Sustainable Nonprofit Marketing: 4 Factors to Evaluate

Nonprofits have limited resources, and your marketing efforts need to be sustainable to continue to scale up your organization.

Sustainable Nonprofit Marketing: 4 Factors to Evaluate

Nonprofits are commonly stretched for resources, relying on support from volunteers, corporate partners, and government assistance to fulfil their missions. Another challenge is that many major sources of support and funding are restricted, and nonprofits often have to compete for these. Those sources can only be used to advance the programs and initiatives dictated by the funder. Funding and fulfilling these initiatives is your nonprofit's purpose, but a lack of funds for marketing and other overhead expenses result in insufficient revenue for outreach and growth. 

Ultimately, marketing is an expensive but necessary part of maintaining and growing a nonprofit. Marketing encompasses your nonprofit’s digital strategy, events, merchandise creation costs, and anything else that serves to promote your organisation. 

While marketing is essential for bringing in funding and attracting volunteers, it is also easy for a marketing campaign to become unsustainable and either absorb too much of your budget or time. To help your nonprofit strike this balance between attracting necessary attention and still devoting time to other projects, this article will walk through four factors for creating a sustainable marketing plan. 

1. Retention Incentives 

Attracting new supporters to your cause can be expensive, and it’s not uncommon for nonprofits to struggle with a lack of long-term commitment from volunteers. This is why it’s important for nonprofits to not only focus on how to gain new supporters but also how to retain them. 

Your nonprofit only needs to pay the marketing costs of attracting a supporter once. After that initial investment, a retained supporter will continue giving, providing long-term value. Retaining supporters is thus an essential part of a successful, sustainable marketing program. This applies to volunteers, as well as donors.  

You can improve your retention rates by providing incentives, such as: 

  • Personalised communication. Supporters are individuals with specific interests and motivations, and nonprofits that treat them as such are more likely to retain them. Segment your supporters into groups, depending on how they contribute to your nonprofit. This way, you can create messages that are more likely to apply to their interests. For example, a nonprofit might create a segment for new donors, who will then primarily receive messages that introduce them to the nonprofit’s mission. By contrast, a segment for long-term volunteers would likely consist of progress updates for ongoing projects and stories from beneficiaries past volunteer projects have helped. 
  • Additional engagement opportunities. While nonprofits will need to make additional donation appeals to fund specific projects or increase a donor’s value over time, donors are likely to become disengaged with nonprofits that only ever reach out to request more money. This can be especially true during times of economic turbulence, in which some donors may be interested in cutting their spending and supporting their favourite causes in other ways. You can engage these donors by offering new ways to get involved, such as volunteering, participating in an advocacy campaign, or attending a virtual event. With your volunteers, you can invite them to engage in other activities, as well, such as joining your advocacy campaign or attending an appreciation event. 
  • Impact demonstrations. Supporters give and donate their time to causes they believe are making a difference. Providing supporters with impact reports that demonstrate the difference your cause is making can be a powerful retention tool. Share both reports with hard numbers about how donations are being used to make a difference, as well as emotional stories from individual beneficiaries to show the human impact that can’t be easily conveyed through statistics alone. For volunteers, emphasise initiatives you’ve accomplished and the essential role your volunteers played in fulfilling them. 

The supporters your nonprofit has retained can also be a useful marketing tool. These supporters have had a positive experience with your nonprofit and can likely be persuaded to promote your cause to their friends and family, providing your nonprofit with a source for word-of-mouth marketing. 

2. Scalable Tools

Nonprofits intending to grow their marketing strategy should develop a plan to do so sustainably. Part of this plan should involve assessing your current communication tools and determining  these tools can meet your long-term needs. 

Software licences can be expensive and changing platforms can result in dips in productivity as your team gets acquainted with your new tools. To avoid repeatedly changing software, nonprofits should invest in scalable solutions that will adapt to their needs. 

For example, DNL OmniMedia’s guide to Salesforce NPSP explains that the Salesforce CRM is popular because of its flexibility for organisations of all sizes. Small nonprofits will be able to use Salesforce NPSP for free and have their first 10 licences provided at no cost. Nonprofits can then purchase additional licences and storage space as they grow, allowing them to expand their marketing campaigns without a dramatic change in software. 

3. Future-Proof Your Organisation

Sustainability is about setting your nonprofit up to make an impact long term. This means having reliable tools, budget, and staff and to fulfil your initiatives and handle day-to-day operations now and into the future. 

Focus on retention and how you can invest in various aspects of your organisation, from your software to your volunteers, to set them up to make a bigger impact down the line. Nonprofits should consider methods to make their organisations future-proof. You can set your nonprofit up to continue impacting long term change through: 

  • Consulting. Nonprofit consultants can help your organisation with a variety of your operations including marketing, website development, internal organisation, capital campaign planning, and more. A marketing consultant can help your nonprofit develop a strong, sustainable outreach strategy, but keep in mind the direct costs associated with hiring that consultant. 
  • Expert Consulting Tip: You could also try to connect with a (local) marketing agency’s corporate volunteering program. A great example of nonprofit organisations connecting to companies is Business Involved in Amsterdam. This platform offers skills-based volunteering, thereby linking nonprofits with companies. A win-win for both parties!
  • Custom software development. If your nonprofit is investing in a new website, CRM, or other major software solution, you may need to hire a developer to assist in implementing a fully custom system designed to fit your needs. For example, nonprofits interested in the Blackbaud CRM will have a CRM designed specifically for them, but should also factor in developer costs when budgeting for this software solution as the platform is built specifically for nonprofits to customise it. 
  • Training. Your nonprofit will need to provide training for a variety of needs, such as teaching volunteers how to perform tasks and familiarising your staff with new software. Additionally, you can make investments in your staff’s skill sets to help improve their ability to perform marketing outreach for your nonprofit. NXUnite’s guide to fundraising training divides the skills needed for fundraising into four categories: written, oral, analytical, and technical. Each of your staff members can develop their skills in these areas, and they are more likely to do so if your nonprofit funds or facilitates training experiences.  

When planning for your nonprofit’s future, consider the value different investments can bring. For example, the dedicated volunteers your nonprofit is able to retain long-term, can bring continuous value to events, fundraisers, and your programs. For these volunteers, devoting a few hours of their normal work to help them learn a new skill will likely be well worth it. 

4. Outreach Schedule 

Marketing is expensive in both money and time. Organisations often underestimate how much time is required to develop a marketing plan, create outreach materials, edit those materials for different platforms, create posts, and follow-up with supporters who engage with each post. 

Many nonprofits hire a member of their team specifically to manage their social media accounts and outreach on those specific platforms. To manage your outreach and your team’s time, create an outreach calendar with specific dates for when outreach materials should be developed , which platforms they will be posted on, and when they will go live. 

A well-planned calendar will not only help your team create sustainable day-to-day schedules for their individual workloads, but it can also be used to coordinate campaign outreach across multiple channels. For instance, in the lead up to an event, a nonprofit may plan to reference the event in the previous month’s newsletter, send a formal mail invitation the next week, followed by an email invitation a few days later. 

Creating an outreach schedule can also help with A/B testing and other marketing experiments. For example, if your nonprofit has multiple marketing ideas, you may want to compare how the same message will be received on numerous platforms. You could then plan to have your message finalised and send it out through email and direct mail to two groups of supporters during the first week of the month. Then, plan to receive responses in the following two weeks, providing a specific timeframe for the duration of this test. 

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Marketing helps your nonprofit reach new audiences, spread awareness, and build up brand recognition. Expand your marketing efforts sustainably by accounting for your long-term needs and resources. By implementing these four steps to make your nonprofit’s marketing more sustainable, your nonprofit should start to see results from the methods that work best for your organisation.