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Marketing for Nonprofit Organizations

Marketing for nonprofit organizations Marketing is something that every nonprofit knows they should do. The challenge is knowing what marketing involves or, more importantly, how much of an organization’s resources should be invested in marketing initiatives.

This resource defines marketing for nonprofits, outlines how an organization can most wisely spend funds on marketing, and articulates the importance of clearly communication your nonprofit’s mission and vision.

What is Marketing for Nonprofit Organizations?

It can be difficult to distinguish between marketing and fundraising. The issue is further complicated by the fact that marketing efforts typically have a positive impact on fundraising initiatives. For the purpose of this resource, marketing is the way in which an organization presents itself both internally and externally. In this context, marketing includes:

  • An organization’s brand, including how the logo is used.
  • How employees talk about the organization and recruit clients or participants.
  • Ways in which board members share the mission of the agency with others.
  • An organization’s messaging in printed collateral.
  • How the organization determines its other external messaging, including the use of social networks.

Brand Identity

Prior to engaging in marketing activities, an organization needs to understand its brand.  For small to mid-sized organizations, the Giersch Group believes that it does not take an investment in hiring a brand or marketing expert to understand and define the organization’s brand.  The brand includes tangible and intangible elements from the logo to the organization’s reputation, history, and how others perceive it. For the purpose of this resource, we will focus on the tangibles and will begin with the concept of the logo.

An organization’s brand is primarily defined by its logo and how it presents itself externally. The logo is the one thing that visually defines what the organization does. This is particularly important if the name of the organization does not immediately describe the organization’s work or mission.  

The logo needs to be used consistently and on every piece of communication – virtual or paper – that is sent out by the agency. A few reminders:

  • Never alter your logo by changing its color or dimensions. In the same way that McDonald’s does not change the color of its famous golden arches, you do not want to allow staff or others to change the fundamental look and sizing of your logo.
  • When possible, use the full-color version of your logo. This will help increase brand awareness among your donors and constituency.
  • Every staff person’s email signature line should include the logo and organizational address.

It is important to remember that even though you may be bored of your logo or want to exercise your creativity, you need to present a consistent brand.  A logo change not only disconnects the organization with its institutional history but is often perceived as institutional instability coupled with worries of mission drift by donors, volunteers, clients, and constituents.

That being said, many organizations refresh their logos from time to time. If needed, the Giersch Group agrees that hiring a professional who can retain the original “look and feel” of the logo while updating the font or colors is a wise investment.

After ensuring that you and your staff are consistently using your organization’s logo, you can consider developing a more complete brand identity.  This includes fonts used in presentations and communication materials, the types of pictures you use and the way you use them (color, black and white, group action photos vs. individual still photos), and a general design theme.  Upon completion of these tasks, it will be useful to develop a brand guideline handbook that can be used by all staff.

One way to determine if you have already developed a brand is to examine both your website and any pieces of printed collateral.  If they all share the same color scheme, type font and logo and look like they came from the same organization, than you have a strong brand identity. It is more common that an organization’s website looks completely different from the annual report, which looks nothing like its latest direct mail appeal.  With a bit of focus and focus, this can be easily corrected and a strong brand established.

Internal Communication

Marketing begins with how your employees talk about the organization. Each employee should be able to state your organization’s mission and vision and explain how his/her job is helping the organization accomplish its mission. This is particularly important for larger agencies or those with more than one program area as employees in different program areas may not be aware of the work of their colleagues.

Part of the internal communication should include an understanding of how (and if) employees can speak to the organization’s success stories. Since many organizations work with vulnerable populations, it is important for all employees to understand the need for privacy and how to tell a participant’s story from the participant’s perspective. You may want to provide some sample stories of how your agency should correctly and effectively discuss its work.  

External Communication

Board members are the first line of external communication. Since they are key representatives of the organization, it is important that each is able to articulate the mission and vision statement. In addition, we recommend that every board member have an “essential story,” or an example of how your organization transformed someone’s life.

The next part of external communication is how you present yourself to your donors. While most organizations want a great annual report or a nice leave-behind brochure, current and potential donors respond best to personal stories and testimonies. There is never going to be a single brochure of piece of collateral that is going to make someone want to give who is not otherwise affiliated with your organization. That said, we do recommend that you invest in two key pieces, a case for support and a leave-behind brochure.

  1. Case for Support.  A case for support is often used with major donors and outlines who you are, what you do, how you are different from others doing similar work, why your model works, and current financial needs. This document can be a PowerPoint presentation that is shown electronically or printed out and presented as a bound report. Please refer to our resource on Creating a Case for Support.
  2. Leave Behind Piece.  We recommend that every organization have a leave-behind piece that can be broadly distributed. Traditionally, this has been a tri-fold brochure, but it can also be a postcard or an 8 1/2 x 11 piece of paper. The collateral should summarize your organization, highlight the mission, indicate the number and types of participants served, share a success story, and highlight an opportunity for an individual to get involved. This piece should be inexpensive enough that board members and staff can give it away to people they meet who might be interested in learning more about your organization. More and more communication is being done virtually, and to that end, it is a good idea to design pieces that can also be sent as a PDF and can be visually appealing when they are viewed on a computer screen.

Social Media

One of the easiest ways to go off brand is through the use of social media. While it is common for social media to be a more informal communication environment, it is still important that posts on Facebook, LinkedIn or other social media sites are professional and accurately reflect your organization.

We recommend that organizations have a presence on Facebook and LinkedIn. However, it is important that you assign an individual who will be responsible for updating these and other sites such as Twitter. Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter can all be great ways to cost-effectively generate awareness of your organization. However, most nonprofits do not generate many donations through the use of these types of media. Nearly all organizations – 98% – have a presence on Facebook, and the average number of fans is 8,317 Note that although Facebook is a great way to increase recognition of your organization, it is still not an effective fundraising tool. Less than 1.5% of all organizations report generating more than $10,000 through their fundraising efforts on Facebook.


Email can be a cost effective marketing and fundraising strategy. More and more nonprofits are using email to send out newsletters and other updates that have traditionally been mailed. Because email has become a sophisticated communication tool, we recommend using a commercial program such as Constant Contact of MailChimp. These are available on a monthly subscription basis and can help you develop and manage professional-looking email communications and mailing lists.

Email is easy to send, but how much is too much? An average nonprofit organization sends 3-5 email messages a month, increasing to an average of eight in the month of December. This statistic includes emails sent for educational purposes as well as those sent for fundraising. Because of the ease with which emails can be sent, it is important to develop a communication calendar that is used by anyone in your agency that send out email campaigns. This will help you think through the important pieces of communication that you want your donors and volunteers to receive without overwhelming them with too much data in any particular month.

We receive many questions about average click-through and open rates for emails. The 2012 eNonprofit Benchmarks Study provides detailed industry standards that are worth examining for your organization.  A link to this study is provided below. In general, the average open rate across all nonprofit sectors is 13% for a newsletter and 12% for a fundraising email. The average click-through rate (the number of people who “click through” to a link you designate) is 1.6% for a newsletter and .47% for a fundraising email.

Summary and Key Do’s and Don’ts

Marketing is important for an organization, but you can be an excellent marketer without spending a lot of money or having a fancy brochure or annual report. Here are some key Do’s and Don’ts.

  1. Do be consistent in all of your communication and make sure your organization “looks” the same through all your communication vehicles.
  2. Do take time to train your staff and board members on how to speak about your organization.
  3. Do provide examples of how staff and board members should speak about your clients or program participants.
  4. Don’t set up Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn accounts without identifying a specific staff person who can update them regularly.
  5. Don’t rely on Facebook to fundraise, but DO use Facebook to increase awareness of your organization.

Articles for Further Reading

  1. Register for free and receive the 2012 Nonprofit Social Network survey.
  2. 2012  eNonprofit Benchmarks study.
For more information, please visit the Giersch Group at or contact us at


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