Nonprofit Marketing: How To Craft A Plan That Engages Your Community And Reaches More Donors

These days, I’m talking about nonprofits all the time. Learning about the awesome things that CauseVox customers are doing is turning me into a one-woman nonprofit promoter. I am the Charity Navigator of my group of friends. I think the work you do deserves a parade, and I just can’t stop talking about it.

Since I can’t personally reach out to everyone on earth, or actually throw you a parade, you’re going to need a nonprofit marketing plan to help you get the word out about all the great work you’re doing.

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Marketing: That Thing You Know You’re Supposed To Be Doing, But Might Not Know How To Start

As a nonprofit professional, does the word “marketing” make you a little nervous? If so, I get it. Marketing can sound too corporate, too much like empty business-speech. After all, we’re talking about changing the world, not selling widgets.

As defined by the American Marketing Association:

“Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.”

Nonprofits have many offerings of value to partners and society at large. Marketing is simply how we communicate those offerings. We engage donors and supporters by telling stories about the work we do, and how we’re changing the world.

Making a Plan

Giving yourself a road map for your marketing efforts helps ensure you’re connecting with the right people and communicating the message you want to. At its simplest, a nonprofit marketing plan is a guide to the messages you want to share and the way you intend to share them.

While you will often be marketing your fundraising efforts, your marketing plan is distinct from your fundraising plan. Your marketing plan encompasses all the stories you’ll need to tell your audiences, and in addition to fundraising, can include:

  • Raising awareness
  • Calls for volunteers
  • Educational messages

Even when your marketing efforts are not fundraising directly, they still have an impact on your bottom line. People can’t donate to something they don’t know exists.

So you need a plan, but it doesn’t need to be fancy. You don’t necessarily need to conduct a bunch of market research or spell out every minute detail. Your plan can be as flexible as you want it to be, a working document.

To make your marketing plan complete, include these six elements.

1. Audience

Who are you trying to reach? It’s tempting to say, “everyone,” but the more specific you can be about your audiences, the better. You will probably find you have a few target audiences; potential donors, existing donors, and prospective volunteers are distinct audiences that you’ll want to approach differently.

Just like you wouldn’t explain something in the exact same way to your best friend, your six year-old nephew, and your grandfather, you aren’t going to communicate your message in the exact same way to each of your audiences.

To figure out how to approach your different audiences, start thinking about what you already know about them. (This is where market research would come in, if we wanted to get deeply into it, but you probably already know enough about these audiences to get started.)

  • What phase of life are they in?
  • What motivates them to care about what you do?
  • What do they already know about your work?

It’s often useful to create a persona for each audience, so you can picture your marketing landing on a real human. For example, let’s say I’ve identified prospective volunteers as a distinct audience. I’ll write up a description of “Jessica,” my imaginary prospective volunteer:

Jessica is in her late twenties, college-educated. She was probably involved in volunteering in high school and college, but fell out of the habit while she was establishing her career. Now that she feels more like a stable adult, she’s looking for opportunities to give back. She wants to feel like she’s contributing to something bigger and make a personal connection to the cause.

Jessica is hesitant to make a monthly or weekly commitment. She values flexibility, and would like to meet other people her age while volunteering.

Now, when I’m crafting messages to prospective volunteers, I’m not aiming at “anyone,” I’m thinking about Jessica. I’m going to highlight flexible volunteering opportunities with the potential for group work with people her age, and I’m going to focus on “making a difference and giving back” in my language.

As you think about these audiences, you may identify that some may be itching to get more involved with your cause. For these folks, you’ll want to provide opportunities for them to do something. Peer-to-peer fundraising isn’t just a great way to expand your network and raise funds, it’s a good way to give supporters a concrete, hands-on way to help.

We know “create a bunch of peer-to-peer fundraising tools” isn’t exactly at the top of your marketing priorities, so at CauseVox, we take care of this for you. We build peer-to-peer fundraising tools your supporters can easily use to share your cause with their community or facilitate fundraising events like races or challenge fundraisers.

2. Messages To Be Communicated

In the nonprofit world, we’re generally averse to the idea that we’re “selling” anything, but the thing we’re selling is story. In marketing terms, the product you’re offering your audience is a story.

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This is actually pretty cool, because unlike widgets, stories can change the world. Storytelling is an essential human behavior that connects us to each other and engages us with ideas. Stories are where it’s at, and nonprofits tell great ones.

That’s why CauseVox has built our fundraising platform to be centered on telling stories and connecting with your supporters. We want to put your stories at the heart of your marketing.

Just like your audience can’t be “everyone” your story can’t be “everything.” While your overarching narrative will remain the same, you must tailor your individual messages to your audiences, emphasizing the things that will mean the most to them.

World Bicycle Relief invites viewers right into the story.

3. Points Of Distinction

What makes the work you do distinct from other work? What makes your cause different from other causes? In business we’d call this “setting yourself apart from the competition,” but you can consider it “demonstrating how we’re special,” if that feels less cutthroat.

There are many causes and organizations for your audience to pay attention to, so any unique factors of your work or organization will help draw their focus.

Charity Science sets itself apart by using science and research to encourage evidence-based giving.

4. Strategies And Channels

This is where you really get into the nitty-gritty of how your plan will work. Where and how will you communicate your story and points of distinction to your audiences?

Options include:

Channel TypeChannel Outlets
WebYour fundraising website, organization website, other websites like community calendars or volunteer networks, and perhaps most importantly, your email list.
Social MediaFacebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, etc.
Traditional MediaNewspaper, television, radio, magazines.
Printed MaterialsBrochures, posters, direct mail, hand-outs, flyers, billboards, signage.
In PersonPresentations, conversations, speeches, events.


After you’ve determined where your messages will appear, it’s time to decide when and how to communicate them. Options include:

5. Budget

Sometimes, marketing costs money. Including a budget in your plan, even if it’s a small amount, will help you determine what kinds of marketing activities you can feasibly do. Hubspot offers free templates to create a marketing budget that fits your needs.

6. Goals And Results

Too often, we market without a specific goal. What do you want your marketing to accomplish? Is it increasing traffic on your website? An uptick in donations? A certain number of new volunteers recruited? Whatever your goal, we recommend you make it SMART–specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound.

In addition to a goal, you’ll need a way to measure if you’re hitting it. This may be as simple as, “I will record the number of Facebook followers we have on the first and last days of each month for four months,” or an involved process of surveying new donors, or creating “how’d you hear about us?” options for all your sign-up pages.

Shout It From The Rooftops

With a nonprofit marketing plan in place, you’ll be able to approach your marketing efforts methodically and thoroughly as you spread the word about the good work you do, making it seen, supported, and shared.

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