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Mission Control / Higher Education and Nonprofit

The Biggest Marketing Mistakes Nonprofits Make (And How to Fix ’Em)

Avoid these common pitfalls and market your mission in a way that garners support from donors and volunteers.

By Rebecca Au-Mullaney

From building a network of engaged donors to communicating your organization’s mission in a way that compels users to action, marketing for a nonprofit can be a heavy lift, especially for smaller teams or departments of one — and if you’re making any of these common mistakes, it could be even more challenging. Here’s how to lighten the load.

5 Common Nonprofit Marketing Mistakes

1. Leaving Free Advertising Dollars on the Table

There’s an invaluable resource that not all nonprofits take advantage of — or even know of, for that matter. That resource is Google for Nonprofits, a free program that provides access to a range of tools, from Google Workspace to the YouTube Nonprofit Program.

But by far, the most valuable aspect of Google for Nonprofits is the Google Ad Grants program, which provides eligible 501(c)(3)nonprofits with up to $10,000 in free Google search ads media dollars every month. This ad money is available at no charge to the organizations, making it a powerful tool in advertising for nonprofits — but tapping into it can be a massive undertaking, especially for those who haven’t run a campaign before.

The fix: In order to take advantage of the funds and broaden the reach of your organization, think through keywords and content ideas that focus on big-picture charitable topics. Consider how your organization can become a resource for audiences beyond the ones you already serve, then create content and campaigns around those opportunities.

2. Spreading Yourself Too Thin on Social Media

It’s fairly easy to establish a social media presence across various channels, but it’s a lot harder to grow and maintain them. Social media content creation is time-consuming and never-ending — and for many organizations, a waste of valuable resources.

The fix: Rather than trying to keep up with daily content and engagement on Twitter (X?), Threads, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, TikTok, Snap Chat and Pinterest, identify your top one or two channels and invest in those communities. Think through things like:

  • Where do you already have an audience?
  • Where are your donors most likely to spend their time online?
  • Where can you have the most impact?

Be weary of the urge to follow trends — things like TikTok and Reels are fun, but if the user demographics don’t match up with your target audience, they may not be worth your time.

3. Failing to Share Impact Stories in a Meaningful Way

Success stories and donor profiles are an integral part of any nonprofit’s marketing efforts. But if you aren’t presenting them in a way that connects with your audience, you could be missing out on future conversions.

The fix: Try to encourage the donor you’re profiling to go beyond general answers and get them to be specific. Specificity will help your readers connect with the person and envision themselves giving. To write a powerful donor profile, you need to ask the right questions in your profile interview, such as:

  • Tell us about the moment that you heard about our organization. Where were you? What were you doing?
  • Is there anything in your personal life that makes our cause particularly meaningful? Do you have a personal connection to the issue?
  • What do you hope your gift achieves?
  • If the donor is part of a couple: How have you involved your partner/spouse in these charitable decisions?

Don’t forget to distribute the stories on your social media channels and in your email marketing campaigns.

4. Creating Content on an Ad-Hoc Basis

If you’re still treating content as an afterthought, it might be time to revamp your approach. Compelling content that drives users to action requires advanced editorial planning and a thoughtful distribution strategy.

The fix: Map out a content plan for the year with an editorial calendar. This will help ensure that you always have something new in the pipeline and that there’s a healthy mix of content types on your site. From there, build a diversified content distribution strategy that’ll help you get your content where you want it to go.

5. Not Building and Maintaining an Email Database

On average, email drives an ROI of $36 for every dollar spent, higher than any other channel. If you don’t have an email database in place, you’re likely missing out on opportunities to connect with your most engaged users.

The fix: Compiling email addresses can be a daunting task, but technology can ease the process. To generate email sign ups, consider Facebook lead-gen ads, website pop-ups, social media posts that highlight the value of your email content, and event sign-ups where you can utilize QR codes to drive users back to the subscribe page. There are plenty out-of-the-box CRM platforms that can help you keep your lists organized.

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Rebecca Au Mullaney Blue
Rebecca Au-Mullaney Editor

Rebecca has more than a decade of experience in nonprofit, healthcare and higher education marketing, with roles ranging from alumni magazine editor-in-chief to director of strategic communications. At C/A, she spearheads content programs for clients such as the Osteosarcoma Institute and Rutgers University.

When she’s not working, Rebecca can be found exploring every park in a 30-minute radius with her two young daughters. She enjoys journaling, painting and talking big ideas with her husband and friends.

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