Non-profit organizations face many challenges, especially in times of financial uncertainty. Competition for donors is fierce, and small organizations struggle to amplify their reach. Marketing can help, if non-profits implement the right strategies and stay focused on their objectives, but 20% of non-profits don’t even have a marketing budget and many others aren’t following a smart strategic plan for their marketing efforts. Here’s how they can do better:

1. Set Attainable Marketing Goals That are Realistic for Your Budget

If you’re among the 20% of organizations that lack a designated marketing budget, the first step is to set a budget that works for your non-profit. Non-profit organizations often make do with limited budgets for everything from staff to facilities to marketing, setting themselves up for failure via something the Stanford Social Innovation Review describes as “the non-profit starvation cycle.” To put it succinctly, when non-profit organizations reduce expenses to the point of debilitating their infrastructure, they cannot adequately function nor can they serve their target audience. Unfortunately, many organizations are quick to slash their marketing budgets when times get tough, and this is the exact wrong approach to take. A realistic marketing budget is generally 5-15% of one’s operating expenses.

Once your budget is set, it’s time to set attainable marketing goals to make sure you put that budget to good use. Non-profit organizations have a tendency to try to do everything, but that just isn’t realistic on most budgets. Instead, focus on a few specific areas to drive growth.

Thanks to for the image.

Of course, non-profits want to see an increase in donations, volunteers, and awareness, but failing to tie those vague aspirations to specific marketing actions can mean wasted time, effort, and money. A non-profit marketing strategist can help define clear goals and illuminate a solid, data-driven path to reach them. Then, on-going review and monitoring can ensure that each action is leading to the desired outcome – and if it isn’t, you know it’s time to change course before more time and money are wasted.

Think S.M.A.R.T. when planning your non-profit marketing goals.

2. Defend Against Activity Creep

You set a budget, and you started the strategic marketing efforts that should help you reach your goals. Now, following a long tradition in the non-profit industry, your board wants more. You can’t give them more without taking away from your existing campaigns, so what can you do?

  1. Think about hours and resources. How much times goes into your existing campaigns? How much money?
  2. If you want to take on additional marketing campaigns, ask for additional resources. If resources aren’t available, ask the board to set priorities with you and stick to them.
  3. Resist the urge to expand just for the sake of expanding. It’s more important to do a few things well than to do everything sporadically.

3. Create a Non-Profit Value Proposition That Resonates

While some donors and volunteers will help you out of the goodness of their hearts, you’ll need to convince the rest and you’ll need a strong value proposition to do so.

Start by clearly describing how people benefit from joining or helping your cause. Then move to identifying what your organization does that similar non-profits don’t.

Companies have products or services to promote, but non-profits have stories. How is your organization improving lives, advancing research, or using donations to make a difference in the world and the lives of the people involved? The best non-profit marketers have a clear answer for that question, along with creative ways to tell the stories that illustrate their successes (and their needs). The simplest way to go about storytelling for non-profits is to focus on blogs, social media posts, press releases, and other content that turn your donors and volunteers into heroes for your cause.

A 2017 Community Brands Member Loyalty Study found that the most frustrating content was irrelevant to their interests or flat-out boring. Take the time to tailor your content to your unique audience.

4. Diversify Your Marketing Efforts

In the age of popular crowdfunding options like GoFundMe and Facebook donations, some non-profit marketers get stuck thinking of social platforms as the primary way to connect. While the importance of social media in non-profit marketing cannot be denied (it’s a great way to share those stories and raise awareness), it shouldn’t be the only platform your organization uses to reach donors and volunteers. Press releases, events (in person or online), email, direct mail, billboards, and even search or banner advertising on the right websites are all smart ways to connect with the people who matter to your organization.

Consider the following must-have non-profit marketing platforms:

  • Email – Communicate regularly with people who have expressed an interest in your organization. Over time, this will be one of the most cost-effective marketing options you have.
  • Social Media – Engage regularly with your existing audience for free or expand your reach with affordable targeted ads.
  • Google Ads – Grants are available to qualified non-profit marketers.
  • Direct Mail – Direct mail response rates are at an all-time high of 5.1%, and 77% of millennials respond to direct mail as an advertising strategy.

Offline marketing is important for non-profits. The Abilia Donor Loyalty Study concluded that 73% of donors like short, snail-mail letters, and 56% want to see a printed annual report.

5. Update Your Website

Non-profit organizations are often quick to skimp on their websites, favoring old and outdated platforms to avoid the expense of a modern, mobile-friendly site. While website development can be costly, there are also affordable ways to bring your website out of the dark ages. Non-profit organizations can choose to work with web development interns, set volunteers up with user-friendly platforms like WordPress or SquareSpace, or consult with a professional marketing agency for strategic website design.

One of the most important things to consider when evaluating a non-profit website is the content architecture. Most organizations have a lot of content, but over time, it’s become disorganized and difficult to access. A solid content strategy paired with SEO tactics can help make things easier for your visitors and improve your search presence at the same time.

According to CharityNavigator, 40% of non-profit website traffic came from mobile users in 2018. We have every reason to believe those numbers will continue to grow exponentially as people do more and more from their tablets and smartphones. Mobile-friendly is a must for non-profit websites!

Does your organization need help developing the right non-profit marketing strategies to win over your donors and volunteers? Contact us to learn more about how we can help – we love working with organizations that are doing good in the world!

Marketing in the time of coronavirus is a unique experience, but one thing remains consistent: marketing to your existing leads and customers is a good way to generate new or repeat business without spending too much money. Early data also indicates that email engagement is rising during the pandemic, making email marketing an affordable, effective way to reach customers right now. In addition, after an initial boost in March and early April, email volume has been consistent or even less than the same time in previous years, making now a good time to reach people when they aren’t overwhelmed with other messages.

Of course, it isn’t enough to send a message out to your list and wait for the sales to roll in. That’s why it’s important to think strategically, test, and improve all your marketing efforts – especially email.

Understanding Industry Benchmarks for Marketing Emails

Before you can begin measuring the success of your marketing emails, it’s important to understand what standard performance looks like for your industry. MailChimp, a leading email marketing platform, has compiled benchmarks that include average unique open, click, and bounce rates for 45 industries with lists of 1,000 or more contacts. Here’s a look at benchmarks for some of our clients’ industries:

Industry Average Open Rate Average Click Rate
Business & Finance 21.56% 2.72%
Education & Training 23.42% 2.90%
Hobbies 27.74% 5.01%
Legal 22.00% 2.81%
Media & Publishing 22.15% 4.62%
Non-Profit 25.17% 2.79%
Recruitment & Staffing 21.14% 2.53%
Software & Web App 21.29% 2.45%
Average for All Industries 21.33% 2.62%

One easy way to see how your marketing emails measure up is to compare your metrics to the benchmarks for your industry.

Of course, benchmarks can illustrate how much engagement an email receives, but it’s also important that you connect your marketing emails to any new leads or profits they generate. Take a look at our recent blog on marketing ROI to learn more about tracking leads and sales from your campaigns.

Following Best Practices for Marketing Emails

Now that you understand what your marketing email performance should look like, let’s review some best practices to help you achieve and exceed those benchmarks.

How Often Should I Email My List? According to a SmartRMail survey, companies that email their lists 1-2 times per week have higher open and click rates.

  • When is the Best Time to Send Marketing Emails? It’s more difficult to measure the best time to send your marketing emails. Marketing consultants used to recommend Tuesday through Thursday, between 8am and 10am, but an increasing mobile society has led to people opening and clicking on links in emails at all hours of the day and night. The best practice now says to experiment with your list to see when your messages get the best engagement; you might be surprised at the results.
  • What Should My Marketing Emails Look Like? Make sure your email template matches your brand to avoid any confusion from customers or leads. If you don’t have a professional designer on staff, many popular email platforms will help you customize your template to fit your brand guidelines.

How Do I Write a Good Email Subject? Keep the subject of your email brief, clear, and engaging. Experts suggest 3-5 word subjects perform best, but as with everything in marketing, A/B testing can help determine exactly what works for your audience.

  • What Should I Include in My Emails? Conversational tones tend to work best in email, but don’t take too long to tell your readers what they need to know and why they should care. Always make sure to include a clear, concise call-to-action in your message; you can perform an A/B test to find the best placement for your CTA.
  • How do I Avoid Mistakes in Marketing Emails? Whatever you do, don’t send an email to your list without first testing to make sure everything looks good and works the way you intended. Check for misspellings, broken links, images that won’t load, and other visual or typographical errors. Take your time and avoid the embarrassment of sending an email that looks unprofessional or frustrates your customers.

Trouble-Shooting Your Marketing Emails

If you’re experiencing low performance, there are several things to consider. As with all marketing, testing different ideas, offers, and designs is a great way to figure out what resonates best with your audience.

How to Fix Low Open Rates

Low open rates can be a result of several factors. Try experimenting with:

  • Subject: If your subjects are generally long, try something shorter and more punchy. Consider including a special offer in the subject line itself.
  • Day or Time: In our connected world, it’s nearly impossible to predict when your contacts might open an email. Try sending later at night or earlier in the morning to see if you can trigger a change in performance. If you’re in B2B sales, consider sending your message on a weekend when someone may be receiving less work-related email.

Be aware, also, that email open rates are notoriously unreliable. Emails can be recorded as unopened even when they have been viewed, since many email programs show a preview of the email in a separate pane. Recording as open also requires a pixel image to load, so users who have images disabled won’t count as opens even if they read your whole message.

How to Fix Low Click Rates

If people are opening your email but not clicking on your links, you can try the following ideas:

  • Try a different call-to-action. Test different offers to see what your audience finds most appealing.
  • Move the placement of your CTA. We like to make sure it’s one of the first things a reader sees, but different placements may work for different audiences.
  • Make sure your CTA is visible. If you’re using an image button, some users might not see it at all. Make sure to use a text link as well.

Do you need help finding the flaws in your marketing emails and making significant improvements? Talk to a member of our team today to learn more about how we can help with email marketing.