4 Marketing Mistakes Nonprofits Make (and How to Fix Them!)

Asking for money makes most of us squirm in our seats. The opposite is also true: people asking for our money makes us uncomfortable, too.

So we sympathize with your hesitancy to ask donors for money to fund your nonprofit organization. You’d rather tell stories about how the lives of people you serve have changed for the better. 

But you need funds to continue to do good, which means you must ask for money.

A digital marketing strategy is just as important for nonprofits as it is for businesses. The only difference is you’re asking people to support your mission rather than purchase a product or service. 

How do you market your mission to get support from donors and volunteers? Today we’re sharing 4 common mistakes nonprofits make in their marketing efforts. These mistakes hinder the buy-in you need to keep your doors open. 

If you’re making some of these mistakes, don’t worry—we’ll also explain how you can fix them! 

Mistake #1: The hero of your marketing story is not your donor.

At Sigl Creative, we talk a lot about the power of storytelling when marketing your product or service. That’s because we are storied people. People have been telling stories for thousands of years. We think in terms of narrative all day, even if we don’t realize it. 

The best way to win over your target audience is to tell a story. A story always has a hero, and many businesses are tempted to make themselves (instead of their customer or client) the hero of their marketing story. 

Likewise, many nonprofits make their organization or those they serve the hero of their marketing story. However, the donor should be the hero! 

In the most basic storytelling terms, a hero is a person who makes an important decision, usually with far-reaching consequences. (Think about Luke Skywalker choosing to do the dangerous trench run, or Frodo Baggins volunteering to carry the One Ring.) If your donor makes the decision to give, they will allow your organization to do good.

Your marketing materials need to put this decision front-and-center. Your nonprofit’s ability to help others depends on donors making the choice to give.

Think about it this way: you’re not going to ask the people you serve for funding. Your marketing strategy should speak to donors because they are the heroes who can fund your mission. Make your organization’s story about prospective donors and invite them to do good alongside you! 

However, one exception to this rule might come up, and we’ll address it in the next mistake you might be making. 

Mistake #2: Your marketing strategy isn’t speaking to those you serve.

Wait, didn’t we just tell you that the donor is your target audience? Yes, we did. 

But many nonprofits have two target audiences: donors and the recipients of their services. In this case, their digital marketing efforts must speak to both of these audiences. 

A good example is a pregnancy center. Many crisis pregnancy centers are nonprofits. A lot of their marketing assets—their website or social media, for example—must speak to the women who might be searching online for the information and services a pregnancy center offers. But these pregnancy centers also need donors to support their work. 

If your nonprofit serves two target audiences like this one does, you have to think carefully about how you’ll segment your digital marketing efforts so that you’re speaking to donors and recipients. 

Start with your website. Your homepage might speak to prospective recipients, but you should also include a clear call-to-action button for donors to learn more about your nonprofit and how they can support you. Consider adding testimonials to your homepage to demonstrate to both audiences the integrity and efficacy of your work. 

Some of you even have three target audiences because you rely heavily on volunteers! If your nonprofit has two or three target audiences, evaluate all of your marketing materials—your website, social media, email, and print pieces. Then ask how you can improve your digital marketing strategy so you’re persuading each audience to support your cause. 

Mistake #3: You’re not sharing stories and results with your donors and volunteers.

We already mentioned that people think in terms of narrative all day. Donors and volunteers love to hear stories about how their money is improving people’s lives. Sharing those stories is a key component in your digital marketing strategy as a nonprofit. 

This is where you get to make those you serve the hero of your story! The hero might be an individual or group of people. Tell your audience about the external and internal needs or problems they’re facing. Then share how your nonprofit helps your hero overcome them. Give a clear call to action (CTA), inviting donors and volunteers to be a part of your work. Finally, share how the hero’s life is changed because of their generosity.

A great example of this kind of storytelling is the homepage of International Justice Mission (IJM), a nonprofit that rescues people from modern-day slavery. IJM uses most of their homepage to tell the story of Hope, a boy kidnapped and enslaved in Ghana’s fishing industry until a team from IJM rescued him. 

Use high-quality photos when you share stories and testimonials. But always make sure you have permission to use people’s stories and pictures. Oftentimes, nonprofits are serving vulnerable people who’ve been stripped of some amount of agency in the past or need to protect their identities. You may find it best to change names and other personal details to help preserve their privacy.

Donors and volunteers like to know how their investment of time, money, or resources are making a difference in people’s lives. Plus, providing results of people’s financial investment is a common courtesy. Transparency about your nonprofit’s activity and results will build trust so that donors continue to give. 

Send out a monthly, quarterly, or annual newsletter with statistics and stories about how your target audience’s time or money is making the world a better place. Then thank them for their support! 

Mistake #4: You’re making it too hard or confusing for donors to give.

Donald Miller, marketing expert and author of Building a Story Brand, has a mantra we repeat a lot at Sigl Creative: “If you confuse, you lose.” 

Nonprofits lose many potential donors because they don’t clarify 1) what donors are giving to or 2) how they can give. 

First, nonprofits confuse donors about what they’re giving to when they provide little or no information about what their money will fund. 

Let’s return to the example of pregnancy centers. Imagine a pregnancy center’s website that speaks mostly to a pregnant woman who’s seeking the services they offer, but a button that says “Give” is at the top right corner of their page. This button takes donors directly to a page for submitting and processing a one-time or monthly payment. 

Do you notice what’s missing?

Their website has no content that speaks directly to donors—the pregnancy center’s second target audience—about what their money will fund if they give! 

Again, transparency builds trust. When marketing your nonprofit organization, you want to make crystal clear what donors are giving to.

Second, nonprofits confuse donors about how they can give when their CTA is vague or giving is too hard. 

In marketing, a CTA is the next step businesses or nonprofits want people to take. In this case, the CTA is to donate money. Maybe it’s tempting to create a donation button that says, “Be the Change” —a shorthand for the phrase, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” But a simple CTA like “Donate Now” or “Give Today!” is best because it leaves no confusion about what you want people to do next.

Nonprofits also lose donors when they make it too hard to give, so make giving easy and quick. Since many people will donate from their phones, make sure your donation pages are mobile-responsive. Eliminate unnecessary questions and fields from your forms and test different payment processing options to find one that’s right for you and your donors. 

Don’t forget about your volunteers! Your CTA will be different, but these concepts still apply. 

If you’re in charge of marketing for a nonprofit organization, we’re confident that making these changes will greatly improve your digital marketing strategy and increase support from donors and volunteers. If the thought of asking for money still makes you uncomfortable, you can always let our team at Sigl Creative handle that part. Schedule a call today—we would love to use our digital marketing services to help further the good work your nonprofit does! 

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