Blackbaud Newsroom

How to Build a Stronger Nonprofit Marketing Plan to Reach More Donors

Originally appeared on Software Advice; Andrew Friedenthal

Andrew Friedenthal, market analyst for the technology reviews company Software Advice: “I’m relatively new to writing about the nonprofit field, so I needed to talk to an expert in order to create this article about nonprofit marketing. That’s where Blackbaud and Catherine LaCour came in. As a major vendor in the field of charity-focused software, Blackbaud is an amazing resource for nonprofit workers, with an emphasis on seeing that their software contributes to the larger social good. As the head of the Blackbaud Institute for Philanthropic Impact, an initiative that sets Blackbuad apart from other similar vendors, Catherine was able to speak to the specific challenges faced by nonprofit marketing teams. Her insight was crucial for helping me understand how marketing functions in the charitable world, and how much it relies on telling potential donors about a nonprofits’ success stories (how money raised goes to doing good in the world). This was an important piece of advice for the article that helped shape and strengthen its final form.”


Most people working in the nonprofit field aren’t in it for the money. Instead, they’ve given their time and energy over to helping make the world a better place.

Unfortunately, changing the world doesn’t come cheap.

That’s why nonprofit organizations need to be able to raise money from donors, so that they can keep their doors open and continue their charitable missions.

That’s easier said than done, though. It takes careful planning, a clearly defined mission and the ability to make the case for your cause to a wide variety of people.

Oh, and it requires one more thing—marketing. Many nonprofits don’t have the ability to hire a professional marketing department, though, and may find the task to be difficult or overwhelming.


Marketing ain’t easy
This article will help lighten that burden by giving you tips on how to create a solid nonprofit marketing plan that will earn your organization more donors.


Tell Your Story

The key to successful marketing is the art of storytelling. The most successful brands in the world all have a story inherently associated with them—Apple represents a story of progress and innovation, Disney is a story of family entertainment, Nike a story of athletic achievement etc.

Fortunately for nonprofits, this is one place where they actually have an advantage over for-profit businesses. Even the most die-hard fans of Apple, Disney and Nike recognize that the companies are in business to make money.

Nonprofits are in the business of doing good in the world, and can tell a story that will resonate with potential donors on a deep, emotional level.

Catherine LaCour, senior vice president of marketing at charity-focused software vendor Blackbaud and head of the Blackbaud Institute for Philanthropic Impact, advises that you:


“Inspire your audience through stories of your mission in action—tell them about the child who didn’t go hungry because s/he got a meal, the person who had a bed to sleep in for a night, the patient who received life-saving care, etc.”


You can then use these stories to raise money from donors: “Stories will connect potential donors with your mission,” she says. “They will clearly show how the money and their efforts, are being used to make that impact.”

It’s much easier to ask for money when you can demonstrate, through storytelling, how that money will be put to use to better the world.

According to Brian Sooy, president of marketing strategy company Aespire, when reaching out to a potential donor you need to consider “that person, the change you’re asking them to make and the promise you’re making to them.”

“Inspire them, engage them, give them a story worth sharing,” he says. “Tell them why you need them to be part of the solution, and be grateful when they are.”



 However, Trey Gordner, founder of digital marketing firm Koios, warns that you also need to tailor that story to multiple audiences: “Most nonprofits have at least three audiences: program participants, donors and volunteers.”

“Each of them are coming to your organization for a different reason,” he says. “It’s important to understand how people find out about you, what they want to know about you and what would prompt them to get involved.”

Of course, once you’ve crafted your story, you need to think about the next step—where to tell it.

Master Social Media and Analytics

The biggest marketing challenge faced by nonprofits is a lack of resources. Fortunately, in today’s world, successful marketing doesn’t require you to buy an ad during the Super Bowl. Even the smallest nonprofit has free access to Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms.

Indeed, according to LaCour, “With social media, everyone has the chance to potentially go viral—no matter their size.”

Sharing your story via social media gives you an opportunity to go as viral as much as bigger organizations.

However, a social media strategy alone doesn’t give you the necessary insight to further refine your story and reach out to your specific target audiences. For that, you need to analyze your data, a task that you may need inexpensive marketing software to help you accomplish.




As LaCour notes, “Data shapes our world, how we perceive it, and the way we interact with it. Data connects us all. That’s why it’s more important than ever that nonprofits use smart data to better engage with their supporters.”

You need to be able to analyze your data to know what kinds of social media posts and email communications are successfully resonating with your audiences and donors.

However, this doesn’t require a huge investment of time or money, and can allow you to refine your marketing campaigns in a way that makes a significant impact on your donations.

Nonprofits need to utilize tactics like this, which enable them to do more with less. Fortunately, the digital era makes that easier than ever.

Don’t Be Intimidated by Limited Resources

There are certain forms of marketing (such as inbound content marketing) that require a dedicated team or department. On a small budget, and without a marketing department, you aren’t going to be able to successfully accomplish these types of campaigns.

However, there are ways for nonprofits to succeed despite having limited money and few marketing resources. Let’s look at the common sources of intimidation for nonprofits:

Lack of money: Although you may not have a lot of money to spend on advertising, many companies provide free or cheap opportunities for nonprofits to get their message out.

As Trey Gordner notes, “The most generous of these is Google Ad Grants. Google provides $10,000 per month of in-kind advertising to 501(c)(3) organizations. That’s more than all but the biggest businesses spend, and you can use it to pop up as the first result for almost any search you want.”

No marketing department: Just because you don’t have a department full of content creators doesn’t mean that you can’t create simple marketing campaigns that engage donors. In addition to social media, you should have a regular email newsletter that will engage readers without constantly begging for money.

Ed Brancheau, CEO of Goozleology Digital Marketing, recommends “focusing on getting site visitors to sign up for newsletters or events. Don’t ask them for donations right away. Generally, every newsletter subscriber is worth $17 per year when done correctly.”


An example of a scholarship fund marketing email from Luminate Online Marketing

As a nonprofit, you’re also eligible for a number of discounts on software so that you can afford the tools that will help you shape your story, get that story out to the world and analyze your successes so you can refine your message in the future.

Next Steps

Now that you know more about the kind of marketing you need to be doing, and how software can help you, here’s some next steps to consider:

  • Read user reviews of top nonprofit software from other organizations who used that software to up their own marketing game.
  • Email me at for more information. I’m happy to help you figure out what your own nonprofit marketing needs might be and to connect you to one of our software advisors for a free, no-obligation consultation