The Ultimate Nonprofit Marketing Plan: How Nonprofits Can Raise Awareness, Bolster Donations, & Attract Volunteers

by | Oct 24, 2019

Do you find it difficult to consistently track down new donors?

Maybe there’s trouble getting enthusiastic volunteers to show up, and come back?

Or, maybe you don’t think that you are raising the awareness that you should be raising for your organization and cause…

Whichever of those three issues or challenges most resonates with you, the thing is, they can each be positively addressed by employing and executing on an effective marketing strategy.

No matter where you and your organization are currently situated (whether you’re asking yourself for the first time what nonprofit marketing even looks like? Or, you think you don’t possibly have the resources to consider marketing), the objective of this article here is to help move you in the right direction—regardless of starting point.

That’s the vision here at Grow Ensemble: to see better businesses and nonprofit organizations expand their impact by expanding their presence.

Before we get started, ask yourself, what would most contribute to the growth of my organization and our impact. Keep the answer to that question in mind as we go through our Grow Ensemble marketing framework. We will be covering the following:

  1. Why you should be marketing your nonprofit organization
  2. How you should be marketing and advertising your nonprofit (considering budget, staff, etc.) 
  3. And lastly, a simple, 3-step nonprofit marketing strategy that you can take and run with.  

Let’s dig in first, by making the case for marketing your nonprofit at all.


Why is marketing important for nonprofit organizations? 

Let’s return to the question I asked you to keep in mind: what does your organization need to grow and expand its impact? 

It might be…

  • Expanding your potential new donor base;
  • Continuing to cultivate long-term relationships with existing donors;
  • Potentially finding a steady stream of volunteers you can count on; or
  • Raising awareness and credibility of your organization’s impact-story.

Your focus right now might be on one of those; it may be on all four. 

The most important thing though is: how are you attempting to achieve those objectives now? 

 Does finding new donors and grants feel like an endless hustle? As each fundraising cycle rolls around, do you feel like you are starting from scratch to drum up a new donor base? 

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a system that repeatedly and consistently produced new donors and new opportunities for contributions whether you were ‘hustling’ or not? 

That is, in effect, the potential impact of an effective marketing strategy. 

An effective strategy to market your nonprofit should be a system. And this system should consistently and reliably drive you and your organization more opportunities for growth, whether that means more donors, better relationships and connections with existing donors, or enthusiastic volunteers to lend a hand. 

An effective marketing strategy is one that builds on itself, and to some degree, can progressively become self-sustaining—to the point where it’s previous successes become the baseline for future goals and objectives. 

As in many for-profit businesses, the object of the marketing team is to produce consistent and qualified leads for the sales team to close. Similarly in your nonprofit, a marketing system should (and can) drive consistent and quality opportunities for growth.

Don’t be a Sisyphus: Smart Nonprofits Market

If you aren’t working to build a system for influencing the growth of your organization, then expanding your impact will be painfully difficult.

We want to build a system that produces a consistent and reliable result. We don’t want you to start from scratch each time we need to go out and drum up donations. We want to focus on optimizing and improving your system so that you continually develop and improve the results we are getting.

You create a blog post —> that blog post drives traffic to your site —> your website converts that traffic to email list subscribers —> those email list subscribers donate (repeat). 

system-nonprofits-marketing

If we aren’t focusing on building a system for pushing the growth of your organization, you will be just like Sisyphus, pushing a boulder all the way up a hill only to have it roll back down again. 

Sooner or later, you’ll burn out and growth won’t happen unless you have someone else pushing the boulder up the hill. 

There’s a reason this was a punishment.

Sisyphus-gif

And so, if you’d like to (1) drive new donors, (2) cultivate relationships with existing donors (3) build a stream of volunteers, and (4) raise awareness and authority of your organization, we. must. market. 

Great, you might be saying. But first, I’m no marketer, so where do we even begin? And second, our budget is already as strapped as they come—we are hopeless. 

Marketing is best done as an integrated behavior within your organization. Marketing is best done as an expansion of actions you are already taking to grow your organization.

  • Do you have lists of your previous donors? Previous volunteers? Potential donors? 
  • Do you share the vision and purpose of your organization with those groups regularly?
  • Do you talk about the need for the work you do and the problems you are addressing? 
  • Do you try to cultivate relationships with partners? Other organizations who compliment the work you do? Platforms that can help you reach a wider audience? 

If you answered yes to most if not all of those, then great! That’s essentially the marketing plan we will share with you below, but with some important tweaks. 

And, another critically important question…

What should a Nonprofit’s Marketing Budget look like?

Should we have a marketing budget you may be asking? And if so, what should it be?

One of the greatest mistakes you could make as a nonprofit organization is to have no marketing budget at all. Not an essential expense? 

Would you like to progressively make a greater impact with less time, resources, and staff? 

If you don’t, then don’t worry about marketing. If you would like to, then continue on. 

$1 spent on marketing (if utilized appropriately) can yield $10 in contributions to your organization. With time, and some compounding successes, that could be $15 for every $1 spent, maybe more.

What would that mean to your organization? If every $1 spent on marketing turned into $5 worth of contributions? In theory, you could expect $10,000 to turn into $50,000.

What would that sort of result mean to your organization? A lot, I’d imagine. 

Let’s get into creating it and turn you into a true nonprofit marketer. 

How should you market & advertise your nonprofit organization? 

A successful marketing strategy for a nonprofit will be a combination of offline and online marketing. Whether you are a for-profit business or nonprofit organization, growth and success are achieved through building relationships and trust with potential advocates for you and your organization.

That will require both the potency of making and cultivating true relationships face to face, and as well, keeping in touch creatively and compellingly at scale online.

Getting Started: What Gets Measured Gets Managed

We need to make sure you are tracking whether or not the marketing efforts you make are leading to the results that you want. 

But, let’s make sure to keep things simple. 

For our work with clients, we always recommend that on a monthly basis we track: 

  • Total Website Traffic
  • Leads (Email List Subscribers) — How much of that traffic are we keeping around via our email list? 
  • Conversions — The result we want our marketing efforts to lead to. 
    • Online Donations
    • Volunteer Sign-Ups
  • Whatever seems best fit for you and defining marketing success for your organization.

In doing so, over time we can get a good sense as to whether or not our marketing campaigns are working, and which area we should seek to optimize. 

  • Are we getting a lot of website traffic, but nothing is happening with it? 
  • Are we converting a lot of that traffic to email list subscribers but not getting any donations? 

By isolating which area of our system is under-performing or could do better, you can better address the problem or opportunity effectively. 

Lastly, there should be diligent focus on making your marketing efforts effective. Take time to do things right so that you can multiply impact and save time later. 

Likewise, I strongly advocate for employing marketing tactics and strategies that are timeless. While this can’t always be the case, we want to make it so that the efforts that we apply now benefit our organization not just today or in the next few months, but hopefully for years to come.

This is how we can see compounding successes and growth. In the context of our Traffic System—the Grow Ensemble Framework—we see compounding successes and growth through creating blog posts that we call “traffic assets.” 

We build them this way, so that we know they will capture traffic from Google (this is Search Engine Optimization), month after month after month. 

So, if we stack your “traffic assets” and create many of these blog posts, you then compound the traffic you receive each month.

With timelessness and compounding successes in mind, our plan that we want to share with you today covers the following: 

1) Building your list of contacts & advocates

2) Creating resources that are valuable for our audience

3) Building partnerships that expand your audience and authority. 

Oddly, while it may not sound like it, this is a digital marketing strategy, but it’s something that will be timelessly effective. Let’s dig in!

The Grow Ensemble 3-Step Nonprofit Marketing Plan

Marketing strategies and plans can get wildly complex and—obviously (or not obviously)— the more complex the plan, the less likely you are to actually execute and implement it. So for our purposes here, let’s keep things simple. 

The Grow Ensemble 3-Step Nonprofit Marketing Strategy: 

1) Gather Your Advocates & Supporters in One Place (Build an Email List)

2) Create Content that’s Valuable & Informative for Your List (Content Marketing)

3) Build Partnerships that Help You Build Your Authority & Expand Your Presence (Strategic Partnerships)

Let’s dive into each one separately to help you get started. Of course the detail here won’t be exhaustive, so look out for our upcoming webinar trainings, courses, and additional resources. 

1. Email List Building & Email Marketing for Nonprofit Organizations

If your nonprofit organization has been around for a while, you already have your lists. You have lists of different donors, local partners, previous volunteers, etc. 

Are you communicating with these folks regularly? Are these different segments of your audience regularly notified of the impactful and essential work you are doing, and regularly getting opportunities to support you in that work? 

How can we possibly do that at scale? Get everybody on the phone? Of course not! Millennials don’t answer phone calls! The answer here for you is: 

Email List Building & Email Marketing

Building your email list (with it’s variable sub-lists), should be a central component of your marketing. Your objective should be to constantly be adding relevant and fresh contacts to that list. 

This can be done manually, with folks you meet at events, for coffees, meetings, conferences, or, this can be done in more of an “automated” fashion where people find your organization’s website and “opt-in” to your email list. 

Note: I put “automated” in quotations because you have to work to get the traffic. 🙂 

Email lists are the greatest means to keep in touch with a large and growing audience at scale. Of course, it’s not the same as face-to-face interaction, but, at some point, as a busy nonprofit executive director or CEO you only have so many hours in the day. 

By having an email list and focusing on growing it, you’ll always have an audience you share new blog posts with, new events with, or new service opportunities with. If you don’t, you’ll always be dependent on other sources for promoting your content or fundraisers.

Versus…

GE-with-list-graphic

While we could dedicate a whole post to email and email marketing (and we shall in the future), here’s a quick rundown on why we love email: 

According to a 2019 Social Media Industry Benchmark Report engagement (being a like, comment, favorite, retweet, etc.) for…

  • Facebook is less than 1% (.9%) 
  • Twitter is .048%
  • Instagram, the highest, is 1.6%. 

So, if we took the time to build a 10,000 person following on any one of those platforms (a significant undertaking), with 1 post, we expect to see…

  • Facebook (.9%) — 90 Engagements
  • Twitter (.048%) — 48 Engagements
  • Instagram (1.6%) — 160 Engagements

Keep in mind, an “engagement” does not even mean the person is clicking through to your website, they may have just liked your tweet, commented, or shared. 

Email on the other hand, over multiple industries, can have the following engagements:

  • Open Rate Average — 22.86% (what percentage of your list opens your email)
  • Click Through Rate — 3.71% (what percentage of your list clicks through a link when reading your email)

So, with a 10,000 person email list (which could take a similar amount of effort/time to build as a social media following of the same size), we could expect to see: 

  • Opens — 2,286
  • Clicks — 371

What would you rather have? A 10,000-person social following, or 10,000-person email list? 

No matter how good you are at coming up with hashtags, we recommend leaning towards an email list…

Social Media Platforms & Social Media Marketing for Nonprofits

So what’s the role of social media platforms & social media marketing for nonprofits? 

I don’t think that having a 10,000-person social media following on Twitter or LinkedIn is a bad thing. Heck, we’d take that if we could here at Grow Ensemble. 

But, when everyone’s time and resources in the nonprofit sector are already strapped, why wouldn’t we focus on the most effective platform to build our audience? 

If a Tweet gets near 50x less engagement than an email, wouldn’t you want to start sending emails?

If your organization is having some wild success on any one of those platforms, feel free to keep going, but do begin to consider how you can start prioritizing building an email list. 

Social Platforms will change, ultimately to become “pay to play” models. Facebook pages had great organic exposure a while back. Now, it seems people can only get the attention of their audiences by paying for advertising. 

You should expect everything else to become the same. 

That’s why we encourage social media to be a supplement to your primary platforms—your email list and website. 

On to launching our email list. 

Nonprofit Email Marketing: How to Get Started

1) Get set up with an Email Service Provider (a place to collect your email list, and send emails to that list)

I often recommend MailChimp because it’s free for up to 2,000 subscribers. It’s not my favorite tool, but it’s nice for the budget-conscious and should serve all your needs to get started. 

Here at Grow Ensemble, we use ConvertKit.

Mailchimp Logo

2) Brainstorm and collect all the potential contacts who may impact your organization someway. 

 These are your previous donors, contacts you’ve made at events, conferences, pop-ups, etc. 

 3) Invite them to your list! 

Yup, seriously, it’s that simple to get started, just use the following script:

 “Hey {{name}}, 

We at {{organization}} are starting up a newsletter where we are going to share on {{topics relevant to you and them}}, would be great to get your feedback on early content. ‘

Mind if I add your email newsletter list for when updates come out? 

Best, 

{{Your Name}}” 

This is a great strategy coined by the “Ambassador Strategy” from the folks over at Growth Tools to jump-start an email list. 

Once they say yes, add them to your MailChimp master list. 

This might bring you to the next question, “Great, I have this list, but what do I send them?” 

That brings us to the next step in our strategy: sharing valuable resources with the list.

2. Content Marketing for Nonprofits: Sharing Your Value & Impact-Story with Your List

There are only three ways for your nonprofit to get “traffic.” Those are:

  • Paid traffic: Any advertising spend. 
  • Traffic through partnerships: Referrals or otherwise. 
  • “Free” traffic that we can obtain via Search Engines like Google through utilizing SEO: organic exposure we create usually through creating content (more on that below). 

Above all else, we recommend content. As a baseline, creating resources and information is much more value-driven than any of the other traffic mediums (paid, partner). 

If you create a valuable or thoughtful piece of content that’s related to your mission and impact, advertising becomes much easier—promoting blog posts and articles are often low-cost ways of advertising and wisely using your allotted Google Ad Grant dollars.

Similarly, sharing your content with partners is a great way to promote, as it’s focused first on the value you might be sharing with them or their audience as opposed to what you are asking for (access to their audience). 

Wondering what type of content to produce? Or, what I mean when I say “content?” 

There are three types of content you can produce; audio, video/visual, and written. 

Among those three different mediums, the final product can take various shapes: audio can become a podcast (like ours here at Grow Ensemble), written could be a book or this blog post, the visual could be a YouTube video or infographic. 

Our preferred genesis for content here at Grow Ensemble is the written blog post. From a single blog post, you could slice and repurpose it to create multiple emails. You record yourself reading the post and publish that as a podcast—similarly, you could record a video and publish it on Youtube. 

But, how do you know what to write? 

Most organizations we start to work with, take a “random fire” approach to blogging and producing content of any kind. Then, after writing and releasing a blog post, folks wonder why there was no impact… 

By following a process determined to produce something your audience is actually interested in, you could expect much greater results. Of course, this is the subject of much of our training and additional resources, so here’s a quick tip: 

  • Start with Your Audience & Service Areas

Develop ideas for blog posts and content through tracing back many of the conversations you had with donors, volunteers, friends/family about your organization and the work you do. 

Or, consider what questions are being asked about the area of work your organization does generally? 

Say for example your nonprofit organization is working to eradicate homelessness. Do a quick Google search for your service area and look for clues that come up…using this example:

nonprofit-content-marketing

By seeing what Google is suggesting to us, we can see things that we know people have searched for, or are searching for now. 

Then, take your research and your brainstorm to crystallize your content ideas. By starting with doing even a little research you can set yourself on a path to be much more likely to write something people care about. 

While Writing Content… 

When you are actually writing content, there are a few things to keep in mind. While this can, and does, require much greater explanation and training, I do recommend a few things right off the bat. 

First, think comprehensive. This means for any one topic you are writing about, you are taking the time to cover it in complete depth. Don’t get caught up in this crap where people say “people don’t read on the Internet.” People read on the Internet. People don’t read on Facebook, they scroll. People don’t read on YouTube they watch videos. But, people read blogs. 

As a rule of thumb, longer content will do better in Search Engines (mostly Google). This isn’t to say that longer content will exclusively do better in Search Engines, but the idea is that a longer piece of content is more likely to be comprehensive and address every need and desire of the potential searcher. 

If you are covering any topic in general, make sure to cover from all angles. 

Onto our final step.

3. Build Your Organization’s Authority & Credibility with Partnerships 

So, you have your growing contact list, you now have your valuable resources that you are creating to share with your list. What’s next? 

What can you do to really through “gasoline” on your nonprofit’s marketing fire? 

It’s partnerships

Partnerships are so potent because they are ultimately how your organization can build its authority and credibility the fastest. You build it by association. As an example, our company, Grow Ensemble, is a regular contributor on the B Corporation Community’s blog, B the Change (you may be able to see one of our podcast episodes on their homepage now). 

Think that fact helps build our authority with folks in that community? Definitely. They see our republished blog posts and podcast episodes consistently. We are seen as consistent and quality content creators in that community. 

There are two benefits to that manifestation of a “partnership” for us.

1) We get the honor of saying that we are regular contributors to the B Corporation Community’s official blog (people think our content must be somewhat good because they wouldn’t have us contribute otherwise!)

2) We get access to that blog’s nearly 17,000 followers with every single post/podcast episode we get to republish. 

This is an example of a single partnership. Partnerships can manifest in a lot of different ways. But the benefits can be tremendous, both from a brand standpoint and the tangible referral of a new donor base, volunteer base, etc.

Think to yourself, “Who would I love to promote our organization to their audience?” 

Brainstorm a list of those folks (people you do know and people you don’t) and creatively come up with ways for how you can start serving them, start making relationships with them, etc. 

You must give, give, give to expect anything in return. This is one reason we love hosting folks on our podcast and working our butts off to promote their episode and their good work. 

This is usually the kick-off of our relationship with them, and it’s a great first impression. 

So, be creative yourself and think about collaboration opportunities you may have available in your network. 

And so, with these three steps, we start to build a complete marketing system

You are driving traffic & attention to your nonprofit (and your website), through the partnerships you are building, and the compelling and engaging content you are creating. 

We are capturing that traffic and building an audience by inviting people to subscribe to your email list. 

And finally, you are nurturing your audience and inspiring them to take action to support you and your organization, as you will keep in touch with them via your email marketing efforts (sending new content), and building trust and credibility through your associations with your partners. 

More traffic, more emails, and ideally, greater opportunities to receive the contributions and volunteer support you need.

Want or Need More on Marketing Your Nonprofit? 


Of course, one blog post can’t cover everything you need to market your nonprofit organization, but as it’s our mission here to get more of the change-makers and change-making organizations
found online, leave a comment with your questions, stay tuned for upcoming trainings, or reach out and say hello. 🙂

Will you implement or test out any of these marketing ideas we described?

Let me know in the comments below! 

Cory Ames

Cory Ames

Founder & CEO, Grow Ensemble

Cory is from Spokane, WA in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, but now resides in San Antonio, TX. He lives with his wonderful girlfriend, who attends law school at St. Mary’s University, and their dog, Milou, who routinely chews up their house plant collection and pretends like nothing happened…

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