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The Do’s and Don’ts of Nonprofit Marketing

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March 1, 2018 | Nikki Bisel

A large conference room filled with round dining tables where groups involved in nonprofit marketing are seated. Two big screens are visible in the front, displaying digital presentations.

It’s safe to say that no two marketing strategies are alike. Not only do these strategies change based on a brand’s wants and needs, but their goals and mission will largely influence their digital route to success, as well.
The differences become even greater, still, when breaking down a client’s business structure — particularly when it comes to for-profit companies versus nonprofit businesses.
In partnership with Maplewood-Richmond Heights High School (MRH) and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) St. Louis, our team recently had the opportunity to shift our line of thought from the for-profit brands we usually represent to a local nonprofit organization that’s striving to make a difference in the St. Louis area.
Here are some of the things we have to share about nonprofit marketing...

What’s the difference between nonprofit and for-profit brand marketing strategies?

Building a marketing strategy for a nonprofit is significantly different than building a strategy for a for-profit brand.
The differences are largely determined by the variations in each brand’s primary mission.
For-profit brands exist to make money from their products and/or services. They may be motivated by other endeavors, like making the best products they can or building a superior customer experience, but at the end of the day, for-profit companies want to make money and thrive so that they can continue to build new products and services that their customers will enjoy.
Nonprofit brands, on the other hand, exist to help their customers live better lives through their products, services and message. All funding that a nonprofit receives will be used to pay for the expenses of running the business (employee salaries, bills, etc.); the remaining money will be invested back into the organization’s goals and mission to help their community. For this reason, nonprofits don’t typically have the capital that for-profits brands have.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Nonprofit Marketing


  • Adopt a positive tone. Nonprofits are not about the doom and gloom of the mission they support; they represent a beacon of hope for the people they work with! Your marketing message should reflect and amplify this perspective.
  • Unify your message. With limited funds, maximizing your marketing budget is critical to your nonprofit’s online success. To make sure this happens, your brand’s message should be found everywhere your greatest advocates, partners and customers will be online.
  • Set a goal for every component of your marketing strategy. This one is pretty straightforward: for every marketing project you put out into the world, ask yourself how it feeds back into your brand mission and goals. If it doesn’t, you will want to reevaluate your campaign and make any necessary changes to put it back on the right track.


  • Talk too much about the nonprofit. Think of your nonprofit marketing strategy like the perfect blind date: the best candidate will be attentive. He will listen to you – hang on every word you say – and although he will share some information about himself, he knows that the night isn’t all about him. He wants to know everything there is to know about you. The same can be said for your nonprofit marketing strategy: your messaging should focus less on the nonprofit itself and more on the community of people the nonprofit helps; it’s their turn to shine.
  • Focus too much on metrics. Obviously, digital marketing analytics is a great way to outline a brand’s marketing success, but when it comes to nonprofits, numbers aren’t everything. Heart is equally important! The community members that are influenced by nonprofits aren’t just charts and graphs on a spreadsheet; even one person’s life that is changed as a result of your marketing strategy is a major win.
  • Overcomplicate your message. Not only do you want to support your customers, but you also want to encourage future donors to invest in your brand. As a result, make sure that your message and your marketing materials are clear, concise, and have a call to action.

Want to learn more?

Our team’s journey into nonprofit marketing is just beginning. If you’d like to keep up with the progress the MRH students have made for NAMI St. Louis, visit the official Seafoam Marketing Challenge landing page to learn more! We’ll have much more to share over the next several months.

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