Five Marketing Strategies that Nonprofits Do Well

I teach graduate courses in nonprofit marketing at North Park University - and our textbooks and materials frequently refer to for-profit marketing examples. There seems to be a readily accepted belief that nonprofits are terrible at marketing. Now, I am aware that there is room for growth, but I also know that there are things we do very well. I am dedicating today's post to some examples. I have also included bonus resources at the bottom.

#1: We stick to our mission.
Peter Brinckerhoff defines nonprofit marketing as such: A way of doing better mission, sooner, and in a more focused manner. This resonates with us because we are mission focused. Of course there are examples of organizations that strayed from their mission (typically to follow money), but those examples ARE few and far between. Remember that there are 1.5 million nonprofits in the US. So the handful of examples is just that: a handful. For most of us, we know why we are here - and it isn't just to make a profit. We are mission first, and that can be a very good thing.

#2: Catching up quickly.
Nonprofits don't have a long history of marketing, but we are coming around quickly. Proof of this is the eruption of marketing-related resources specifically geared toward nonprofits. I remember reading Guerilla Marketing years back. Now, nonprofits have their own version: Guerrilla Marketing for Nonprofits. This is just one of hundreds of nonprofit marketing publications.

#3: Understanding market segments.
An important concept in marketing: you shouldn't talk to all your customer groups the same way. Well nonprofits have been doing this for decades. Maybe not in all marketing materials, but definitely in the area of fundraising. We have known for a longtime that appeals that are targeted to the individual (grateful patients, board members, etc.) raise more money. Even the smallest organizations are incorporating this technique.

#4: Doing a lot with a little.
Many nonprofits have little or no marketing budget. I hear for-profits marketing people say, "We only have a one-person marketing team!". In the nonprofit world, there is often no one in charge of marketing and messaging. Yet, we make it happen. Through corporate partnerships and creative use of volunteers, nonprofit folks stretch what small budgets they have to do some wonderful work. Need an example? Look at Cabrini Green Legal Aid's website.

#5: We embrace social media.
Nonprofit groups outpace businesses in adopting social-networking tools. A recent study shows that 89 percent of large nonprofit organizations are using some form of social media.

Below are some of my favorite online nonprofit marketing resources. If you know of others, please let me know.

Nonprofit Marketing Blog

Nonprofit Marketing Guide

Branding Strategy Insider

Beth's Blog: How Networked Nonprofits Are Using Social Media to Power Change

The Nonprofit Social Media Decision Guide


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    Great quick article about the marketing pluses that non-profits have in their back pocket. Although some may argue that some non-profits lose credibility when they allocate a larger budget from their donations towards expanding their concept - I believe in order to compete with for-profit dollars one must "risk" a little more. It all depends on what "a little more" means in today's Information Age. I remember seeing the backlash that the Kony 2012 group had when it was revealed how much was spent on their marketing campaign and thinking to myself, why not? if the word gets out and increases the number of supporters, isn't that good business?
    Here's a good TEDx video regarding the stigma most non-profits face when dealing with spending "too much":

    The non-profit we're trying to establish is one that utilizes the power of micro-funded-philanthropy to help create a debt free option to college students who would normally have to take out highly volatile student loans. The current situation our best and brightest face is one of lifelong debt repayment with no end in sight due to a nonsupporting economy, rising interest rates and lack of bankruptcy protections. We wholeheartedly believe an educated society free from debt slavery is the only way we can prosper in this economic environment. We HAVE the resources within the student population of 12 million (as of 2010), we just need a great marketing campaign to convince them of their investment!

  • Thanks for the comment -- and good luck with your campaign!

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