The Challenges of Non-Profit Marketing

Carolyn Lodge

We’re fortunate to be tucked into communities with deep connections to non-profit work. Even still, there are many challenges non-profits face that impact the ability to deliver on their mission.  From staffing and high turnover, to a lack of education and general lack of understanding regarding the mission, having the necessary pieces for the non-profit puzzle can be daunting, even for the most seasoned professionals. While the hearts behind non-profit work are tackling wicked, complex issues, there is still a need to focus on the business behind the work in order to fulfill the needs of the mission.  In my board involvement and volunteer work with non-profits, I’ve found the constant factor to be budget and the allocation of funding that comes with strings attached.
For many non-profits, marketing is a luxury.  It’s rarely included as a line item in the budget and has not been widely incorporated into the educational setting.  With a lack of education and information, it leaves executive directors in a situation where they must rely on board members for guidance. While active boards members offer up many of the services needed, there can still be a gap in execution.  In the ideal world, you have a visionary at your board level who champions the idea of investing in the brand, but sometimes it comes down to showing success before you have an investment in marketing.
How do I cover marketing costs?
In the non-profit world, especially, funding has an expectation attached to it.  How do I ask funders for marketing dollars, knowing the budget is going to fund work with an agency or freelancer? It can be difficult to gain support when it isn’t clear how the funding will directly impact the mission, so the key is to prove how those costs translate to the overall mission.  Proving the ROI is one thing, but attributing to a specific investment is a step further, which means choosing marketing initiatives with clear tracking and direct results can provide the proof points to engage donors and be the initial success you need to bring on additional investment.
How do I show impact?
When looking at total investment, the ability to show a return on impact and how the activities have a direct translation to mission is imperative.  The marketing mix will address the need to directly correlate with some efforts, while furthering the brand of your non-profit with others. Branding is about the strength and breadth of your message, so it’s a long term play that sometimes doesn’t bear fruit right away.  The idea is to increase sustainability of your organization and increase your visibility in community. Within that, find ways to identify a metric payoff (ROI) that is directly related to your mission and can be attributed to your investment.
How do you show success when your mission is about an individual?
Identifying creative messages that use real people and circumstance to tell compelling stories is about finding the feeling within the situation and tugging at the heartstrings to make an emotional connection.  Non-profit work, is, in and of itself emotional labor and the challenge set forth is to take those realties and make them relatable and consumable from a marketing perspective.  Showing the impact your mission and programs have made on individuals is a way to tell the story of your work through the eyes of those who are most deeply connected.
While the non-profit world may operate under some different rules than private and governmental organizations, it doesn’t mean business and marketing principals don’t apply. Marketing is an investment in the organization.  Given the right environment and the right tools, you are more likely to succeed.  An investment in the infrastructure of your non-profit will pay dividends down the road.
The good news: there are resources specific to non-profit marketing that can make a huge impact in your ability to market your non-profit.  Check them out and let us know if we can help!
CareMoore Pro Bono Partnership – find an agency to help shoulder the marketing burden. A partnership with a team that shares your vision can make all the difference.
Salesforce CRM – receive 10 subscriptions to the Lightening Enterprise Addition and also tools that help manage programs, volunteers, and donations in Salesforce.
Google Ad Grants – Imagine what you could do with $120,000 of in-kind online advertising? Increase your online visibility and attract more donations and volunteers through Google Adwords.
TechSoup – Connect with other nonprofits, foundations, and libraries with tech products, services and learning resources.
Microsoft – The Microsoft Software Donation Program gives non-profits volume licenses to many of their products.