Marketing Basics for Nonprofits: How Can I Get Started on a Budget?

Posted by Jessica OʼBrien on February 17, 2023 at 1:39 PM     Strategy
Marketing Basics for Nonprofits: How Can I Get Started on a Budget?

If you work at a nonprofit, you know it’s important to share your mission with the public for fundraising, awareness, and support, but it can be difficult when juggling so many other tasks. 

In this article, we’ll explore some of the best practices to keep in mind when creating a marketing strategy for your nonprofit organization — even if you’re on a tight budget.

Marketing Best Practices for Nonprofits

1. Define your goals, audience and mission.

It’s easy to skip over this foundational work, but it’s actually critical to ensuring your marketing program has a solid start to grow on. Take the time upfront to define your mission, audience and goals, so you know where you’re heading.

One thing that can hold back nonprofits’ marketing efforts is the “spaghetti approach”: Throwing anything and everything at the wall to see what sticks. Setting specific goals and mapping your efforts to them can help you avoid wasting time and money. It can be beneficial to set SMART goals to help ensure they’re attainable and realistic. 

Along with goals, you’ll need to understand who you’re talking to — your personas. Your personas will be the audience(s) you want to reach. For a nonprofit, your personas may include donors, community members and volunteers. Each persona audience will have a different goal or driver to consider. For example, you would want to convince donors to make a monetary contribution and potential volunteers to sign up to help. 

Finally, ensure you’re crystal-clear on your mission and brand. What is your reason for existing? What stories do you have to tell that evoke emotion and build relationships with your personas? A strong voice and story will resonate with your audience and encourage them to engage with you. 

2. Map your budget to your goals and create a strategy. 

Now that you understand your goals, audience and brand, you can start mapping out marketing campaigns and tactics. A quick definition of each: 

  • Tactics are individual pieces of a marketing puzzle. They describe what you’re executing. Examples of tactics include social media posts, emails, or blog posts.
  • Campaigns are tactics focused on a specific theme and goal. You may have a campaign around an annual fundraiser or volunteer drive. Taking a campaign approach can help you harmonize your tactics and ensure you aren’t taking the spaghetti approach we mentioned earlier. 

Some traditional marketing techniques, like billboards and TV ads, might be out of budget, but don’t be discouraged — those aren’t always the best avenues to take anyway. A few ideas that might make sense for your marketing plan include: 

  • Email marketing - newsletters, invitations, fundraising drives, etc. Keep your brand and mission in front of people. 
  • In-person events - booths or fun sponsored activities at local fairs, festivals or bazaars. 
  • Partnership opportunities - sponsoring on the back of church bulletins or local event programs.
  • Social media - post about stories, volunteers, videos, events and local community outreach.
  • Website - don’t overlook the importance of a website! People come here to learn about you, make donations, sign up to volunteer and read content. It should be modern and easy to use. People form impressions about your brand in seconds. 

Be consistent and create high-quality tactics that offer value to your personas. If you have an idea to do a newsletter each quarter, what goal will that support? How will you create a plan to carry it out? Think through logistics — do you have email addresses or physical addresses? How much are printing and postage? If you’re sending emails, do you have a list of emails from people who have consented to receive emails from you? 

Also, consider how much you can take on and do well. Don’t commit to doing a blog every week if you don’t have the bandwidth or the desire to do it. 

Finally, aim for a polished and professional look with all marketing materials and when doing public events.

Related: Should I renovate or rebuild my website? 


“One key aspect nonprofits need to focus on is personalization. Donors and volunteers want to feel seen by the organizations they support. Segment your audience so you can test and deliver relevant information, opportunities, and other communications to each of your supporters.”

- Roy Harmon, CMO, Leadpost


3. Analyze and make adjustments 

Once your marketing program is up and running, make sure you’re keeping tabs on data from each tactic. 

You can track innumerable data points, but choose the ones that make the most sense — and impact — for your program. For example, that might be the number of people who signed up to volunteer from an email you send or the number of donations collected after a piece of direct mail. 

Analyze what worked and didn’t to see what you’d like to change next time. One piece of advice to keep in mind: You may not see amazing results right away, especially if you’re completely new to the marketing game. However, some tactics may have potential that you’d like to explore. 

Keep in mind that brand awareness and exposure are also intangible, although important, results from your marketing program. 

4. Seek feedback from experts

Between the day-to-day operations of your nonprofit and running a marketing program, it can quickly start to feel overwhelming. Look for ways to get assistance or feedback on your efforts to ensure you’re putting your best foot forward. 

One way to improve your marketing program and get free or low-cost help is to look for workshops in your area or online. Nearly all online webinars are free and offer valuable information in exchange for your email address. Also, check with your local chamber of commerce — many offer workshops for members. 

Finally, if you’re looking for help with outsourcing some or all of your marketing, marketing agencies can help. Many offer nonprofit pricing or packages to help you stay within your budget while making an impact. Look for those who have proven track records in working with nonprofits. 

Request a complimentary coaching session with Marketing Essentials today.