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Marketing can mean a number of things, depending on who you ask. For the purpose of this blog post, I’m talking about nonprofit fundraising marketing that: 1) identifies prospective donors who give of their time, talents, influence and money, 2) engages donors in a meaningful way so you can 3) retain donors for years to come.
Remember, it costs less to keep a donor than it does to acquire a new donor.
The term grassroots marketing used to mean marketing at the local level in the most inexpensive way possible, usually through the local newspaper, public television and radio, billboards, and your own marketing communications. It meant branding your organization by saturating the community you serve with news about your good deeds and the difference you’re making in the community.
Grassroots marketing still means the same. Only now the “community” you can (inexpensively) reach has broadened considerably thanks to the Internet.
Marketing to your local community is still essential because the local community is generally where your most ardent supporters come from, including volunteers. But marketing to the larger community through the Internet has become so inexpensive that every nonprofit organization can participate. And you should. The more people you can reach, the more your story is heard and the more likely you are to expand your base of financial support.
Which brings me to my new definition of grassroots marketing: imaginative, low-cost, high-impact marketing from the trenches; marketing you do yourself or get someone to do for you at no cost because there’s absolutely no money in the budget for anything even remotely related to marketing.
For nonprofit organizations, time and money are usually in short supply, but that doesn’t mean you can’t effectively market your cause. Just keep in mind that the most successful marketing messages are memorable and relatable. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on marketing as long as you make that emotional connection with your target market.
Here are a few suggestions …
Volunteers are at the core of all successful nonprofit organizations. Volunteers are more than willing to do the work you don’t have the skills to do or the funds to pay someone to do. They are the most loyal, most likely to remain with your organization for the long-haul, and they want your organization to thrive.
Once a year (or more often if you have the time), run an audit on your donor database. Whether you’re using a proprietary donor database or Excel, go through all your records and remove any duplicates or outdated records. This is an incredibly easy thing to do and, other than your time, costs nothing, yet it can make a world of difference in your marketing efforts.
If you don’t have a donor database, start one today. A database is the cornerstone of your marketing (and fundraising) and crucial to your success. In addition to getting basic contact information (name, address, email address, etc.) on all your donors and prospective donors, record …
what their interests are as they relate to your cause and their interests in general
how the person came into your organization (board member, volunteer, 2012 special event attendee, through the website, etc.)
how people want to be communicated with (email, by phone, face-to-face, etc.)
where people work (because many companies have volunteer and donation programs you can tap into)
Don’t forget to keep volunteer records in your database. Document volunteers’ skills so you can find the expertise you need when you need it.
Every nonprofit organization should have a website. There’s just no way around it. Maintaining a website can be time-intensive though. Find a volunteer within your organization or someone with a vested interest in your organization who can help set up and maintain a website. Check out TechSoup.org for a free or reduced-cost website creation program you can easily edit from your office.
Make sure you keep control of the website’s content, and that means: 1) clearly defining who you are as an organization and the people or community you serve so visitors understand your mission within seconds of entering your site; 2) having a clear call to action … if you want people to donate, have a Donate button or if you want people to sign up to volunteer, have a Become a Volunteer button; 3) using SEO or search engine optimization so people can find you; 4) well-written, donor-centered articles that engage the reader; and 5) a way to capture visitors’ names and email addresses.
Make certain all the visitors’ names and email addresses are recorded in your database. A volunteer can do the work as long as you have complete oversight for any content that is posted or deleted from your website. Regularly add new articles to keep the content fresh and visitors interested.
I’ve talked about my favorite Pinterest trick: Add a “Pin It” button on your website and invite donors and volunteers to create their own boards that showcase your cause. Be sure to ask your donors and volunteers to include a link back to your website on all their boards. (See my article “Should NonProfit Fundraisers use Pintrest?“ to read about other ways to use Pinterest.).
Or, designate a volunteer who can pin photos of last year’s special event. Don’t forget that link back to your website so people can learn how they can participate in this year’s event.
If you have a Facebook page, you can merge Pinterest into Facebook. Folks won’t have to leave Facebook to see your fantastic photos and graphics.
This suggestion is decidedly low-tech but very effective. Identify a local business you can develop a working relationship with and nurture that relationship. Become the “go-to” nonprofit organization the business owner wants to join forces with. When the business owner wants to do a little grassroots marketing of his or her own – perhaps host a charity event or sponsor a 5K run – your organization is the one that gets the call.