6 Non-Profit Marketing Mistakes to Avoid

By Madeline Ruffin-Thomas in Non-Profit on November 13th, 2013

All non-profits, big and small, are at risk of making at least a few mistakes that derail their communications with donors and stall the growth of their fundraising program. Avoid these common oversights when planning your campaigns to gain a competitive advantage and deepen engagement with donors.


1.    Not connecting fundraising back to your mission. All non-profits know that the end result of raising money is to further their organizational mission. But this perspective is sometimes lost when you’re on the inside of the organization - because you’re part of the gears, it’s difficult to see the entire clock. It’s easy to fall into the pattern of saying things like “help us in our goal to raise $X this holiday season.” That may be a fundraising milestone for you, but what does that mean to your donors? How does it support your mission? When communicating with donors, always strive to humanize your goals, asks and successes. For example, “$X will mean clean drinking water for X children” and “your support helped us find homes for X animals this year” will make the need and solution real. 2.    Not including donors in your mission. Likewise, all non-profits know that it’s their donors’ support that makes everything they do possible. But again, sometimes it’s easy to lose the bird’s eye view when you’re in the trenches. When talking about your organization with donors, be careful not to present what you do as if it’s just those inside your organization making it all work. Instead of saying “we did this” and “we’re going to do that”, say things like “generous donors like you made this possible” and “with your support, we can make a difference.” Don’t save this grateful sentiment and donor-centric language for the very end of a letter, email or blog post – weave this throughout your messaging. 3.    Thinking “If you build it, they will come.” They will only come if they know it's there.  If your non-profit is launching something new, whether it’s a special program or a website, make sure your budget for the project includes informing supporters and potential supporters. Consider who needs to know and where they are, then work through all logical channels to disseminate the news – press releases, social media channels, email, direct mail, online video, etc.  Set a project budget that includes media costs and stick with the budget allocation; don’t let the inevitable revision process that comes with creative development eat into the media budget. Telling people about something is just as important as creating it in the first place. 4.    Sticking only with what you know. Don’t disregard what’s worked for your organization, but never stop testing to improve on it. No matter what your mission is, your donor base is always evolving and so is the world your donors live in. What worked 10 years ago may not work today. Or, if it still works, it might work so much better if given the chance to evolve with your donors. In the long run, doing the same thing is not safe, but rather stagnant. Tap into new pools of potential donors by testing new direct mail lists or Facebook targets. Connect with your current donors in a new way to boost engagement and retention. Consider testing new offers or new creative to improve your acquisition campaign performance. And know when it’s time to truly innovate – to test something completely new rather than just making small tweaks to the same, tired approach. 5.    Shortchanging long term for short term. Large-scale projects like website rebuilds and model development stand to significantly improve the efficiency of your marketing program in the long term, but they also require an investment outside your usual annual marketing budget. In addition, their ROI may be realized over the course of several fiscal years, rather than all during the current year. Far too often, non-profits opt to postpone these projects (sometimes indefinitely) for these reasons. But this short-term thinking truly shortchanges your marketing program. Communicate the importance and value of these efforts to those making budgeting decisions within your organization. Explain the long-term marketing efficiency these efforts could bring. If budget is a barrier, see if the project’s planning and execution can be scheduled to straddle two fiscal years so that the project cost is not weighing on only one year’s budget. 6.    Not making your marketing partners your true partners in marketing. Sometimes, non-profits view their agencies as a resource to handle projects their internal marketing team doesn’t have the manpower to accomplish. But you shouldn’t think of your agency as just an executor of tasks that you can’t get around to. The true value of great marketing partners is in the strategic thinking and best-practices-based know-how they bring to the table. Tap into your partners’ knowledge base for ways to refine your goals, streamline your processes, improve your appeals, optimize your website, boost your media efficiency, tackle a new challenge and even discover opportunities you didn’t know you had.  Fresh marketing eyes from outside your organization can provide fresh thinking to advance your fundraising program to the next level. Non-Profit Marketing Best Practices Below are some best practices for your organization to keep top of mind.
  • Keep your mission in mind with everything you do
  • Remember to include your donors in what you do
  • Think holistically when attacking a project – plan, execute and disseminate
  • Be willing to try completely new marketing approaches – testing fuels progress
  • Always be mindful of the long-term health and growth of your fundraising program
  • Tap into your marketing partners to improve and enhance your marketing efforts
  Looking to grow your fundraising program or get fresh perspective on your non-profit marketing efforts?  Get in touch with our non-profit experts!