Nonprofit marketing: 5 ways to do more with less

It’s hard being a nonprofit organization. Resources are tight, budgets are limited, and your small team probably has too many things on their plates. With the onset of the COVID-19 global pandemic, things just got even harder. Donor dollars are down, government funding has decreased, dedicated members of staff have had to be laid off, and the funds that are still available are a lot more competitive to acquire. To pile on, volunteers have declined; they either can’t afford the time with their kids at home, they’re nervous being out and about with other people (especially if they’re seniors), or they’re stuck in isolation and not equipped to do their roles from home.

While the landscape of the nonprofit sector has changed, the need for services and support has not, and in some cases, demand has even increased – especially for organizations supporting mental health.

Marketing for your nonprofit organization is key to raising awareness for your cause and raising donations. Your strategy likely involves nurturing leads throughout their journey down the funnel to becoming donors, and keeping existing donors engaged so they become longtime advocates. Marketing can also be a great way to recruit volunteers and high-potential talent to your organization. There are several strategies and resources available to nonprofits to help alleviate some of the typical (and newly increasing) constraints. We’ve compiled five strategies your nonprofit can adopt to do more with less.

1. Understand your audience and how to reach them

I’ve heard people say their donor audience is “everyone, anyone can donate”. While yes, anyone can donate, not everyone does. In order to make the most of your marketing dollars, it’s important to identify your donor audience segments. Who is donating to your cause? What’s driving them? How do different groups give in different ways? Your audience segments should not only identify the demographic details of your donor groups (age, income bracket, etc.), they should also identify their personalities. What motivates them? What are their affinity interests? What do they like? Dislike? What are their giving behaviours and how can you move them from one time donors to full time advocates for your cause?

Here are some strategies to collect the information you will require to define these audience segments:

  • Collect data on your existing donors – while being conscious of individual privacy regulations, you can gather basic information on your donation form from those already donating to your cause. Consider how fields like occupation and date and amount of last donation could provide insights into your donor audience. Be careful not to inundate people with too many questions, as this can deter them from completing the form. It’s also helpful to ensure you have a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) – such as HubSpot – set up to manage and organize this data, or it can become overwhelming
  • Ask your audience – There are a few approaches for surveying your audience to learn more about them. If you have the budget to support it, consider hiring a research company to conduct a large-scale study and dig deep into your donor segments. This is a great option, but it can be expensive, and this is a blog about doing more with less. You could also consider leveraging Facebook and Instagram’s custom audience options, and/or using polls on these platforms to provide insight on specific questions you have for your users. Consider developing surveys with online with tools like Survey Monkey and Google Forms where you can design and distribute surveys yourself to collect this information. This is much more budget friendly, and can even be done with free service options depending on the requirements of your survey.
  • Look online – There are lots of free online information resources for nonprofits to tap into to help identify your donor audience. These are great resources for more general topics such as how Millennials give differently, and how to make an impact with that audience of donors.

Once you have an evidence-based understanding of who you should be targeting with your marketing strategy, you can determine the best way to reach that specific audience.

Some audiences might still read the newspaper, but others spend lots of time online, and you can target them based on their online behaviours.

Understanding your donor audience(s) and targeting your campaigns to reach that qualified audience will ensure you’re making the most of your marketing dollars.


2. Take advantage of donated media opportunities

Some media vendors have programs specifically designed to help nonprofits advertise with little to no media budget. Here are a couple media opportunities to consider:

  1. Google Ad Grants – As a Canadian nonprofit organization, you could be entitled to up to $10,000 a month in Google Ad grants, if you meet the required criteria. This one is definitely worth finding out if you’re eligible!
  2. IAB Canada – Consider enrolling in the IAB Canada Publisher Charity Initiative. The program allows (and incentivizes) participating publishers to donate ad inventory, such as matching programs, to enrolled nonprofits to maximize their impact.

Other vendors will donate media placement on more of a case-by-case basis. Sometimes they will double your impressions, or extend your time in market. Often they will can be flexible for what would make the biggest impact for your campaign; maybe you don’t need more time in market but would benefit from an impression matching program for additional reach. This is a great opportunity to look into and ask for when you’re doing your media plan.  

If you aren’t eligible for these programs, or if you’re having challenges navigating the vendor landscape to secure donated media, reach out to our media team! Our media planners have access to special rates, and they have great relationships with our vendors. These longstanding relationships give us some negotiating power that could be an asset in acquiring donated media for your campaign.

3. Inspire and leverage user-generated content

This one falls into the do more with less category more on the budget side of things. It’s basically free, but it will take effort and dedication from your marketing team to spur things into action. UGC is basically any content that is created or shared about your brand by people you aren’t paying to do so. This exists mostly on social media channels and can include everything from sharing pictures, videos, tweets and blog posts, to writing reviews and testimonials.

If you want users to share your content, it needs to be unique, exciting, and engaging.

You will also have to keep it up to date and refresh your content often so you don’t end up with fatigue. Go through your library and identify evergreen content that you can modify or re-use.

Research shows that consumers consider authenticity to be very important when they’re deciding which organizations they want to support. Millennials are especially influenced by this, in fact 90% of millennials surveyed in Stackla’s 2017 Consumer Content Report said authenticity mattered most to them, and 60% consider UGC the most authentic form of content. If you can inspire your users to become passionate enough about your cause to create and share content on your behalf, UGC will be a fundamental tool for you in raising both awareness and funds for your organization.

A few great ways to inspire UGC are:

  • Encourage your audience to leave you reviews – consider driving your donors to a landing page following their payment, or following their donation up with a personalized “thank you” email requesting them to complete an online review.
  • Social share campaigns (think Bell Let’s Talk) – these campaigns are a great way to get users to share your content. Basically, it’s incentivizing people to share a post you have created. Consider partnering with an organization or generous donor that will give $5 (or any amount they can) for every time your post is shared, up to a certain dollar amount.
  • Social contests and giveaways – consider partnering with local companies to giveaway some great stuff if people follow you, share your posts, tag a friend, etc. Just make sure you abide by the social channel’s promotion guidelines

4. Analyze your campaign reporting, and act on it

Analyzing reporting on your marketing efforts is extremely important for ensuring your campaigns and the budget to put towards them are working as hard as they can for you. This task is becoming much more approachable for those of us who may not be as technically sound with tools like Google Analytics and reporting features from social platforms.

Collecting all that reporting and data is awesome, but you also need to understand it, and use it to inform next steps and future campaigns. If you’re finding people aren’t engaging with your donation page on your website, could it be because your CTA’s aren’t appearing above the fold? If one of your social ads outperforms all the others – was it because the headline copy was phrased as a question? Find out what your audience is engaging with and why, and use these findings to inform your strategy.

Check out this blog by Sarah Schmidt on Analyzing the right metrics for informed decision making for recommendations on this. If you’re finding it difficult to tackle your organization’s reporting, or need some support to draw actionable conclusions, we have some top notch experts in the world of Data & Insights at ZGM you can reach out to for help!

5. Convert one-time donors to longtime advocates

All donors and their gifts are valued and appreciated, however, if you can turn a one-time donor into a longtime advocate for your cause, their impact will grow exponentially. Consider these strategies to convert people to become ambassadors for your nonprofit:  

  • Finding the trigger point that pushes someone to officially become a donor is a key moment. Consider providing donors with an ongoing personal and emotional connection to your cause. Let’ say your organization rescues orphaned wildlife. If a donor has adopted a baby giraffe in Africa, and their donation will allow that giraffe to grow up and be reintroduced to the wild, give that donor the opportunity to continually see how their gift has made a difference. Send them photos or updates – when the giraffe is healthy and being set free into the wild, send the donor another thank you, keeping your cause top of mind, and them involved.
  • Provide donors with convenient ways to feel good about their generosity in the moment and carry that forward for them. Let’s say a user is submitting a one-time donation on your website for $100. Consider prompting them during this process with an option to instead give monthly. $10 every month for a year and hopefully much longer gives that $100 one-time gift more potential future impact. Not only will this increase your donor dollars in the long run, it engages that donor continually over the course of months and years, making them more likely to become a longtime advocate for your cause.
  • Consider offering your donors different ways to give. People love knowing exactly where their money is going and how it’s making a difference – this is especially true for Millennial donors. Consider offering giving avenues in addition to cash donations. Let’s say your organization supports under-privileged youth. You could provide donors with the option to purchase a backpack full of necessary school supplies every September for an elementary student in need. Not only will this keep the donor engaged every year when kids go back to school, they have the satisfaction of knowing exactly how their money has helped to support their community.

As a nonprofit organization, making the most of your limited resources is especially important to ensure as many funds as possible go directly to supporting your cause.

We're here to help

We’re currently offering free advice to help you navigate marketing, advertising, and communications in these uncharted waters. If you’re interested in sending us a note about your situation, we would be happy to set up a quick call with one of our teammates who might be able to answer your questions.

Click below for more details.


View all posts

Want more stuff like this?