Nonprofit Marketing: As easy as 1, 2, 3

 A little birdie helped us out recently to learn more about nonprofit marketing.

The graphic birdie image pictured above sits in the “1, 2, 3 Marketing Tree”, developed by Mills Communications Group’s founder Erica Mills, who was in Victoria in mid-July to teach a workshop for Volunteer Victoria.  Erica delivered “Nonprofit Marketing: Make the Most of What You’ve Got!” to a collection of our member agencies – and the workshop was a fantastic success.


It can be common for nonprofit staff members to feel a bit frustrated and confused about marketing.  But having a workshop such as this was a great step in the direction of feeling more marketing savvy, especially when the workshop was led by a marketer who understands exactly where nonprofits are coming from.  You see, the “1, 2, 3 Marketing Tree” is a tool specifically developed for nonprofits.  It’s a physical poster-sized resource that helps your organization to define what marketing success would look like.  The tree encourages you to identify who you need to reach in order for your marketing efforts to be successful, and then it helps you plan how to reach those groups most effectively.


The tree itself is a great metaphor for marketing a nonprofit.  As Mills says,

What do a tree and marketing have in common?  Anyone can plant a tree and anyone can do marketing.  The trick in both cases is knowing how to make it grow and thrive.

In the case of nonprofits, marketing has to have a connection to fundraising.  Mills suggests first focusing your marketing efforts on your “believers.”  Get specific about who your supporters and donors are and try to keep them engaged.  Give them the opportunity to invest in your organization.  Don’t try to convert people (“atheists”) to believe in your mission that really can’t be converted.  In her words, “retention is so much less expensive than acquisition.”


Mills also encourages organizations to find their “benefit proposition.”  What is the one thing that you do that categorizes your organization?  What does your agency do, in a nutshell?  For example, at Volunteer Victoria we might say, “We connect volunteers to the organizations that need them.”  Volunteer Victoria does a bunch of other things, of course, but this sentence describes the essence of what we do. The more specific you can be about what your organization is all about and who it serves, the more effective your marketing efforts will eventually be to attract your supporters.  Mills suggests that you should actually create three to seven specific profiles that describe your typical donors or supporters and give them real names.  Then, create materials to reach those specific profiles.  It may sound strange, but it works!


The message that came across loud and clear at this workshop is that nonprofit marketing is all about planning.  It’s too easy to jump into using a marketing mechanism, especially “free” social media tools such as Twitter or Facebook (remember, they’re not free if they take staff time to run them), without having put the thought into why those tools would be essential to help you reach your target audience.  Thinking about the “what” and the “who” of your marketing plan before you get to the “how” is absolutely essential for a good end result.  If you incorporate all three of these elements, nonprofit marketing is as easy as 1, 2, 3!

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