Marketing & Positioning Your Nonprofit for Success

Marketing & Positioning Your Nonprofit for Success

Gnosis Media Group

I own a company that offers text-to-donate fundraising services to development coordinators and fundraising directors. While I love serving nonprofits, I also really love marketing. In fact, before I don my fundraiser's cape in the evenings, I work as a marketing manager for a global management consulting firm. Marketing is in my DNA, and I love to help development directors figure out how to unlock their marketing potential.

I find that nonprofits often don't know where to begin when it comes to marketing their products and services. And it makes sense; as a development professional, you wear many hats. Your job is to figure out how to bring money into the organization. You may have little time or resources for broader marketing initiatives. But what you do is, in fact, marketing, so I would like to give you a starting point for marketing your nonprofit.

Who Is Your Audience?


As nonprofits, you typically will have two audiences: 1). Your donors. 2) Your customers. And yes, every nonprofit has customers. You may not charge your customers money for your product/service, but that doesn't mean they aren't still customers. A customer in this context is just whoever consumes or uses the product/service you offer. For example, if you are a food bank mission, your customers are those who consume your food. If you are a breast cancer awareness organization, your customers are those who consume your breast cancer education materials. These customers may not give you money for your services; those are your donors. But they are still customers. Therefore you still must have a marketing plan to reach them.

The second audience is your donors. These can be corporate sponsors, major gift philanthropists, foundations, governments or individuals. As an aside, one of the myths around nonprofit giving is that corporations and large companies donate the most money to nonprofits. But that isn't true. According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics (NCCS), individuals actually give more to charity than corporations or foundations. (This is one reason why peer-to-peer, individual fundraising technologies like text to donate amplify your ability to reach individual donors and build a loyal donor base over time.)

Marketing to Your Audiences

In short, there are two broad principles to keep in mind in order to effectively market to your audiences. Positioning and tactics -- and the positioning informs the tactics, so we'll start there. (A great book on positioning is Obv!ously Awesome: How to Nail Product Positioning so Customers Get It, Buy It, Love It by April Dunford). You first need to position your nonprofit to the audiences who will most appreciate your value. Positioning involves 5 steps of identification. And you'll need to answer these questions for both target audiences: donors and consumers.

  1. Who are your competitors? What other nonprofits offer the same services yours does? Who would your ideal donors give to instead, if your nonprofit didn't exist? Who would your ideal consumers use if they didn't know about your organization? One way to find this out is by doing the hard work of asking your current donors and customers (assuming you have some; if you don't, then you'll need to conduct some cheap market research to make a best guess. And there are ways to do this using online tools. Contact us and we'll show you how). For example, I send out exit surveys to my customers when they leave asking them outright if they went to a competitor and which one. You'd be surprised at the info you can get if you just ask for it.

  2. What are your unique attributes? Which features or benefits do you provide to donors/consumers that your competitors don't? This takes a good bit of research. Go online and study your competition. Google is your friend here. Find out what perks the competition offers that you may not. Find out what services you provide or can provide that your competitors lack. Don't rush the research; be thorough and comprehensive. Surveys can also help here. Ask your current donors why they prefer to give to you or utilize your services more than to another organization -- or why not. When I surveyed my customers, I found out that an advantage I have over my customers is simplicity. My text to give service is simpler to use and easier to set up than my competitors, by and large. You need to know your differentiated value in order to properly create and disseminate your marketing messages.

  3. What value do these differentiators provide for your audience? Now that you've identified your differentiators, you need to go one step further and identify the benefit those differentiators bring to your audiences if any. For example, one of my company's differentiators (aside from simplicity) is that we allow nonprofits to use whatever payment processor they choose -- i.e., flexibility. By contrast, many of our competitors limit which payment processors their nonprofit customers may use. Another of our differentiators is speed -- we can have organizations up and running in literally 20 minutes or less. Customers have told us that this benefits them because often in the midst of planning an event, getting the mobile fundraising piece set up is last-minute. Busy development directors wearing multiple hats get events and programs dropped on them last minute all the time -- especially at smaller nonprofits. So our customers really appreciate a hassle-free, same-day set up. By contrast, with some of our competitors, it can take a week or longer to get set up.

  4. What are the characteristics of your target audiences? Perhaps this should be the first question, but regardless you'll need to know this. What are the salient traits of your target donors and customers? Age? Gender? Location? Socio-economic status? What really drives them? You need to know as much about who your ideal donors and customers are as you can -- even what they look like -- in order to craft marketing messages that will resonate with them.

  1. What is your market category? This is the category under which you classify your products and services. For example, I could describe my product as a "text to donate service". Or I could describe it as a "mobile fundraising service". I could even call us a "nonprofit marketing consultancy" or a "text message marketing application". Do you see how describing your product/service differently conjures up different assumptions and images in the minds of the audience? You need to understand not only how you describe your product but more importantly how your target audience thinks of your product.

Why Market Categorization Is Important


I was speaking to a nonprofit executive some weeks ago who asked me what I do. I said, "We offer an award-winning text to donate service for the smaller, successful nonprofit." She replied, "Oh, you're kind of like QGiv! I get it." (QGiv is one of our chief competitors.) Even though she had heard of QGiv and not Gnosis Media, her response told me that our positioning is correct. She was easily able to identify what we do because I have properly identified my market category.

What happens when you tell prospective donors and customers what your nonprofit does? Do they say, "Ah! I got it!" Or do they scrunch up their faces or squint their eyes in confusion? If they do the latter, then you possibly need to rethink your market categorization.

Follow the principles above and you'll be well on your way to more effective marketing and fundraising.

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