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Marketing Strategy: Non-Profit Marketing

Non-profits have the challenge of marketing on a tiny budget and asking for money. Since they are not selling a product, they have to be creative and frugal in their marketing. But, like for-profit marketing, they need to reach their audience and nurture leads.

Instead of buying a product, donors and volunteers give their money and time in exchange for contributing to a cause they believe in. Non-profit marketers will find success if their campaigns tap into the values of their audience — and the value of giving.

So how do non-profits overcome these challenges and succeed?

Success Stories

The best way to gain attention depends on your cause. As in traditional marketing, you want to tell a story that fosters long-term engagement. Values, emotion, and politics come into play even more so with charities. A campaign that is tailored to your cause will be more memorable and impactful.

In 2012, Water is Life launched a video called “First World Problems Anthem”. In the video, people in Haiti read tweets with the popular hashtag #firstworldproblems. “I hate it when my house is so big, I need two wireless routers,” a Haitian man says, standing outside his crumbling shack. The video ends with text that reads “First World Problems are not Problems”. Their aim was to recontextualize the hashtag and in turn raise awareness for their cause: bringing clean water to those in need. The campaign had a big impact, and even though it was controversial, it continues to be memorable.

Project Life Jacket is a virtual campaign by NGO “The Voice of Thousands”. The stories of nine refugees’ lives are illustrated on lifejackets, and can be explored on their website. This strategy is effective because it humanizes the beneficiaries and uses a relatable object to tell a narrative — the life jacket.

The #GiveaShit campaign by WaterAid and The Pub used the popular poop emoji to educate and raise awareness about the health risks of lack of sanitary toilets. The campaign was light hearted, fun, and informative. Using a popular emoji caught attention, and they created an app where you could customize your own poop emoji. They went a step further by creating custom poop emojis for internet celebrities, leading them to share the campaign, and even had a poop-themed art show. This campaign made over 230 million impressions and WaterAid gained 11,000 new supporters.

Keep America Beautiful’s campaign “I want to be recycled” helped visualize the possibilities of recycling. They turned recycled bottles into benches and installed them next to recycling bins that said “I want to be a bench”. The campaign now has interactive education games on their website.

Visual Storytelling and Impact

As we learned from the examples above, visual storytelling is key for non-profit marketing. Strong visuals humanize your subject, make an emotional impact, and are memorable. Visual content is also more successful and shareable online. Issues and crises can be very abstract to people who are not affected by them. Finding ways to make those abstract experiences concrete is essential to creating an emotional connection with potential donors.

Visualization can also help your donors understand the impact their donations have and feel better about donating. Charity: Water raised $2.4 million at an event where donors could go on a virtual trip to a town in Ethiopia. The virtual story showed the real life of a girl in a town where they installed clean water, helping the donors really understand the impact of their donations. In another example, CrowdRise created a virtual tower that grows with each donation in real time at their fundraising events. 

Non-Profit Marketing Strategies

Plenty of marketing tools and techniques can be adapted for non-profits. Email campaigns, social media, and content marketing are staples of successful non-profits.

Pay-per-click online advertising might seem out of reach for many non-profits, but Google gives about $1 billion dollars in grants to non-profits each year. Google Ad Grants allot non-profits with free monthly Adwords promotion of up to $10,000 per month. As one of the largest online advertisers, this is an opportunity that all non-profits should apply for.

Content marketing is as useful for non-profits as for-profit companies. Sharing relevant content is a great way to bring in leads, and keep your audience engaged. You likely have lots of content that can be tweaked for consumption by your audience, from blog posts to internal writing and past campaigns and projects. Infographics are especially shareable content, so consider creating one from your data.

But gaining leads and bringing people to your non-profit are only part of the equation. What non-profits really need to think about is lowering the barriers that prevent people from giving. Make it easy to donate, spread the word, or even volunteer. 

Cause-related marketing can be a great way to lower the barriers to giving. Cause-related marketing are partnerships between companies and non-profits to benefit both. A common example is grocery stores asking customers to donate to a cause at checkout. Alternatively, you could also seek partnerships with media companies to create videos or interactive events for your cause.

To succeed at non-profit marketing, create campaigns that tell compelling stories and make the results of giving tangible.

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