If you want to get more awareness and grow your organization’s donor base, then you’ll LOVE this in-depth guide to nonprofit marketing.
Each section contains many actionable strategies and tactics to improve your organization’s marketing. Curious about a specific topic? Click on the heading in the table of contents to be taken directly to that section.
Check it out:
Nonprofit Marketing Preparation
Interview your donors and constituents
Everything starts with the audience you’re trying to reach.
So before moving forward with any tactic, you want to make sure you have a deep understanding of the actual people who make up your audience.
Try to get to know them on a personal level. What’s their story? What drives them? What gets them out of bed in the morning?
By having these conversations, you can build empathy that allows you to genuinely connect with your target audience.
Create audience personas
Once you know who you’re trying to reach, it’s time to put that knowledge to paper.
It’s time to create a persona profile for each of the audiences you’re trying to build connections with.
These profiles should be specific, micro-level outlines of individuals in your target audience. (Not a macro, audience-level overview.)
We want to create a fictional representation of our audiences, including a name, tagline, their goals, and any obstacles they commonly face.
Creating these profiles helps center your marketing conversations around the needs of individuals, which in turn keeps you from watering down your marketing for too large of an audience.
Outline your visitor journey
Once you know who you’re trying to reach, it’s time to look at their experience with your organization over time. What’s it like for someone to move from totally unaware of you to becoming a raving supporter?
It’s easiest if you create a visual timeline for this exercise. Write out the average actions each of your persona profiles would take as they move from non-supporter to advocate.
Common steps to a visitor journey are where the visitor was before they find you, how the visitor finds you, how the visitor learns more about you, what you ask of them, and how the visitor can advocate on your organization’s behalf.
Define your nonprofit marketing goals
Most nonprofit marketing goals start with recognizing a need within your organization. What’s the big-picture change you’d like to see from your efforts?
For some organizations, it will be spreading your message and building brand awareness. For others, you may want to increase donations or raise other kinds of funds.
Maybe you’re trying to improve volunteer sign-ups. You might want to increase your membership enrollment or decrease membership cancellations. Or perhaps you’re trying to make some sort of concrete change within your local area.
With the desired result in mind, you can then start breaking your goals down into specifics.
Identify your success metrics
You can’t determine success unless you know where you’re trying to move the needle.
Are you seeking more engagement on your website? Then measure things like average time on site, number of new newsletter subscribers, and average pages per visit.
Focusing more on online donations? Then look at the average donation amount on your site, the number of online donations, overall site traffic, and recurring donor turnover.
By getting clear on what needs to change, you can start taking action to improve your marketing efforts.
Organize your analytics and data
After identifying your success metrics, it’s time to organize your data. What analytics and data sources do you have at your disposal?
Ideally, you’ll have Google Analytics, data from your email newsletter platform, and social media information at a minimum.
This process can be where you start to find gaps in your data.
Best case scenario is that you have a CRM ready that integrates with other services to keep your data in one place. If you’re missing any data points, try to uncover how to begin collecting them, so you have the data moving forward.
Decide which marketing channels to focus on
Now that you know your audience, goals, success metrics, and data, it’s time to decide which channels you want to apply your efforts to.
Are you trying to reach a younger audience? It could be time to look into newer platforms like TikTok, Twitch, Snapchat, or Instagram.
Do you want to help more people recognize your organization’s impact and understand what you do? Maybe your organization’s brand needs a refresh across several marketing channels.
Are you not seeing as much engagement from your newsletter as you’d expected? Then your newsletter is a great candidate for improvement.
Unless you have a large team, it’s easy to spread yourself too thin. Make sure you focus on only the platforms that truly match what you’re trying to accomplish.
Audit your current nonprofit marketing channels
Now that you’ve chosen where to direct your focus, it’s time to perform an audit of your selected marketing channel.
In your audit, you should list out the things that are going well and potential areas for improvement.
It may be helpful to look up nonprofit benchmark statistics for your success metrics as well.
With your audit in hand, you can start to break things down into more manageable tasks.
Get inspiration and borrow ideas from other organizations in your space
There are no new ideas in marketing. Everything’s been tried in one form or another.
So long as you adapt any tactics to your organization, you should feel free to borrow nonprofit marketing ideas from anywhere.
Do you know of any other organizations in your area with similar focuses? See if you could apply anything they’re doing to your organization’s marketing.
Are you a locally based nonprofit? Try to find other locally focused organizations and see how they’re raising awareness.
Know of some for-profit businesses that cater to the same audience as you? See if you can take some of their ideas and use them in your nonprofit marketing.
Outline your story and micro-stories
Storytelling is at the heart of effective marketing and fundraising. Creating compelling narratives is how you activate supporters and drive action.
Coming up with stories that resonate is more art than science. You want to cover the entirety of an inspiring journey of change from beginning to end.
Start from the very beginning, before the hero of your story began their transformation, up until they made their impact on their community, region, or the world.
Once you know your macro-stories (the overarching narratives of your org), break them into smaller micro-stories. For example, can you use the story’s start to get a reader curious about the finish? Can you use the middle of the story to inspire your visitors to act now?
With micro-stories, you can strategically weave your big ideas into all of your marketing communications.
Explore macro and micro-stories more in our deep dive into nonprofit storytelling.
Plan out any repurposable content
Now that you’ve assembled a general marketing plan for your channels, what might you be able to reuse in several places?
For example, if you plan to write more blog content, you could easily repurpose that information in several ways.
You could break your blog post down into 3 to 5 “big ideas” and create several Facebook posts featuring those thoughts. Your newsletter could receive a message linking back to the original post. You could create a YouTube video presenting the same information but with a visual component. And you could even record a podcast where you discuss the same topic in greater depth.
Remember: most people won’t follow you everywhere. If someone follows you on Facebook but isn’t subscribed to your newsletter, they will likely never see what you send to your newsletter.
By spreading your message across several mediums and platforms, you can cut down on the amount of work it takes to create new content while increasing the likelihood that you’ll reach your supporters.
Nonprofit Blog & Content Marketing
Create a blog content strategy
Blog content can be so varied that it’s helpful to create a unique strategy just for the channel. This will help ensure you’re covering all your bases while creating content that resonates with your audience.
To start, you should identify the end goals of your nonprofit’s content marketing. What are you trying to encourage blog readers to do? Working backward with the end in mind makes it much easier to reach your goals.
Next, you should develop ideas for what information your audience finds valuable.
What are the questions you commonly receive about your organization’s area of focus? Is there something related to your organization’s focus that your audience would like to learn more about?
With your goals and audience’s interests in mind, you can start to flesh out what sort of content you’ll need to create.
Maybe your locally based nonprofit can create some posts featuring changemakers in your community. Or your housing development organization could think about making lists of fun things to do in the areas of your housing units.
Remember: meeting your audience where they are is the key to forming a lasting relationship online.
Assemble a blog content calendar
Once you know your overarching content strategy, it’s time to start planning ahead. What content do you intend to create, and when will you publish it?
It’s helpful to group your future content into “buckets.” For example, you could decide to divide your blog content pieces into several different categories: current events, evergreen content (something that won’t become out of date quickly), appeals, content for donors, and content for program participants.
Once you’ve identified the types of content you’ll create, it’s helpful to decide how frequently you need to create various pieces of content.
How often will you make appeals? How frequently are you able to create educational/informational content? Placing your content roadmap on a calendar helps you visualize how often you’ll need to write new content.
Write educational blog posts about your area of focus
This shouldn’t be news to anyone, but people love learning more about their interests. So why not create content teaching your audience about something related to your cause?
For example, if your organization oversees a community garden, consider creating an article about how to garden with your local area’s climate zone in mind. Your visitors would likely love to learn how to grow their own food better and contribute to the garden.
Or, if you work with a local school, why not create a guide for parents covering things to do in your local area during the summer? Parents are always seeking fun, family-friendly activities to bond with their kids.
You’ll notice that the above examples don’t directly overlap with the organization’s cause. And that’s A-OK. Often, pulling a visitor in by presenting the information they’re looking for is the first step to building a lasting relationship.
Speak directly to a segment of your audience (and not everyone who comes to your site)
Being specific is a nonprofit marketing superpower. The more specific you can be, the more relevant you become to a group of people.
For example, if your organization offers health education services to new mothers, it probably doesn’t make sense to spend time, money, and effort trying to speak to anyone other than new mothers.
If your messaging doesn’t frequently mention new mothers, babies, and other terms associated with that stage of life, your audience of new mothers would likely become confused. They would lose interest because your content is vague and seemingly irrelevant to their busy lives.
The same goes for your nonprofit blog content.
The way you speak with donors is likely different from how you speak to program participants. The topics that interest prospective volunteers may not have much overlap with your potential donors. And so on.
Consider creating content that speaks directly to the needs of specific segments of your audience. You could even categorize content by audience so that it’s easy for people to read only the posts that they care about.
Answer your audience’s FAQs
If you frequently receive the same questions over and over, create an article covering your typical response. Go into as much depth as necessary to cover your frequent answers.
This accomplishes two things: 1) it empowers your visitors because they may find your article and see you answered their question before they could even ask, and 2) it cuts down on the time you spend answering the same thing over and over again.
Depending on the type of FAQs, you might even re-purpose this into a permanent page on your nonprofit website.
Create timeless or "evergreen" content
Lots of impact organizations focus on “current events”-type blog content. This can work well in certain ways, but as soon as you stop writing new content or there’s a lull in the news cycle, the content on your blog is no longer relevant.
Instead of focusing solely on current events, shift some of your content production to more of an evergreen focus. “Evergreen content” refers to content that remains topical and relevant for years (sometimes never going out of date!).
Evergreen content could refer to many topics and subject matters. Some examples are:
- How to groom your dog
- Activities to do around your local area
- How to prepare your student for high school
- Causes of systemic inequality
- The history of XYZ topic in your field
Create a shareable infographic
While text is useful for conveying information, images go a long way toward concisely communicating a message.
Do you have any statistics or data you could showcase in an infographic? Even if you don’t have your own research, you could assemble information from across the web regarding something related to your cause.
Putting information into a visual form helps breathe life into otherwise boring facts and figures.
And it makes it easy for your audience to share the graphic, expanding your nonprofit marketing reach and bringing more awareness to your cause.
Create useful content for your local area
If you’re a locally based nonprofit organization, consider creating content that’s focused on your local area rather than strictly on your organization’s focus.
For example, if you’re an organization that showcases local musical performances, consider writing an article about fun family-friendly activities to do in your area. You can include local music performances on the list, but don’t limit yourself to just that. Focus on creating a truly useful list of activities that are appropriate for both kids and adults in your area.
This would do three things.
First, you may be able to rank for search terms related to your local area, exposing more visitors to your organization.
Second, by mentioning non-musical activities in your list, you can build relationships with other local businesses and organizations.
Third, it creates a positive impression for your brand.
People will begin to think of you as an organization that truly cares about the community and “gets” them and their needs on a deeper level. You aren’t just talking about yourself.
Focus on quality over quantity
There’s lots of bad nonprofit marketing advice out there regarding your blog and website:
- “Publish every week, or your visitors won’t keep coming back!”
- “The more content you produce, the more likely you’ll rank better in Google,”
- “It doesn’t matter what you publish! Just publish anything to stay current.”
Don’t follow this advice.
The secret to having a successful blog is to focus on overall quality. You don’t need a lot of content. What you do need is quality content that your community actually wants to read.
Pretend there are two websites covering the same topic.
One website publishes a very short, semi-relevant article every week, while the other pushes out in-depth, actionable content every other month.
Which website would you rather read?
Do SEO research to identify keywords and topics
You might be asking yourself, this is great and all, but how do I know what to write about?
Great question. The answer is to do some search engine optimization keyword research.
Through keyword research, you can find search terms related to your nonprofit’s area of focus. You can see the exact words people use and figure out how many people make that search each month.
And as a bonus, many tools allow you to see the difficulty of a given keyword, helping you focus on the keywords that require the least amount of effort. This is especially helpful if you don’t have a huge nonprofit marketing budget to devote to SEO.
Good paid keyword research tools are Ahrefs and SEMRush. If you don’t have the budget, there are many other free options as well, such as Ubersuggest and Google Trends.
Make your article text easy to scan
When people read articles, they skim. Time and again, studies show that people don’t read articles top to bottom.
Instead, they scan until they find something that seems relevant. Only then will they start to read more attentively.
So what does that mean for your nonprofit blog posts?
Try to break up your text with nice, crisp headlines. Make sure they’re descriptive and contain the big idea. Throw in some bulleted lists and bolded text for good measure.
This will help your readers see at a glance what a block of text contains and will increase the likelihood that they’ll stick around.
Use images liberally throughout your posts
Continuing from the previous point on scannability, images add a lot of visual variety to nonprofit marketing—both content marketing and other types! They break up large chunks of text and incorporate “texture” into (what could be) an otherwise intimidating article.
But beyond helping skimmers, images help keep your readers engaged.
They can provide supporting visual cues to help readers understand and process the information. They can also add the human element to some text.
In short, don’t be afraid to sprinkle images throughout any piece of text that is more than a few paragraphs long. And when it comes to choosing images…
Use quality photography
The top mistake nonprofits commonly make with incorporating imagery is using obvious stock photos. Nothing screams “generic” like displaying the first picture that comes up when you search “smiling adults.” Your visitors can see through those images a mile away.
But not all stock photos are bad. There are plenty of websites that contain stock photos that look modern and professional and that display personality.
If you have a photography budget, consider looking through the iStockphoto or Shutterstock websites (they contain free options as well). If you’d rather save the funds, Pexels and Unsplash both have excellent, high-quality images for free.
Aim for at least 1,800 words per article
Studies have shown that articles that rank on the first page of Google have, on average, 1,400 words of content.
If you want at rank #1, however, you might want to write a little more. According to Backlinko, the #1 search result on Google contains about 1,800 words in total.
Does this mean that every single article you write should contain a minimum of 1,800 words? Not necessarily.
But if you have the bandwidth (and a topic that resonates with your supporters), you may want to write a little more to increase your chances of ranking at the top of Google.
Pro tip? You don’t have to start with 1,800 words! As the next tip explains, you can always improve published content later—and adding words is a great way to do so.
Improve your previously published content
One often-overlooked nonprofit marketing tactic is to evaluate old articles and spruce them up.
Maybe there’s an article written years ago that’s still relevant but could use a fresh coat of paint—whether in terms of tone, organization/scannability, or more recent data. Or there could be an old article covering something your community cares about deeply, but the content just isn’t all that great.
In either case, you could take the previous article and start incorporating strategic changes.
Try rewriting sections that seem confusing. Put in some new text to add more depth. Sprinkle more images and headlines throughout to make it more readable.
Just because an article is old doesn’t mean it can’t continue bringing value to your site.
Create data-rich, statistics-based content
Regardless of your cause, there are likely dozens if not hundreds of relevant data and statistics surrounding your focus area.
Why not package that information up into an easily consumable infographic or article?
While it’s important to start by drawing your visitors in with emotions (this is where nonprofit storytelling is key!), data and statistics help provide context that reinforces the gravity of the problem.
The medium isn’t really important here, however. So long as you assemble the relevant data into something comprehensible (like a chart, graph, attractive list of statistics, etc.), you’ll be well on your way to helping your audience understand your impact.
Allow comments on your articles
For effective nonprofit marketing, here’s a good rule of thumb: the more discussion you can foster around your service area, the better.
Providing people a centralized platform to talk about a subject is the first step to encouraging a conversation.
And what better place to allow these discussions than your blog?
Allowing your nonprofit website to serve as a watering hole for people to talk about your cause is an effective strategy for positioning your organization as the go-to resource for the topic.
And, as a bonus, any visitors who make comments will likely become more invested in your cause as they participate in the greater conversation surrounding your org and what you do.
Reply to all comments on your articles
One tactic that’s commonly overlooked by blogs of all kinds is to respond to each and every comment you receive.
Why is it important?
By replying, your visitors will feel seen and heard. It can also offer further opportunities to keep the conversation going.
Even a simple, “I’m glad you found this article useful” kind of response is much better than none at all.
Furthermore, by replying to all your comments, your article’s comment sections will appear much more lively, which can encourage other would-be commenters to leave a reply.
Write guest posts on other websites
Nonprofit or not, websites are always looking for good content.
If another blog has an audience you’re trying to reach and has crossover with your subject area, why not offer to write an article for them?
This can get your name in front of more people in your target audience. Ideally, you’d be able to weave in your organization throughout the content, shaping a narrative that can get new readers interested in what you do.
Most guest post publishers also allow you to link back to a website of your choice, meaning you can put a link leading back to your org at the bottom of your article. (Be sure to ask about this when you pitch the article!)
This nonprofit marketing strategy can help expand your reach by “borrowing” someone else’s audience in exchange for content. It’s a win-win.
Publish blog content on Medium
Medium is a blog content publishing platform read by over 85 million monthly users covering every topic under the sun. With such a large viewership, it’s likely that many of your organization’s audience also read Medium.
Medium’s claim to fame is its modern, professional layout and ease of content discovery. It helps get quality content in front of the people who are most interested.
You can write directly on Medium with original content, or you can republish your org’s content to get it in front of more people. Both strategies are commonly used on the platform.
Either way, it may be worth dipping your toes into Medium to see if it allows you to extend your nonprofit marketing reach to potential future supporters.
Write an ebook, whitepaper, or in-depth guide
While blog posts are a great method for reaching your visitors, it’s useful to mix up the formula a bit and create something larger in scope.
Is it more work? Yes.
But if you know your audience is interested in learning something specific, it makes sense to create something that covers the topic on a deeper level.
At its simplest, this would mean creating a new piece of content. But if time is short, you don’t necessarily have to create something completely new.
One option is to do something like create an ebook by curating some of the most popular posts from your blog.
By giving your visitors what they want, you’ll create real supporters with strong, positive associations with your brand.
Curate content for your audiences
Nobody has enough time in their lives. If you can somehow save them time or shortcut how long it would take them to understand something, that can help you stand out in the sea of other content pieces.
Maybe you know of several great resources regarding your focus area, but they’re spread out over several dozen websites. Or you have a great backlog of blog posts on your own site, but it isn’t apparent which ones belong on the “best of” list.
If you were to create a roundup post containing all of these resources in one place, you would make your topic seem much more accessible.
With less searching required to learn something, more people can begin learning about the topic.
And with more awareness regarding your cause, more readers will likely rise to become full-blown supporters of your org.
Other Content Marketing for Nonprofits
Start a YouTube channel containing educational information regarding your area of focus
YouTube is a goldmine of opportunity for nonprofit marketing.
Think about it: with video, you get about as close as you can to a 1-on-1 connection with your audience without actually meeting face-to-face.
Through video, you can easily get the information you want, you can put a face to a name, and you can learn more effectively thanks to both visual and auditory elements. That all adds up to building much more rapport (much more quickly!) with your audience.
Recording video content isn’t for everyone, and content planning can definitely take more work, but YouTube offers a compelling way for your visitors to learn more about your cause without requiring much effort on their part.
Start a YouTube channel where you interview experts in your field
A commonly overlooked tactic for YouTube is to use it as an interview platform.
Rather than creating content around you presenting information, you can make the process easier by simply recording a conversation between you and another expert in your field.
Your interviews don’t have to be involved productions. Just hopping on a recorded Zoom call for a 20-minute conversation with a few prepared questions is often the recipe for an engaging video.
So long as you ask thoughtful questions and keep the conversation focused, you can bring additional awareness to your org’s cause.
Create an e-course
Is there something you can teach your supporters?
For example, an arts organization could create a course about learning an instrument. Or art history. Or how to dance.
An environmental organization could create a course on sustainable living. Or how to prepare for future climate issues. Or what someone can do locally to help clean up their community.
If your community is interested in improving a skill or becoming more educated on a topic related to your cause, consider packaging it up in a course.
You can give your visitors something they want, educate them about your cause, and build a deeper relationship in one stroke.
And you could even tie up the end of your course with a “recommended donation,” potentially raising more funds in the process.
Host a monthly webinar
Webinars can cover a wide variety of topics but provide an excellent way for you to connect with your supporters.
Hosting webinars allows you to continue educating your audience about what’s going on in your space. And, as a bonus, you can grow your email list by requiring an email address when someone signs up.
As mentioned in the above tips, video is a great way to interact with your visitors. And since your webinar would be live, it feels more real and authentic than something pre-recorded. (You might even be able to repurpose the video into another form of content, extending your nonprofit marketing at a low cost.)
Start a podcast
Podcasts are exploding in popularity. According to some studies, there are over 20 million new podcast subscribers each year in the US alone.
Podcasting is an interesting medium because it’s a very intimate channel. By hearing someone from your organization speak about your cause, you instantly build rapport in a way you can’t through text alone.
You can use podcasts for nonprofit marketing in several ways. You could have a weekly episode talking about what’s going on in your space. Or you could speak about things from your organization’s perspective, giving your listeners an insider’s view. Or you could interview experts in your area about the causes that matter.
Overall, podcasting is similar to starting a YouTube series in terms of humanizing your org, except it requires less work as the medium is audio-only.
Leveraging Networks for Nonprofits
Establish strategic partnerships
A strategic partnership is a relationship where you can get help from another business or organization to further your cause.
Is there a particular cause you and another organization could pair up together to rally against? Is there some way you could leverage a business leader’s connections to create a real impact in your focus area?
Effective strategic partnerships benefit both parties in specific ways.
Each member of the partnership brings something to the table that the other wants, whether that’s name recognition, PR opportunities, network access, time, money, or some other resource.
By pairing up, both organizations can often expand their reach and overall impact much faster than they could on their own.
Form relationships with influencers
The rise of the influencer has changed the social media landscape.
Influencers are individuals who have large social media followings—or in some cases, smaller followings that are extremely dedicated. They’re often individuals, but they might be assisted by a team depending on their community and scale.
There are influencers for every topic under the sun: diet, real estate, exercise, board games, finance, and everything in between. Regardless of your community, there are probably several influencers that your audience follows and often hears from.
Similar to forming strategic partnerships with other organizations, see if you can get on the radar of any influencers that have overlap with your own community. This can help you reach more of the same people and get your cause in front of more potential supporters.
Ask your current donors to spread the word
People spend time with others who share the same values.
You can reasonably assume, then, that your current donors likely know several people in their own networks who would be interested in supporting your cause.
If each member of your current donor base told just one interested person about your organization, that could potentially bring in a lot of new interest.
And if these new people already share your values, you know there’s a higher-than-average likelihood they might decide to donate their time or money to help with your cause.
Consider encouraging your current supporters to just tell one friend about your organization. This can be done in several ways, but the simplest would be through your nonprofit email newsletter.
As your community grows, you can continue to ask for even more referrals, yielding lots of new potential supporters.
Organize a non-ask event
A non-ask event is a more formal in-person gathering where you ask your current donors to attend and bring others who might be interested in your organization.
Similar to the above suggestion, this method provides an excellent way to gain awareness with new people. The key difference is in the presentation of the first interaction.
As the name suggests, you shouldn’t make any asks or bring up fundraising during a non-ask event. Think of it more like a social gathering to network with like-minded individuals.
With the introductions out of the way, you’ve expanded your organization’s network and opened up new relationships which you can build on moving forward.
Set up a peer-to-peer fundraising effort
Peer-to-peer fundraising is a novel way to put the power in your community’s hands.
The execution can take many forms, but the main idea is the same: allowing your supporters to create their own campaigns to benefit your organization.
This tactic gives your constituents more control to push for your cause, helping them feel a part of something bigger while making it easier for them to leverage their own network to bring in donations and awareness.
Create a word-of-mouth referral system
Referrals are priceless. Generally, the more referrals you can gather, the stronger your community becomes.
When someone refers someone else to your organization, your nonprofit instantly gets a boost in the new person’s mind.
You’re no longer just a random nonprofit organization. Instead, you’re an organization that their best friend Raul or trusted colleague Jane recommended. And if I’m friends with Jane, then some of the respect and positive feelings I associate with Jane will automatically transfer to your organization, too.
Referral systems can be as simple or complex as you want.
At their simplest, you can offer some bonus to anyone in your community who shares something via email or social media. This bonus could be a physical gift (hats, t-shirts, etc.) or something that more directly benefits your cause (30 extra minutes of volunteer time cleaning our streets, sending a handwritten letter to a child in foster care, etc.).
In their more complex forms, you can roll out a database that allows your constituents to keep track of their referrals and that offers increasingly attractive bonuses for more sharing activity.
Think getting a shout-out on the website when you share 5 different social media posts, special content for anyone who shares 10 different posts, etc.
By giving someone a more tangible reason to spread the word (rather than something less tangible like “ending poverty” or “solving hunger”), you increase the likelihood of someone taking a small helpful action toward your cause.
Nonprofit Social Media Strategies
Identify your major social channels
When trying to decide which social media platforms to target, you need to ask yourself two questions:
- For my current audience, which platforms do they currently use the most?
- For any audiences I want to grow (younger generations, etc.), which platforms do they congregate on?
If this is your first foray into social media, feel free to take it slow and dip your toe in the water with just one or two platforms.
You can always revisit other platforms later once you’ve built up a good cadence with your initial platform.
Create a social media strategy
With your social media channels selected, it’s time to figure out your strategy for the channels.
The overarching strategy could be similar between all channels, but it’s likely you’ll need to make slight adjustments depending on your target audience and the platform itself.
On each social media platform, it’s important to identify what you want to happen after they interact with your organization.
Do you want your Instagram followers to also eventually join your email newsletter? Will you try to drive them to your website during fundraising asks?
You’ll also need to come up with an idea of the type of content that each audience cares about while also keeping in mind the format limitations imposed by each platform.
Are you a great writer but hate getting on video? TikTok may not be the best way for you to reach Gen Z.
If you have high-quality photography or graphic assets to draw from, Instagram is right up your alley.
Connecting with your audiences using different social media platforms takes time. But if you experiment long enough, you’ll bring widespread awareness to your organization that’s hard to match elsewhere.
Build a social media calendar
Planning out a calendar for your social media posts is helpful for several reasons. Especially since you’ll need to be frequently creating new content, a calendar can help you stay organized and on track.
Like with your strategy, your calendar will largely be informed by your platform of choice.
For example, if you’re using Twitter, you could be tweeting several times a day.
If Facebook, you may only post a couple of times a week (or even less).
It’s also good practice to try and break your content up into different focuses. Try to provide educational information rather than constantly making asks.
Remember: if you want to inspire your followers to donate, you have to put in the time to build that relationship first. Focusing solely on asking for donations can make the relationship feel transactional and push people away.
Repurpose and reuse your content whenever it makes sense
One way to stay on top of the social media treadmill is to always be looking for opportunities to reuse content across your platforms.
Have a high-quality Instagram photo with a short caption? You can add a little more detail and post it on Twitter and Facebook.
Hosted an interview with an expert in your field? You could cut that dialogue up into several noteworthy quotes and post them on several channels, each linking back to the full interview.
It’s unrealistic to expect completely original content for every social media account. But you should always be seeking to adapt your content so that it isn’t just a direct cut-and-paste either.
The key is identifying the expectations for each platform and making strategic content adjustments to fit that platform’s unique focus, format, and audience.
Engage with your audience through your Facebook page
Facebook pages offer a versatile platform. They allow several media types and are quick to set up.
While they may not always get the same level of engagement as other platforms, Facebook is easy to get up and running with. And since most content types work as a Facebook post, it’s easy to repurpose content from other platforms on your page.
While plenty of younger people still use the platform (the largest demographic is 25 to 34-year-olds), Facebook is also a great way to reach older generations. Facebook is the most popular platform for seniors, and they’re also the fastest-growing demographic using the platform.
While TikTok appears to be more popular with younger generations, in reality, Facebook has them beat in terms of pure numbers. There are more teenagers aged 13 – 17 on Facebook than on any other social platform (including Instagram and TikTok).
Overall, Facebook is an easy platform to utilize that offers an excellent opportunity to reach almost every demographic. It’s a great foundation for any nonprofit marketing plan on social media.
Join the conversation within Facebook groups
One of the most-used features of Facebook doesn’t have anything to do with pages. Instead, lots of people use groups heavily in their day-to-day Facebook browsing.
Facebook groups are gatherings of users centered around a specific topic. There are groups for diet, professional development, volunteering, and everything in between. You’re likely a part of several groups already if you’ve spent any time on Facebook.
One useful tactic is to find out which groups your target audience congregates in. Once you’ve found where they are, join the conversation and start to interact more with your community.
If you’re a locally based nonprofit, try joining a few Facebook groups centered around your city. If you’re an environmental organization, there are dozens (if not hundreds) of environmentally focused groups.
Remember: the conversation doesn’t always need to focus directly on your cause. There’s a lot of value in just having conversations with members of your audience, empathizing with them, and learning more about their world.
Create a Facebook group
Have trouble finding your community through groups? Try creating your own group to bring your audience together.
Starting a Facebook group is a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem: with no members, there’s no content. With no content, no one wants to join.
In the beginning, you may find yourself having to drum up a lot of activity in the group to entice people to join and spark conversations.
But with enough effort, your community will begin making their own posts, allowing you to focus less on starting new conversations and focus more on contributing to the ongoing discussion.
Use Instagram to reach your visitors
Instagram is popular with younger generations. It’s a modern social media platform that’s all about photography and aesthetics. And for many nonprofits, it’s an accessible way for them to connect with more future supporters.
The primary requirement for Instagram is images. These are commonly real-life photos or images designed with text overlaid.
For real-life photos, you could feature pictures from your cause. Or you could post photos of your staff and what’s going on in the office, providing a behind-the-scenes look at your organization.
For images that aren’t actual photos, you’ve got a few options.
Adding text over a nice background can be an eye-catching way to get a message across.
Even if you don’t have a graphic designer on staff, you can easily make designed images using a tool like Photoshop or Canva.
Try to put some thought into which images you post. Instagram is all about beautiful images. It’s often better to post only a few times a month (with high-quality imagery) rather than to post daily with unremarkable photos.
Create a TikTok account
TikTok has grown at an incredible rate, capturing the interest of Gen Z and (to a lesser extent) Millennials.
TikTok is a platform built around bite-sized videos.
Though it can be intimidating for many organizations, video offers an unparalleled way to connect with people online. It’s hard to match being able to put a face to a name while hearing someone speak.
And due to the short nature of TikTok videos, it’s possible to test the waters by creating a few quick videos. No need to create a big expensive production.
While it’s still a developing platform, TikTok seems to have staying power. And with Gen Z being on the platform, it seems inevitable that organizations will start to adopt it more.
If you can get used to appearing on video, then TikTok may be a great nonprofit marketing platform to experiment with for a few weeks or months.
Leverage a Twitter account
Twitter’s a great platform because it allows you to have many one-to-one conversations with your audience.
You can also “eavesdrop” on your supporters to learn more about their language, their values, and what interests them most.
The main difference with Twitter is the message’s size limit. Rather than being able to post anything, Twitter restricts messages to 280 characters max.
This makes communication interesting because you now have limited space to get your message across. Which can make things tricky if you’re typically a little long-winded—but gives you a great chance to really hone in on your message and find what works with your audience.
Contribute to Reddit
Reddit is based around message board communities created to discuss specific topics.
These communities (or “subreddits”) can be as broad as “funny things” all the way down to “photos of bread stapled to trees.”
Of course, not all subreddits are humorous. The majority are based around big life topics like environmentalism, parenthood, pets, and much more.
With such a wide variety of discussion areas, it’s likely there are several subreddits on topics related to your cause.
By participating in the discussions on these message boards, you’re able to provide value to the group and begin positioning your organization as a helpful resource within the community.
In many ways, subreddits are similar to Facebook groups.
Unlike Facebook, however, Reddit typically attracts a younger demographic: 45% of its user base is between the ages of 18 to 29, with another 40% between 30 to 49.
If your goal is to begin building relationships with younger supporters, finding a related subreddit might be a good first step.
Create connections on LinkedIn
LinkedIn is the social network for professionals. Everyone’s profile contains their resume and professional work experience.
Which makes it an excellent platform to target if you’re trying to reach other professionals within your community.
It’s also a great way to let your community’s thought leaders know what good you’re doing in your area. Posting about what’s going on in your nonprofit is a great way to potentially get noticed by future partners.
Overall, LinkedIn is a useful tool with a much more niche appeal than other social networks. But when used strategically, it can help you build a strong professional network.
Answer questions on Quora
Quora is a platform built on a question-and-answer format. People come to the site to ask questions, and experts can jump in and provide in-depth answers.
While it has a much smaller user base than other social media platforms, Quora is interesting because its users are typically more engaged as a whole.
If there are questions being asked about your focus area, you could potentially receive a lot of exposure by providing high-quality answers in response.
But due to its smaller numbers of visitors, Quora isn’t active for all topics. You’ll have to do some research to see if there are any questions that relate to your focus area.
Actually engage with your audience on social media
This may seem obvious, but many organizations don’t use social media for its intended purpose: to create a two-way conversation.
Very often, organizations will treat their social media platforms as a megaphone.
“Let’s post every Thursday about our programs.” And then they don’t check their posts or private messages for any replies.
“We want to reach a younger audience, so in addition to Facebook, we’re going to start using Instagram and Twitter.” And they post the same content across all their channels.
“Our social media day is on Wednesday, where we spend 30 minutes creating new content.” But they never go out in search of the great conversations already happening that they could join.
Don’t use your social media platforms as just a way of talking at people.
Instead, seek out real conversations with people in your target audience. Talk to them and with them.
Is it more work? Yes.
But real connection isn’t created by just posting some text with an image. It’s made by getting to know people and showing interest in others.
Go live with video
Live video has taken the social media world by storm. Seemingly every platform is incorporating the feature with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Reddit, and even LinkedIn jumping on the bandwagon.
Why? Viewers love the intimate connection with real people. It also has a built-in scarcity factor since a livestream will only be available for a limited time.
Livestreams are obviously less polished than a well-produced video—and that’s okay! Part of the appeal is that the video feels more genuine and authentic.
Since many platforms prioritize showing livestream content, you may want to consider how you could incorporate it into your social media strategy.
Online Ads for Nonprofits
Google Ads is one of the two largest ad platforms available. And for good reason: there are over 3.5 billion searches every single day.
Google also offers an incredible perk for nonprofits: a free $10,000 in Google Ads credit. Monthly.
So long as you adhere to their guidelines, you can take advantage of Google Ads grants indefinitely.
Google Ads take several forms.
At its simplest, Google’s ads are based on search term keywords. The idea being that if someone searches “volunteer at an animal shelter,” and you’re a shelter looking for volunteers, it’d be helpful for you to appear at the top of the page for that term.
Google Ads can take a while to learn. But once you’ve got some experience under your belt, they’re an incredible way to get more exposure to people who are actively searching for the things you do.
Facebook and Instagram ads
Facebook and Instagram ads are managed together, which is why they’re grouped in this section. And they’re both excellent nonprofit marketing platforms.
A lot of the same rules apply as for Google Ads, with one exception: instead of keywords, your ads get shown to individuals with matching interests and demographics.
If you know you’re trying to reach professionals in a specific area, you can target people matching that description using Facebook’s audience tool.
Or if you’re trying to reach people who have liked certain pages that fall within a particular age range, you can find them using the Facebook ads platform.
Another interesting twist that Facebook offers is allowing you to show ads to those who have already visited your site. If someone previously visited your website, you can reasonably assume they’re interested in your cause. Showing them some ads can help you stay top of mind for longer.
All in all, Facebook and Instagram have their own unique ad strategies, but they offer a wealth of opportunities when trying to reach those in your community.
Behind Google, YouTube is the second-largest search engine in the world. Almost 5 billion videos are watched every single day.
Unless your audience lives completely off the grid, it’s highly likely they’re watching YouTube.
YouTube ads are unique because they’re often videos. (Though YouTube is allowing audio-only ads now as well.) And with video, you get a chance to build rapport with someone and get someone’s attention faster than you could with just text.
Truthfully, YouTube ads aren’t as commonly used by most nonprofit organizations as Google, Facebook, and Instagram ads. But that can also mean that it’s easier to get noticed on a platform that typically attracts ads in the for-profit space.
Bing ads are similar to Google Ads, except without the large number of daily searches. However, Bing still receives millions of searches every day.
One benefit of creating ads with Bing is that there’s much less competition from other businesses and organizations. With less competition, ad pricing is usually more affordable.
The demographics of Bing are also completely different from Google. According to Microsoft, the average Bing user identifies as female, is over 35 (many over 50), and uses Internet Explorer.
While I recommend starting with some of the above ad platforms first, Bing is an often overlooked option that can be used strategically in a nonprofit marketing plan.
With 52 million daily active users, Reddit is the 20th most-visited website in the world. And it continues to grow each day.
Reddit consists of different groups or “subreddits” that users can join. These subreddits can be broad in focus (“funny content,” “news,” etc.), but they’re often incredibly niche.
This is where the Reddit ad platform comes in. When advertising with Reddit, you can show ads to people who have joined specific subreddits.
For example, if you’re a locally based nonprofit, you could display ads to people who joined your city’s subreddit.
If you’re an environmentally focused organization, you could show ads to visitors who have joined the environment, environmental science, or zero waste subreddits.
Ads on Reddit are typically cheaper than other platforms, meaning your dollars can sometimes go much further compared to other advertising platforms.
With over one billion users, TikTok has become a powerhouse of video content that’s incredibly popular with younger generations.
Though a video platform, TikTok offers several ways you can advertise: regular images, image galleries, and video.
Many organizations struggle to engage with Millenials and Gen Z. And creating content on TikTok can be intimidating due to its informal, bite-sized nature.
Using TikTok ads can be an easier way to dip your toe in the water and start experimenting with new ways to build awareness with the younger generations.
And who knows? Maybe after becoming more familiar with their ad platform, you may decide that creating TikTok videos for your organization isn’t so difficult after all!
Snapchat is another great platform to reach younger demographics, with over 75% of Millennials and Gen Z using the app.
Snapchat ads are simple and to the point: just an image that displays in between looking at snaps from your friends. Nothing more, nothing less.
Like TikTok, Snapchat ads are a useful tool to have when trying to reach younger generations through your nonprofit marketing.
They’re something to experiment with if your audience frequently uses the app.
Pinterest is one of the more unique social media platforms due to its focus on crafting, moodboards, and inspiration. This means that people are there to click on and look at lots of content in a short time.
Pinterest ads can work well for the right organizations. Unsurprisingly, it’s important to use beautiful images and good ad copy. (This is true of all visual ads, but perhaps more so for Pinterest due to its visual focus.)
Another note about Pinterest is that it can sometimes take longer to see feedback from your ads.
When visitors go to Pinterest, they often open up a bunch of tabs at once. It can sometimes take a while before they go through everything and decide to follow up on something that looked interesting (such as your nonprofit’s ad).
Quora offers another ad platform that frequently gets overlooked by nonprofits. But like Bing, for the right audience, it can produce excellent results.
Quora users are often more motivated to take action than other social media network users.
Quora visitors usually come to the platform to get questions answered. If your organization is related to the questions someone reads, then that’s an easy way for you to get in front of people who are already interested in your focus area.
Also similar to Bing, Quora has fewer daily visitors. But that also comes with lower ad costs. It’s often much cheaper to get your nonprofit ads shown to more people on Quora than the majority of the other major online ad networks.
Twitter ads are more art than science. With several ways to target its visitors, you often will need to make a few attempts to see results from Twitter.
But just like every other ad network, Twitter works great for the right audience with the correct approach.
Twitter offers several unique ad targeting options, including users who follow a certain Twitter user, users who match specific demographics, and users who mention specific keywords in their tweets.
Twitter ads also have no minimum budget requirement, which is unusual among online ad platforms. This can make it easier to try some things out without having to commit too much of your nonprofit marketing budget upfront.
Offline Marketing Ideas for Nonprofits
Do some public speaking
Public speaking is the #1 fear of most people. But if you can conquer that fear, you’ll open a lot of doors for your nonprofit.
Becoming a public speaker positions yourself as an authority on a topic. It allows you to speak to many individuals at once and builds an intimate connection. It’s one of the quickest ways to get a message through to a new group.
If you develop your skills, you may find yourself getting invited to speak frequently. Many places need quality speakers that can tell a story.
The more you can go out and speak about your nonprofit, the more you can spread awareness about your work. It’s also a useful professional skill to always have in your back pocket.
Call to thank your donors
It’s useful to establish a policy around calling donors who make a gift over a specific amount.
Why? Because donors who receive a phone call within 48 hours are about 4 times more likely to make a second donation later on. That’s a huge return compared to nearly any other nonprofit marketing tactic!
Thank-you emails are understood to be automated, so many people more or less ignore them. But a phone call takes effort and is often unexpected.
And hearing a real-life person actually say the words “thank you” helps a donor feel like they really made a difference.
Reach out through direct mail
Sometimes the tried-and-true approaches continue to work. From flyers to postcards to long-form letters, direct mail is still a highly effective strategy for raising awareness and collecting donations.
In particular, studies have shown that multichannel marketing efforts lead to a large return on investment. Some nonprofit marketing data suggest it can lead to new donor acquisition rates of up to 15%.
Of course, you can use direct mail to make asks of previous donors as well. It’s a tool with many uses that works particularly well when paired with other marketing tactics.
One awesome use for mailers? Direct mail is a very common way to share your nonprofit’s annual report.
Purchase some billboard space
At its core, marketing is just building brand awareness.
And what’s an easier way of building brand awareness than having your organization’s name and cause displayed on a billboard for all passersby to see?
Billboard ads can be a useful way to get the word out if you have a relatively large nonprofit marketing budget. And if you can snag a good location, you could potentially be shown to the same future supporters several dozen times a week.
Offer events, tours, and in-person meet and greets
People love to experience new spaces and meet new people. So why not organize an event they would love?
If your organization has a location that’s more than an office, consider allowing people to come in for a tour. Many people would love to see where the work you do is done.
If you don’t have a tour-worthy facility, however, don’t let that stop you! You can also rent out a venue for a gathering. All you need is some light catering to make a get-together a memorable event.
While this option will likely depend on the current coronavirus situation, people love going to mixers and meet-and-greets. Keep them in mind if the current medical guidelines permit large gatherings.
Join related associations
Regardless of the cause, there are likely several dozen associations that have significant overlap with your cause.
By joining an association, you’ll expand your network of peers that care about your focus area.
Many associations host several events each year to help members interact. They also often put out relevant resources related to your cause.
With a new association comes a new world of potential new colleagues. And each colleague, in turn, could open doors for your nonprofit organization to grow.
Like associations, there are conferences about everything under the sun. Why not attend a conference centered around a similar topic as your org’s cause?
There are dozens of ways to participate in a conference.
The more direct approach would be to purchase your own booth space and raise awareness by handing out informational flyers.
An even more effective strategy? Speak at the conference and spread your message to thousands at once.
Even just attending as one or two people and chatting with other attendees can lead to new connections and opportunities.
Overall, conferences are an effective in-person way to get your org’s name out there and stir up interest.
Collect email addresses offline
Though this tactic toes the line between offline and digital, it deserves inclusion here because the main interaction occurs offline.
As mentioned in previous tactics, a multichannel approach to nonprofit marketing is a powerful way to build relationships. If you’ve had a real-life interaction with someone, it’s incredibly valuable to get their email address so you can keep in touch online too.
If someone attends an in-person event, ask for their email address upon sign-in. If someone donates via direct mail, request their email address in addition to their other information.
The more contact points you can have with someone, the better. If you can extend your marketing efforts both online and off, you’ll find your overall supporter base growing substantially.
Hand out flyers and other print media
It doesn’t get easier than having flyers printed and handed out around town. With the right presentation, flyers are an effective way to build awareness for your nonprofit.
Flyers can be given out by hand in strategic locations. Or they can be given to partner businesses or organizations to be displayed in common areas where visitors frequent. They can also be posted in coffee shops and bulletin boards around town.
Regardless of where they’re given out, make sure your flyers tell your nonprofit’s story. Build a narrative by describing the problem, why it matters, how your org fits into the picture, and how someone can get involved.
Flyers, like every other nonprofit marketing tactic on this list, are a tool. If you can get in front of the right people and hook their interest, you’ll be laying the groundwork for growing your community.
Create a press release
Press releases are short, factual documents created to encourage the media to feature your organization.
If you have something occurring that’s truly newsworthy (like a new program, upcoming event, rebranding, new location, etc.), then creating a press release can be an effective way to have your announcement picked up by journalists.
The most important thing is to make sure you send your press release to an outlet with an audience that is interested in your cause. It doesn’t do you (or the journalist!) any good if there isn’t any overlap with their readers and your community.
Email Newsletters for Nonprofits
Add your newsletter opt-in form across your website and social channels
It may seem obvious, but we’ve seen too many organizations that don’t add their newsletter opt-in form to their website.
Don’t make that same mistake.
Any website visitor could potentially become a lifelong supporter if given the option. But if you don’t offer them a way to stay in touch via your newsletter, they may just leave your site and never come back.
Newsletters and email marketing are consistently the top drivers of revenue (both in the for-profit and nonprofit space) and should be prioritized accordingly.
Optimize your email newsletter opt-in form
Though your newsletter opt-in form technically appears on your website, this tactic belongs in this section because it’s so important to ensure you capture new subscribers.
Your newsletter sign-up form can make or break your email marketing growth. Ideally, you’d keep things simple and only ask your visitor for their first name and email address. The more fields you request, the less likely someone will be to subscribe.
The headline and text surrounding your newsletter opt-in should also receive special consideration. To maximize interest, you should be clear and specific regarding why someone should enter their email.
What content can they expect to receive? How often? What value will they get as a subscriber?
Also, another tip is to add some text below the form assuring your visitors that they won’t receive any spam. Many people are wary of handing out their email address and feel more at ease knowing you recognize and respect their concerns.
Offer an incentive to entice new subscribers
Most nonprofits offer a vague headline like “join our newsletter to stay up to date!” on their opt-in form. This can work fine, but it leaves several unanswered questions:
- Stay up to date on what?
- Will this be a lot of work for me to stay up to date?
- Is this worth my time?
- How will my life be better because of this?
Instead, one often-overlooked strategy is to offer something of value to your new subscribers. One example of this could be to create an in-depth guide surrounding something your audience is interested in.
Something like “subscribe today to receive our top 5 tips for keeping our community clean” or “sign up to receive our ultimate guide on getting started with sustainable living.”
Between the above two examples and “join to stay up to date,” which messaging do you find most compelling?
Create a newsletter strategy
With your nonprofit email newsletter, don’t just fall back on the tried-and-true monthly update containing a few links to what’s going on.
Instead, come up with a newsletter calendar outlining the types of content you plan to send.
How will you vary your messaging? What type of educational content will you send out? How often will you make asks? How will you build up to those asks?
By thinking ahead to how your newsletter all fits together from a bird’s-eye view, you can create a more dynamic newsletter that gets more engagement and ultimately provides more return for your nonprofit marketing dollars.
Write an email course
Educational resources are always popular. Do you have some specialized knowledge related to your cause that people want to learn more about? Consider packaging that information up into a (text-based) email course.
An email course serves several purposes.
First, it’s an effective incentive to get a visitor to give you their email address, allowing you to stay in touch.
Second, it offers you multiple touchpoints to continue building trust with your new subscriber.
Third, it educates your subscribers on your cause, establishing your organization as the expert on the subject.
Email courses don’t have to be long or complicated. Anywhere between 3 to 7 emails of 500-ish words each can do the trick.
The key is making sure you’re educating your visitors on something they want to learn more about.
Create an onboarding sequence for new subscribers
When someone first subscribes to your newsletter, that’s when they’re most interested.
They just showed their trust by giving you their email address. So why not start off on the right foot by sending them a series of welcome emails?
This “onboarding sequence” provides a great opportunity to educate your subscriber about your nonprofit.
For example, with your first email, you could provide a big-picture overview of your organization. For your second, you could go over some of your major programs. With your third, you could talk about the people affected by the problem you’re trying to tackle.
And, after making the case for why your organization is uniquely suited to solve this issue, you can end your onboarding sequence with a call-to-action.
You could ask them to donate, or come in for a tour, or become a member.
By putting your call-to-action right after an educational piece, you’ll dramatically increase the number of subscribers taking action on your email list.
Use strategic email videos
When someone first subscribes to your newsletter, it’s always nice to receive a human touch.
So why not kickstart that process by sending over a video from someone on your team welcoming the new subscriber?
In the video, you can give them a brief overview of what kind of content they can expect from your organization.
Being able to put a face to a name is a powerful rapport builder. When your organization feels more human, your supporter base will grow in spades.
Prune your email lists
Have any email addresses that always bounce? Know that you have subscribers who haven’t opened an email from you in 6+ months?
You may want to consider removing these addresses from your email list.
Why? Keeping them there can hurt your overall deliverability. It’s a signal that newsletter platforms and email clients use to determine whether or not your emails are spam.
There’s not much value in keeping subscribers who never open your messages anyway. If they haven’t read anything from you in half a year, do you think it’s likely they’ll start in the 7th month?
Put a call-to-action in your email signature
When people read emails, they often skim. But one area they almost always read is right after your sign-off.
One effective strategy to bring attention to your email’s primary call-to-action is by including them in a P.S. or somewhere below your signature.
That way, even the skimmers won’t overlook the main action you want them to take.
Prompt your subscribers to reply to your emails
Conversation is one of the best types of engagement. With more engagement comes deepening relationships. And with more relationships come more advocates and support.
One often-overlooked tactic is to sign off from all your emails by posing a question. Preferably something simple that a subscriber could answer in only a few sentences.
By inviting real conversation, you help bring your subscriber more into your world. Now they feel like they’re interacting with real people and not just some faceless organization.
Plus, newsletter platforms see email replies as a strong signal you’re not spam. Win-win all around.
A/B test your email subject lines
A/B testing refers to making discrete changes to some piece of content or some feature to see how that change affects engagement (or some other key nonprofit marketing metric).
For example, you could try to improve your email open rates by A/B testing the subject line.
50% of your subscribers will receive the normal, straight-to-the-point email subject. The other 50% will receive a subject line that contains a bit more “mystery” and intrigue.
Will the second subject prompt more email opens? Who knows! You’ll have to test it to know for sure.
A/B testing is one way you can take a hypothesis and prove (beyond a shadow of a doubt) that a change you’re incorporating is actually moving the needle for your nonprofit in the right direction.
Experiment with plain-text emails
One unusual change can often have a surprising impact on newsletter engagement: sending “plain text” emails can sometimes lead to more people clicking your call-to-action link.
(Plain-text emails are exactly what they sound like: emails with just text. No banners, images, graphics, or colors.)
Possibly because plain-text emails feel more “real” and authentic than something that’s overdesigned.
Think about it: the kinds of emails we receive from businesses trying to sell us things have tons of bells and whistles. But the emails we receive from friends and family just contain text and nothing more.
You probably wouldn’t want to send only plain-text emails all the time, but it’s something to try out. You could even A/B test the same email text content to see whether or not plain-text drives more people to action.
Segment your list and tailor your newsletter content
Most nonprofits have a varied community base.
They might have program participants, donors, and funders. Or maybe students, patrons, and clients.
With so many different audiences, it can help to break down your newsletter communication into different groupings or “segments.” That way, you can speak more directly to each audience’s differing needs.
The way you speak to a donor likely isn’t the same as one of your program participants. Their wants and goals are likely completely different.
By tailoring your newsletter to each audience, you increase the relevance of your nonprofit marketing efforts. And with more relevancy, more subscribers will open your newsletter and engage.
Automate your donor thank yous
Ideally, thanking your donors should be done multiple times.
After they donate, you want to make sure they feel appreciated.
You could email them thanks. You could mail them a handwritten note. You could call them personally on the phone.
All of which can be difficult to stay on top of, especially if you’re toward the end of a campaign and are receiving a lot of support.
One way to automate a small portion is to send donors a “post-donation thank you” sequence of emails. After donating, they could receive 2 or 3 emails over a few days to provide your thanks.
As a bonus, these emails could also remind them about what their donation enables. By closing the loop this way, you remind your donor where their donation went in terms of your mission and will increase the likelihood they support you again.
Send automated email or calendar reminders for donation thank yous
In addition to the above thank-you email sequence, you could create an automation to remind yourself to express additional appreciation to your donor.
There are endless ways you could set it up.
If you wanted to call anyone who donated over $1,000, you could set up an automation to create a reminder in your calendar for you to reach out any time someone donates over a grand.
Or you could have an email reminder sent to your inbox letting you know you should write a handwritten thank you note.
That way, you can continue giving thanks and won’t have to worry about a donor slipping through the cracks.
Marketing Strategies and Tips for a Nonprofit Website
Clearly state what your organization does
The #1 mistake nonprofits make on their website is not clearly stating what they do.
It is so common for visitors to read an organization’s home page and walk away not understanding what the organization does.
Honestly, it happens to us from time to time as we’re looking through an organization’s site, and we speak with nonprofits every day!
The headline you display at the top of your home page should (in as few words as possible) describe exactly the change you create.
A good test is this: if we took away EVERYTHING on our website and just showed someone this headline, would a visitor understand our organization? Would they know why they should support us?
Don’t overlook this step. Lots of organizations describe themselves using jargon or hand-wavy words that are hard to interpret. It’s very easy to be confusing when someone who knows the organization intimately tries to convey that information to outsiders.
Try asking someone who knows little about what you do whether or not your main headline is clear. You may be surprised by what you find out.
Repeat important information wherever necessary
Many organizations hate repeating themselves. They like to put their statistics on one page, their testimonials on another, their contact info somewhere else, keeping everything tidy.
As we covered a few dozen tactics ago, visitors never read websites top-to-bottom. They almost always skim, looking for something that catches their interest. And they definitely won’t read every page of your site (on the first visit, at least).
To make sure your visitors are finding the information they seek, try sprinkling it in across all the places it makes sense. Repeat yourself with reckless abandon. The trick is to make sure you’re repeating the most relevant information.
For example, your home page is where most visitors will likely first come across you. It may be the only page they look at. Putting relevant statistics there makes sense.
Your about page is also a great place to put your statistics. People go to the about page to learn about your impact, so why not showcase that impact there as well?
Same thing for other bits of information such as contact info, testimonials, and how your donation funds are used. Help your visitors learn what they want by presenting your information in all the places they might expect to find it.
Optimize your home page layout
For most organizations, the home page is one of the most valuable pages of the site. It’s the first major touchpoint for many (if not the majority!) of your visitors.
For that reason, it’s important to get the overall layout right. You want to make sure you’re presenting information in an accessible and intuitive manner.
Some obvious sections are the introductory header, about us, and programs list.
Other sections that are commonly overlooked (but should absolutely be included) are making sure you’re stating the problem, showcasing your primary call-to-action, and showing off your overall process or “how it works.”
Remember: your home page needs to tell a story. And if your home page only contains the beginning and a few middle parts of your story, your visitors likely won’t feel intrigued enough to continue reading.
You can get way more tips and some examples in our guide on what to include on your nonprofit home page.
Add a call-to-action button in the header
Whenever someone reads a website, two of the most viewed areas are the top-left and top-right corners of the page.
The top-left corner is usually claimed by your nonprofit logo. The top-right corner, however, often only has whatever happens to appear last in your primary navigation.
Instead of just the menu item in your primary navigation, consider adding a button that links to your primary ask.
For many organizations, this would be your donation page. For others, it could be to join your mailing list, become a member, or learn about your programs.
By keeping your primary ask front-and-center (in the main navigation area that appears on every page), you’ll make it more likely your visitors will take that next step with your organization.
Break your process down into simple steps
Too many nonprofits like to be verbose. They often prefer to leave no stone unturned when describing how they work, their process, and their overall impact.
Your visitors, on the other hand, often prefer things to be accessible. If they have to struggle to understand what your organization does, then they’ll likely just decide to go to another website that’s easier to grasp.
One way around this issue is to try to distill your process down into three or four steps. This helps your visitors understand immediately what you do, how you do it, and what the end result looks like.
And as a bonus, when you have a concise description of your process, it often builds further trust with your supporters. People prefer organizations they understand and that know their area well enough to have developed a “process.” (Even if it’s somewhat simplified.)
For more tips on the “how it works” section and other key sections, read our post on nonprofit website content.
Always have one primary next step on each page
For each website page, get clear on what you’d like someone to do after they’re finished reading it.
Should they join your newsletter? Read more about your organization? Donate?
Spell it out crystal-clear for your visitors by putting a suggested action near the bottom of most pages.
This will help the visitor continue moving along with you because they don’t have to guess what they should look at next.
Stagger your asks
It’s unintuitive, but it’s often useful to sequence your asks in order of the amount of “work” required for your supporters to fulfill that ask.
For example, asking someone to join your newsletter is obviously an easier sell than requesting a donation. Many visitors will think much harder about contributing funds somewhere than they would about subscribing to a mailing list.
Research shows that after someone says yes to you once, they’re more likely to say yes for any subsequent asks. This holds true even if the future request requires more.
Rather than making donations the primary ask of your website, try focusing on something lower-stakes like building up your nonprofit’s email newsletter list.
Once they’re on the newsletter, you can start to make a larger ask (like to donate) after they’ve received some of your emails and are better primed to become a supporter.
Allowing your asks to build in this way makes your visitors more open to the future requests you plan to make.
Add analytics to your nonprofit website
Web analytics capture a wealth of data about how your visitors actually use your website.
From where they come from to where they go to what they interact with, analytics can provide excellent feedback on what works and what doesn’t.
There are dozens of good website analytics solutions to track your nonprofit marketing efforts. The most ubiquitous (and free!) is Google Analytics. Google Analytics often integrates easily with other platforms (dozens of CRMs, most content management systems, etc.), which makes it a tough choice to beat.
Identify any major exit pages in your analytics
From the pages visited to the buttons clicked, your analytics data offers a window into how your audience experiences your site.
One often-overlooked metric is the exit pages overview. This is a list of the pages your visitors most commonly leave your website from.
For example, your top exit page could be your About page.
If that’s the case, we might ask ourselves the question: why? What are we saying (or what are we missing) on that page that might be driving people away?
Working backward, we can make some changes to the About page and see how that impacts our engagement.
By sanding down some of the rougher edges of our nonprofit website, we improve the overall experience and make it more likely that someone continues to stick around.
Use Google Search Console
Google Search Console is a free tool that helps you learn more about what search terms your visitors are using to find your website.
Knowing which keywords your visitors are using can help you understand your visitors’ intention on your site.
Are lots of people searching for a particular program? Maybe it’s time to look at that program’s page and see how you could improve it.
Or maybe many visitors are coming to your site using a keyword related to your cause but that you don’t have a good, dedicated page for. It could be time to create a page for that keyword term so that your visitors can find the information they’re seeking.
Google Search Console provides a window into how your visitors came to your site. And it pairs well with Google Analytics, allowing you to further refine your analytics data.
Use heat mapping software to observe how visitors interact with your site
A heat map is a visual representation of the “hot spots” on your site.
Where do people commonly click? How far do they scroll on the page? What sections do people never click (and sometimes never even see)?
Heat mapping software lets you peek over your visitor’s shoulders and see how they interact with your site.
With this info in hand, you can start making adjustments to your website and greater nonprofit marketing plan to improve your overall engagement.
Learn more about who's visiting your website
Every day, the majority of your website visitors will visit your site and leave, likely to never return.
An obvious question is, why? Were they confused by your site? Could they not find the information they were looking for?
One solution is to add survey software to your nonprofit website. This software can allow you to (unobtrusively) ask questions to your site visitors so that you can learn more about what they are looking for.
By asking your visitors directly, you’re able to get useful feedback on how you might improve their overall experience on your site.
Make your website mobile-friendly
Ten years ago, did you need a mobile-optimized website? It was firmly in the nice-to-have but not required camp.
But now? It’s not even a question.
Studies show over 50% of all web usage is done on mobile devices. And that number is only likely to increase as companies create cheaper phones and tablets.
If your visitors don’t receive a good experience when browsing your website on their phones, then you may have lost them. You don’t want your first impression for some people to be negative due to your website’s mobile experience.
Convey what makes your nonprofit unique
It can be hard to stand out in a crowd. And unsurprisingly, when you’re one of many similar nonprofits, it’s all too easy to get lost among your peer organizations.
That’s why it’s essential to convey why your organization is unique.
What’s unique about you, your story, and your team? What’s your secret sauce or unfair advantage? What’s something other organizations can’t easily copy?
Showing your visitors why you’re unique helps differentiate your organization in your audience’s mind. Rather than just being one of many, your organization can start to operate in a group all its own.
Remember: it’s better to be known as your nonprofit organization by name rather than “just another nonprofit.”
Optimize your website for building relationships
Websites shouldn’t merely serve as a brochure for your organization. Instead, they should help draw visitors in so that you can begin building a relationship.
The fact is that most website visitors won’t keep coming back to your website over and over again. So you may only have one shot to hook their interest so that they subscribe to your newsletter or follow you on social media.
But how can you entice visitors to want to stay in touch?
A lot of it comes down to how you structure your page. For example, the order in which you display information can either draw your visitors in or leave them feeling uninspired.
You also don’t want to say too much. Your website will seem like a chore to read if you’re too verbose.
As with most forms of nonprofit marketing, the key is striking a good balance between informative (what’s the situation? why should I care?) and scannable (just enough information to keep someone’s interest).
Showcase a strong nonprofit brand
Branding is the management of meaning.
Having a good nonprofit brand means your organization effectively uses its positioning, words, and visual elements to claim a specific association in your audience’s mind.
What sort of brand does your website convey? If it had a voice, what would it sound like? How would you describe its personality?
Remember, we want to envision things as our visitors see them. They don’t have the same level of familiarity with our organization as we do. How do we come across to someone new?
Of course, effective branding encompasses much more than our nonprofit website design.
But since our website is so central to many visitor experiences, it’s really valuable to make sure you’re coming across as intended to anyone who visits.
Collect information through forms
Anywhere you’re asking your visitors for information, you should have a form directly embedded on the page.
In other words, putting “Email us at email@example.com to learn more” just won’t cut it.
Adding a form directly on the page will significantly increase the likelihood of your visitors taking action.
You don’t want to force your visitors to jump through hoops to get in contact with you.
The obvious areas are your contact and donation pages. Less apparent locations are any program pages and your volunteer application page.
When in doubt, if you’re asking your visitors to get in contact with you in some way on your site, it’s probably a good idea to allow them to submit that information through a form.
Have a donation page directly on your site domain
Many nonprofit CRMs come with a built-in donation page.
Just upload an image, put some explanatory text at the top, add the donation page URL to your site, and call it a day, right?
There are a few issues that arise when you use a donation page from your CRM.
First, it often shares very loose branding with your primary website. This shift in branding erodes trust with your visitor.
After all, they were on website A that looked a certain way, and now they’re on website B that looks like a knockoff version. Why would they enter their credit card info on a page that looks like a poor replica of the organization they want to support?
Another issue is that the URL changes from your organization’s to your CRM’s. This can confuse visitors and make them doubt that they’re in the right place.
According to NPEngage, 50% – 70% of donors abandon an online donation form when sent to a new website to donate. These details seem small, but they end up having a big impact on overall giving.
Most payment processors have easy-to-set-up donation integrations with many major website platforms. If possible, prioritize setting up your donation form on your own domain to maintain trust with your would-be donors.
Optimize your donation page
Once someone’s arrived on your donation page, they’ve already decided to donate. Right?
Not so fast.
If someone visits your donation page, it’s definitely a good sign. But you still need to make a compelling case to help them decide whether or not to pledge their support.
At a minimum, your donation page needs to contain a summary of the problem you’re tackling and how your organization fits into the picture. You should also describe how funds will be used and what certain donation amounts translate into (ex: $100 will buy a computer for a child).
Your donation page should use a secure connection, too.
Other considerations are making sure you minimize the number of required fields in your form. This is especially true for the phone field, but applies to every field. The more fields you require, the more friction someone has to go through in order to donate.
For bonus points, consider adding a padlock around your donation form. Studies have shown that this simple graphic can help reinforce the security of your form and improve the number of visitors who decide to donate to your nonprofit.
Bringing your nonprofit marketing tactics together
Now I want to hear from you.
What do you think of this list?
Or maybe I missed one of your favorite nonprofit marketing tactics.
Either way, let me know by leaving a comment below.