Marketing is sometimes last on the list of priorities for nonprofits, particularly if they are smaller. You’re juggling all the other things just trying to make sure you’re delivering great programs, fulfilling your mission, and keeping everything funded. So maybe you put up your latest event and class dates on your website, send out your marketing materials to your mailing list, and call it a day on your marketing efforts.
Unfortunately, you’ll need to do much more in order for your marketing to be truly effective, and it needs to be a priority. Especially if grant writing is a priority for you. Grant makers will expect you to have effective ways to garner community buy-in, recruit for your programs, and advertise their involvement in your work.
Your marketing efforts should cover at least these 3 key areas:
*Digital (website, email, etc.)
There’s a case to be made for also including radio, tv, and other types of advertising. However, I don’t feel those are a good fit for all nonprofits so I’ve left them out of the discussion here.
Moving right along, good marketing should include all the obvious things you think of: design, visuals, branding, etc. But it should also include ways to collect data and measure response and engagement. You really need both great design + data if you want to ensure you’re making the biggest impact.
If you don’t have a large staff or even a dedicated marketing person, I want to make sure you still have some actionable strategies you can start using right away to boost your marketing efforts. Here they are, in no particular order:
1. Email Marketing
First, a quick definition. Email marketing is sending emails to your digital subscribers with a variety of content, including marketing your latest events, classes, products, etc. to them. I’ve heard the arguments that email marketing is obnoxious and/or that it doesn’t work anymore. However, the data disagrees. In fact, the data shows that email marketing has an average ROI of 3800% (source). And no, you didn’t read that wrong. So if you’ve bypassed email marketing up until now, plan to include it in this year’s marketing strategy.
2. Clean, fast, modern website
Websites matter. First, you definitely need to have one. And although it’s often unnecessary to have a million bells and whistles on your website, it should look modern, clean, and relatively uncluttered. It should be easy to navigate and you should put your most frequently requested information and most important content front and center. It should be fast, both so that your users enjoy using your website and so that search engines will rank you higher. It should be optimized for mobile devices since over 80% of internet users will visit you from one of these devices and will expect your website to look and function fabulously on their phone or tablet. And lastly, you should integrate some of your marketing efforts into the website, such as including a quick sign-up to your email marketing list, an easy check-out process for them to buy tickets online, and a way for them to share your event dates and content easily and quickly over social media.
3. Google Analytics
Google Analytics is something your patrons, donors, and community will never see. It hums along in the background, collecting all sorts of useful information about who is visiting your website and how they are using that website. If you aren’t currently using Google Analytics, sign up here today for free. It will help tell you how many visitors you are getting to your website, which pages they most frequently visit, and help you identify ways to give them the content they want and eliminate or change elements of the site that your users might find frustrating. You can even set goals for things you want your website visitors to do while they’re on your site and Analytics will help you track how well you’re accomplishing these goals and make suggestions for how to improve. Pretty great, huh? And although the data Analytics collects is about your website, you may find that it’s also useful to use that data to inform other marketing decisions. For example, if you see that users on your site are particularly interested in a blog post about female composers or you have a ton of traffic visiting a page about a certain upcoming gallery opening, then you may want to intensify your print, social media, and community marketing efforts for those things.
4. Google Search Console
Google Search Console works hand in hand with Google Analytics and is yet another free tool in Google’s arsenal to help you increase your digital presence. You can integrate Search Console with your website and it will help you analyze your site, make suggestions for increasing website traffic, and help you rank higher in search engines. Ranking high in search engine results is important because typically, when people search for something they don’t go past the first page of results. So you really, really want to be on that first page. There are a million factors that go into how search engines rank sites, but Search Console can definitely help you get there quicker and easier. Click here to sign up for Google Search Console.
5. A/B Split Testing
A/B Split Testing isn’t a fancy program or app you sign up for. Rather, it’s a best practice in marketing, but one that I have found many nonprofits either don’t know much about or aren’t executing.
The basic premise is this: You have something you want to market and you have 2 or more ways you can do that in terms of how you want it to look, what words you want to use, etc. So you make 2 or more versions and then you collect data on how well each one does so you can see what is effective with your audience and what isn’t.
For example, say you want to send out an email to your subscriber list marketing your upcoming season and season ticket packages. To A/B Split Test, you would actually create at least 2 different emails. They would each be marketing your new season, but may have different wording, different colors, different imagery, different taglines, and different calls to action to get subscribers to purchase tickets. You would send one email to half your subscriber list and the other email to the other half of your list. Then you would track which email was opened more frequently, which email resulted in more ticket sales, and any feedback you got from subscribers. This would create a wealth of information on what resonates best with your patrons so next time you need to create a marketing campaign you will know exactly what to create to achieve your organization’s goals.
Of course, A/B Split Testing can be as simple or as complicated as you need or want to make it. For a deeper dive, check out this article on Split Testing from the Marketing Sherpa Blog.
Most small-medium nonprofits don’t have the luxury of having a graphic designer on staff or even have the budget to contract one for anything other than major projects. And yet, design matters, right? You still need professional-looking graphics for your website, print marketing materials, email marketing, and anything else you put out there.
The answer is Canva. Canva is a free tool (although there are also affordable, paid versions if you want or need to get fancier) that allows you to create custom graphics. You can save your favorite fonts, your brand colors, choose from curated templates, size them easily for a variety of platforms and mediums, or create custom-sized graphics from scratch. Either way, they always look professional and will fit the bill for 99% of your graphic design needs.
7. Polls & Surveys
Polls & surveys are a way for you to ask your patrons, donors, and community exactly what they want. And although you don’t want to overload your audience with polls & surveys (that would be annoying), you should ask them for feedback from time to time about your program offerings, marketing materials, website, and more.
Ideally polls and surveys should be anonymous. You can hand out paper versions before or after an event or class or you can offer them digitally via email or on your website.
If you go the print route, use Canva to help you design something visually appealing and come up with a system for anonymously collecting them and collating the data. If you go the digital route, there’s a multitude of great ways to create your forms and collect the data. Here are some of my faves:
You can also poll your audiences through social media over Instagram and Facebook. Use the results to make sure your marketing materials and programs are giving your patrons exactly what they want, in the format they want it, every time.
8. Social Media Scheduling & Content
If your nonprofit isn’t on social media, it should be. This is where a good portion of your audience lives and if you’re like many nonprofits then you’re having an ongoing discussion about how to get more millenials and kids to patronize your org’s events and offerings. Well, this is one way to do that. Like it or not, younger adults and kids spend a good chunk of time on social media. It’s how many of them prefer to interact with and find out about new things. So why not meet them there?
You don’t have to be on every social platform, but you should pick one or 2 and really commit to putting out great content that makes sense on that platform. Personally, I really like Instagram and Facebook for this. But depending on what your org does, Pinterest or Twitter may make more sense. You’ll need to do a little research, and then decide what to post.
One thing to note on what type of content to post: don’t constantly try to sell over social media. Rather, think of social media posts as a way to build your tribe of fans and followers. Give them sneak peeks into the behind-the-scenes of what you do and humorous insights into the daily happenings at your nonprofit. Do this well and you won’t have to sell to them.
Once you’ve decided on your platform(s) and what you’d like to post, it’s time to schedule it so you don’t have to literally live on social media. There are tons of programs out there which allow you to schedule out your social media posts months in advance. Here are a few great ones:
In addition to automating your social media presence, another great feature of using these scheduling tools is that they also offer data analytics. In-depth analytics dashboards allow you to see which platforms are doing well, which aren’t, and what posts people are engaging with most. This allows you to strategically offer your followers more of what they want, increases engagement, and ultimately get them involved with your organization if you do it right.
9. Consistent Branding
This sounds like a no-brainer, but is often overlooked. Successful brands are recognizable at a glance. You don’t need to read ‘Coke’ to know that a red can with the familiar white swoop detail is a Coke can, right? And yes, you’re a nonprofit, not a big corporate brand. But trust me when I say that it pays off to make sure your nonprofit’s brand is easily recognized in your community. For instance, did you know that on average organizations which present consistent branding see an increase of 23% in revenue (source)?
To consistently present your brand, you want to make sure that you have established fonts, colors, and designs that are used across every piece of marketing you churn out. If you’ve been using a bunch of different fonts and colors depending on your mood or the marketing piece, it’s time to ditch that strategy and go pro. Again, this is where Canva comes in handy to make your design and branding efforts easy-peasy.
When many people think of CRMs, they think they’re just for big companies. Think again. First a definition. CRM = Customer Relationship Management. CRM is typically software that helps you manage the inquiries, communications, and relationships between your org and your customers/patrons/donors/audience.
A good CRM will make sure emails get read and responded to, will help you organize and categorize your contacts, can help you set tasks and to-do’s, identify leads, and help you analyze and move people through your donor pipeline.
So where does marketing fit into all of this? Flashy graphics, engaging emails, and strong social media presence are great, but what good are they if when your patrons actually contact you they come away frustrated? CRMs help ensure that doesn’t happen and thus, they earn a spot on my marketing list as a great tool for helping your org follow through on its marketing efforts.
One other thing to note about CRMs in the nonprofit realm: many are actually full-blown donor management systems as well as CRMs. If you already have something like Raiser’s Edge or Bloomerang in place, you may not need anything additional. However, if you don’t have a comprehensive system or your current system leaves something to be desired as far as helping you be responsive and proactive, then a free or low-cost CRM add-on may be perfect for you.
Here are some solid, budget-friendly CRMs for you to consider:
I hope you find some or all of these helpful, as I truly think if you work to implement even some improvements to your marketing approach you should see worthwhile returns both in revenue and in how competitive you are for grants.
Don’t forget to comment and let me know what tip(s) you found most useful, if you’re getting any results or hitting any roadblocks, and share this post on your favorite social media platform!