Messaging for nonprofits

How knowing your audience can help you advance your mission.

For nonprofit organizations, marketing can be a balancing act.

Budgets are tight. Staff is stretched. And diverting resources away from programming is not done lightly. But with the right approach to messaging, your organization can build stronger relationships with donors, engage volunteers and better reach those who rely on you.

Messages That Motivate

Nonprofits must take a nuanced approach to communications. Your volunteers, financial supporters, and constituents are distinct groups. And you may be reaching out to other stakeholders such as policymakers or community partners.

Each group has a unique sets of interests and motivations. If your marketing materials aren’t tailored to your audiences, you’re missing opportunities to inspire action.

(Consider a cash-strapped college student who is passionate about your cause, but may not see a way to help if they’re only ever asked to “Donate Now.” Or how about a donor who is never told a compelling story about how their gift is making an impact, so their support eventually drops off.)

You understand these challenges. But, getting the message right across multiple communication channels is complicated.

Where To Start

A simple, effective exercise is to develop an audience persona for each group you want to reach. Start by imagining the ideal member of one of your audiences. Then describe this person in detail. This profile will give you a target for clearer communications as you evaluate your messaging through their eyes.

An audience persona typically includes a mix of demographic, socioeconomic, and psychological traits, such as:

  • Age
  • Goals/reasons for getting involved
  • Preferred communication channels
  • Personality type
  • Family information
  • Income
  • Gender
  • Religious beliefs
  • Level of education
  • Political affiliation
  • Geography, etc.

It may even be helpful to further segment your audiences. For example, millennial volunteers could have different motivators than retirees, or new donors may require different messaging than longtime supporters.

Move beyond talking “about our organization” and to start building connections based on the needs of those you’re communicating with. Balance your assumptions with data, surveys, and third-party perspectives.

The audience persona is now a lens through which you can assess all of your communications – from webpages and social media posts to billboards and brochures.

Putting it Into Practice

While each organization must fine tune its messaging, here are some general guidelines to get started.

5 Tips For Communicating With Donors

  1. Understand why your supporters donate. This can range from altruism to social status to tax benefits.
  2. Try to communicate and keep donors involved year-round, not just when a need arises.
  3. Donors need to see specifically how their gift is being used, and they want to know that they can trust you to invest their money responsibly.
  4. Keep the language focused on how “you” (donors) are helping and not just on what “we” (the organization) is doing.
  5. People tend to be more motivated to help an identified individual than they do a group. That means putting a face, name, and story to your cause will have more impact than only discussing the problem at large.

5 Tips For Communicating With Volunteers

  1. Take a close look at what drives your volunteers. In addition to supporting your cause, other motivators may include:
    • Helping others
    • Being part of a community
    • Personal development
    • New experiences
    • Professional networking
  2. Successful messaging will help your volunteers meet their functional needs, such as living up to their values, strengthening a resume, or building social capital among peers. Once again, language that focuses on “you” rather than “us” will be most effective here.
  3. Address concerns volunteers may have related to time limitations, unclear expectations, or lack of direction.
  4. Because many volunteers initiate the first contact with nonprofits, a strong brand, engaging digital presence, and clear messaging are essential.
  5. Share stories, testimonials, and messaging that emphasize the enjoyment of volunteering, flexibility, organizational support, and the impact individuals can make.

Take An Inventory

Here are some practical questions you can ask to improve how you market your nonprofit organization:

People shopping for food
  • Can you define each of your audiences along with the needs and motivations of their members?
  • Are you creating each piece of content with a specific audience/call to action in mind?
  • Does your website clearly direct visitors to information that speaks to their needs?
  • Are your emails and other materials segmented based on audience interests?
  • Are you sharing specific stories of how donors and volunteers make a difference?
  • Are you using “you” language throughout your marketing collateral?

If you’d like to explore more ideas on how you can improve your nonprofit marketing strategy, contact us today to start the conversation.

Let’s make it happen.

No pressure, no pushy sales. Just a conversation about where you are today and where you would like to go.