Marketing tips for non-profits.

For the past few years I have been encouraged to draw up a helpful “cheat sheet” when it comes to guiding non-profit businesses with their marketing strategy.  I’m not quite sure why since I’m no marketing guru let alone in this area.  In addition to that, I strongly feel that there always needs to be a custom plan for a specific business, which you cannot get by following a generic template.

What I can do for you if you are reading this is give you a few pointers based on my experience with running, planning and following through on non-profit marketing campaigns.

Here are a few things you’ll want to consider.  Please note that these tips aren’t ordered by importance or by any means, a step-by-step guide.  They are simply suggestions to follow and customize based on your business.

Draft a marketing plan. A marketing plan is sort of like a road map with the driving directions included.  It enables you to get from your starting point to your final destination. I’ve witnessed many different ways of drafting a marketing plan, from a simple 2-page form to an entire binder filled with the most complex strategies.  One thing they all have in common is that the plan is structured around the needs of the company and meeting their objectives.

Simplify your objectives for your campaign. The more you have the more complicated and confusing your advertising messages or messages can be.  Ideally, I like to go with one primary message and if necessary a secondary message.  I’ve seen most non-profits key on awareness, with a secondary message of securing volunteers and/or donations.

Target market.  For many non-profits, this can be challenging since they tend to aim at a broad audience.  But if possible, try to at least identify and segment your audience.  This could help with your media buying strategy.

Marketing research. This will help address the message that you want to communicate with your audience.  Resources tend to be limited so hiring a third-party research firm may not be an option.  But, I’ve found that it helps to use what is available internally.  Try to interview current volunteers or recipients of your service for feedback. Experience the service first-hand as well.

Trend any available data that you may have such as what time of the year most volunteers sign up or as detailed as what day of the week most people call-in or visit your website with inquires. Public data can also be useful if available such as census, State or DBET information.

Never hurts to ask. As a non-profit, you shouldn’t be afraid to ask for anything pro-bono.  Whether it’s partnering with another for-profit company, donations, media partners or any other type of resources that you could benefit from.

In 2005 for a Hawaii Meals on Wheels (HMOW) campaign, McDonald’s of Hawaii donated fresh side salads to compliment their home delivered meals.  A few local malls also allowed HMOW to set up booths during high peak traffic hours to pass out brochures, solicit volunteers and collect donations.

Get creative. The lack of resources will force you to really think “outside the box.”  Guerilla like tactics can help get your message out to the public especially when it comes to the media.  For example, the city bus here on Oahu allows non-profits to post advertisements in the bus at no cost so long as you provide them with the posters.  For the HMOW campaign, Times Supermarket allowed them to include a flyer in the grocery bags at the check out.

Ad2 Honolulu, a young advertising association puts up a free marketing campaign for one non-profit on an annual basis.  Be sure to apply every year.  No non-profit can “win” the campaign twice so it doesn’t hurt to keep applying for their services.

Public relations. As “free” media placement, a non-profit should also try to focus on pitching stories to media outlets.  Even something as small as getting on an event calendar for MidWeek can be helpful.

Online. Recent studies have shown that more and more people are turning to the web for answers.  They would rather get their information on their own time via the web rather than calling for information or reading through a brochure.

Be sure to get a website up if you don’t have one and make sure you constantly update it with content.  People are interactive and visual by nature, and content is the key to keep viewers from returning or holding their attention on your site.  If you don’t have the $ to get a website up or update it, you could again, ask for donated services.  Even if it’s a college kid working on his portfolio anything will help.  Or, you could always create a business page on Facebook and filter your audience there.

Get social. With the increase of social media outlets, make sure you get onboard.  I won’t lie to you, it requires a lot of manpower but it’s a very useful outlet in supporting and enhancing your traditional media campaign.  It also allows you to keep your audience updated and your content fresh.

There are many tactics in creating a successful marketing campaign.  But because every non-profit is different some of these tips may not be so useful.  If you have any specific questions, or don’t see what you were looking for, don’t hesitate to contact me. (

Good luck!


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