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Mistakes nonprofits can’t afford to make

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Stacy Jones

Nonprofits are notorious for making some common marketing missteps that can cost in the long run. They are easy to fix with a little thought and commitment by the board and staff.

Marketing Your Mission. Most nonprofits market their mission only. Sure it’s the driving force of the nonprofit internally, but it’s not the message donors, customers and volunteers need to have to understand the organization. These audiences need to hear the emotionally compelling impact a nonprofit is having on the community. That’s what makes certain nonprofits stand out in the crowd of thousands in the United States.  Nonprofits have great story-telling ability and need to capitalize on it.

Messaging for your audience. Reframing messages to target the audience will have a greater impact than promoting all the great things a nonprofit has accomplished.  Connect with donors and volunteer’s values.  What drives them to action? Most volunteers and donors get involved to make a difference. Instead of telling the audience all the benefits of the organization, change the message to show the impact the audience can have on the cause. Empower the audience to be the difference for the organization.

No call to action. Nothing is worse for a nonprofit’s audience then hearing the messages, getting excited and then not knowing how to help.  What do nonprofits need from their constituents? That’s the call to action. If a nonprofit needs donors or volunteers, or if they are providing services, let people know clearly and in an easy way how to connect immediately with the organization while the excitement is there.

Lack of consistency. Nonprofits are notorious for having no consistency in key messages. If someone asks 10 people from a nonprofit what the organization does and the impact it has, the answers should be the same. Again, the mission statement is not the message. Nonprofits need to create key consistent messages about the organization’s impact and how they make a difference in their community. All board members and staff need to know these messages and practice them if necessary.

No budget. A budget takes planning, and many nonprofit leaders feel that money for marketing is simply an afterthought. Without marketing, programs and services will suffer, donations will drop, volunteers won’t know about volunteer opportunities and there will be low turnout at events. Marketing is a critical piece of the nonprofit puzzle and needs to be treated as such, with at least some marketing dollars reflected in the budget. There are many low-cost methods for nonprofit marketing but some funding is still needed.

Once nonprofits can begin to address some of these common marketing missteps, a great foundation for marketing will begin to take shape.


Stacy Jones is a nonprofit marketing consultant based in Troy, N.Y. and a Shoestring Creative Group Network Affiliate.  She can be reached at affiliates@shoestringgroup.com or 1.888.835.6236.

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