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7 min Read
June 1, 2022

Four ways nonprofits can use effective messaging

Kevin Penney

Why do donors invest in your organization? Nonprofit communicators and development staff constantly grapple with this question and now understand just how essential strong, persuasive messaging is in attracting support and securing donations.

Of course, having the time to develop effective marketing strategies and proactively execute them can be difficult in the constant face of change and interruptions. Finding the best marketing strategy for your nonprofit often requires experimentation, research, and creativity.

Here are four tactics to help your nonprofit improve its marketing and messaging:

  1. Develop a compelling message.
  2. Leverage your supporters’ networks.
  3. Create branded merchandise.
  4. Partner with other organizations.

These strategies are designed to be flexible and work for a variety of nonprofits. As you develop your approach to messaging, always keep your nonprofit’s core goals and values in mind. Doing so will help build long-lasting relationships with supporters that should be your ultimate goal. Let’s get started.

1. Develop a compelling message.

Supporters give to causes they feel strongly about, and your marketing messages are essential in cultivating those strong feelings and helping supporters channel them to take action. Of course, while your mission is worthwhile, it can be difficult to articulate why it’s worth supporting and finding the right words to inspire action.

Nonprofit marketing strategies exist to help answer this dilemma and provide organizations with actionable steps to craft messages that will resonate with their priority audiences every time.

  • Determine your audience. Before you start crafting your message, be sure you have a specific audience in mind. This will allow you to create more targeted appeals that will motivate key groups of supporters to join your cause. If you’re not sure who your audience is, examine the motivations and values of your current donors. Chances are that your key audience will consist of prospects who have similar characteristics and interests.
  • Evoke emotions. While many supporters will look up the numbers and hard data behind your mission at some point before donating, many will first be motivated by a strong emotional appeal. However, not every emotion is equally effective in getting supporters to take action. Aim to evoke high energy emotions that will likely result in action, rather than feelings of contentedness, sadness, or even despair which can make supporters feel like there is no need to act, or lead to harmful messaging and unethical storytelling.
  • Provide immediate next steps. After a supporter reads one of your messages, what do you want them to do? In most cases, you will want them to take an immediate next step to get further involved with your organization. This could be donating, signing up to volunteer, or even sharing your post with their social media followers. Make sure to provide links, direct instructions, and anything else needed to make taking action as easy as possible.

Additionally, while being persuasive is certainly important, also consider how your messages represent your nonprofit’s values. This means being open, transparent, inclusive, and avoiding over sensationalization. Honest, compelling messages will reflect well on your nonprofit’s brand, showing supporters what you value and increasing their trust in your organization.

2. Leverage your supporters’ networks.

Your supporters have connections to people who might be interested in donating to your nonprofit but are out of your network. For these potential donors, your current supporters can help you connect with them by sharing your cause and encouraging them to engage with your organization.

There are a variety of ways you can leverage your supporters’ networks, which will depend on your nonprofit’s relationship with the supporter and just who exactly is in their network. For instance, here are a few examples of how your current supporters can play a role in spreading your message:

  • Host a peer-to-peer campaign. Peer-to-peer fundraising is a powerful social fundraising strategy that empowers your supporters to raise money on your behalf. Your supporters will create a fundraising page through your nonprofit and then reach out to their network of friends and family to promote your cause and ask for donations. It’s a fantastic way to reach new donors and raise money for your cause at the same time. 
  • Ask supporters for introductions. If there is a specific prospect you want to connect with or improve your relationship with, check to see if any of your current supporters already have a pre-existing relationship. This can be one of the most effective ways to expand your network of donors, as many individuals who have an affinity and capacity to provide gifts to organizations like yours likely have friends and family with similar giving prospects.
  • Set up a workplace giving program. If you notice that a significant number of your donors all work for the same business or organization, you may be able to reach out and inspire them to start a workplace giving program. While the individual employees who support your organization may not have the ability to implement a giving program, they can likely put you in touch with someone at their business who can.

As you fundraise and try different campaign types, you may end up experimenting with some of these strategies naturally. For example, during a crowdfunding campaign, you’ll want to encourage your supporters to share your campaign as far and wide as possible to attract the titular crowd necessary for reaching your fundraising goal.

3. Create branded merchandise.

Creating branded merchandise allows your nonprofit to raise funds and promote your cause at the same time. After a supporter buys a t-shirt or another piece of merchandise, they’ll help market your nonprofit for you every time they go out in public wearing it. And just like with peer-to-peer campaigns, your supporters’ friends and family are likely to consider their endorsement of your organization.

To get started, follow these four key steps to launching your nonprofit’s first merchandise line:

  • Determine your audience. Who do you envision buying your merchandise? Families? Older or younger donors? People who regularly jog or use computers in cafes? Having a clear audience in mind will help you determine what products to sell before you start designing. 
  • Design your merchandise. Get creative and use your nonprofit’s branding as a jumping-off point to create eye-catching, attractive designs. You can also partner with a nonprofit platform that will provide templates, design advice, and even help create the final product.
  • Schedule promotional posts. Create and schedule promotional posts for all of your social media accounts. These posts should announce when your merchandise first becomes available, promote any discounts or special items, and let supporters know when their last chance to buy something is approaching.

While your online store will likely be one of your main platforms, you can also promote your merchandise at a variety of fundraisers and events. Set up a booth at a walkathon to sell t-shirts and water bottles or try running a peer-to-peer campaign where your supporters encourage their friends and family to buy your merchandise.

4. Partner with other organizations.

As mentioned, your supporters have connections that your nonprofit doesn’t and the same goes for other organizations that may be willing to work with you. Partnering with a business or another local nonprofit can be mutually beneficial—your nonprofit markets your partners and your partners market your nonprofit in return. 

Of course, not every organization will be the perfect fit or have the resources to help you achieve your marketing and fundraising goals. When choosing an organization to work with, assess them for their:

  • Shared values. Organizations with values that align with your nonprofit’s mission will be more receptive to your pitch to work together. Additionally, it can be detrimental to your nonprofit’s image if you end up partnering with an organization that has practices that go against your mission, which is less likely to occur when you conduct thorough research into their values. 
  • Type of support. Organizations can promote your nonprofit in different ways to different audiences. For example, a local business can have a significant impact on your community’s support but are unlikely to reach your remote supporters. Partner with organizations that have a similar customer base to your nonprofit’s priority audiences. 
  • Philanthropic affinity. Not every organization you approach with a partnership offer is going to say yes. But the ones who will usually have a history of supporting other similar organizations in the past. Take the time to research each of your potential partners and identify if they have worked with nonprofits and causes like yours in the past.

While this advice covers working with businesses, community organizations, and other charitable organizations, your nonprofit can also always partner with a nonprofit marketing consultant. These firms can help you identify what parts of your marketing strategy are working, determine what needs improvement, and may even leverage their connections to help give your organization a little promotional boost.

Standing out today with persuasive messaging and marketing tactics can be a challenge, but nonprofits that find a way to connect with their supporters can unlock reliable resources, support, and funds. Make sure you know who you’re marketing to and get creative with new ways to engage your supporters from a strong message to a piece of merchandise they’re proud to own.

About the author: 

Kevin Penney has been working in digital media for over ten years. He’s the CMO and co-founder of Bonfire, an online platform that’s reinventing the way people create, sell and purchase custom apparel. He enjoys strategizing, working closely with his team, and hockey, exactly in that order.

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