Nonprofit Marketing: Bridging the Gap Between Givers and Good

There’s a lot of good to be done in the world. Whether you’re leading conservation efforts, running humanitarian services, or pursuing any one of the thousands of worthy nonprofit missions—the problem isn’t that “there’s not enough good to do.”

No, it’s more likely that your problems are about “not enough” money, resources, and supporters.

At first, it may seem like it would be a simple enough thing to get donors behind you. But before they can support you, they need to know you exist. Then, they need to understand what you do, why you do it, and why it really matters that they join in.

There is a gap between the good you do and the givers who can help make the work possible.

Nonprofit marketing is the art and science of creating a bridge between your mission and the people who can help make it a reality: your supporters.

So let’s get down to the basics.

What Is Nonprofit Marketing?

Let’s start with a simple definition of nonprofit marketing:

Nonprofit marketing is everything your organization does to provide experiences across your communication channels to engage supporters with your mission.

Your mission is the driving force that propels everything forward. Nonprofit marketing is how you help donors understand and experience this mission in a way that motivates them to act.

For the person who has never heard of you—marketing brings them to their first encounter with your mission. If someone has already given—your marketing keeps them engaged with the mission until they are moved to give again.

Marketing is about executing comprehensive, multichannel experiences with existing and potential supporters.

A donor can experience your mission through a well-crafted email campaign, a landing page, your website, print piece, billboard, TV commercial, online video, and social media channels.

Any communication channel where people go to be informed, entertained, or connect with other people is a potential space for an experience with your mission. Every channel is an opportunity to inspire someone to action through your messaging.

Nonprofit marketing is about showing donors how to fulfill their mission by supporting your mission.

What are the Goals of Nonprofit Marketing?

There are several objectives any nonprofit should adopt when they try to engage donors with their mission.

Objective 1: Introduce more people to your mission.

The first objective is to create experiences with your mission for those who have yet to hear about you. This is called raising brand awareness. By introducing more people to your mission, you’re raising awareness of the cause.

Whether you’re just starting or you’ve been around for 50 years, every nonprofit should seek to find audiences who haven’t met them yet and create first-time experiences with their mission.

Objective 2: Diversify opportunities to connect with donors and potential donors.

The second objective of nonprofit marketing is to diversify donors’ opportunities to experience your mission through multichannel marketing campaigns.

Once you have an established communication channel with a person—whether through email, SMS, direct mail, etc.—you want to give them as many opportunities as possible to have yet another meaningful experience.

You want these opportunities to come to donors in multiple ways and through various channels while delivering the same essential messages.

The more opportunities you create for people to connect with your mission, the more likely they are to act.

Objective 3: Grow donor base.

The final objective of nonprofit marketing is to add more first-time and repeat givers to your donor database. Marketing that doesn’t cultivate more givers and gifts needs to be modified.

Successful marketing cultivates a certain percentage of donors from the larger pool of prospective donors. We call this the conversion rate: “How many people convert from a non-donor to a donor?”

Ultimately, nonprofit marketing aims to increase your overall conversion rate over time.

How Can Marketing Automation Help Nonprofits?

Throughout the daily work of marketing, you’ll encounter many repeating tasks.

Every new subscriber to your newsletter, for example, should receive a welcome email. Or, any time a person gives a gift, they should receive an acknowledgment letter or thank you email.

Imagine performing these tasks over and over each day. As you scale your operations, these repetitive marketing tasks can quickly overwhelm you and your team.

This is where marketing automation can help.

Marketing automation scales your ability to craft quality experiences for givers to connect with your mission.

That means you can create meaningful touchpoints with more people without having to grow your team, work longer hours, or risk dampening the quality or consistency of your interactions.

Think of marketing automation as a tool to scale your success—not a robot who takes over your marketing work.

For example, marketing automation allows you to create a welcome email series that is triggered “automagically” anytime someone signs up for your email newsletter. And email is only the beginning! For instance, you can automate a thank you message to go out via SMS or assign someone to write a handwritten note the following day whenever someone gives a gift.

Automation creates value for your organization when you can scale repetitive touchpoints with your mission.

Personalize each donor message with automation.

When we meet someone for the first time and learn their name, we then use their name when we address them. This lets them know we are listening and engaged.

But could you do that while meeting thousands of new people each day? With marketing automation, you can.

For example, when you get a new subscriber, marketing automation can send them an email, SMS, and direct mail communication with their name on it. Even if a thousand people sign up in a day, they will get personalized emails within seconds.

But the real power of automation is unlocked when you use it to contextualize each automated message.

Again, we do this in natural conversation every day. After meeting someone, we discuss mutual interests, things we’ve learned about the other person (like their career), or shared acquaintances. We ensure that our conversation is contextualized to fit the interests of the person we’re speaking with.

Marketing automation makes that possible across thousands of interactions in seconds.

That means if a donor gives to purchase a meal for a hungry family, your automated marketing will send the donor communications about your hungry families program rather than messages about your vocational training program. When your marketing automation reflects the donor’s behavior and interests, they’ll feel you care about them as a person rather than an ATM machine.

While scaling your communications is amazing, marketing automation’s real power is the ability to personalize each message so your donors feel heard.

Your Nonprofit Marketing Plan

Now that we’ve explored what nonprofit marketing is, it’s time to write up a marketing plan to guide your work. Marketing is an ongoing, complex endeavor, and a comprehensive plan empowers you to delegate and run your marketing operations confidently.

Let’s go through each section you’ll need to craft a successful nonprofit marketing plan.

Your Nonprofit Brand

The first step is to define who you are, what you do–and most importantly–why you do it. People are drawn closer by why you do things—versus what you do or how you do it.

In this section of your nonprofit marketing plan, you will carefully outline the language that shapes your mission and values. Your mission statement is an excellent place to begin.

Your mission statement declares your core purpose or belief. People want to see themselves—their values, hopes, and aspirations—in the organizations they support. A strong mission statement clearly states what your organization wants to accomplish in the world.

A great example from the for-profit world is Patagonia:

Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.

When you are thoughtful, transparent, and committed to your mission—it serves as a guide and filter which helps you make decisions that are “on brand”.

Once you have clarity around mission—you’ll want to think about the voice you want your nonprofit brand to have. Is it light and fun? Will it be grave and serious? Will it be punchy and irreverent?

One example of a very serious mission that has adopted a light, fun-filled brand voice is NEGU (Never Ever Give Up!), a charity that raises funding for children with terminal cancer. Their colors, typography, and campaign slogans are as fun as childhood should be, yet their mission is a matter of life or death.

Giving thought to these decisions creates a framework for you and your team to follow when you communicate through marketing channels.

Your Target Audiences

One of the reasons that fundraising so often feels impersonal or uncomfortable is because it is so often impersonal and general. Nonprofit marketing is about creating experiences with your mission for potential and current donors. But you can’t create a meaningful experience for an audience if you don’t know who they are.


First, write out their demographical information. This is basically the raw data you have on your target audiences.

  • Where they live
  • Where they work
  • How much they make
  • Education
  • Their age
  • Their language
  • Ethnicity
  • Race or culture
  • Country of origin

Of course, you investigate and write out as much information as you like for this section. Include anything that will help you understand your audience and their shared experiences. There is so much you can learn about your audiences simply by listing out what information you have on them.


Now that you know more about your audiences’ physical and social characteristics, we need to dive into the most critical part of your audience’s profiles–their psychographics.

Psychographics is the investigation of how your audience thinks about themselves and the world in which they live.

Based on what you’ve written out in the demographics section, do your best to write answers to the following questions:

  • What experiences do the people in your audience share in common?
  • What religious or non-religious beliefs do they share?
  • What historical moments have shaped their lives?
  • What makes them angry, scared, or frustrated when they look at world events unfolding?
  • What makes them hopeful, happy, and excited about the future?
  • What is their history with your nonprofit organization?
  • What do they think of you, your past executives, news, and campaigns?

As with the demographics, there’s no end to the number of questions you can ask to shape your audience’s psychographic profile.

By profiling psychographics, you’ll be much closer to understanding your audience. Armed with this knowledge, you can create meaningful experiences that inspire and motivate them to action. At the same time, you’ll avoid crafting experiences that evoke negative emotions.

Donor Journey

Next up, lay out your donors’ journey—the practical steps your donors need to make a first-time or recurring gift.

In other words, what decisions does the donor have to consider to make their gift a reality?

Donor Experiences Are Unique. Four different donors are pictured, each with a different starting point with the nonprofit.


Our friends at NextAfter conceptualize the donor journey as a mountain. It’s a series of propositions to which the donor must say, “yes”.

Now, if our message is our best tool to help a donor decide that they should give, then we must ask a deeper question: What is the heart of the message? What is the force behind the message that we use to help pull people through these series of “micro-yeses,” on the journey to the “macro-yes?” That force is our value proposition.

Like a mountain, saying yes is not their default response. They need a good reason why they should click the button, read your landing page, and ultimately, give their hard-earned money.

Your Value Proposition

Since the value proposition is the motivating force pushing the donor’s heart up the donor mountain, it should also be laid out in the nonprofit marketing plan. While there might be several minor value propositions you could use for various programs and initiatives, your nonprofit marketing plan should define the overall value proposition your organization has to offer donors.

Your value proposition answers the question: “Why should I give you now rather than to another organization, or not at all?”

Try to answer this multi-part question in a concise, compelling way. What’s the main value proposition for your nonprofit?

From there, you could line up some of the minor value propositions you’ll use for future campaigns. For example, you could write out a value proposition for why a donor would want to give a monthly gift rather than a simple, one-time gift.

Marketing Channels to Include in Your Plan

In your marketing plan, lay out the channels you will use to reach your target audiences. It’s essential to think through your marketing channels as part of an omnichannel marketing strategy.

All audiences, no matter their demographic, encounter marketing messages in various forms. Trying to cultivate donors with only one channel is no longer an option.

  • SMS text
  • Email
  • Social Media
  • Print Media
  • Television
  • Outdoor advertising (billboards)
  • Online Video
  • Radio

The channels you use will be guided by the information outlined in your target audience’s section.

For example, if you’re reaching Millennials or Gen Z, you’ll want to invest heavily in newer social media channels like TikTok while maintaining your more traditional channels. If your target audience is older, you’ll want to use more established social media platforms like Facebook while investing significantly in traditional communications like direct mail.

In this section of your nonprofit marketing plan, you’ll want to spell out your strategic approach to each channel.

  • What kinds of messages will you send out on each channel?
  • How often will you publish new content on each channel?
  • Which channels can you use together in future messaging campaigns?

This section will be constructive when you seek to delegate marketing tasks to your team; this is where they’ll be able to see the whole picture behind your omnichannel marketing plan.

Measuring Success

Once you’ve established your marketing channels—you’ll want to write out how you will measure your success in each of them.

How will you know that you’re doing well? Vice versa, how will you know that changes need to be made?

Here are examples of the metrics you’ll want to monitor:

Direct Mail

  • Response Rate: How many people responded to your mailing / How many pieces did you mail out
  • Cost per Acquisition: Total amount spent during the campaign / Number of gifts
  • Return on Investment: (Revenue – Total amount spent on the campaign) / Total Spent


  • Open Rate: How many people opened your email / Number of emails sent
  • Click Rate: Number of people who clicked on a link in your email / Number of emails sent
  • Bounce Rate: How many emails were rejected by the email server
  • Unsubscribes: Number of people who decided not to receive your emails or your email newsletter
  • Spam Score: How many of your emails were marked as spam or junk mail

Social Media

  • Number of followers: How many people follow your social media accounts
  • Audience Growth: Growth rate of your social media followers over a period of time
  • Mentions: How many people mention your nonprofit’s user handle in their posts
  • Engagement: How many people clicked, liked, shared, or commented on your post
  • Impressions: How many times do your social media posts or ads show up in your follower’s timeline
  • Reach: Number of potential viewers a post could have
  • Referrals: Number of people who land on your website by clicking on a social media post
  • Conversions: Number of people who give to your organization because they were sent to you by social media

Website Traffic

  • Average Time on Page: How long a user stays on one of your pages before they navigate away
  • Bounce Rate: How many users navigate away from your website within so many seconds of landing there
  • Average Session Duration: The average time users spend on your website
  • Returning Visitors: How many users left your site and came back later
  • Pages per Session: How many pages did a user visit before bouncing away from your site
  • New Subscribers: How many people signed up to receive emails from you

In your nonprofit marketing plan, list the relevant success metrics you want your team to monitor and report on.

Executing Your Nonprofit Marketing Plan

As you go through the steps to craft your nonprofit marketing plan, know that some nonprofits take months to create a marketing plan. There is a lot of information you’ll need to gather to put it together, and several stakeholders will need to sign on to it, depending on your organization’s size.

Execution and plan review are crucial to success.

Thousands of marketing plans are wasted on forgotten hard drives because the team doesn’t review them from month to month. Make sure you bring out your plan from time to time (we recommend daily or weekly when first launched) to see how well you implement each step.

A responsive nonprofit CRM will help you see these marketing metrics in an easy-to-understand analytics dashboard.

Want a clear guide to evaluating your CRM choices? Check out Virtuous’ CRM Checklist and The Modern Nonprofit CRM Guide.


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