Five Marketing Mistakes Nonprofits Need to Avoid

Sean Horrigan is a guest contributor for Nonprofit Hub, and a marketing/PR consultant with a track record of helping clients grow and prosper through consistent media coverage, strategic social media campaigns, killer copy and better branding.

Nonprofits are starting to embrace inbound marketing methods as a way to attract and retain donors.

Greater emphasis is being placed on creating content, building brand equity and generating positive press. In fact, a recent study by the Content Marketing Institute shows that 61% of nonprofits are consistently creating and sharing content via social media. And that’s good news, because 65% of millennials (ages 20-35) prefer to learn about your nonprofit online*.

Here are five traps to avoid as you plan your inbound marketing campaign and chart your course to success.

You Use Social Media to Solely Promote your Organization

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but your organization is much more interesting to you than it is to everyone else. So stop using social media as a bullhorn to promote it. Think about it, what would happen if you always talked about yourself to your friends? You’d lose those friends pretty fast. Same rules apply when it comes to social media. Social media is the art of being social. It’s a two-way conversation you have between you and your donors. Be social and engage in two-way conversations!

That’s not to say that you can’t promote your organization via social media—you just need to stick to the rule of thirds:

  • ⅓ of your social content promotes your organization, converts readers and generates donations

  • ⅓ of your social content should share ideas and stories from thought leaders in your industry or like-minded organizations

  • ⅓ of your social content should be based on fluff/fun to show that there are human beings behind your social media marketing

Once you begin to curate and share content that engages, educates and entertains your followers using thought leaders from inside/outside your organization, your donors/followers will begin to see you as a resource rather than a marketing machine.

You Don’t Have a Brand Positioning Statement

A nonprofit’s brand is its most important asset. Yet, many nonprofits have never taken the time to create a brand positioning statement. They may have a mission/vision statement but not a positioning statement.

A positioning statement is a one or two sentence statement that articulates your organization’s value. It conveys who you are, what you do and why anyone should care.

It helps donors and prospects understand where to categorize and classify your organization in their minds.

Your positioning statement should possess three key qualities:

  • It must be unique. It must not already be owned by another organization. No hijacking here

  • It should be narrow. If your positioning is too broad, no one will remember it. If you’re everything to everyone, then you’re nothing to anyone. Find what makes you unique and own it!

  • It must be simple (concise), clear and consistent

A strong brand positioning statement will drive all creative decisions and serve as the foundation for your marketing and fundraising success.

You Don’t Invest in Good Design

First impressions are everything. And good design ensures that your organization will always make strong first impressions in the minds of donors, prospects and volunteers.

Smart and strategic design commands attention, elicits reactions, tells a story and persuades your audience to take an action. It’s a crucial component to every annual appeal letter, newsletter, banner ad, blog, website and billboard.

Unfortunately, too many nonprofits neither invest the time nor the resources in good design—and it shows. They look unprofessional, small and ill equipped to change the world. Donors want to support a winner. Good design makes you look like a winner.

You Dismiss the Power of PR

Powerful PR is vital component to any successful fundraising campaign. It generates brand awareness, builds buzz and increases credibility. If a donor or potential corporate sponsor is reading about you in the press, hearing your story on the radio and seeing your name appear in blogs—they’re going to take notice. And if your story resonates with them, they’re going to get involved

Unfortunately, many nonprofit leaders are quick to dismiss PR. They think it’s too expensive and difficult to measure. I’m here to tell you that you can’t afford not to do PR.

PR generates donations, attracts board members and builds government support like no other marketing tool. Just look at the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. PR placed ALS in the national spotlight almost overnight. ALS raised $100 million dollars in 2014 vs. $2.7 million during the same time period in 2013.

You’re Not Tapping the Power of Video

Did you know that video has a 400% higher engagement rate than static content? And the average website visitor spends 88 % more time on sites that feature video?

So what’s stopping you from making video an integral part of your marketing/fundraising arsenal? And don’t tell me it’s a budget issue. Today’s smartphones come with high quality built-in cameras that offer an array of editing and color correcting tools.

If you want to kick things up a notch—invest $400 in a decent camera. It won’t be state-of-the-art, but it will do the job. And that’s what’s amazing about video. It doesn’t always need to be Steven Spielberg quality to make an impact. It just needs to educate, entertain and engage.

So what say you? What marketing mistakes have you witnessed at nonprofits? I’d love to hear if you care to share.

*HubSpot: Engaging Younger Donors Online with Inbound Marketing


Be sure to check out Sean’s website for more tips and insight.

Five Marketing Mistakes Nonprofits Need to Avoid

Sean Horrigan

December 1, 2014

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