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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 www.thebalancesmb.com 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!

Negativity is an attention magnet.

These days, you could be forgiven for thinking that the world is falling apart. The worst of humanity seems to fill our newsfeeds on a daily basis, to the point where all that bad news appears to be seriously affecting people’s mental health.

The Challenge of Marketing a Good Cause - Is the World on Fire?

Actual photograph of the world today?

But in reality, the world is safer than ever beforecrime in the U.S. is approaching historic lows, and the U.S.’s renewable energy production recently surpassed coal-based output for the first timeElon Musk, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet all think that now is the best time to be alive.

So why is it so hard for positive messages to cut through the clutter?

The answer is negativity bias, and it makes marketing a positive product or positive message more difficult than ever. Fortunately for those of us trying to fight the “good” fight, the recipe for successfully marketing good causes does exist.

Let’s start by examining the main challenge a marketer faces when trying to promote a positive message.

What is Negativity Bias?

Numerous studies have confirmed that people gravitate more toward negative content, which is likely caused by our brains being wired to respond more sharply to perceived threats. The majority of media and websites, driven by the goal of raising advertising revenue, have leaned into this negativity bias in order to grow viewership, which leaves little room for organizations looking to promote a positive message.

Or does it?

The reality is that people crave good news and positive stories. Promoting them simply takes a lot more work and a defined strategy in order to cut through the negativity. Let’s look at five ways to market good causes below.

Five Ways to Market Good Causes

1. Speak Directly to the Tangible Benefit Your Audience Will Receive

The most important realization for any organization trying to recruit consumers for a positive cause is that the altruists in any market represent a small percentage of the total universe. Let’s look at green purchasing as an example:

What this data means is that at the end of the day, no matter how noble your cause, people will still make their purchase decisions based on perceived individual benefits (value, convenience, price, etc.).

Your marketing should lean into this realization, and focus on the tangible benefits your audience will experience as individuals if they choose your offering. Data can help immensely here, as we’ll see below.

2. Put Data on Your Side

For the purposes of marketing “good”, there are two types of data:

  • Statistics which show the extent of the problem you’d like your audience to solve
  • Data that shows how your audience will benefit from your solution

As we’ve already learned, the first dataset will get people’s attention, but the second will drive them to action.

Let’s take renewable energy as an example, specifically combating global warming through solar power.

Let’s read that statement as an individual human. What can one person possibly do about such a huge issue? For most of us, very little, which is why it’s important to focus more heavily on individual benefits.

  • How your audience will benefit: switching to solar power will save you $1,000 a year in electricity costs

How to Market a Good Cause - The Tangible Benefits of Switching to Solar Power

This second data point, drawn from this CleanTechnica data, links the action you want your audience to take, switching from fossil fuels, to the individual benefit that will help push them to make a decision.

Communicating with this kind of individual benefit data will help you grow traction in any marketplace.

 

3. Identify and Resolve Your Market’s Adoption Barriers

Customers will always follow the path of least resistance. So remove the resistance.

Customer purchase decisions generally follow the path of least resistance. While there are always exceptions, most people will choose the cheapest, easiest solution for most products. So what does this mean when you’re marketing a good cause?

Unfortunately, if your solution asks your audience to go out of their way, invest a lot of time for an uncertain return, or pay more, it will often fall on deaf ears. And the key to solving this challenge is to do the legwork in order to make adoption as easy as possible for your audience.

Five Ways to Market a Good Cause - a Paper Cup

Please recycle me

Here, I’ll use an example from a printing company trying to sell an improved paper cup to a major food and beverage retailer that would have made the recycling of that retailer’s cups much easier. The cost of using this new cup would have increased the price of each cup by a fraction of a cent. This doesn’t sound like much, but for a publicly owned company purchasing millions of cups a day, the profit impact plus the effort of switching vendors proved to be too much.

What could this printing company have done? Perhaps they could have offered discounts in other areas to put their price at parity. Perhaps they could have waived other charges. Or perhaps they were just facing a bridge too far. But the point is that “doing good” is not enough. The barriers that this particular customer faced needed to be removed.

How do we do it? Make the path you want your audience to take dead simple.

If you’re collecting donations, why not go to people’s houses instead of requiring them to come to you? If you’re trying to promote green energy, it might be time to hire a lobbyist to get preferential legislation passed that tilts the scales in your favor. If you’re marketing a more expensive green product, consider what you can do to come close to price parity with less eco-friendly competitors.

These efforts are difficult, but they matter when you’re dealing with decisions based on fractions of a cent.

4. Build External Pressure

As we touched on earlier, nothing motivates a business or market more than bad news. Poor press, public backlash, or shifting market preferences can all push an organization to take action.

How to Market a Good Cause - Jon Stewart and Mitch McConnell

Jon Stewart in the Senate hallway before the final vote on the 9/11 First Responders’ Compensation Fund.

Let’s take Jon Stewart as an example. His recent push to get the federal government to re-authorize the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund saw him going to great lengths to call out senators who were viewed as obstructing the bill’s passage, ultimately leading to the bill’s reauthorization for the foreseeable future.

How can you ramp up the pressure on your audience? There are many tactics to do so, from letter-writing to Greenpeace’s more controversial direct action efforts. These days, a coordinated social media campaign can often be effective. The key is to use this approach over time, and provide a pathway for those involved to take action in the meantime (per our third point above).

5. Dominate the News Cycle – with Positivity

Finally, it’s important to remember that more and more individuals are providing news and other content via social media. And deep down, people crave positive content.

A study from the New York Times and the Marketing Science Institute found that while content that evoked anger or anxiety was more frequently shared, positive content was actually more viral overall.

Over the long term, positive content is more viral.

As well, social media scientist Dan Zarrella has shown that the more negative your account, the more you’ll see your followers leave.

Five Ways to Market a Good Cause - the Impact of Negative Posts on Follower Count

 

So what’s our lesson here? If you post positive messages and content about all the good results your cause is generating (as opposed to the challenges it faces), you’ll be doing a great job of counteracting the negativity generated out in the media.

And you want to tout those wins as often as you can – one study found that a ratio of 5 positive interactions were required to counteract one negative attitude or behavior. So turn up the volume and let your positive vibes fly!

I hope that you’ve found our five tips to market good causes in a negative world valuable. If you’d like to talk more about how to get your positive message out to your audience, please get in touch!