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ASU Lodestar Center Blog

Better marketing for nonprofits

Every marketer understands the challenge of competing for attention among a sea of content with limited resources. The problem is even more acute for nonprofits, which typically experience stricter budgets and more mission-related limits on what they can do when they market.

Nevertheless, great marketing is possible for nonprofits. These are techniques even smaller organizations can implement every day to improve their marketing efforts, see more impressive results, and gain even more loyalty from their communities.

Partner with your community

Influencer marketing is the latest craze in marketing, for good reason. It means getting organic, word-of-mouth buzz about products from people who others listen to. It's also shockingly economical and far more effective than traditional marketing techniques. In the nonprofit context, this means reaching out to members of your community.

Create, maintain, and remind about your nonprofit's value

Every nonprofit needs to sign new people up for the email list, and entice new people to join the community. Each organization also needs to keep community members loyal and active. The way we can do this is the same way traditional marketers do it: by creating value that attracts people, making sure we maintain it, and reminding community members about how much value we're offering.

If you want people to sign up for the email list and stay on it, make sure there's a value proposition going into their inbox. This means excellent content—not fluff, but useful information they can't find elsewhere. An in-depth guide related to the target issues they care about, tools or templates, case studies, and ebooks are all great examples of this. This kind of content gets shared and spreads the word, and it keeps people opening your emails, and even looking forward to them.

Remind existing community members how much you are offering them by providing premium opportunities as well; events, seminars, and other opt-in opportunities show community members that even if they don't access them, this nonprofit has deeper resources for them to use. You're reminding them why it's valuable for them to belong to this community, and why it's worth it to them to stay connected.

Don't let private companies corner the market on creativity

We all remember Sally Struthers talking about starving children on TV back in the day, but approaches that are all guilt are old school. Innovation pays, and not just for private corporations. The best marketing campaigns aim to influence culture. The ice bucket challenge didn't focus on guilt; it focused on fun and entertainment, and it worked.

Connect your SEO strategy to your issue, not your organization

Your SEO strategy should work to set up your organization as a source of information and education. While some people will be searching for your organization by name, it's not necessary for your success; you just need people who care about your issue to find your site, and to find it to be the most authoritative source. That is what will win them over.

Do this by establishing your organization as the principal authority on the issue. Share as much rich information on the issue and related subjects as you can. Make your organization's blog a true resource for anyone interested in the issue. Your goal should be for your site to pop up whenever anyone looks up your cause.

Join the open source culture

You can't do everything yourself, especially if you're a small nonprofit. The great news is that you don't need to. The open source culture allows many organizations to use the innovations and labor of others and in turn contribute your own organizational strengths and capabilities. To do this, though, it's necessary to relinquish control over every last detail and be willing to compromise where there are viable alternatives.

Can you accept donations of time? Goods like web development or software? Are there ways you can leverage the strengths present on your own board to get what your nonprofit needs right now from others in the community? Experiment with a marketing collective staffed by nonprofits in your area and you may be surprised by how great the results are.

Use metrics, and when you can't, stay rigorous

Private companies measure success using KPIs like ROI and sales goals. These kinds of clear metrics aren't always possible for nonprofits; however, establishing clear objectives for measuring success is just as important to nonprofits. These success goals should fuel and inform all activity and essential decision-making in nonprofits, so establishing them is a critical first step.

If you don't have an obvious numerical goal, decide what success will mean for your campaign. Will you watch how social media users respond to your campaign to gauge support? Will you use poll data in your area to assess attitudes? For more on how to evaluate “softer” campaigns, check out the Ad Council's website to see how they assess their success.


Great marketing is completely possible for nonprofits. In some ways we have the advantage: we are creative and highly motivated. Use the specifics of your service community to shape your nonprofit's marketing efforts, and keep an open mind so you can come up with innovative solutions to problems that present themselves.


Karla Lant is an experienced freelance writer and editor and an adjunct professor. Her particular speciality areas as a writer include technology, science, technical writing, business, law, finance, insurance, education, course development, copywriting, academic writing, and other nonfiction. Lant serves as the Lead Writer for the Museum of Science and Sustainability.


ASU Lodestar Center Blog