent child abuse? Perhaps you help feed the homeless.

Whatever your cause, remember your best marketers are your members. Make the process easy for them by putting your purposes and goals into a succinct “elevator speech” – something that allows them to explain the organization in under 30 seconds.

Once you know how to articulate your organization’s purpose, the next step is to provide reasons for unaffiliated community members to care about you. Remember – there are many groups tugging at the same sleeves you’re reaching for. Explain why your group is different, better or more deserving than competing groups.

Blanche Dubois famously said in A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, “I’ve always relied on the kindness of strangers.” So does every non-profit group seeking commitments of money, time, and passion from an army of people to turn its dreams into reality.

To the question, “What’s the best way to market a non-profit organization?” your objectives should be the following:

  • Generating group awareness and interest: Assuming you have zero marketing dollars, publicity’s a great way to start. Write a brief story about your organization’s good deed and send it to newspaper editors or television stations. Get a few stories out and your audience should be more receptive to your pitch. New people will join or contribute money. If you establish yourself as a local “subject matter expert,” editors and columnists may seek out more information from you for their own in-depth stories, and provide your group even more media coverage.
  • Growing group membership and donations: Use networking to further build community awareness. Current members should reach prospective members, with your elevator speech guiding the conversation. Develop a simple brochure with a membership application that prospective members can take away from the conversation. Search for your target audience where they hang out For instance, Rotary clubs trawl for members at chamber of commerce events. Use your group’s story to invite potential members to your meetings. Then set part of each member’s fees aside for future marketing efforts.
  • Marketing the group: Build a web site to tell your story more completely. Include links to your group’s web site when you participate in blogs and online chats on subjects related to your organization. Develop and maintain a constant social media presence that shows your membership enjoying themselves at whatever they do with you. Build strategic alliances with related non-profits, interested for-profit groups, elected officials and newspaper columnists. Encourage prospects to return to multiple meetings to gain their acceptance of your group’s message (but if you charge for membership, limit the number of free meetings prospects can attend).

Successful marketing comes from branding. Develop a “look” for your group (logo, colors, font, etc.) that gets incorporated into your web site, brochure, membership pin, newspaper ads and other marketing vehicles. Don’t be shy about what you do and who you are.

Finally, train your members to speak publicly before other groups in the community. Their affiliation with your group and chapter should always be mentioned prominently, even when the subject has to do with their business. If members don’t have the skills or comfort level to speak publicly, consider having one or two volunteers join Toastmasters.

Since 1980 we’ve seen a wide range of non-profit groups implement marketing plans echoing the one laid out for you here. Almost every organization following this type plan grew – sometimes substantially – and went on to do big things after they started marketing more strategically.

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