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Nonprofit Marketing | Ultimate Guide and Best Practices

Nonprofit marketing is crucial to improve your cause, raise awareness, and engage your supporters.

It’s not uncommon for some nonprofits to focus so heavily on promoting their fundraising efforts, that they leave out time to engage with their organization’s largest group of stakeholders—their donors. 

Can you envision a typical donor that makes up your nonprofit’s support base? Do you have a set cadence for updating them on your initiatives and inquiring about their involvement? Without nonprofit marketing, there is no way to steward current donors or cultivate new relationships. 

In this guide, we’ll walk you through the foundation of nonprofit marketing, including how to leverage nonprofit marketing for improved donor relations, mission expansion, and fundraising. We’ll explore these topics:

What is Nonprofit Marketing?

Benefits of Marketing for Nonprofits

Marketing Roadblocks for Nonprofits

Nonprofit Marketing Best Practices

Choosing a Nonprofit Marketing Organization

With these nonprofit marketing insights, you can create more effective campaigns to acquire new prospects and raise awareness for your brand. Let’s jump in with a brief overview of nonprofit marketing.


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What is Nonprofit Marketing? 

Nonprofit marketing is a mixture of strategies for nonprofits to spread awareness of their cause, raise money for their mission, and attract new prospects. Nonprofits base their marketing on quarterly or yearly goals, such as upselling recurring donations, boosting visibility for a particular project, or increasing volunteer engagement. 

Without dedicated marketing strategies, a nonprofit would not be able to bring in new donors and other supporters, the very people their organization relies on to forward their cause. 

For-Profit Marketing vs. Nonprofit Marketing 

Marketing isn’t exclusive to the social good sector. On the contrary, effective marketing is integral to all for-profit and nonprofit organizations, enabling them to improve engagement between their organization and its constituents. 

In particular, marketing helps businesses tell their customers what services they provide, how to buy them, or where to find them. After all, business owners can’t sell products consumers don’t know about, similar to how nonprofits can’t collect donations without supporters who understand and care about their mission. 

Depending on the service businesses provide, their customers may or may not require updated items, repairs, or want to purchase new items when they become available. To keep their customers or donors engaged, for-profit organizations and nonprofits alike use marketing to keep their organization at the top of their supporters’ minds so they will stay curious and engaged about the services they provide. 

Clearly, there’s a decent amount of overlap between for-profit and nonprofit marketing—but where do these two strategies diverge? One of the biggest differences is that, as their name suggests, for-profit organizations’ goal is to make money. They want to sell their products or services regardless of the cost to their customers. 

The goal of nonprofits, however, is carried out by educating supporters, stewarding their engagement, and using donations to carry on their mission. While business marketing is focused on selling, nonprofit marketing is about stewarding relationships between the nonprofit and its donors to build the ultimate support network for their cause. 

Because of these differences, it is important for nonprofits to find nonprofit marketing agencies that understand their unique needs, helping them to foster donor relationships and bring in new support for their missions. 

Benefits of Marketing for Nonprofits

Marketing helps nonprofits show their personality, passion, and hard work to potential donors. From social media advertisements to direct mail campaigns, marketing outreach allows you to communicate why your mission is important and why donors should rally together to support you. It starts with educating potential supporters about your cause, continues with donor stewardship, and shows donors how you’re using their funding for good. 

Here are some of the most substantial benefits of marketing for nonprofits:

Raises awareness for your cause. Whether your organization is local or nationwide, awareness campaigns will reach people unknowing to your cause, and you can in turn tap into their network of potential supporters.

Increases donor engagement. Creating informational materials targets potential donors to educate them about how they can help your cause, and encourage them to start contributing.

Strengthens donor stewardship. Campaigns focused on current donors can help make them feel like a part of the nonprofit's efforts and encourage them to continue giving.

Increases revenue. With awareness campaigns and carefully fostered donor relationships, your organization will quickly see an increase in revenue. More support means more available funds to contribute to your organization's cause.

Nonprofit marketing tactics focus on managing donor relationships to ultimately grow your organization’s support network, increase funding, and aid your various projects and programs

Marketing Roadblocks for Nonprofits

Nonprofits often sell themselves short because they don’t know how to express their brand identity and appeal to their core audiences. Additionally, they may have failed to establish strong marketing goals in the first place, or perhaps they have you to identify their target audiences. Without the right research and direction, your nonprofit marketing materials may fall flat. 

Here are some common roadblocks nonprofits face when they attempt to market themselves: 

Weak branding. If donors don’t know who you are or what they’re donating to, they won’t feel comfortable sending their gifts.

Not understanding their support base. If your nonprofit has a large older adult support base but your marketing materials are all digital, you may be missing the mark when it comes to sharing materials in the right format.

Not communicating with donors. Just because they donated once does mean they will continue to give if they aren’t updated on how you’re using their contribution or why you’re grateful for them.

Not using multiple methods of communication. With so many platforms and communication methods in our modern engagement landscape, it’s important to leverage multiple channels to effectively communicate your message to a wide swathe of supporters across different demographics.

Not using a CRM to collect enough donor data. Constituent relationship management (CRM) software allows you to easily collect, organize, and analyze donor data, a critical tool for identifying new prospects and otherwise enhancing your nonprofit marketing strategies.

Not having a dedicated marketing plan. Before diving into your marketing campaigns, it’s critical for your nonprofit to create a detailed action plan that includes the different channels, goals, available resources, and other elements that make up your marketing strategies.

Most importantly, not partnering with a nonprofit marketing agency. Without a partner focused on setting tailored goals for your success, you may be marketing aimlessly and miss your mark for donor acquisition and retention.

Nonprofit Marketing Best Practices 

With all the projects your organization has floating around to benefit your cause, it can be difficult to find the time to effectively promote your organization. For example, if you start focusing on just asking for money, you may frustrate donors to the point of distancing them from your mission. This is why it’s important to partner with a nonprofit marketing agency who can craft a unique marketing plan that’s suited to your nonprofit’s needs, preferences, and goals. 

Whether you’re looking for tips to better market your own organization or you’re researching how nonprofit marketing specialists can streamline your marketing efforts, these best practices will give you a better idea of the elements of a successful nonprofit marketing strategy: 

1. Understand Your Donor Data 

You may not really know who your donors are unless you collect data from them. This can help you determine target demographics by collecting data about their age, location, engagement level, giving history, or volunteer status.

You can use data analytics to inform your marketing campaigns. Of course, while this is an important step in strategic marketing, it can be overwhelming for nonprofits to do themselves. 

Start with collecting donor data from all your channels of communication to begin finding trends within your donor communications. Look for trends like increased giving periods around holidays, times of the day your donors are most likely to open email newsletters, or the longevity of an annual donor’s membership. 

2. Build Your Nonprofit Marketing Plans Around Your Goals

For the best results, tailor your nonprofit marketing plans toward the specific goals you’re trying to meet—such as increasing brand awareness, upselling recurring donors, recruiting volunteers, or gaining new donors.  

Here are just a few key goals around which to structure your own nonprofit marketing plan:

Donor Stewardship. Keep donors invested in your cause by keeping in contact with them and offering them new ways to get involved. Stewardship matrices made by nonprofit marketing agencies can help your organization develop plans to engage with donor segments in ways that they feel appreciated.

Donor Acquisition. If you’re not spreading awareness about your cause, it will be difficult to not only retain current donors, but reach prospective donors to grow your base of support. Nonprofit marketing agencies can help you create more effective marketing campaign materials to better appeal to potential donors.

Event Success. Nonprofits can spend a lot of their time planning successful fundraising and volunteer events, but without specialized marketing, it can be difficult to get guests interested. Whether it’s event planning and partnership outreach, or marketing the event itself via direct mail, a nonprofit marketing agency can streamline the event process and increase ROI.

In addition to helping increase your organization’s revenue, nonprofit marketing also solves many nonprofit problems like reduced membership, low volunteer recruitment, or weak brand identity. If you don’t know where to start in marketing your nonprofit, investing in the services of a nonprofit marketing agency is a valuable way to take you in the right direction and share your story with the world. 

3. Focus on Storytelling 

To peak the interest of potential, new, and longtime donors, storytelling should be at the heart of your communications and marketing efforts. Stand out from other nonprofits by humanizing your organization and making sure your supporters know there are people hard at work for your cause. 

After all, your organization works toward your cause because you’re passionate about fulfilling the mission and values you've set for yourselves, so be sure to convey those values in your marketing materials. 

To effectively articulate your brand identity and mission goals, you might seek out the help of marketing consultants. Nonprofit marketing agencies are experts at conveying complex information in a striking and engaging way because they understand the drive behind how nonprofits function. With a more intimate understanding of how nonprofits work, these specialized agencies are well equipped to better convey your story, message, and goals to the world.

For example, Meyer Partners used storytelling to connect the Chicago “Loop” area with the Children’s Home & Aid by creating a multichannel marketing plan

From their experience working with nonprofits, Meyer Partners recognized the growth potential in marketing the Children’s Home & Aid’s annual Champions for Children Luncheon toward individual donors because it was already well known to local leaders and elected officials. 

They crafted the message “This is what thriving looks like!” and paired it with smiling children’s faces from the organization to appeal to everyday people. Once they perfected a message that conveyed the organization's story, they used outdoor banners, digital campaigns, and radio station advertisements to share their client’s story.

Without their prior knowledge of the nonprofit sector, Meyer Partners wouldn’t have been able to create such an effective and adaptable plan tailored to the Children’s Home & Aid’s needs. 


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4. Leverage the Right Nonprofit Communication Channels 

Communicating with current and potential donors is imperative to sustain donor relationships and spread awareness for your cause. Always be sure to keep your donors up-to-date on your nonprofit’s efforts. This builds donor confidence in your organization and can inspire an increase in donations. 

In particular, here are some of the most important marketing channels to acquire, steward, and retain donors: 

Direct mail. Donors are more likely to read direct mail than email appeals for donations. Although it can be thought of as out-dated, direct mail is a highly profitable personalized communication channel to connect with donors. An acknowledgment letter or update on your latest efforts can make all the difference to your new and recurring donors.

Email marketing. This is critical for digital campaigns to reach donors in their inbox on their computer and on their mobile devices.

Phone calls. For mid-level and major donors, phone calls are a must to show your appreciation for their time and generous donation. Phone calls from your leadership can make a long-lasting impression that gets donor relationships off on the right foot.

Social Media. Keep donors in the loop by posting regularly on social media platforms. This channel makes engagement easy and is a great place to start conversations about your cause.

By leveraging these communications channels, you can create a powerful multichannel marketing strategy that appeals to many donors with diverse and engaging content. Remember to keep your mission and donors at the forefront of all communications. Be sure to acknowledge donors and how their contributions impact your cause. For best results, nonprofit marketing agencies have a range of services they can provide, including developing communication materials to build your donor relationships.

Choosing a Nonprofit Marketing Agency

Leverage a marketing agency that has experience promoting other organizations in the social impact space and can easily adjust to your needs and goals. Choose an agency that can tell your organization's story to strengthen donor relations, increase your revenue, and drive greater awareness for your cause. 

Nonprofit marketing agencies are experts in making your nonprofit connect to your donor base and stand out from competing organizations. These marketing agencies are specialized in amplifying your mission to touch the hearts and minds of people who didn’t know they would ever be supporters of your organization. 

Because of their specialization, they won’t waste time getting to know you. They will know what questions to ask. What are your core values? How do you use donations? What do you want people to know most about your mission? Who is your ideal donor? 

They will also have insight into how different demographics of donors respond to nonprofit messaging and how to best reach them. Nonprofit marketing education materials help reach out to potential donors who may need an extra nudge before committing to your cause.

If you’re ready to seek out the help of experienced nonprofit marketing professionals, then consider these steps for choosing the right agency:

Step 1: Speak to Leadership 

Before diving into your nonprofit marketing agency search, have a conversation with your organization's board of directors. Your leadership may have contacts in the industry or a different goal they want an agency to tackle that may differ from the one you have in mind. 

This discussion could come naturally when meeting about quarterly or yearly goals. Have an idea of what you’re looking for before speaking to leadership such as brand identity, donor communications, or donor stewardship campaigns. Remember to present the benefits of working with a nonprofit marketing agency such as increased revenue, stronger brand recognition, and a more engaged support network. 

Step 2: Determine a Budget Range 

As you begin to investigate different marketing agencies that may suit your nonprofit, you’ll want to establish a budget range for what your organization is willing and able to afford. This is particularly important because potential agencies will often create a sample plan or proposal for you to consider. When presented with these plans, having a concrete budgetary range can help your team to better discuss needs and expectations with prospective agencies. 

Before meeting with these agencies, sync with your leadership team to discuss your budget in greater depth and confirm that these figures accurately reflect your nonprofit’s current situation.

Step 3: Do Your Research 

Be sure that agencies align with your core values, understand your mission, and are willing to compromise.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions, especially about their current clients and references. Be sure agencies are willing to take the time to work with you, communicate progress, and be honest when strategies aren’t presenting results. 

Step 4: Compare Options 

Compare different nonprofit marketing agencies to assess which may be the best match. Look for agencies with experience in your cause area, proven results, and glowing references. If you want to work on direct mail and personalized marketing campaigns, an SEO marketing agency may not be the right fit. 

Similarly if you aren’t sure what your organization’s needs are, try setting a larger goal and asking marketing agencies what they can do for you. This will help you understand what options are available to you and give you an idea of how different agencies will tackle your problems. If you’re looking to increase donor acquisition, one marketing agency may suggest a comprehensive social media campaign while advocating for a multi-channel digital and direct mail awareness campaign. 

Step 5: Start Your Nonprofit Marketing Journey 

Once you’ve narrowed your options based on budget, goal, and culture alignment, start your nonprofit marketing journey! Be sure to communicate regularly with your chosen agency and give them full trust to help your organization grow. 

Choosing the right nonprofit marketing agency can be a scary prospect, but these steps should put you on the right track to finding the best fit for your organization. For best results, be sure to have a thorough discussion with the agency in question to gain a complete understanding of their services, fees, and important details relating to your partnership and campaign.

For example, Meyer Partners offers a free hour of consultation for curious nonprofits seeking to improve their direct response fundraising programs. Speak with Meyer Partners to learn more about how they can use their expertise in nonprofit storytelling, donor cultivation, and multi-channel marketing to boost your donor relations. 

Wrapping Up

Now that you’ve learned the basics of nonprofit marketing, you have the tools to strengthen your marketing plans, as well as the knowledge to seek out marketing solutions for your nonprofit. 

Whether you market your own organization or seek outside help, be sure to fully commit to completing a goal once your plan is in motion. Trust who you’re working with—after all, you’ve hopefully put a lot of time and effort into deciding who to work with. It can be hard to give up control of important messages for your organization, but the right agency should be sure to steer you in the right direction. 

For more information on nonprofit marketing, communication, and fundraising best practices, explore some of our other valuable resources: 

Donor Acquisition: The Complete Guide to Attracting New Donors. Enhance your marketing plans with a detailed explanation of the top donor acquisition strategies.

The Stewardship Matrix: Creating a Plan for Donor Retention. Explore how to enhance your donor relationships by learning how to integrate donor retention into your plans.

Year-End Giving: The Essentials & 8 Strategies to Raise More. Looking for a great way to wrap up the year? Learn how to make your fundraising stand out at year-end.

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