By Adam Brock, Joining Vision and Action (JVA)

how to market your nonprofit

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Phrases like “target market” and “key message” aren’t part of the vocabulary of the traditional nonprofit. How to market your nonprofit social enterprise can not only be a challenge but a desirable component to be avoided altogether. For many in the social sector, it’s considered a virtue to stay as far away from the world of marketing and advertising as possible. But while decades of deceptive campaigns have earned marketing a bad rep, the practice is hardly limited to Don Draper-style manipulation. In fact, whether they realize it or not, most non-profits are already engaged in marketing. Tweaking grant language to appeal to a specific funder, crafting an appeal to individual donors, promoting programs to clients—each of these day-to-day tasks require understanding a group’s desires and crafting a message that motivates them to act. In other words, they all require the skills of effective marketing.

With the addition of social enterprise to the nonprofit’s set of revenue strategies, these same set of skills must be put to use in attracting customers to your products and services. This isn’t to say that your nonprofit needs to adopt any of the more manipulative tactics of the ad industry—in fact, the authenticity of your mission and people can be your biggest asset. But the fact remains that no social enterprise can avoid marketing altogether.

In that case, what are the best ways for a nonprofit to go about successfully marketing its social enterprise—without sacrificing its values?

The most obvious way a social enterprise might promote itself is to sell the mission. People of all backgrounds are increasingly interested in “voting with their dollar,” spending their money on goods and services that have a social or environmental cause. This is a natural fit for social enterprises, where the mission is the driving force of the entire venture. In particular, you might want to consider one of these strategies:
  • Quantify the mission. If you have a robust evaluation system in place, use it to come up with a statistic that directly ties a customer’s purchase to a tangible outcome. “For every pizza you purchase, you’ll keep a teenager off the streets for three nights.”

  • Humanize the mission. If your customers and beneficiaries don’t have the opportunity for face-to-face interaction, use your marketing as an opportunity to connect customers more deeply with the people you’re serving. The Women’s Bean Project, for instance, includes hand-signed tags on each of their products explaining the organization’s mission and a profile of the woman that made it.

Quantifying and humanizing the mission can each be valuable tools for leveraging your social impact into marketing messages, Even so, be cautious not to overestimate the “warm fuzzy effect.” While the idea of spending for a good cause is a definite plus, you’ll need a lot more than that to attract customers in an ever-more-crowded and globalized marketplace. Ultimately, a great mission will only go so far without a great product or service to back it up.

Still have questions about how to market your nonprofit social enterprise? Let Joining Vision and Action (JVA) help. In addition to social enterprise and marketing trainings, we also can work with you one-on-one. Call (303) 477-896 today for a complementary consultation on the best tools for you and your organization.