Getting Started with Nonprofit Marketing

by: Michelle Sanchez, Devscape Marketing Manager



Marketing is not just sending out an email or mailing a post card. There are many different avenues to get the word out about your programs, products or services. In this article, I’ll explain the different flavors of marketing so you can decide which techniques will work best for your organization.


The following is an illustration of the marketing and communication process. It’s been shared many times to show the different ways marketing can work for you.

  • If the circus is coming to town and you paint a sign saying 'Circus coming to the Fairground Saturday', that's advertising.
  • If you put the sign on the back of an elephant and walk it into town, that's promotion.
  • If the elephant walks through the mayor's flower bed, that's publicity.
  • If you get the mayor to laugh about it, that's public relations.
  • If the towns citizens go to the circus, you show them the entertainment booths, explain how much fun they'll have spending money at the booths, answer their questions and ultimately, they spend a lot at the circus, that's sales.
  • If before painting the sign about the circus coming to town, you check community calendars to see whether conflicting events are scheduled, study who typically attends the circus, and figure out what types of activities the townspeople will enjoy, that’s market research.
  • If you invent elephant ear pastries for people to eat while waiting for the elephant ride, that’s product development.
  • If you create an offer that combines a circus ticket, an elephant ear pastry, and elephant ride and a photo with an elephant, that’s packaging.
  • If you get a local restaurant named Elephants, to sell your elephant package, that’s distribution.
  • If you ask everyone who took an elephant ride to participate in a survey, that’s customer research.
  • If you follow up by sending every survey participant a thank you note along with a two-for-one coupon to next year’s circus, that’s customer service.


So, what does this mean for you, a nonprofit manager? Now you know there's more than one avenue you can use to get the word out so you can gain the support you need. Here are some action items to get you started:

  • Market Research. Begin by doing some research on other nonprofits who do what you do. Find out what needs they're meeting in their communities and how they're spreading the word about their mission. Talk to the people you want to help. Find out what they need and ask them how you can best meet those needs. Doing market research takes the guess work out of the process.
  • Program Development. This is where you follow through on the things you learned during your market research. Develop a program, provide services or design products that will meet the exact needs of your target group.
  • Tell Your Story. Create a brand and a message to reach potential donors, volunteers and other supporters. Sharing how you began or why you chose to do what you do is the easiest way to create personal appeal for your cause.
  • Go for and close the sale. The passion you have for what you do should come through as you network with others and answer their questions. You want potential supporters to catch your vision.
  • Serve your base. As soon as you acquire a donor, a volunteer or a board member the customer service phase should begin. Make your supporters feel needed and appreciated.
  • Learn from others. Interact with supporters to gain insight on their thoughts and ideas. Be open to change.


Successful marketing has no short cuts. To build a successful organization takes diligence and time. Nonprofit managers often feel overwhelmed already, but it's important to take time develop your marketing plan carefully. Begin by determining how much money you have to spend. You may be able to hire a marketing professional to help you.


If you're on your own, start by setting very specific goals. How much money do you want to raise in the next six months? How many volunteers do you need so that your new program runs effectively? Defining what your trying to achieve will make the process easier. After you decide what you want to achieve it'll be easier to get there. If you start with a goal, a plan and a reasonable budget, chances are you'll get where you want to go.