Marketing Challenges for Nonprofits

By Dan Olson | January 2021


Marketing is one of the most important functions of any organization, whether you are a for profit or nonprofit. Getting your message in front of your audience presents many challenges. Some are in your control, while many are not. Nonprofit organizations tend to have a more challenging time when it comes to marketing for a variety of reasons. This article will highlight some of the most pressing issues that marketers tend to face in the nonprofit world.


Time is Precious, Don't Waste it 

Two of the most important resources a nonprofit organization has are time and money. Time is specifically challenging, because you can never seem to have enough and you can never get it back once it has been used.

Smaller nonprofits typically don't have a large marketing budget. It is not uncommon for smaller nonprofits to have an Executive Director managing the marketing for the organization. Wearing too many hats, while a great way to level up your career and skills, can leave you exhausted and leave room for potential burnout.

Of course larger nonprofits have issues with time as well. Although they may have a larger team in place to handle various marketing tasks, sometimes there can be a disconnect. Larger teams tend to have a person focus on one or two aspects of the job and although this is a great way to keep marketers focused on their own tasks, at times there are too many hands in the marketing pot and things can get lost, like time.

So, how best can you manage time? It is important to assign marketing tasks for each individual and carve out time for key marketing activities. Creating processes and using tools such as Trello is imperative. Additionally, nonprofit marketers should always be learning. Dedicating time to further skill development will not only help your organization, but also those that it serves.


About that Budget...

You knew this one was coming. How many times have you had a great campaign idea, only to be turned down because of lack of budget? Additionally, I’m sure there have been times where you need to hire someone to take on a large chunk of the workload, only to have your board question whether that person is really needed after all. 

It is difficult for nonprofits to come up with the funds necessary to redesign a website, invest in technology, or hire the staff they truly need. Unfortunately, most nonprofits can’t just go out and sell more products or services. Instead, grants need to be written, donations need to be received, and the right people need to be convinced to use funds towards marketing.

So, how do you find the money for the tools or staff that your nonprofit requires? You must make a strong case for your needs by focusing on what each of your key audiences need. Most nonprofits serve three key groups: donors, volunteers, and the community you serve. Take each of these groups and make a case for why you need the money for a specific campaign, or how the software that you need will help each ground, or why if you don’t hire someone to help out, your message won’t reach anyone.



It's All About the Strategy, Baby

Okay, I get all of those operational aspects of the job, but when are we going to get the meat and potatoes of marketing? Okay, okay, let’s get to it. Oftentimes a nonprofit gets stuck in the ways of doing things they way they always used to. Well, times change and with it so should your strategy.

Your marketing strategy should be a living, breathing document that is revisited at least annually by your leadership team and the board of directors. Marketing is such a vital part of your organization that, if not monitored closely, can lead to huge operational ramifications. These can range from spending too much money on ineffective technology, not having the right people in the right roles, or just not targeting the right audiences (more on that later).

A sound marketing strategy should include the following: 

  • What are your objectives and goals?
  • Who is the target audience and personas?
  • What is the current situation of your nonprofit? (Do a SWOT analysis)
  • Are there other nonprofits that do what you do and what makes them successful?
  • What are the basic, core competencies of your nonprofit and what makes you special?
  • Who is assigned to each marketing task? (Content creation, social media, SEO, paid ads, website maintenance, budgeting, etc.)

If you haven’t looked at your strategy in a while or you just don’t have one altogether, don’t worry. There are resources that can help you with your strategy and get you started on the right track. In fact, the team at ArcStone is teeming with confident, strategic thinkers that can help create a marketing plan that suits you and your cause.


The Big T: Turnover

This is a big one. Just picture it, Rachel, who has done a fantastic job for your nonprofit over the last three years walks into your office and says, I found a new opportunity.

Cue the anxiety.

Nobody likes to see one of their colleagues leave even while you're happy for their next endeavor. Now you’re left to fill a seat and make certain all of your marketers tasks are taken care of. You could likely see a dip in your marketing efforts, which correlates directly to the effectiveness of your nonprofit.  

Unfortunately, people don’t generally stick around at a job forever. However, if you make sure that your processes are properly documented and they are accessible so multiple team members can understand them, you will be able to divide the work amongst other staff members while you wait for that next great talent to walk through the door.

Who Cares About us, Anyway? 

If you aren’t seeing the right ROI for your marketing efforts, it is probably time to go back and revisit your personas. Personas are key to understanding the way a person interacts and feels about your brand. Haven’t dusted off those personas in a while? No problem! Never had any personas? That’s okay, you can always create them.

Use this nonprofit persona guide to help create them on your own. Otherwise, you could hire out an agency to help you with the process. The key is to sit down with your team and really understand who it is you’re trying to reach and their reasons for caring about your cause. And please, don’t limit your team to just marketers. Sure, we are pretty smart, but what about your finance leader or a staff member that actually works with the community that you’re service? You want to make sure that you have other viewpoints, to properly address the needs of all of your audiences.



New Technology Anxiety 

The way your nonprofit approached marketing technology twenty years ago should be different than today. Let’s face it, twenty years ago a majority of the world still didn’t have the internet, print really led the way when it came to outreach, and we didn’t have to rely on Zoom to see each other face-to-face. 

Although it can be scary to switch up the way you’ve always done things, the most successful nonprofits are nimble and can adjust to the ever-changing marketing landscape. Remember that website you had created back in 2006 and how difficult it is to update? Well, websites are a lot easier for your team to use now thanks to content management systems such as WordPress

Does your main Microsoft Office account keep getting blocked by your list when you send out your monthly newsletter? Well, it could be that you don’t have the right email marketing software

Are you spending too much time on staying in front of your audience, because you’re reaching out to every single person manually? Maybe using a marketing automation platform would be a good idea for your organization to consider.

Never underestimate the power of now. The way you did things twenty, ten, five or even one year ago, may not be the most effective and efficient way to stay relevant. One way to stay on top of the latest nonprofit marketing trends is to subscribe to our newsletter. 


Convincing Your Board of Directors

Is your board less-than-confident that marketing will get the job done? Well, it’s time to sit down and tell them just what it is they are missing. 

The best nonprofits have board members that are savvy and have a clear understanding of how important marketing is to the organization. If you have members that question your motives, that's okay! It's a sign of a healthy relationship as they are looking out for the greater good of the nonprofit. However, when you have someone on the board that is not sure why marketing works or how effective it can be, it’s time to bombard them with content. Try to educate them on topics such as why a new website redesign is important to your cause, why a necessary extra hire won’t make turnover such a sticky situation for your team, or why investing in SEO and paid advertising is such an important tactic.

To round out all of these challenge, we want to assure you that many if not most nonprofits encounter these at one point or another. Marketing challenges can vary from strategic, tactical, or operational. If you ever need a fractional team to help you fill gaps or a strategic advisor to help leadership navigate specific challenges, make sure you reach out to one of our digital strategists that can help lead you down the right path to overcome those obstacles.

Topics: Nonprofit Help