Marketing to Connect to Your Audience

Did you know that there are nearly 1.6 million nonprofit organizations in the U.S.? That’s a lot! In such a competitive landscape, your has to organization promotes what makes your mission, programs, and services uniquely effective. Question: What is the best way to do that? Answer: There are many ways to get your message out there. That work is usually considered “communications.” But, communications alone may not be the most effective way to promote your particular organization. As digital media becomes increasingly important, it may be time to consider just how digital marketing can benefit your organization.

What exactly is marketing, anyway?

marketing flow

Though they’re sometimes used interchangeably, marketing is not communications. Think of is this way: all squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares. In other words — especially for those of you who hate math — a rectangle has four sides and four right angles. So, yes, every square is a rectangle. Some rectangles have sides that aren’t all the same length, which is a requirement for squares. That’s why not all rectangles are squares. But back to marketing.

All marketing is a form of communication. Afterall, communication emphasizes the overall messages you’re sending to the world (such as your mission and vision). But, not all communication is marketing. Marketing specifically focuses on differentiation — what makes your organization different from the hundreds of others out there that do stuff similar to what you’re doing?

Need more examples of how marketing and communications are different? To state it differently, communications involves informing your audience. So, for example, if a crisis comes up, the content that is developed around that crisis would be considered communications work. Engaging in PR? Communications. Writing a speech, a newsletter, or an annual report? Communications.

Marketing, on the other hand, is less focused on the materials that are produced, and is more focused on strategy. Marketing helps give your organization a brand identity. One way to think of it? Selling vs. telling: marketing sells your services or programs while communications tells audiences about them. (H/T Melissa Brown and Corie Farnsley.)

Embracing a Marketing Mindset

marketing mindset

As one of our previous blog posts points out, the first step is to shift your organization’s mindset around communications. Audiences have become more sophisticated consumers of all types of media, so nonprofits need to step up their efforts to engage with these audiences where they are. It’s no longer enough to interact with Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram as separate platforms. Your organization’s social media has now become part of an integrated marketing platform. And that’s not all. Your organization needs to use all available screens. “All available screens” includes television, film, apps, and even live events.

Basically, any platform used by a potential supporter is a platform your organization should consider whether or not is should engage.

What does this look like?

marketing strategy

So now you understand that your organization should use marketing, as well as what exactly marketing is. You also know that you should consider reaching out to audiences through all kinds of platforms. But what exactly does marketing on all available screens look like in practice?

Television and Film

  • Partnering with national or local companies to produce TV ads.
  • Networking with local media for broadcast or print mentions.
  • Working with your local public television station to host a tv show.
  • Collaborating with filmmakers on film production or for events.
  • Making your own films.
  • Linking pop culture moments in film or TV to your cause.

Social Media

Probably the easiest, cheapest, and most popular way to create relevant, engaging content. More than likely, your organization is already using social media. However, there are a few additional ideas to consider when using social media as part of an integrated marketing plan:

  • Use your content to differentiate yourself. As fundraising tech company Classy notes, your content can emphasize your organization’s approach to its work, the specific goals you hope to achieve, or even the region where your organization is based.
  • Resist the urge to make content “one size fits all.” Nonprofit author and speaker Julia Campbell suggests that “[s]ocial media content… be carefully, creatively crafted for the specific channel, ALWAYS with the audience in mind.”
  • If you’re not already, strongly consider using video. 57% of people who watch nonprofit videos end up making an online donation. In addition, 52% of marketing professionals worldwide noted that video had the best return on investment of any medium.


Most businesses and many nonprofits have an app these days, and for good reason: an app can provide an individualized experience for users while also getting across timely, pertinent information. Plus, smartphone users really enjoy their apps: a study by media measurement and analytics company Comscore showed that app usage accounted for over 80% of a person’s time on a smartphone. Other advantages to having an app include:

  • Greater connectivity with users through a well-designed interface.
  • Continued exposure from consistent placement in search listings, app listing sites, and app review blogs.
  • Increased brand awareness from the continual viewing of app interface graphics.

There are many ways to integrate marketing into your work. By embracing a new way of thinking and taking advantage of all available platforms, you’ll be well on your way to connecting with new audiences and furthering your relationship with current supporters. If you want more assistance with your organization’s marketing efforts, or just need a few more ideas on how to integrate “screens,” consider contacting a consultant.