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We Tried Marketing Once, and It Didn't Work: Marketing Tips for Non-Profits

Like dieting and exercising, marketing for non-profits is not a one-time pursuit. Marketing must be a regular activity carried out purposefully, not randomly.

Non-profits have special challenges:

  • Staff and volunteers often lack experience with marketing and public relations.
  • Most non-profits have limited funds, staff, and volunteers.
  • Most lack clarity on the role of staff vs. the role of volunteers. The decision-making process is murky.

How Do You Develop a Marketing Plan?

Marketing is a way of ethically furthering your organization's mission through well-planned and executed strategies. It includes conducting market research, developing a marketing plan, and generating public relations, and other types of marketing communications. A marketing plan should answer the questions, "Whom are we targeting? What are we communicating? Why? How? and When?

What Are Your Marketing Objectives?

With your colleagues, begin by developing marketing objectives, such as to:

  • Create attentiveness, which is more effective than creating awareness.
  • Generate excitement about your organization and its mission.
  • Provide information. Save the date for a special event.
  • Explain. Why something happened. How does something work?
  • Announce. Report an appointment or the winning of a prize or grant.
  • Persuade someone to act or donate or both.

Decide how you can achieve each of your objectives, given the resources available. Also, decide who is responsible for what and when to schedule each activity.

What Are the Best Ways to Reach Your Target Audience?

To succeed, you must be absolutely clear about the following:

  • Which segments are you targeting? (e.g., members, ex-members, donors, citizens, and clientele?)
  • What are your objectives for each segment?
  • What do you want them to know about your organization?
  • How can you reach them? What do they read or view?

How Do You Build a Marketing Communications Plan?

After defining objectives and target audience, build a marketing communications plan. Consider:

  • What press releases/articles/e-newsletters will you publish? For which audience and for what purpose?
  • When should you release each article, press release, e-newsletter, or web link?
  • Who will write or develop each piece?
  • How will you distribute each item? Keep in mind staffing and budget limitations.

Use multiple approaches to reach your target audience:

  • Cultivate one or two local reporters.
  • Seek free outlets, e.g., local electronic newsletters and print publications; online bulletin boards.
  • Cross-pollinate. Befriend other non-profits and provide web links to each other's articles and announcements.

If you are deploying direct mail and/or a website, note that

  • Direct mail and websites require a solid plan, an attractive format, and well-written text.
  • Both must be supported through other types of marketing.
  • Direct mail requires up-to-date lists.
  • Websites often require professional help.

To ensure consistency and quality, develop an approval process that applies to every press release, every mailing, and every online posting.

We Tried Marketing Once, and It Didn't Work--Lessons Learned

Your non-profit should use consistent messaging and establish a consistent look and feel in all marketing materials.

  • Test all marketing materials on others before launching. Keep a record of what works and what does not work.
  • Use separate messages for different audiences. Once size seldom fits all.
  • Create professional looking, but not overly slick, marketing materials.
  • Have a social media strategy and someone who can add regular updates.
  • Replace spray and pray with a focused campaign (no one-time ads).
  • Allow long lead times when working with volunteers.

Please contact us to discuss your marketing strategy.

Copyright 12/12 Ruth Winett. All rights reserved.

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