Developing a Nonprofit Marketing Strategy

By Anna Knight
Aug 22, 2019 • 14 min read

Does your nonprofit have a marketing strategy? Consider taking the following steps to begin making a measurable difference in how you attract people to your mission. 

nonprofit marketing strategy


The "M" Word 

How do you feel when someone asks about your organization's marketing strategy? Do you feel overwhelmed or excited? Or maybe a little bit of both? Many nonprofit leaders love telling other people about the work they are doing and hope to do in the future. However, the idea of creating a marketing strategy can be overwhelming. Even the word "marketing" is a turn off for some as it can be associated with ingenuous sales tactics. 

However, marketing is an essential part of any successful nonprofit, and we hope to show you that it can be fun and energizing, as well. Even if you don't currently have an official marketing strategy, your nonprofit is being marketed by you, your employees and those you are serving. In order to effectively tell your story and attract people to your mission, it is vital to have a clear marketing strategy. 

Begin with Internal Clarity 

Creating internal clarity around your mission is a crucial, and often overlooked, first step. Take some time to conduct an analysis of your internal stakeholders, including your staff, volunteer and board members. How many of these people can recite your mission statement? How many people feel clarity on the WHY of what they are doing? 

Perhaps your organization needs help clearly defining your mission and vision. Take a moment to listen to this Whole Whale Podcast on creating mission statements. Also, check our blog on The Power of a Mission Statement. 

If your internal stakeholders are not unified on your mission, your external communication will be fragmented and confusing. Take a few hours to meet with your team and discuss your mission, come up with a tagline, and encourage everyone to create a 1-2 minute elevator pitch about your organization. 

Conduct Market Research 

Now it is time to conduct research on your clients and competition. When referring to "clients" of a nonprofit organization, think of internal and external stakeholders. A good start would be to list these internal and external stakeholders. See an example list below: 


Internal Stakeholders: 

  1. Staff

  2. Volunteers

  3. Former volunteers 

  4. Board Members

  5. Donors 

  6. Former donors 

External Stakeholders: 

  1. Participants in programs and services 

  2. Family members of participants 

  3. Community Partners 

  4. Advocates in community 

Now, it is important to take a close look at your stakeholders and list out some of their defining characteristics like demographics, location, interests and behavior. Specifically, focus on your donors, former donors, community partners, advocates in your community and participants in your programs.  

Once you have identified the internal and external stakeholders and listed out characteristics, it is time to create Buyer Personas. Buyer Personas are fictitious people based on the demographics and behavior of your stakeholders. The number of buyer personas you create may depend on your mission and goals. However, we suggest creating at least one for the audience you serve, one for your volunteers, and one for your donors. 

Use the information you just gathered in participants in your programs and present and former donors to create these Buyer Personas. Each of these personas are essential to your organization, yet they may view your mission from a different perspective. 

For each Buyer Persona, ask the following questions: 

  1. What is their pain point? 
  2. How is our mission solving their pain points? 
  3. What is the best way to communicate with them?  

For more on creating Buyer Personas, check out A Nonprofit's Guide to Building Audience Personas.

Now that you have a clear understanding of your internal and external stakeholders, it is time to conduct a competitor analysis. What organizations in your community are carrying out similar work? How are they marketing their services? What are they doing well, and how could you position yourself differently? 

The idea of "competition" in the nonprofit world is a sticky subject. We believe the nonprofit sector does not have to buy into the "zero-sum" mentality. The success of one nonprofit does not equal the failure of another. There are large amounts of financial support and volunteers out there, and nonprofit organizations need to be creative and intentional about the ways they brand and communicate their mission in order to attract these resources. 

SWOT Analysis 

You are almost to the point of finalizing your marketing strategy! First, it is important to conduct a SWOT analysis to find your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. 

SWOT analyses are important before creating any type of strategy or plan. In marketing, a SWOT analysis may consist of asking the following questions: 

  1. What resources do we have in house for creating different types of content (videos, blogs, social media posts, newsletters, etc.)? 

  2. What types of marketing that we have done in the past (if any) have been successful? 

  3. What has not been successful?

  4. Who on our board or volunteer list has experience in marketing, copywriting, web design or videography? 

  5. Do we have any opportunities for in-kind gifts of any of these services? 

  6. Where are we the weakest in content creation? 

Once you have a better understanding of your strengths and weaknesses, and your best opportunities for growth, you can finalize your marketing strategy.  

It's All About Content 

Just like anything you do, your content creation must tie back to your mission. Your targeted marketing content must still fulfill your mission. 

Before you create any type of content, whether it is a blog, newsletter, video, or more, think of the audience you are targeting. Hopefully, it is one of your buyer personas you've already created. You have a better understanding of your audiences after creating your buyer personas - use that knowledge as you create content. 

Every piece of content you share should also have an objective. Are you disseminating information or trying to change behavior (ask for donations, new volunteers, etc.)? A good rule of thumb is to share 80% informational content and 20% content that asks for money, volunteers or partners. No one likes a nonprofit that is constantly asking. People who care about your nonprofit want to stay updated on your work. 

It is also important to remember that there are three different tones you can use when creating content: cognitive (more rational, data-based), affective (stirs emotions), and conative (action inducing, urgent). There is a time and a place for each of these tones. 

One of the BEST ways to connect with your audience is through storytelling. You can use storytelling to both disseminate information and change behavior. While there is a time and place for facts such as how many people attend your ESL class, what connects with people is storytelling. Tell stories of the people you are serving, the people who volunteer with you, members of your board, and more. Remember to create stories that are dignifying and support the mission of your organization. 

Finally, choose the channel through which you will be sharing this content. Websites are a great place to host blogs which will increase your SEO and attract people to your mission. Email is a great way to contact those who have already expressed interest in your organization and keep them updated through newsletters. Social Media is also an effective way to keep your audiences up-to-date on your activities and needs. Print (fliers and direct mail) also still have their place, depending on your audience. Consider your audience, objective and content before deciding on the media you use to share your content. 

Measure Your Efforts 

Like anything that you do, it is important to measure the effectiveness of your marketing efforts. Use tools like Google Analytics, Facebook Business, Instagram Insights, and your email service to gather data on how your audience responds to your content. Identify Key Performance Indicators that will allow you to better track the success of your content. Some KPI's include website visits, social media post engagements, and email opens or clicks. 

Is there a certain day of the week, or even time of day, when you have high engagement on social media? Are there certain blog topics that are drawing people to your website? Which email subject lines have led to the most opens and clicks?

Collecting and analyzing this data, even if it is a cursory glance in your busy day, will be helpful for guiding your next content creation. The more you know about your audiences and their engagement with your content, the better you will be able to create targeted marketing content. 

Are you ready to get started? 

Are you itching to start this process and create your marketing strategy now? We hope so. Nonprofit marketing can be one of the most fulfilling and energizing roles if you have an established strategy and plan. You are the mouthpiece for your organization - how will you share clear and engaging stories to further the mission of your nonprofit? 

get started

Check out our Marketing Framework Guide 
Tips for creating your mission statement, brand personality, design guide, and more. Marketing Framework Example included!  

7516841616_IMG_2468About the Author: 

Anna Knight is the Marketing Campaign Coordinator at Village Creed. She graduated from Covenant College with a degree in Education and is currently pursuing her master's degree in Nonprofit Management. She is passionate about supporting diverse communities through collaboration and dignifying storytelling.