Marketing for a Nonprofit When It’s Not All Sunshine and Rainbows

Marketing for a Nonprofit When It’s Not All Sunshine and Rainbows

March 8, 2017

by H.E. James

Nonprofit work is not all sunshine and rainbows.  Many NGOs are responsible for managing public health crises, natural disasters, and large-scale emergencies.  Our world deals with these things every day, necessitating that NGOs make public entreaties for things like supplies, manpower, and funds.

Yet these situations present NGO marketers with a challenge unique to their industry: how to market events and information that isn’t always positive in tone, such as the CDC’s response to the Zika virus.  Marketing this kind of information doesn’t mean you have to find the positive angle.  There might not be one.

Instead, look for ways in which marketing the information can have a positive impact on the public and the NGO.  Here are some tips for making that happen:

Aim to Educate

One of the most common goals of an NGO is to educate.  Yours likely has a lot of educational material.  If you market for a cancer research organization, one of your goals is informing the public about where dollars are allocated for research projects.

Turn the circus of social media into a platform for sharing the positive impact funding research has had on cancer statistics.  This is the number one way technology has changed public outreach, so use it to inform, even if others use it to incite.

For organizations that provide care during disasters and emergencies, your marketing, especially on social media, must focus on where and how the public is being served.  The Red Cross’s apps are available to users young and old.  The Monster Guard app teaches kids from seven to 11 years of age about emergency preparedness through the mechanism of a game.  Other apps offer information targeted to specific natural disasters and regions.

Aim to Empathize

In marketing, it’s easier to get people to empathize with causes and organizations that directly affect them.  I’m more likely to be effected by a call to action from by an NGO that works with heart defects.  Why?  Because I have one.

The American Cancer Society’s marketing campaign of One Degree is compelling because it does two things: it utilizes an emotional connection, and it backs up the marketing with research that proves its claims.

Movember has been a master of using empathy to market its cause: research for prostate cancer.  The November growth of facial hair around the country prompts conversations about the “why?”  Yet the people behind the cause have also missed the empathy mark with their humor.  Certainly, people want to beat cancer.  We just don’t need to beat it up.

Aim to Engage

Perhaps your marketing end-goal is a donation or a new volunteer sign-up.  Yet the true goal of marketing is to engage the public.  You can’t offer education or empathy without first engaging.  It can be as simple as tweeting assistance information during a natural disaster.

Your nonprofit and the work it does is all part of your brand.  Market passive means of engagement for the public, such as newsletter sign-ups and follows for social media accounts.  This allows the public to dive deeper into your NGO, becoming educated and empathetic to your goals.

Engagement is the first step in the sales funnel, and the most successful nonprofits and NGOs think of their marketing as converting a sale.  You want people to donate their time and money to your projects and causes.  It can be as simple as introducing a new research project or a new staff member.  Post a meet-and-greet video that shows the public around your offices.

Just as there are people out there who want to help you, they also want to know about the people behind the causes and efforts.  You may be compelled to go to an agency for your marketing.  Yet, when comparing in-house marketing to outsourced, the people who know your brand the best are those who live it every day.  Use them to spread the word of what you do.

Engagement, education, and empathy are everyday human needs.  Instead of playing on them, speak to them.  This will connect the public with your organization in the best way possible because it’s putting them directly in touch with the people who know the cause the best.

Hattie James headshotHattie James is a writer and researcher and lives in Boise, Idaho. She has a varied background, including education and sports journalism. She is a former electronic content manager and analyst for a government agency. She holds an MBA and enjoys local ciders. You can find Hattie on Twitter and LinkedIn.