As digital marketers we see examples of all sorts of businesses, but we have a special place in our hearts for the passionate and driven folks who work in nonprofits. Nonprofit organizations do incredible work – and while we wish that could be enough, it is also critical for purpose-driven business to share their work through nonprofit marketing.
Without the right kind of communications, nonprofits will struggle to secure the necessary funds to operate their business. This puts the organization into a tough spot and can lead it to close.
On this page, you will find the most common pitfalls for nonprofits to fall into with their marketing efforts. If you’re looking for year-round fundraising ideas, find them here.
What Causes Nonprofit Marketing Trouble?
There is no singular reason a nonprofit’s marketing fail. Most of the time there are many factors that lead to sub par results. Issues with internal operations, lack of a clear goals or plans, no real marketing strategy, little to no marketing data analysis, and lack of understanding of audience bases are some common culprits.
1 – Underestimating What Nonprofit Marketing Takes
Marketing is a skill!
Yes, it can be learned, but it is a specialty. Sales reps and admins often think, “I can do it, it’s just clicking a few buttons,” but there are a TON of technical skills, strategy, and consistent education involved with being a marketer these days.
This is especially true for taking a holistic approach to marketing with a multi-channel strategy. We see this land folks in a mess later. Websites with piecemealed tech and inefficient plugins easily get unruly and outdated. If you don’t pay close attention, it will hinder your ability to grow down the line.
2 – Organizations Lack Consistent Marketing Staff
Nonprofits often rely on volunteers or temporary staff for many of their positions. We highly recommend investing in at least a part time marketing manager because marketing consistency pays for itself. On the flip side, without a marketing manager, there aren’t standard operating procedures. This leads to disjointed and inconsistent marketing efforts that end up wasting more money than if they had paid a marketing manager to keep their SOPs consistent.
We’ve seen examples of organizations that relied on yearly intern staff for all of their marketing. Each year, like clockwork, there would be trouble surrounding accesses and the transition of important data. This unfortunately led the business to lose access to important platforms and programs necessary for their business operations. There was no way to create annual marketing reports or use data to determine the best course of action. This scramble put a huge amount of unnecessary stress on the organization’s leadership.
Another issue with inconsistent staffing is inconsistent marketing materials. Cohesion and consistency build trust with your audience. Changing your brand voice or visual branding too frequently never lets a nonprofit build their identity. This can leave your audience feeling confused and paints your organization in a bad light, looking disorganized and like you don’t have a strong identity.
3 – Nonprofit Leaders Approach Marketing Without a Long Term Strategy
Too many businesses approach marketing without a long term strategy and choose to take on their marketing on-the-fly. Though this may be able to get you some quick wins, it doesn’t bode well for your long term goals.
Marketing without a strategy is like traveling without a map. Nonprofits have too much at stake not to have a roadmap for communication. For fundraisers and campaigns to be robust and effective, they need to be planned several months in advance. We suggest creating a yearly marketing plan for fundraisers and goals.
4 – Nonprofits Try to Speak to Too Broad of an Audience
If you try to speak to everyone, you won’t speak to anyone. Too many nonprofits try to speak to everyone with their marketing.
And we get it. Finding your audience takes time and attention that you don’t have to give (see pitfall #2). It’s a constant balance – on one hand, it is tough to convert an audience that isn’t directly impacted by the work your organization does. But to grow a nonprofit you need to pull in supporters from all walks of life.
To truly connect with the right supporters you must take a deep dive into your audience. Do the work to define and understand their interests and how you can connect with them. Luckily, you’re running a nonprofit – which means you have defined goals and values already. So you can lean into your values to find the audiences that resonate with what you’re building.
It’s likely that you’ll appeal to several types of people. Your organization should be working to build a brand voice that encompasses your values and speaks to all of your audiences. When you’re armed with standards for your voice, you can develop clear messaging that attracts your ideal donors and audience members.
Check out this article with some tips for creating audience profiles!
5 – Organizations Do Not Use Content Marketing to Their Advantage
Content marketing is the best way, most natural way to communicate about your business. It gives you a stage to share your values without feeling sales-y or too pushy for donations in your nonprofit marketing. Creating a blog post coupled with email marketing and social media around a single ideal gives you the opportunity to talk about your work, your goals, and your values in a variety of ways.
You are more than just your mission statement. Prove it by creating content consistently around the same topics you will strengthen your overall brand identity, making it even easier for new potential fans to find you and connect!
Sharing the content you create not only will help broaden your audience, but it gives you the opportunity to bring value to your audience without a monetary ask. If you ask too much from your audience it’s easy for them to lose interest. Yes, what you do is important, but you still need to offer value to your audience to create a long term connection built on a foundation of trust.
Here are some great tips for coming up with a ton for relevant and interesting content ideas!
6 – Nonprofits Focus Too Much on Fundraising in their Marketing
One of the biggest missteps an organization can make is only showing up when they need funding. This usually isn’t intentional, but all of their time is dedicated elsewhere for the rest of the year.
A nonprofit can fundraise all year, if you do it right, but the timing needs to be very well planned and executed in a respectful way. If the only time you show up is to ask for funds or push products and sales, folks will lose interest quickly. Take the time to create a community built on trust and value so that when you do ask for money, your audience shows up for you!
Start by offering folks other ways to engage with your business through free offers, classes, webinars, meet-ups or other exciting events. Then use email marketing to share more about your organization and the work you do. Then, and only then should you start really asking for donations and financial support. You don’t want to lose the trust of engaged audience members by asking them for money too quickly or too frequently.
The Solution to Nonprofit Marketing Struggles
If you resonate with any of the above, it is likely time to bring in some additional help. Hiring an affordable marketing team that understands your values and your mission will get marketing operations off your hands and make it more effective long term!
Working with an agency like Dandelion Branding offers you multiple skillsets, are less risky than hiring a staff member, and are typically more affordable than a full time staff member. We encourage you to find an agency who truly understands the work you do, can build a strong brand voice, will dive deep into your audiences to foster connection, and who is well versed in content, email, SEO and social media marketing.
We’d love to be that agency for you. Click here to check our calendar and find a convenient time to chat!