What Is Nonprofit Marketing?

Nonprofit marketing refers to activities and strategies that spread the message of the organization, as well as solicit donations and call for volunteers. Nonprofit marketing involves the creation of logos, slogans, and copy, as well as the development of a media campaign to expose the organization to an outside audience. The goal of nonprofit marketing is to promote the organization's ideals and causes to get the attention of potential volunteers and donors.

Key Takeaways

  • Nonprofit marketing refers to the tactics and strategies nonprofit organizations use to raise donations and spread their message.
  • Nonprofit marketing includes a wide range of activities, such as direct mail marketing, mobile marketing, content marketing, and social media marketing.
  • A point-of-sale campaign relies on asking for a donation at the same time the potential donor is making a purchase.
  • In a message-focused campaign, the nonprofit ties its fundraising efforts to a high-profile current event that has already captured the public's attention.
  • In a transactional campaign, the nonprofit organization partners with a corporate sponsor to encourage consumers to use their purchases to assist in funding the nonprofit's mission.

Understanding Nonprofit Marketing

Not all nonprofit marketing is the same. How a nonprofit markets itself and its cause can vary with each cause. There are some similarities in how nonprofit organizations and for-profit companies approach marketing, but the differences are significant.

For one, nonprofit marketing can be challenging in that its ideas and causes can be harder to market and sell than products and services. On the upside, nonprofits—by their nature—have something that business-to-consumer (B2C) or business-to-business (B2B) marketers lack: a well-defined mission.

Nonprofits also have smaller marketing budgets than for-profit businesses, and therefore tend to receive less social media attention. Such budget constraints can make content marketing far more difficult, even though having a well-defined mission may make compelling storytelling far easier to accomplish. For example, causes that nonprofits frequently champion—like social issues, the environment, and healthcare—are far more conducive to compelling storytelling than most products or services.

Types of Nonprofit Marketing

Nonprofit marketing can take many forms. These campaign types may have similar goals—to raise money, awareness, and volunteer participation—but their methods can vary significantly. Below are a few types of nonprofit marketing campaigns.

Point-of-Sale Campaign

A point-of-sale campaign relies on adding the donation request to a purchase the potential donor is already making. For example, donors may be asked to add a donation to their purchase at a cash register in a physical store or online during the checkout process.

Message-Focused Campaign

A message-focused strategy encourages behavioral change or consumer action or drives awareness. These campaigns are frequently tied to high-profile current events that are already trending and being reported widely in the media. The messages are generally combined with fundraising and volunteer participation efforts.

Transactional Campaign

In transactional campaigns, consumer action (such as a purchase or response to a social media post) is spurred by a corporate donation. The nonprofit organization partners with a corporate donor to encourage consumers to use their purchases to help fund the nonprofit's charitable efforts. The corporate donor also benefits from the positive publicity and from the ability to align themselves with a charity that reflects its corporate values.

Nonprofit Marketing Issues

Nonprofit marketers also have diverse demographics to contend with. Marketers may find that older, wealthier donors to charitable causes need to be communicated with and appealed to in ways that are entirely different from millennials.

For example, older donors (baby boomers or Generation X) may still prefer print solicitations via direct mail, while younger donors might prefer to receive a prompt for them to donate via text or app. Print may be on the way out, but nonprofit marketers cannot afford to give it up because it still works with some donors. Similarly, nonprofit marketers cannot afford to ignore the mobile marketing space, which many younger donors expect.

The Role of Social Media

One of the challenges of non-profit marketing is to encourage people to donate to a cause without receiving anything immediately in return. However, many non-profits are finding that social media helps with this because it enables people to easily share why they are donating and to encourage friends and family to do likewise. In a sense, this is similar to word-of-mouth marketing. Social media creates a collaborative experience and gives participants a sense of actively making a difference in issues important to them.

In fact, social media is now dominating many areas of marketing, making it more of a pay-to-play game. This means nonprofit marketers, with their more limited budgets, can be at a disadvantage. Accordingly, one way to improve a nonprofit's ability to leverage the power of social media may include having each employee shoulder some of the responsibility of getting the word out as part of a concerted, grassroots social media marketing effort.