Marketing for Nonprofits: Why Less is More


One goal, one message, one action. A few months ago, I attended a seminar at my local chamber of commerce, delivered by a marketing company operating throughout the Kitchener/Waterloo region. The presenting firm specializes in nonprofits, is locally well-regarded and is patronized by several of the area’s social service agencies. There were between 40 and 50 such agencies represented in the audience, ranging from small community service providers to the dynamo charged with the typically onerous annual fundraising target of a large area hospital.

I was prepared to be impressed. That never happened once during the two hours of monologue lain over a predictable ‘Death by PowerPoint’ presentation.

The presenter’s contention was that there were no differences between marketing for nonprofits and for-profits, and I don’t believe the case was persuasively made. She lost half her audience somewhere between her antiquated definition of marketing and her wholesale dismissal of social media as a time wasting trend.

The unfortunate episode got me thinking again about marketing and communications for nonprofits: what are the considerations specific to this sector? I have decided to assemble and post a few of my experiences on the subject as an exercise in distillation for myself, and for the benefit of whomever stumbles across these thoughts and happens to be interested.

I begin with a few ideas around writing for fundraising: What drives campaign copy? A single goal, and the simple path of eliciting an emotion and response leading  to that goal. Never indulge the temptation to be all things to all people.

Less is more. A single concept should determine all aspects of the campaign that flow from it. Many nonprofits have worked hard to develop clear statements of mission and vision, yet fail miserably to project a single message during their campaigns. What is your message? What feeling do you want to evoke, and into what action would you like that feeling to translate? One goal, one message, one action.

Hazards and the usual suspects. What are the hazards you will encounter in the course of deploying your campaign concept? Most often, it is people. Because many people within an organization use computers, write, etc., many mistakenly believe themselves to be “(pick one: marketers, writers, designers)”. And because nonprofits can be very consensual, cooperative workplaces, it’s important to severely limit responsibility for internal approvals and changes, and curtail cc’ing , allowing designated creative developers to do their jobs whether they are outside hires or staff members. In some cases, by the time everyone has covered their butts, protected their priorities and inserted their favourite jargon, a great concept is diluted and its effect dissipated.

Your say over the work is not more important than the campaign. A single concept should govern the effort and all that is associated with it. The inclusion of your department, your philosophical talking points, favourite phrases, most treasured sector jargon, etc., are all secondary to the goal and should take a back seat to the single idea that will elicit audience emotion and the desired response. Less is more when it comes to protecting the broth from the effects of too many chefs.


One thought on “Marketing for Nonprofits: Why Less is More

  1. I like your posts! I completely agree that marketing is different for nonprofits and for-profits, and suggesting nonprofits curtail the need for internal approvals is on point. “People”–or your co-workers and supervisors–definitely can be the biggest barrier to developing and implementing campaigns.

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