10 Nonprofit Marketing Experts’ Best Fundraising Strategies

Marketing and fundraising at a nonprofit is tough. 

You’ve got a tight budget, a small team, a handful of tools, high expectations, and lots of people who want your organization to succeed. 

Right now you’re likely dealing with a major crisis ― your most important fundraisers have been canceled or shifted online, you’re managing a remote team now, board members are growing concerned and the community you serve still needs your help. 

On top of navigating through this crisis, your organization still has to work on boosting your visibility, driving interest, increasing donor engagement, and donations. But knowing which channels to tap, what your messaging should be, and how to diversify your marketing mix can be overwhelming. 

Basically, there are lots of challenges ― something you already know. But I’m going to try my best to help. 

I recently reached out to marketing experts at nonprofits and organizations who work closely with nonprofits to share their insights when it comes to engaging donors and raising funds in 2020. I asked them to describe their organization, their position, and offer their expert advice. 

They delivered.

From their responses, effective fundraising boils down to three vital things: 

  • Your ability to tell human stories
  • A strong, content marketing strategy
  • A trustworthy, compelling brand

When these three key components come together, your fundraising efforts have their best chance at succeeding. These are all strategies that can be executed online, and right now, that’s where you’ll find the majority of your audience. Check out these nonprofit marketing experts’ responses to learn how you can boost your fundraising efforts right now. 

1. Share human stories that people can connect with

Devon Blaine

Current Position: President and CEO 

Organization: Blaine Group Inc. 

What your organization does: Provides educational & support services to people with breast health issues in Los Angeles County. This includes food, transportation & other assistance.

In your experience, which marketing strategy have you found most effective at engaging donors and raising funds?

Human storytelling. For one example, I refer to having the parent of an autistic child share what they experienced when their child who had not spoken in two years started to talk again. And it was because of a fun and free event they attended at an amusement venue, put on by a nonprofit that supports families with an autistic member.

Or a breast cancer survivor who was pregnant when diagnosed, and she received care thanks to a grant provided to the hospital by Susan G. Komen. She not only survived but also has a healthy baby ― this was told while the 11-month-old baby boy crawled across a conference table, cooing into the camera that was shooting footage for a newscast.

Liz Schroeter Courtney

Current Position: Business Development Manager

Organization: BBMG

What your organization does: BBMG is a brand and social innovation consultancy dedicated to creating business growth and positive social impact. We help nonprofits grow their impact and deliver fearless work on the issues that matter.

In your experience, which marketing strategy have you found most effective at engaging donors and raising funds? 

No one wants to be lectured ― especially millennials. Instead, connect the issue to what your audience already values and enlist ambassadors with social clout to show the way. The strength of your campaign’s proof points won’t necessarily ensure success, but the strength of your storytelling with the right influencer partners will.

Storytelling Resources 

Julia Campbell is a leader in nonprofit marketing and has worked with organizations like Road Scholar, Make-a-Wish Foundation, and Plummer Home for Boys. She has written a book on storytelling for nonprofits that explores the layers to effective storytelling over social media. 

Tatiana Morand, Content and SEO manager at Wild Apricot, recently wrote for the Venngage blog. She shared a post on nonprofit storytelling examples, a great resource for storytelling inspiration.   

2. A relevant, engaging content marketing strategy

Stacy Caprio

Current Position: Marketing

Organization: Stacy Caprio

What your organization does: Marketing consultation for nonprofits like Power for Parkinsons, a nonprofit that helps people with Parkinson’s gain access to free exercise classes and education.

In your experience, which marketing strategy have you found most effective at engaging donors and raising funds? 

I do marketing for the non-profit Power For Parkinson’s. One way we successfully use social media is by harnessing the power of video in their mission, through YouTube. Exercise is a powerful way to combat Parkinson’s, and the YouTube channel showcases ways to do this. Power For Parkinson’s now has more than 7,000 YouTube subscribers with videos in the tens and hundreds of thousands of views, including one over 300,000, showing you can have success as a nonprofit on a social media channel like YouTube as long as your content is providing true value to your audience.

Nate Nead

Current Position: CEO

Organization: SEO.co 

What your organization does: We are a content marketing, link building, SEO and paid search management firm based in Seattle, WA. 

In your experience, which marketing strategy have you found most effective at engaging donors and raising funds? 

Facebook has performed the best, but the cost per conversion has been much higher than standard content marketing, especially when we are paying for ads. 

The nature of most nonprofits requires an adherence to guerilla marketing tactics. While larger nonprofits may have unlimited budgets, smaller organizations typically operate in a perpetual cash-strapped startup mode, with a keen eye on capital consumption. 

As such, nonprofit marketing requires a focus on the avenues that provide the largest amount of output for the least amount of capital outlay. Our data and experience working with both for-profit and not-for-profit organizations shows that a content marketing strategy ― when properly executed ― holds the highest ROI of any other marketing channel. 

Creating quality content ― including videos, infographics, images, blogs and newsletters (both for on-site and off-site consumption) has been the number one performing strategy for noprofits wanting to make the greatest impact with the least amount expended. 

In fact, in a study we did across nearly 300 both for-profit and nonprofit organizations (including our marketing agency partners) we found that content marketing had almost an 80% better ROI than competing and comparable paid channels. 

Tom Crowe

Current Position: Founder, SEO Consultant

Organization: Tom Crowe Digital

What your organization does: I’m an SEO Consultant who works predominantly with nonprofits. In fact, I work with some of the biggest nonprofits in the UK as well as much smaller ones and those just getting started. I have so many SEO and digital marketing insights for nonprofits and actually wrote a piece on it after I had volunteered to provide free audits to charities with very little budget.

In your experience, which marketing strategy have you found most effective at engaging donors and raising funds? 

My one biggest tip is for nonprofit sites to write comprehensive content about the issue they deal with, structured to the types of queries that users search Google for. This is highly effective for 99% of charities since they are subject matter experts, they just need to show it with content and the rewards will be significant. For example, if I were a charity for type 1 diabetes, I would create pages for “What is type 1 diabetes?”, “What are the symptoms of type 1 diabetes?”, “What causes type 1 diabetes?”, and “How is type 1 diabetes treated?”.

The impact of creating this content ― and being very comprehensive in the information provided ― is that it helps to showcase the nonprofit as a topical authority in the subject matter subsequently increasing ranking positions for keywords and bringing in increases in traffic from search engines. Many of those searchers will go on to become a beneficiary, a donor, a fundraiser, a campaigner for the charity etc, and it costs nothing to produce.

Content Marketing Resources 

At Venngage, we’re major advocates of content marketing – it’s fundamental to our growth and how we connect with our audience. Our content marketing strategy is rooted in creating content that is authoritative, engaging and visually appealing. For nonprofit leaders in particular, our post on infographics that boost your fundraising efforts, can play a key role in your content marketing strategy. 

If you don’t have a big content team, you might need to hire writers. But hiring the right ones can be challenging. Codeless put together a study of five content writing services not too long ago. After providing the writing services the same assignment, Codeless compared the quality of their writing. You can check out the post for which writing service came out on top, and might be a good choice for you. 

3. A trustworthy, compelling brand

Abby McKinnon

Current Position: Content Creator

Organization: Hoot Design Company

What your organization does: We provide brand and marketing services to a variety of nonprofits.

In your experience, which marketing strategy have you found most effective at engaging donors and raising funds? The best thing that a nonprofit can do is invest in its brand. Consistent branding can make a nonprofit instantly recognizable, which helps to spread its message and create awareness in the community. The goal is to have community members look at a piece of marketing material and instantly know the nonprofit it aligns with, and in turn, the mission it represents. Consistent branding is the best way to accomplish high levels of awareness and support.

Matt Seltzer

Current Position: Marketing Board Member

Organization: Kantor Early Childhood Education Center

What your organization does: The Kantor ECEC is an early childhood education center in Henderson, Nevada.

In your experience, which marketing strategy have you found most effective at engaging donors and raising funds? 

When I work with nonprofits, I find that creating great, unique experiences that demonstrate the value of the organization are what really drive things home. Creative Open House events, unique offerings to other businesses when partnered, anything truly memorable along those lines that people can experience really drives home the value of it all.

Rachel Bearbower

Current Position: Owner + Chief Strategist

Organization: Small Shop Strategies

What your organization does: Providing small shops with the strategies they need, based on industry best practices that are simple, easy to implement and you know, actually work in small shops.

In your experience, which marketing strategy have you found most effective at engaging donors and raising funds? 

Humanize your communication. For example, talking to the audience like a friend or in my case, to my Grandma Peggy. Some tips are to use short sentences, to invoke emotion through storytelling, and to avoid using a ton of jargon that only insiders know ― no one likes to feel left out.

Don’t make it hard to read. As most donors and supporters of organizations are older (and female), make the marketing pieces easy for her to read (large font, wide margins, no overlay of a dark background and light font)

It’s about them. Not you. Talk to your audience about what they care about (NOT telling her how great your organization is) and stop writing that you’re a 501c3 in the first sentence of everything you write.

Carolyn Ashworth

Current Position: Director of Philanthropy

Organization: The Pollination Project

What your organization does: In support of our mission to spark goodness and compassion in every person, we use the money we raise to grow a vibrant grassroots community of global changemakers. Every day of the year, our network awards a new project $1,000 in seed funding and offers capacity-building support, encouragement, and connectivity with others as that project blossoms.

In your experience, which marketing strategy have you found most effective at engaging donors and raising funds? 

My biggest piece of advice is to be authentic. This is part of our organizational DNA at The Pollination Project, but it is also just fundamentally true that engaging with donors can’t be just about money. Giving is a very personal reflection of another person’s hopes and dreams for a better world. In many cases, the conversation is about their very legacy on this earth. Resist the temptation to think transactionally, and focus instead on building a relationship based on shared values. Doing this not only builds stronger and more impactful engagement, and it also will make you a happier development professional. This is meant to be joyful work! 

Jme Thomas

Current Position: Executive Director

Organization: Motley Zoo Animal Rescue

What your organization does: We are dedicated to improving the lives of animals locally, nationally and internationally; alleviating their suffering and elevating their status in society through the rescue and rehabilitation of animals in need and through the education of their community on responsible pet ownership and animal welfare, advocating the value of all animal life, in hopes to end the neglect and abuse of all animals and to end the devastating pet overpopulation through spay and neuter advocacy.

In your experience, which marketing strategy have you found most effective at engaging donors and raising funds? 

The one thing I find so important is to not be afraid to take a risk ― at least the ones that don’t cost a lot. It seems the way we think at Motley Zoo is just very different than most ― so naturally, we are trying things no one has ever really done before. But it works very well and actually has inspired a change from the “usual” in our animal welfare system, not just here in our state, but nationally as well (other organizations are now mimicking our efforts which we feel is awesome because it means more animals will find homes). 

We didn’t invest a lot into many of our ideas- the best were all free. You don’t have to spend money to make an impact – and frankly, when taking a new risk, it’s better not to. What this does however is free you up to look at things differently; it’s really about trying things perhaps even opposite of what you might normally do. Especially when it’s making just one small change, even radically, if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t – there’s really not a ton of bad things that can happen. But you just might come up with something good! 

Taking that step to try to go outside your norm is really critical and how truly innovative efforts come about.

Brand Strategy Resources 

Branding isn’t a complicated concept. But how it helps support the mission of an organization (nonprofit or for-profit)  isn’t always clear. Building a trustworthy brand is also a long-term process, not something that happens overnight. You can check out this Classy Post on brand strategies to help you get started. 

I also enjoyed this Donorbox post on straightforward tips on brand building. The post lists out very actionable tips, explaining how to carry each tip out, and why they’re important. With an organized approach, you can help establish a reputable brand. Never get intimidated!


Jeilan Devanesan

Jeilan Devanesan is a content marketer at Venngage, the online graphic-design tool. He researches and writes on how to engage your audience with visuals, how to utilize SEO through visual content, and design trends. He has written for Classy, CMI, Outbrain, Clutch, and other publications. You can connect with him on Linkedin.

March 27, 2020

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