In my time doing nonprofit marketing I’ve browsed a ton of websites, read more email newsletters than I can count and scrolled through more Twitter feeds than I’d care to admit. And often, I see the same major marketing issues creep up for so many nonprofits. Below I’ll discuss the most common causes of nonprofit marketing failure and what you can do to fix them.

You’re Not Publishing Engaging Content

This is easily number one on my list. Frequently, nonprofits voice frustration that no one visits their website, follows them on social media or opens their email newsletters, but why should they? Think about it from their perspective. There’s so much to read, watch, like, tweet and follow that it’s overwhelming. You have to create content that generates emotion or educates, and it has to be as good as or better than the competition. Once you do that the benefits of having great content are incredible:

  • Increased traffic from search engines
  • Increased credibility among visitors
  • Increased content to share across all of your marketing channels
  • Increased knowledge in the community about what you’re doing and what people can do to help

What You Can Do Now to Fix This

  • Start a blog and write awesome content regularly
  • Use your blog content on other channels such as social media and your email newsletter
  • Share helpful content from other nonprofits so you’re not responsible for writing everything from scratch

Your Website is Very Difficult to Navigate

We’ve all been there. You visit a website with a very specific goal in mind, and you leave five minutes later after searching and searching for a page you can’t find. Many times I’ve seen nonprofit websites that have been put together like a shed that was built twenty years ago, only to have additions nailed on over the years. If your website is hastily thrown together and people can’t find what they’re looking for, they are going to leave.

What You Can Do Now to Fix This

  • Organize your navigation into big buckets of content that are understandable to users, not just a list of the most important pages on your site
  • Get rid of the industry jargon and acronyms, and use common page names that users will understand
  • Make your website and navigation responsive to provide a smooth experience on mobile devices
  • Provide clear calls to action throughout your site for visitors to donate, volunteer or engage in other ways
  • Conduct simple usability testing to ensure visitors can complete basic tasks on your website

You Push People to Donate Who Aren’t Ready to Give

Don’t get me wrong, asking people to donate to your organization is important, but it just so happens that a lot of people aren’t ready to give yet. Maybe they already hit their donation budget for the year, or perhaps they just learned about your organization and don’t trust you at this point. No matter what the reason, you shouldn’t keep pushing these people to donate. Instead, provide them other ways to engage with your organization.

What You Can Do Now to Fix This

  • Provide ways to passively engage people for the long-term such as a monthly email newsletter, social media follows or even a birthday card
  • Ensure visitors have plenty of ways to deeply engage with you outside of donations such as volunteering or joining a board
  • Develop a deep understanding of the “sales funnel” and how you can move people down that funnel to a donation

You’re Not Telling the Community What You Do

It seems to be a common misconception that everyone who comes to your website will know exactly what your organization does. That’s often far from the truth. People find your website without knowing what you do through a number of ways:

  • Unbranded search (a visitor arrives on your site through a search engine, but they weren’t looking for you by name)
  • Social media
  • A link emailed by another person

In order to make it clear how you help the community, you need to simply and clearly tell people.

What You Can Do Now to Fix This

  • Place a short (one sentence or less) description of what you do on your website’s homepage
  • Ensure your nonprofit’s tagline is clear and place it in your website’s header
  • Include a brief description of what your organization does on each of your social media pages
  • Ensure website visitors can easily find more details about the services you provide through your navigation

You’re Spending Money on Website Features That Don’t Matter

“What if we put a forum on the site? What if we added a photo gallery? What if we had music that played when people landed on the site?”

These are requests I hear quite frequently and while sometimes they have merit, often they are pricey experiments that do little for your organization’s goals. No one wants to be the nonprofit that drops $20,000 on a website feature, only to have it collect dust.

What You Can Do Now to Fix This

  • Stop thinking about what website features would just be “cool” or suggesting features only because you see them on another website
  • Start coming up with features by reviewing your goals, and considering options that tie directly to achieving those goals

You’re Not Dedicating the Necessary Time and Money to Marketing

Just like your programs, the only way your marketing will work well for your organization is if you’re willing to dedicate the time and resources necessary to cultivate it. Marketing will not work with the “set it and forget it” mentality. And while I might be a little biased, I truly believe it’s difficult for any organization to grow without investing in marketing.

What You Can Do Now to Fix This

  • Allocate more time for your development staff to focus on marketing
  • Hire an intern to focus solely on marketing
  • Hire a full-time staff person to focus not on development, but directly on marketing
  • Reach out to marketing companies and ask if they can donate ongoing marketing support
  • Secure more marketing spending in your budget each year

Now that I’ve gone through the issues I see most, I’d love to hear what you think. Are there any others I left out? How have you been able to handle these issues in the past? Feel free to let me know in the comments.


  1. Good points. We also make sure that we update our content and social media accounts regularly to give people an impression that we really are on the move.

    • Absolutely Dustin. You never want to let your social media or content become stale. Even if you’re doing great things in the community, many people will view stale content as an indication that your organization isn’t active, growing or having an impact. Thanks for sharing.