Your success as a nonprofit marketer is tied to how your organization views communications and sets goals for this area of work. An outdated marketing mindset holds the organization back and can leave you struggling to prove that your strategies are working to advance the mission.

Identifying Outdated Ways of Thinking

There are tried-and-true marketing tactics that stand the test of time (hello advertising!), but that doesn’t mean that they work in every situation. Similarly, there are lingering, old-school perceptions of what marketing entails and what it can achieve that make it difficult for nonprofit communications staff to feel successful—even when great things are happening.

Have you run into these challenges at your organization?

  • Fixation on having content like a video “go viral” and reach the masses
  • Resistance to investing in new marketing technology or setting up integrations between cloud-based tools
  • Defaulting to pushing out information all the time in order to reach more people, like relying on press releases
  • Making constant changes to your digital tactics, copy and collateral since it’s easy and “free” to do compared to print
  • Using vanity metrics to measure the success of your efforts, like the number of website visits

These are common symptoms of a marketing mindset that doesn’t give you the flexibility, time or focus you need to meet your goals.

Shifting Your Nonprofit’s Marketing Mindset

Change doesn’t happen overnight, but there are some foundational changes you can advocate for and implement to get your organization’s mindset in the right place.

Focus on keeping your ideal audience moving

Use target audience personas to put your community of supporters, volunteers and clients first. From there, start mapping out how you can keep them engaged and moving toward the next step you want them to take using marketing funnels

If your organization has a pretty systematic approach to donor cultivation (like a moves management approach), it’s time to apply that same mindset here.

Invest in technology that streamlines and builds capacity

Nonprofit technology continues to shift to cloud-based solutions, from donor databases to accounting software to website platforms. This switch also comes with subscription-based pricing plans that are easier for organizations to afford over time and scale up or down when your needs change. Best of all, taking these tools online also makes it easier to integrate them and get them to share data!

If your organization has been skeptical of paying for software, and instead favoring free versions with less functionality, you could be eating up staff capacity. Going forward, prioritize solutions that free up time by automating processes and the free flow of information. Everyone wins.

Prioritize content quality over quantity

As you know, marketing isn’t always about the quick wins and being seen everywhere all the time. We’ve seen a lot of nonprofits grow their brand awareness and community through inbound marketing, but it’s not as common in the nonprofit sector. Folks shy away from blogging and default to trying to reach everyone (here’s that viral video idea again!) instead of focusing on specific audiences that should be reached in targeted ways.

There’s definitely a place for proactive and time-sensitive communication tactics like press releases, but add more tools to the marketing toolbox that take the pressure off writing and blasting out endless pieces of content that offer little return. Your marketing is more memorable when it offers unexpected value.

Use a marketing plan to anchor, not stifle, new ideas

Creating a marketing plan doesn’t sound like a new idea—because it isn’t—but sticking to a plan is pretty difficult if the prevailing marketing mindset is all about new ideas rather than achieving marketing goals. (That’s the perfect recipe for last-minute panic.)

Shifting and sticking to a new marketing mindset takes being disciplined: setting specific goals in a plan you write down and reference. You can be fluid about how you reach those goals as long as the vision for success is clear enough that you can weed out distractions and shiny new things that won’t get you to where you want to go.

Make decisions based on real data and test results

The fun of marketing doesn’t stop because you’ve now saddled your nonprofit with a plan. One of the most important qualities of a modern marketing mindset is a willingness to experiment. Just make sure you’re measuring your experiments so you know if they worked or not.

For example, if you want to try plain text emails as part of a campaign strategy, test them against a different format to see which approach is more effective. You can then use that data and knowledge to adjust your future plans as well as educate others at your organization. Make a change, measure, adapt, repeat. Just remember to use marketing metrics that matter.

Building awareness of your nonprofit is never an easy task, but it doesn’t have to feel like an endless slog to an unknown finish line. By adjusting your approach to communications at a foundational level, you can start to shift the marketing mindset to one that puts energy into the right places.

What’s your nonprofit’s marketing mindset these days? Has it changed over time? Looking forward to hearing about your experiences in the comments.