Digital Marketing for Nonprofits: A Complete Guide

By Lisa Hirst Carnes | June 2021


A lot goes into making a nonprofit organization successful. Attracting donors, fundraising, marketing, grant writing, and much more, all to keep your nonprofit afloat. 

If you are like most nonprofit organizations, you are almost always operating with less. You have smaller teams, tighter budgets, and restricted timelines. 

For most, creating a marketing strategy feels like a task that's not worth the effort. But if you are motivated to attract supporters, your focus d shift to growing your online presence. 

Digital marketing for nonprofits drives change. It's through marketing that an organization can attract donors, boost funding, engage volunteers, and fulfill its obligations. And since nonprofits are more focused on achieving more with less, raising awareness of your organization's actions will boost performance.

In this article, we’ll discuss the value of online marketing to nonprofit brands. We'll talk about the strategies, benefits, and best practices. 

So, let's dive in!

What is Nonprofit Marketing? 

Clearly, nonprofits' purpose is to bring change to society. This may be through donations or messages that spread hope in a community. 

When it comes to nonprofits, digital marketing strategies are those tactics that attract the relevant audience. They are the processes that are taken to attract donors, engage volunteers, build a strong team, and manage fund drives. 

For example, a nonprofit like World of Children is focused on supporting sick, hungry, abused, and educationally challenged children. 

They have an easy-to-navigate website, impact statements, and a purpose that encourages people to convert. Additionally, they have call-to-action buttons that are easy to locate. Their marketing strategy makes it easy for them to raise awareness and receive support for most of their activities.

How Does a Nonprofit Stand to Benefit From Digital Marketing?

Marketing for nonprofits is a broad subject. It isn’t just about funding. It’s about bringing together the data, platforms, technology, media, and devices that drive the most organizational change. 

Here’s how online marketing can benefit nonprofit organizations.

Attracts Funding

Nonprofits rely solely on well-wishers. With the donations and support from volunteers, it is a matter of time before a nonprofit run out of resources and closes its offices. Nonprofits are all about raising funds and supporting needy causes. And through marketing, an organization can get noticed and receive more funding from online and offline supporters. 

Raises Awareness

Digital marketing can open your nonprofit to a global audience. It removes the limitations of time and accessibility while adding convenience and expanded reach. Nonprofit marketing makes it easy for people to hear and spread the word about what you do.

Builds Long-term Donor Memberships

Nonprofit marketing helps in the development of membership programs that ensure the prolonged sustainability of an organization. With marketing, an organization can create a plan to recruit new supporters and remind return members to contribute to their causes.  

Brings in New People power

Nonprofits will always need volunteers. Take, for instance, an organization like the Red Cross. Their calamity response projects require that they have teams around the globe at all times. 

With support from volunteers, there would be a smooth transition in the execution of their mission. But thanks to their marketing efforts, such a nonprofit can receive new workforce often. The new members can also contribute to most of their fundraising efforts, thus boosting their monetary requirements.

Improves Online Visibility

To be seen and heard in a busy environment, you must know how to stand out from the crowd. Creating a robust online presence puts your nonprofit ahead of your competitors. You also ensure that anyone searching for your targeted keywords will discover your pages first. 

Builds Credibility

Credibility can best be achieved by sharing powerful stories of your achievements. Or perhaps by executing an email marketing campaign that takes your potential customers through your nonprofit's journey. There's so much you can do with digital marketing to gain trust and build loyalty with your supporters. 

Creating a Digital Marketing Strategy for Nonprofits in 8 Simple Steps:

For nonprofit marketing to be effective, you need a plan. A plan directs your operations and your activities. You can manage the digital marketing process through a detailed plan and declare a starting point and time. If things need to change midway, you will adjust your plan.

Define Your Goals

The first step to a successful marketing initiative is knowing your goals. By defining where you want to go, you can develop a digital marketing strategy that gets you there. For example, if your nonprofit is keen on attracting donor funding, these goals will direct most of your activities.

Your goals can take many forms, but brand exposure is at the top of the list. For example, you can plan an outreach program to keep in touch with communities. In your guide, you can include ways of involving people interested in your organization, like potential donors. In this way, you create a platform for building warm connections that can benefit your nonprofit marketing. 

Remember to review your mission and vision statement as you define your goals. Reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of your marketing initiatives from the perspective of the S.M.A.R.T goals. Ensure that your goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely. 

If, let’s say, the above donor funding was for a cancer support center, here's how the S.M.A.R.T goal would look like;

  • Specific - Share valuable information about cancer through our newsletter once every month.
  • Measurable - Increase email open rates to 50% every month.
  • Attainable - Our open rates currently stand at 35%; by adding educative content in the newsletter, the 50% mark is attainable.
  • Relevant - Through a cancer awareness newsletter, we will attract more funding and increase our ability to support more patients.
  • Timely - Our newsletter will start rolling in May of this year.

See how we put the mission, vision, and values statement together. That's how SMART goals work. They ensure you have clear objectives for donors, volunteers, stakeholders, and the community.

Know Your Audience

Be clear on the beneficiaries of your cause. For example, if you are fighting for human rights from a political perspective, your approach should differ from helping victims of gender-based grievances. 

But in both instances, you will want to establish an emotional connection with the target audience. Conduct research into their interests and lifestyles. Spend your time collecting data that will improve the efficiency of your digital marketing campaigns. 

Better still, segment your audience into groups. Creating groups will help you personalize your marketing messages to suit your audience.

Create a Key Message

A key message is those specific terms that help you get noticed. These are keywords that, if well used, could be the voice of your nonprofit brand. In digital marketing for nonprofits, keywords are those words that put you ahead of your competitors. It could be a simple phrase like "there when you need us most," but these terms can get you noticed by big donors.

Spread the Word About Your Campaigns 

Creating a marketing campaign and not promoting is like lighting a candle in the dark and hiding it under a table. It may light up a small part of the room, but imagine if you allowed the candle to shine! 

Promotion helps you discover, engage, and convert a larger audience that shares your interests and aspirations. But as always, identifying your distribution platforms will boost your performance

Start by knowing where potential supporters of causes like yours hang out. If social media is where they spend the most time, create a marketing strategy that encourages them to convert from there. Remember to deliver what works in the best formats as you look for what works. 

Measure Your Results

How much has your nonprofit achieved in the last week, months, or years?

By looking at your metrics, you can determine how well you meet your objectives. Your metrics can also inform your gap analysis. If you have been filling gaps left by your competitors, find out if your efforts have attracted more supporters to your site.  

Of course, there are many other ways to measure results. For example, if you send out flyers for a fundraising drive, you can ask people to text a particular code to confirm support. Such feedback can tell you what role the flyers played in the success of your fundraising drive.  

Monitor Your Progress

This is a long-term strategy for your advertising campaigns. Use calendars and key performance indicators (KPIs) to track progress. Think of it as a map showing your current position and where to go. 

A calendar helps you to stay on course without losing focus, whereas KPIs keep track of employees, donors, beneficiaries, competitors, and marketing performance. Calendars and KPIs are specific to your nonprofit’s goals and what and when.

What Does a Nonprofit Marketing Strategy Encompass?

While choosing all available marketing strategies for your campaigns is tempting, it’s best to take the time to understand what works. You can first select the most relevant aspects as you look to grow your online presence gradually. 

Remember that marketing for nonprofits is all about creating a plan that invites the most people to support your cause. If email marketing could further your goals, look for creative ways to develop responsive messages. Always ensure that your efforts deliver short- and long-term support to your nonprofit.

Event Marketing for Nonprofits

Event marketing enables a nonprofit to connect with a community. Through such activities, you can build trust and invite more people to support your cause. With regular events, you can garner the support of many participants that help raise funds for your organization.

Here's an example of a charitable run by Citizen Medical Center aimed at supporting cancer patients. Event marketing is often described as a surefire way of boosting funding in an organization. 

Email Marketing

Both for-profit and nonprofit organizations have benefited a lot from emails. This is because emails are convenient for reaching a large group of subscribers. 

But in nonprofits, there's much more you can do with emails. You can nurture and build long-term relationships that guarantee the prolonged continuity of an organization.
You can send weekly updates of upcoming events in your organization through emails. Emails are also convenient for welcoming newcomers.

By nurturing relationships with emails, sending regular donation requests and recruiting more volunteers to your team becomes easy. 

Social Media Marketing (SMM)

When choosing a channel for your marketing, you do not have to use all social media platforms at once. You can pick two or three platforms where most of your target audience hangs out. 

If your research shows that most potential donors hang out on Facebook and Twitter, starting your marketing campaigns, there would be best. Next, you can diversify your digital marketing to other platforms or mix it with email marketing to reach a larger audience.

Content Marketing

There are various aspects of content marketing you should consider. First, it's your language. Use simple terms and avoid jargon that could cause people to be less sure of your purpose and advocacy. 

Next is how you structure your content. Always consider your fonts, spacing, and paragraph styles when creating content. Content divided into several sections using different headers is easy to read and understand. 

Also, different initiatives respond to particular types of fonts. So, go minimalist on font typefaces. Also, make your content as scannable as possible. Scannable content makes it easy for an audience to find specific information quickly.

As you craft high-quality content, there are also various content types from which to choose. Base your decision on the message you want to convey. The tastes and interests of your audience and the amount of information you want to share will also determine your content type. 

  • Blog Posts: What you’re reading is an example of a blog post. It can be short or long, depending on how much you want to share. But if you're going to boost your online visibility, consider long blog posts. Detailed content is favorable for both search engines and website visitors.
  • Ebooks: An ebook is a more detailed version of a blog post. Ebooks clarify content by including more than one topic for context. They are also beneficial for lead generation strategies. For example, if you're looking for email subscribers from your website, you can offer free ebooks detailing your nonprofit's purpose.  
  • Infographics: These are visual elements that convey complex topics in easy-to-understand formats. With infographics, you improve engagement by providing clarity through images. 
  • Videos: Videos are an easy alternative for those who prefer watching rather than reading. Creating videos can help you push a message that might be difficult to consume by text. It also offers inclusivity for people with visual impairments. 
  • White Papers: They are significant for defining various projects for your audience. Since they include an overview and description of the benefits and challenges of specific activities, they help people understand what they are getting into when they team up on tasks. White papers benefit marketing as they reflect preparedness for the projects under consideration. 
  • Case Studies: They tell a story about what you have achieved. Case studies are a demonstration of your success. They are among the most used content in nonprofit marketing.

Essential Tips for Successful Digital Marketing for Nonprofits

To succeed in digital marketing, you must learn some tips and tricks for staying on top of the game. As we said earlier, nonprofit marketing is about learning to work with less. So, here are a few tactics for managing and attracting the proper support to your organization.

Have a Budget

Most of your online marketing activities will cost you money. For example, when carrying out pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns, you'll incur an expense with every click you get. Even creating a user’s guide for a funds drive requires capital to implement.

So having a budget is essential for the smooth flow of your activities. For informed decisions, here is how you can create a budget that works: 

Track Your Income

Income is the amount of money you have. Donors, fundraising, and well-wishers can fund it. Tracking income will help in creating a budget that works.

Note Your Spending

Which causes do you want to support? What platforms will you use for your digital marketing campaigns? How long will the projects last? What are your fixed and variable expenses? You’ll know if your goals fit your income by answering these questions. 

Creating a reputable brand involves starting projects you'll support to the end. So, know your income and amount of spending to avoid leaving projects unfinished, thus affecting your brand's reputation.

Set a Timeline

Know how long you want your budget to stretch. Set precise dates on when and how everything should flow. For this, you can refer to spending history or researched data and make adjustments accordingly. Remember that budgets complement your marketing efforts, and yours should help identify priorities. 

Monitor Your Budget 

If not daily, have a weekly or monthly review of your budget. This practice will allow you to stay on track with your goals and discover areas that need change. For example, you can tweak your budget to offer extra support or add more beneficiaries to your projects if you receive additional donations. 

A budget helps you prioritize activities that grow your brand. It will help you stay in control and be confident that you can support your brand.

Personalize Your Brand

When it comes to nonprofit marketing, personalization plays a huge role in how people perceive you. Through personalization, you can target specific causes and reach where you are most needed. 

For example, in an environment supporting children's education, you can target one student to sponsor. This way, you get a unique story that can fit into your case studies. By offering customized support, you attract donors interested in helping individual cases. 

Boost Your SEM and SEO strategies

Gone are the days when online marketing was the focus of for-profit companies only. Nowadays, nonprofits are also using digital marketing tools to boost their visibility. Creating websites that rank attracts the right people to their organizations.

To boost the performance of your website, you can use paid or unpaid ads. Search engine optimization (SEO) can attract unpaid, organic searches. For this, you need to consider your on-page, off-page, and technical SEO aspects that will help you appear on top of Google, Bing, or Yahoo search results.

Alternatively, consider paid ads through search engine marketing (SEM). Paid ads are a simple way of ranking higher without the extra effort of SEO. Even better, you only pay for ads based on your clicks.

But for better efficiency in your internet marketing efforts, use both SEM and SEO campaigns. Both campaigns can complement each other to ensure long-term success in your online marketing efforts.

Choose Your Colors and Fonts Wisely

Colors reflect the message behind your brand. When choosing a color for your brand, choose the color that supports what you do. The color should dominate your online platforms, including your website, email, and social networks.  

For example, a nonprofit company supporting compassionate causes can use blue. We associate blue with calmness, loyalty, and trust. It reflects a brand that offers stability and support for a good cause. So, if your brand’s mission includes providing humanitarian aid, blue is a perfect choice. 

An excellent example of this is the Unicef website. 

Notice how the blue dominates the page? Unicef is an organization focused on humanitarian support for children. Their color and fonts show depth but also confidence in what they do. Using the color white symbolizes purity, innocence, and safety. This organization benefits children, so the color scheme is an excellent fit.  

Another example would be this website from Save the Children:

The color red symbolizes love and determination. From their color scheme, you can tell they take a fierce approach to saving children’s lives. Their fonts also show professionalism in enrolling supporters in their cause.  

Consider Your Web Design

Your web design directly impacts the reputation of your brand. It's through web responsiveness that a visitor coming to your page finds a reason to support your causes. To ensure your web design fulfills all your marketing goals, here are several vital factors to heed:

Mobile Responsiveness

There are as many people accessing websites through mobile phones as they do from laptops. For this reason, your mobile responsiveness plays an essential role in where you rank in Google search results.

To ensure you get the most from your marketing efforts, factor in your mobile users. Ensure that any supporter viewing your blog through a mobile device can access every detail as if they were on a computer. Your images, call-to-action-buttons, and text should also be easy to read and clickable from all devices.


Keeping a load speed of below 2 seconds is essential for conversions. It allows your viewers to go through your content without interruption. It's a way of making sure that anyone visiting your page converts in the shortest time. 

To keep up with good speeds, ensure that your images are of the right size. If you need to optimize image size, use compression software to convert them--while still maintaining loading speeds.

Next, check poor plugins and software. Uninstall what you don't need and store only essential applications. 

Last, consider web caching. For this, you can use a proxy tool that caches web pages and reduces your computer's bandwidth.

Hint: I carried out a speed test for Australian Red Cross through PageSpeed Insights by Google and here are the results. Impressive, right? 


It is necessary to consider every person likely to visit your page, including those with disabilities. A visually impaired person, for example, should find your website convenient and easy to navigate.

 If they need large fonts, make it easy for them to access applications that support this. If they need text to voice translation, create content that is easy to understand in both formats. Accessibility is essential for improving your credibility and attracting a diverse audience to your program.

Consider Your Brand Democracy

Your team plays an essential role in your nonprofit marketing efforts. It is they that spread encouraging words about your initiatives. Your group could also be the only voice you need to hear about upscaling your online visibility. Everything they do and say mirrors your support for what you say you do in your organization. 

But for your team to deliver the best results, they need an independent voice. Listen to your team. They could be the excellent brainstorming tool to discover a responsive angle in your campaigns. 

So, how do you build brand democracy? 

  • Create a distinctive mission statement. This can even be a footnote in your internal emails conveying your goals. Attract long-term engagement and grow your brand by creating a memorable mission statement. 
  • Listen to everyone on your team. Brainstorm to develop new ideas you know will give your team a shared purpose and vision. 
  • Provide resources that facilitate spreading the word about your causes. This can be anything from computers to case studies or setting goals that guide your marketing strategies.
  • Be an example of what you preach. If you talk compassion, show compassion--let your actions guide your team.  
  • Use the Power of Storytelling to Engage Your Audience.

Stories are captivating. They are great at grabbing the attention of your audience. But for stories to be interesting, they need to be told right. 

Good storytelling should start from where it all began - your passion and purpose and what pushed you to build your brand. Go back to those early days and the challenges you experienced. Describe the excitement of the time, but keep it informative enough to convey your message. 

Create an emotional connection with everyone reading or listening to your story. This way, you build trust and improve interactions. Captivating stories are also easy to share. Your audience will enjoy telling your story for you. And with each telling, they will enhance the visibility and viability of your organization.

Want to Build a Strong Online Presence?

There you have it, a complete guide to digital marketing for nonprofits. You will need to take the time to understand what your online marketing strategies entail. And if you get stuck, reach out to our team of experts for everything in digital marketing. We build websites, optimize them, and even manage rankings. Contact us for more information on what we do.

Topics: Nonprofit Help