I want to set the record straight: Nonprofit marketing is not different from for-profit marketing. Plain and simple. The same rules you use for making a sale in any profit-seeking businesses apply in the nonprofit, fundraising, and awareness arenas. When it comes to communicating to an audience, whether it’s drawing on a Snapchat photo or captioning an Instagram video, the philosophy is the same for gaining the most attention for your brand. Whether you are running a nonprofit, a for-profit, or running to be the President of the United States, you need to understand where people’s attention is and storytell contextually to get the best results.
Full disclosure: I am on the board of Pencils of Promise and a Well Member for Charity Water, which has allowed me to see deep into the details of storytelling and conversion on the nonprofit side. In my opinion, both of these organizations are great examples of storytelling before the sale. It’s about putting out good content and engaging with people around these issues. They use social media to find both people who might already be interested, as well as those who are not familiar with their cause. There are several other not-for-profit organizations that I’m close to that do a great job, but I have also seen an enormous number of groups that do it wrong.
Just because you’re a nonprofit, doesn’t mean you only throw right hooks
For context if you haven’t read my books, jabs are the value you provide your customers with: the content you put out, the good things you do to convey your appreciation. And the right hook is the ask: it’s when you go in for the sale, ask for a subscribe, ask for a donation.
In the nonprofit world, you probably have a little more permission to throw more right hooks more frequently than a regular business does. However, I am reluctant to even say that statement because the biggest problem in this world is that many nonprofits are only in the right hooking business. Too many of you in the nonprofit world feel that, because you represent a good cause, you’re entitled to throw those right hooks without recognizing the supply and demand of people’s attention.
A lot of people in the NGO world have the audacity to think there’s an obligation to right hook the wealthy or their dedicated supporters. I get 1000s of tweets a year from nonprofits asking me to donate without creating any level of relationship or context with me purely based on the assumption that, because they are doing good, they are entitled to my money or time. And then, when I don’t respond or don’t do anything about it, I get looked down upon and pinned as a “bad person.”
Respect your target audience.
The problem is that it’s noisy—there are so many organizations “doing good” and asking for donations, that each nonprofit needs to be far more respectful of their audience’s time and resources. It’s about a value exchange—you can’t just expect someone to donate to your cause without bringing value to them first. It’s not guilt tripping or relying on people feeling like they have to give. It’s an open, transparent conversation and dialogue. You need to respect your target audience.
How to bring value with jabs
Remember that you still need to jab in order to bring value and leverage your audience. That will give you the audacity to go in for your asks. When it comes to jabs, nonprofits have emotional advantages that for-profits do not. When you’re coming from a place of doing good in the world, nonprofits have an easier time approaching and connecting with their audience. However, just like a for-profit business, content has to be created in a thoughtful way. It has to be contextual, particularly if these are heavy topics. A lot of you then spend time thinking: How do we make this issue social and fun? You don’t.
What the content needs to be is educational while not being too complicated. If it is depressing, you don’t sugarcoat it, but instead focus on the true nature of the issue. Focus on storytelling and creating narratives in a meaningful and smart way. For example, a 45 second video needs to have the right tone of music behind it and the right visuals to fit the topic. When it comes to nonprofits, respecting your subject matter and making it contextual for the platform you choose are way more important than trying to make your content “dynamic” or “fun.”
There are a lot of mediums you can use to tell your story. For example, you can write white papers, create infographics, Slideshares, pictures, and quote cards to educate the market. You can also use Twitter, just like for-profits, as a listening tool to insert yourself into relevant conversations and bring value. The emergence and explosion of video on Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram is an important development over the last 12 months that has given nonprofits far more opportunities to storytell.
Influencer marketing on Instagram and Snapchat is another tool nonprofits could be using to their advantage. I am not talking about reaching out to your donors, partners, and good friends to “Please tweet this out.” The ask should be smartly integrated into the content organically. What I mean is this: take into account how the influencer would normally put out content so that it feels native to that person’s audience. For example, an endorsement would resonate better with my audience if I talked about it in #DailyVee instead of just giving a re-tweet.
Ultimately, life is about value exchange. Give value to get value.
Whether you decide to write about your topic on Medium, or make a video on Snapchat or YouTube, your content needs to be truthful and contextual to the platform. Your right hooks need to be timed precisely and be respectful to your target’s time and resources. It’s a value exchange: you should always give value to get value. Whether you are selling a product, service, or asking for charitable donations, remember that the same marketing rules apply. Use social media to your advantage to tell a compelling story that will help spark the right conversations.