Marketing for Non-Profits

It sounds like an oxymoron, but non-profit organizations can benefit tremendously from traditional marketing activities.

When you think non-profits, you think of a bunch of emotionally-driven altruists doing the impossible with almost no remuneration to provide services that keep disadvantaged people alive. That may be close to the truth in many cases, but more often the reality is a little less fantastic.

Many people who work in non-profits are givers who focus on the service, not the remuneration, that part is true. Unfortunately, the experience these people bring is usually from some sort of government organization where competition and efficiency are not required or even considered.

Marketing is not a dirty word, nor is it the opposite of service. By harnessing some basic marketing techniques, you can grow your non-profit, providing services and employment to more people. That’s what you do it for, right?

Find Your Audience

The first step in an effective marketing campaign is to define your audience (who do you want to help?) and find out where they hang out. Sometimes the best place to start is with your existing client base. Ask them where they spend their time because chances are good they have a couple of friends who are just like them.

Once you find your audience, you have to think like a marketing professional to reach out to them. You are not trying to sell them anything, but rather you want to educate them about what your organization does and how it can make their lives better.

You may discover your audience on social media, maybe they are more Twitter than Instagram or vice versa. They may attend informational sessions put on by the state or county where you operate. By reaching out to certain civic organizations or even local businesses (depending on how small your town is) you may locate your audience.

It is always more efficient to talk to your audience en masse than one at a time.

Craft Your Message

Don’t be put off by the word “craft;” it is simply a term of art and has nothing to do with being crafty or trying to trick someone into doing something. You need a message that is designed to get your audience’s attention, pique their interest, and keep them engaged long enough to understand what you can do for them.

Storytelling is the latest buzz-word in marketing in all industries. It works just as well for non-profits, sometimes even better. You see, your story is often highly emotional, and people respond to emotion. Think about that one client whose story reminded you why you got into this business in the first place. That story would resonate with a lot of people who are in the same situation, and it has a happy ending because of your organization’s intervention. Everyone likes a happy ending.

Build Your Community

Once you tell your story (over and over again in various mediums) your community will grow. But that is not the end of this marketing story. As you provide help to more and more people, they become part of your community — harness that.

Many non-profits think of the group of people they serve as a family. Welcome them as members, introduce them to each other, and let them tell their stories (when they’re ready.) With you acting as the facilitator, the members of your community will help sustain themselves and even begin to attract new members.

By encouraging members to tell their stories, you are also developing your organization’s story from the inside out. Your story will become deeper and richer as you let members help to craft your message (there’s that word again, and still no nefarious actors). They will be grateful to you for providing the platform on which to share their experiences.

Where Profit and Non-Profit Collide

Marketing and the lingo that goes with it is traditionally associated with the evil act of selling items that people may or may not need and cluttering up our communication landscape with hollow images and jingles. But growing a non-profit is similar to growing a business is many ways, and growth is not inherently bad.

You can’t help people who don’t know you exist or understand the services you provide. In most cases, the government-style word of mouth approach does not work fast enough. You have to be prepared to engage some traditional marketing techniques to grow your non-profit. After all, your end goal is to help as many people as possible, right?


Christine Andola
Christine Andola
Christine has mastered the art of human connection working for more than 30 years in the communication and marketing field. Communication, whether it is with employees and new recruits or potential customers and your existing client base, is all about the people. Christine brings people together with their employees, with the members of their leadership teams, and with their customers and clients. Her customer service perspective builds long-term relationships with clients and helps clients develop connections with their target audience. Christine is also a highly successful copywriter with experience developing copy and brand voice for companies across a wide array of industries. At heart, Christine is a native New Yorker who has traveled the entire length of the Erie Canal by boat and navigated both the St. Lawrence and the Hudson rivers.

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