Just like any for-profit business, nonprofit organizations need to have a marketing strategy to survive and thrive.
Nancy Schwartz, founder and president of the nonprofit marketing firm Getting Attention, emphasizes that marketing for nonprofits is all about building relationships, and those relationships are vital to an organization's success.
“The goal of marketing is to build and strengthen relationships," says Schwartz, who in addition to her consulting work also serves on the board of the Nonprofit Technology Network and on marketing committees for her synagogue, local high school and PTA. "Nonprofits are based on fundraising, but you can’t meet someone the first time and ask for money. You need to build that relationship."
Nonprofits don't have a lot of money to throw around on marketing, however. So it's important for you to make every penny count. Luckily, free marketing opportunities abound. It's just a matter of being innovative, creative and flexible in your marketing approach.
Here are five ideas for affordable nonprofit marketing.
Engage your current supporters
Nurturing and engaging your current supporters, donors and volunteers is, according to Schwartz, one of the most effective free marketing strategies for nonprofits.
“You have to be very appreciative of your supporters," explains Schwartz. "Nurturing your existing supporters is the best low-cost, highly-effective marketing strategy. It’s always easier to retain existing supporters than it is to get new people in the door.”
That means keeping them updated and informed, and it also means getting them to do things with and for your organization. And here is where the second part of this strategy comes in: Ask them to tell their friends, family and colleagues about your organization.
"Not only does that expand your reach and increase the number of folks engaged in your organization, it’s asking people to get involved more than just writing a check," says Schwartz. "It works to get your existing supporters engaged.”
Social media sites are a gold mine of free marketing opportunities. Set up a business page on Facebook, and use it to communicate with your various constituencies—posting photos, updates, links and information. Create a Twitter account and mingle with others, keeping them up-to-date about your nonprofit's activities. LinkedIn, too, provides plenty of opportunities to market, by creating a business page, promoting your organization and keeping in touch with like-minded people. Look, too, for smaller, lesser-known social media outlets that are specific to the focus of your organization.
It's important to remember, however, that though there's often no upfront cost associated with these sites, it does take time for someone within your organization to keep them updated—and time is money.
"The key to effective use of social media is engagement, and engagement means that somebody from your organization is engaging with people through that conduit," explains Hamilton Wallace, owner of SmallBusinessMarketingConsultant.com. "To have an authentic voice and create engagement, it needs to come from someone inside the firm."
Create a blog on your website and update it daily with helpful and useful information that readers be likely to share with others. The more useful the information you give, the more it will help your marketing strategy, increase awareness of your organization and mission and engage your audience. Another upside of blogging is it will draw people to the rest of your site, where they can see what you're doing and learn how they can support your activities.
Anyone with a smartphone and simple editing software can create professional videos that can be posted on YouTube or directly on your organization's website.
"We're a video-oriented culture, especially with YouTube," says Valerie Moody, owner of Fodeo, which provides photography and video services for individuals and organizations. “Anything we want to do we can go to YouTube and find something that shows us how to do that."
Your nonprofit might post an instructional video, for instance, or a video message from the director, or clips showing community service and involvement. Getting people to watch and share your videos will help spread your message.
Line up representatives of your organization to speak at conferences, trade shows and other events related to your field. This is a chance for free publicity and an opportunity to get your message out there. You can put information about possible speakers and topics on your website, so people searching for a speaker will be able to track down your organization, or you can register with a speaker's bureau.
Each of these techniques works in tandem with others. Thus, you can promote your speech-making over social media, or mention it in your blog. An e-mail newsletter can point people to your Facebook page. T-shirts that your employees wear to community events can have your organization's name and website on them.
Great marketing doesn't have to be expensive. In fact, the more creative you are with your marketing, the less you'll have to spend.
Vivian Wagner is a freelance writer in New Concord, Ohio. Vivian blogs via Contently.com.
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