Nonprofit Marketing: What Makes It Unique & Why Stout Heart Does Its Best to Make It Accessible

Mar 12, 2019

After graduating from Leadership Seacoast, my eyes were opened to the number of nonprofits fighting for the same funding. In the “Live Free or Die” state, where government-funded social services are fairly limited, nonprofits are incredibly important to our communities. They support the physical and mental well-being of our citizens, ensure that arts and culture thrive, nurture our young people, and preserve and protect our beautiful surroundings. Without them, we’d be far worse off.  Nonprofit marketing, somehow, seems to be a neglected aspect of these organizations.

In my career, I’ve encountered many scenarios where a nonprofit has sought a marketing agency’s help and been turned away because of a limited budget. It’s a hard thing to stand by and watch, particularly because, more often than not, we advertising agency folk work for the man and would love to do work that makes us feel better about our output. When I started Stout Heart, I was determined to find a way to make our professional services more accessible to nonprofits and, because of this, we discount our project rates by 15% for 501(c)(3) organizations and complete several pro bono projects every year.

I tend to be anti-industry niche when it comes to agencies. I have always believed that people are people, whether they are buying sneakers or an enterprise-level security suite. Having gleaned far more nonprofit marketing experience during Stout Heart’s existence than the rest of my agency experiences combined, I am here to say that they face a more complicated marketing challenge than most.

Most consumer-facing brands have a primary and secondary target audience- if you’re a higher education brand, you’re selling to prospective students as well as decision-influencers like parents and guidance counselors. If you’re a tomato farmer, you’re probably trying to sell to retailers and restaurant owners. Nonprofits, on the other hand, have a unique marketing scenario to deal with. Not only are they providing services or aid to a very specific segment, most are supported by donor dollars, and driven by volunteer hours. That means that, at a minimum, most nonprofits have three marketing target segments that need fairly equal attention. That’s a lot of eyes to keep in mind when you’re developing and executing marketing strategy.

On top of that, nonprofit marketing dollars tend to be watched closely, and for good reason. When donor dollars drive an organization, you’re held to a high standard to guarantee that the money is used responsibly for good, which means that most nonprofit marketing budgets are just that: on a budget. That means that dollars are spread thinly across the multiple target audiences mentioned above. All the more reason for nonprofits, who tend to have teams strapped for time, to turn to marketing or advertising agencies for assistance.

Which leads me to a few nuggets of wisdom for any nonprofit employee or board member looking for professional marketing help:

Do your homework.

The first thing any agency will ask is what your objectives are. Know that we understand that there will be several but help us prioritize. The more work you’ve done behind the scenes to get on the same page as a team, the better off we’ll be as we begin problem-solving with your organization.

Tell us what you don’t know.

Most agency folks are used to working with a client who knows marketing. The reality is that a lot of nonprofit teams don’t include a full-time marketing specialist. If that’s true for your organization, it’s important that you raise your hand and tell your agency partner when you don’t understand our weird industry jargon. 

Avoid “decision by committee”.

Let me tell you, nothing breaks an agency’s spirit quite like this. We recognize that often committees or boards are making decisions on behalf of a nonprofit but if you can designate one or two primary decision-makers, you’ll make the process easier.

Consolidate feedback and make calls before sending to your agency.

When multiple people are providing feedback, there’s always the chance that multiple conflicting comments will get added to a document and won’t be resolved before being sent to the agency. Don’t leave us guessing! Note any clashing comments and resolve them internally before sending them the agency’s way.

Have some skin in the game.

Finance is always going to be a touchy subject. And I hate to be the bearer of this news but in past lives I’ve witnessed pro bono projects get buried simply because they’re not demanded by a paying client. If you can pay your agency a little bit, even if it pales in comparison to their larger clients, you are far more likely to be prioritized. I don’t understand it, it just seems to be the way these things happen.

Want to learn more about Stout Heart’s nonprofit work? Get in touch!