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January 25, 2023

Why You Should Use Nonprofit Marketing as an Investment Strategy

Jane Pfeiffer

Calling all nonprofit leaders! Have you ever heard the advice that you should treat your nonprofit like a business? This is a common business model that’s still around today. But — it needs to change. Not only is it outdated, but it doesn’t consider the intricacies today’s leaders face — nonprofit marketing being one of them. 

We dove into this challenge headfirst during my time as a guest on the American Nonprofit Academy podcast (click here to give it a listen). It’s paramount to understand this to reach your fundraising potential. 

Changing the Nonprofit Business Model 

When people say nonprofits need to act like for-profit businesses, that’s making a lot of assumptions. Take marketing and communications. So many people think this should be an occasional luxury. Maybe they have a communications manager or received a grant to start a website. They’ll take that as an exception to do something different, like advertising to reach donors.  

In actuality, you have to look at nonprofit marketing as the biggest proactive investment that will yield a return in all areas. This can impact your services’ utilization, leading to fee generation, programming, and grants. It can also work to engage your donors, volunteers, and community partners. 

If people don’t know you, understand you, and believe you can solve X social problem, there’s no chance that they’ll want to align with your mission and partner with you. And for those people who don’t know you, the only way to reach them is through advertising and marketing. 

Now I know what you may be thinking: That will take money away from the mission. Or — I’ll get dinged because my operational expenses will be too high. But you have to get comfortable with how to shift marketing forward as an investment strategy. 

See Past the Tornadoes 

When you’re stuck in the day-to-day (and get sucked into the tornadoes of the day), you’re just focusing on the things that need to be done right now. All the time you spend supporting the mission doesn’t leave room for extra thoughts or exploring new ideas. 

When it comes to nonprofit marketing, there’s no one pulling on your sleeve saying, Hey, have you thought about doing this lately? There’s no demand or external forces pressing it. Also, nonprofit marketing isn’t a tangible thing. The responsibilities in our roles that we’re most comfortable with are what we spend most of our time doing. Chances are, you don’t have marketing leadership. So how do you expect it to get the time and attention it deserves without dedicated resources? 

Being Open Is Key

Because marketing isn’t probably seen as an investment within your nonprofit organization, you probably don’t have the resources that can help you think like that. But being open to how your team makes that shift is the first step. The second is finding someone who has that marketing perspective and shows you the implications of what you’re trying to set out to do (if taking that first step sounds scary, read this first). Yes, there’s a process and work to be done, but the systems must be in place first. 

Track Your Progress 

Nonprofit marketing should not be a spray-and-pray mentality, meaning it should be well thought out and measured. That measurement system has to be in place, from recording inquiries for your services and tracking phone calls to knowing what your competition is doing and how they’re speaking about similar services. 

Once you get that homework done, it’s important to gradually test your strategy by pulling one or two levers at a time to make sure the needle is moving in the right direction. 

Closing Thoughts

Thinking about nonprofit marketing as a need to have, a constant “on” initiative versus an occasional luxury is about creating a permanent shift in how you’re thinking. It’s not a quick fix. Think about marketing as a retailer would. They know advertising is a fixed cost. They don’t just open their doors and hope someone walking by will stop in. It’s about making marketing and advertising part of your investment strategy. It’s key to the success of your nonprofit — achieving what you’ve set out to do — and reaching your fundraising potential.

Learn more about nonprofit marketing through our Mission Multiplier video series – . If there’s further questions, feel free to schedule a meeting with me –