Create the Future! 
Community-Driven Institute
Articles for NonProfit Organizations

Download  PDF of this Article 

Click Here to Subscribe to Our
FREE eNewsletter

First Name
Last Name
Specify Format
Plain Text
Our Privacy Policy

CLICK to See Our Latest eNewsletter

The 3 Most Effective
NonProfit Marketing Tools
by Hildy Gottlieb
Copyright ReSolve, Inc. 2002, 2004 ©

Email this Article to

a Friend -CLICK

A few years ago, we were hired to help a small environmental NonProfit with their marketing efforts. Their complaint was simple: “Nobody knows who we are or what we do!”

We analyzed their existing marketing and communications efforts, talking with people both inside and outside the organization, trying to see the full picture of the group’s communications. Within a short time, we were ready to report our findings.

“We know why nobody knows who you are or what you do,” we told them. “You don’t tell anyone!”

This group was using a number of marketing tools. They had a great brochure, an impressive quarterly journal, PR with local media - many of the tools you’d read about in a standard off-the-shelf small business marketing book. The problem is these tools were ineffective for getting the right people to know the organization and what it does. And for ineffective tools, they were pretty expensive ones at that!

Although these standard small business marketing approaches are not the most effective for NonProfits, your organization is in luck. There are 3 marketing techniques that work great for NonProfits, and they are virtually free!

What To Know Before You Start

Before we get into the tools themselves, it’s important to understand what these tools can do that others can’t. So let’s review what you want your marketing tools to do for your organization.


Marketing is simply communicating effectively with folks who can help your organization accomplish its goals.

From that simple definition, it is easy to see that first, it is critical to know precisely what your organization is trying to accomplish - its goals. Only then can you determine in what ways communications can further those goals.

Two common goals for nonprofit communications are 1) seeking support (donors, volunteers, legislators, etc.) and 2) doing outreach to prospective clients and referral sources for clients. This article will use those two goals as examples. But remember - there are communications needs for every goal in your strategic plan, and these tools will be just as effective in furthering those goals as well.

What Effective Marketing Approaches Do for Your Organization

The most effective marketing approaches are those that do two things for your communications efforts:

1) Differentiate your organization

2) Show your target audience your stuff

Differentiating Your Organization: Why Should I?

An effective marketing approach will differentiate your organization from other options.

For prospective supporters, your approach should differentiate this opportunity to help from others they encounter. If you’ve never considered the question “Why should I help your organization instead of the XYZ Group?” then you haven’t been thinking about differentiating your organization in the minds of prospective supporters. Your marketing to supporters will hinge on that critical question: Why should I?

When marketing to your prospective clients, you are also looking to differentiate the service you provide from others they may receive, or from the option of receiving no service at all! Whether you are offering battered women the opportunity to get out of an abusive relationship, or offering the art-viewing public the opportunity to see a new exhibit, the goal is to make YOUR option appear to be the best (and maybe only) choice. Again, this aspect of your marketing must answer the question, “Why should I?”

In his to-the-point book, “Selling the Invisible: A Field Guide to Modern Marketing,” Harry Beckwith says, “Your greatest competitor is not your competition. It is indifference.” The question “Why should I?” must be one of your most treasured measuring sticks.

So when it comes to prospective supporters, you won’t have much to communicate until you can answer:

• What makes your organization special? Unique?

• What has your organization got that others don’t have?

And for prospective clients / patrons / attendees / referrers, you won’t have much to communicate until you can answer:

• What is the choice you offer to clients?

• How will you improve their lives?

• How will you affect them personally?

Show Them What You’ve Got

Once you have figured out what makes your organization special, the next thing marketing needs to do is to show prospective supporters and clients how wonderful your organization is.

Notice I didn’t say “tell” them how terrific you are, but “show” them. This is the same approach used by food purveyors in the supermarket on a Saturday afternoon. They don’t have someone at the end of the aisle to tell folks about the product; they have someone there with pizza or hot dog pieces or cheese on a stick. They want you to see for yourself how good their product is.

The only product your organization has to sell is the good work you do. So the best marketing techniques will be the NonProfit equivalent of free pizza. You can’t just tell them your organization is amazing; you have to provide a way for them to see for themselves.

The best marketing approaches will give your prospective supporters AND prospective clients the opportunity to see for themselves just how terrific your organization is, and what it can do. And in doing that, you will simultaneously be differentiating yourself from all the other options they may be considering. You will be answering that critical question, “Why should I?”

NonProfit Marketing Tool #1: Writing

One of the best ways to show the world what you’ve got is to write. This can mean writing articles for newsletters and local newspapers, or it can mean writing a book. In every industry and in every community, there are publications looking for content. Find a list of all the publications within your particular niche (whether it’s your geographic community, or your community of interest, such as the regional art or environmental or educational community), and then ask if they would publish an article on an issue of particular concern to their readers. It could be a column on child abuse in a school PTA newsletter, or an article on the effects of eco-tourism for the local lifestyle magazine.

You may need to use the marketing approaches noted above - differentiating yourself, and showing your stuff - just to get published. But once you have found someone who will publish your article, that piece will stand on its own. It will show how special your organization is, and that will immediately make your organization stand out. That’s why writing is a great marketing tool for NonProfits.

NonProfit Marketing Tool #2: Speaking

Another effective way to show what you’ve got is speaking. There are always groups looking for effective speakers - speakers who know their subject and can capture an audience’s attention for 15 minutes, 30 minutes, an hour. If you make clear to the group that you are NOT there to ask for money (their main fear of NonProfits - that you will hit up their group for cash), but just to share what you know about an issue concerning the community, there are a myriad of speaking engagements just waiting for someone from your organization.

Speaking goes one step beyond writing, because when a prospective supporter, client or referrer sees you speak, they are getting a tangible sense of what the organization is like and what you can do. They will immediately sense your organization’s approach, integrity, energy. They will quickly sense whether or not there is a connection between what they need and what your organization has to offer. Seeing someone speak is as close to snacking on pizza in the supermarket as your prospects can get!

If you are not an experienced speaker, there are plenty of places to learn, the most common being Toastmasters. (Check your phone book. There is a Toastmasters chapter in just about every community.) Toastmasters will provide you with plenty of opportunity to practice and learn in a supportive environment.

To turn Public Speaking into for your organization,
Click Here
And if you suffer from Stage Fright, check out the article
"Fear of Public Speaking" at our Resource Page.
Click Here

NonProfit Marketing Tool #3: Word of Mouth

We all know that the word of a trusted friend or colleague can go miles to open doors to new prospects. But it is surprising how few people really take advantage of this marketing tool.

Contrary to what you may think, you don’t have to sit passively and wait for word of mouth to happen. You can create it!

How to Do It: Take one current supporter (or client referrer) to breakfast each week, to just chat about what’s going on in your organization (and theirs!). During that breakfast, ask that supporter if he can suggest 3 other people who might want to know about your work. And then ask if he would call those 3 people to make an introduction for you, so that when you call it’s not a cold call.

Then call those people, and tour them through your facility or meet them in their office to tell them about the work your organization does. Don’t ask them for anything - just start to build the relationship so that they know who you are. In the case of client referrers, find out what’s going on in their organization - the good things, the bad things. In the case of potential supporters, start to learn about their interests, and see if there are commonalities. Then follow up with that new friend - a thank you note for their time, an article you saw that you thought they might enjoy, or the new article you just wrote! Keep them in your monthly/bi-monthly contact loop, and continue to follow up. When referrers need you, they will know you are there. When you call that potential supporter to ask for his assistance, he will be ready to help.


This is the type of sales work any of us can feel comfortable with. It’s not hard sell, and it’s generated from the word of mouth of a supportive friend who is already familiar with the good work you do.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that when you market your organization with these three tools, folks already have a strong sense of what they are “buying.” And that can have a far greater effect than you had intended with that one article, that one speech, that one breakfast.

Writing, speaking and word-of-mouth will open doors for your organization - doors to people who are already pre-sold, because, like the pizza, they tasted it right there in the store.

Email this Article to

a Friend -CLICK

[ Home ] [ NonProfit Library ] [ Tribes Library ] [ TRAINING ] [ PRODUCTS ] [ About Us ] [ Contact Us ]

Website Design by Dimitri Petropolis