Are You Marketing Like a Nonprofit? (You Should Be)

Posted on in Blog

Before working in digital marketing at Oneupweb, I worked in marketing and public relations for two nonprofits in Grand Rapids, Michigan — one an economic development organization and the other a small liberal arts college. Both were great experiences, and in many ways continue to inform the work I do on behalf of clients today. Successful nonprofit marketing has practical applications for any organization engaged in the digital space. Here are 3 practical suggestions for digital marketers based on personal experience in nonprofit marketing and communications:

1. Be ConsistentBrand and message consistency is critical for any organization, but tremendously important for nonprofits, which more than most brands represent an idea, not a particular product or service offering. Ideas, by their very nature, are complex and can be difficult to articulate to a public diverse in educational attainment, socio-economic status, political affiliation, etc. It’s hard to boil that down to a single banner ad, let alone a 140-character tweet. How do the most successful nonprofits do it? There’s a lot involved, but I would argue it largely boils down to this: segment your audiences. That might sound counterproductive in trying to maintain a single, focused message, but it’s better to tell the same story in different languages than it is to tell different stories in the same language. Effective nonprofit directors and staff will tailor their message at a moment’s notice based on who’s in the room; digital marketers have to do the same in focusing messaging on relevant audiences online.

It’s better to tell the same story in different languages than it is to tell different stories in the same language.

2. Be Selective — The most successful nonprofits aren’t jumping at every reduced rate card tossed their way by TV stations looking to clear inventory. And private colleges looking to secure a sustainable future aren’t going to accept everyone, even if it means a tempting pay-off in the short-term. The best nonprofits differentiate themselves with mission-driven decision-making. With especially limited budget, staff and other resources, nonprofits must be extraordinarily strategic. For nonprofit administrators, that means being able to tie every marketing dollar spent directly back to the organization’s mission. B2C and B2B brand marketers should use the same gut check: how does this reinforce the mission of the brand? Regardless of primary objective, every marketing initiative is a direct reflection on your brand as a whole. Do not underestimate the value of your mission statement in day-to-day marketing decision-making.

Brand marketers take note: the best nonprofits differentiate themselves with mission-driven decision-making.

3. Be Efficient —ROI is the closest thing we as digital marketers have to a “fail safe” metric: one that everyone (brands and agencies alike) can agree on as fundamentally important. But like brand and message consistency, ROI is arguably even more important for nonprofits — and, generally speaking, even harder to calculate. After all, how does an organization ostensibly not interested in “profit” accurately manage to “return”? All jokes aside, the answer is creativity. In my experience, nonprofits, at least the most successful ones, are more creative than their profit-minded counterparts. It’s by necessity. While all brands are incentivized to maximize efficiency, constant uncertainty means even the most established nonprofits must continually, creatively adapt. The garage and dorm-born success of Apple and Facebook have achieved mythical status in America, but digital marketers could learn something from the nonprofits fighting in the trenches each and every day.

Successful marketing means continually and creatively adapting, regardless of brand, product or service.

At Oneupweb, we’ve been helping nonprofits and for-profit brands alike find success in digital marketing since 1996. Let’s talk.

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