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Fundamental Values of Nonprofit Marketing

One of advertising’s greatest challenges is battling public perception that all advertising and marketing is dishonest, corrupt, and downright evil. An even harder challenge is battling this perception in nonprofit marketing. Nonprofits are generally perceived as a societal saving grace in the wake of corporate trickery and greed, so one would think marketing a benevolent nonprofit is easy. Well, not exactly.

All About Branding

Like any other company or organization, marketing for nonprofits relies heavily on how they are branded. Look at The American Red Cross, The Salvation Army, The American Heart Association and Susan G. Komen. These are nonprofits who branded their way to the most popular and successful nonprofits in America today. They achieved their success through creative consistency, high-caliber partnerships (think NFL and Breast Cancer Awareness Month), and, well, money. Most nonprofits don’t have the enormous advertising budget to promote themselves like these heavy-hitting organizations. Rather than focus on spend, smaller nonprofits should focus on messaging and strategy.

Brand image is the key to nonprofit marketing success. As wide-ranging and loosely defined as “brand image” is, that’s the whole ballgame. Consumers are far more likely to donate to (or purchase from) a brand that they feel they can trust. Consumer/donor-brand trust can be broken down into five essential aspects that work in unison:

  • Transparency
  • Authenticity
  • Urgency
  • Emotion
  • Connection

Transparency is vital to building brand trust for nonprofits. If a donor is giving their money away, they should be able to clearly identify where their money is going. This can be achieved through a simple website page with a percentage breakdown of exactly how the donor money is allocated.

Nonprofits are naturally perceived as authentic, but there are a few surefire ways in which they can make that authenticity even bolder. Featuring staff on social media so the public can put faces to the organization is a great way to improve authenticity. Staying local is another vital component to remember. People are more likely to donate if they know their money goes back into their community.

Urgency is a key component in any nonprofit’s marketing strategy. People are much more likely to get donate to or get involved with a nonprofit if they feel they are making an impact in the here and now. Nonprofit branding campaigns should always be call-to-action focused. Highlighting a shocking statistic, like one in three women in America die from heart disease, is an effective method of keeping a nonprofit’s cause in the front of consumers’ minds.

All marketers know that taking the hard-hitting emotional route is usually the most effective tactic. It’s doubly true for nonprofit marketing. Storytelling is an important part of any branding strategy, and nonprofits that work directly with causes that affect people’s lives have a unique opportunity to tell really damn good stories.

People who feel personally connected to a product, service, or cause are far more likely to make a purchase or donation, and repeat. Nonprofits should focus their messaging on the people who have been positively affected by the nonprofit’s support. Telling those stories has a better chance of making that personal connection with other people, resulting in more perceived value in where their dollars go and building more consumer-brand trust.

Methods and Measurements

The five essential aspects of nonprofit marketing should provide a general idea of where to focus your advertising efforts. If not, let’s expand on some methods and metrics.


A strong social media presence is a must for nonprofits. Content on social platforms should always stick to cultivating authenticity, urgency, emotion and connection. This is the perfect avenue to feature an organization’s staff, inform about events, tell stories, and definitely educate whenever possible. Producing quality content is key – every post needs to purposefully hit on one of the five aspects. Also, brands that have high social engagement but don’t reciprocate that engagement (i.e. responding to comments and shares) are doing social wrong.


Email marketing is huge and just keeps growing. It’s a proven method of reaching an audience. As always, the content going out in emails has to be the right kind of content. Use email to inform and invite viewers to events. Email is also a great tool to cultivate a sense of urgency by providing some kind of unique offer. Steer clear from things like employee features and other things short content that could be saved for social. Don’t be just another spam email.

Public & Media Relations

Forming connections with the local community and local media are a must for nonprofits. Radio plugs, television spots, daytime news features, billboards, newspaper inserts – you name it, nonprofits should be doing it. People trust their local news/broadcast outlets more than pretty much any other media. Get involved and get talking.


Donated dollar amount is the basic measuring stick for nonprofit effectiveness. Regarding marketing, though, donations don’t always tell the full story. Another reliable metric to nonprofit marketing success is sheer involvement. If social media posts are seeing an uptick in shares, likes, comments, etc. or if email open rates are higher or if a donation comes in as a referral from the local TV station – that’s successful marketing. Money is everything and isn’t everything, all at the same time.

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