Marketing principles for nonprofits

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Here are some key marketing principles that you should apply when creating a Communication Strategy for your NGO or for a specific project. This will help you achieve the selected goals and build an effective relation with your audience (donors, activists, beneficiaries, …).


From Tactics to Strategy

It’s usual in the nonprofit world to elevate communication tactics to a status where they are always appropriate, regardless the situation, target audience or goal. Doing this will create incoherence in your communication to the different target audiences and reduce it’s effectiveness. To avoid this, you should put tactics at the service of a bigger strategy that will guide your overall communications. In other words, a strategy is a general plan for reaching a specific goal, while a tactic is the means you use to reach that goal.

So, it’s essential that you first create your NGO’s Marketing Plan (the 7Ps) and your Communications Strategy. And only then focus on specific projects and on communication tactics.

In a general sense, your strategy should include at least these 3 points:

  • what you are offering – your mission, goals, objectives and products;
  • the key points that differentiate you from the rest – how you position yourself relating to other NGOs or Social Enterprises;
  • a narrow definition of your different stakeholders – the donors, the activists that somehow support your cause, the beneficiaries, the volunteers, the partners and the potential antagonists.



One of the core processes used in a Marketing Plan is the Market Segmentation. This implies grouping your NGO stakeholders by similar characteristics, so then you can build up a strategy for each group.

You shouldn’t just divide it into partners, donors, activists, volunteers and so on. Inside these big groups you can have many different people, with different behaviors. It’s a tough challenge to understand who is on your database, how they are different, who are they, what are there interests, what type of technology they use, and so on, in order to better engage with them.

Market segmentation is the process of dividing a broad consumer or business market, normally consisting of existing and potential customers, into sub-groups of consumers (known as segments) based on some type of shared characteristics.

Marketing Segmentation definition by Wikipedia


The segmentation process is specially important in a key group for NGO’s funding – the corporate donors. It is very important to know the donor very well, so you can offer a cause/project in a way that fits the donor’s needs and requirements.

One extra level I would like to add here, is that NGOs need to select the donor they are going to work with or that is going to give funding to a specific project. A NGO should be able to select the donor, accordingly to their profile, to avoid being connected to eventual reprehensible actions from them. This means that here a one-to-one approach it’s crucial. After passing by the segmentation process I talked above, and after reaching out to them with a more mass communication strategy, the NGO will have to:

  • Filter the donor list more carefully, having in mind more specific requirements;
  • Approach the selected donors in a one-to-one approach, with proposals, fund requests, timelines, …

Clear Message

Finally, a clear and single message in your communication strategy is key to better engage with each one of your target audiences. Once you have identified them, you need to break down your goals into specific messages for each one of those audiences. 

Every time you communicate to a target audience, you should focus on:

  • only one specific message;
  • in guaranteeing that it is relevant an appropriate to them;
  • and that it is simple enough, so everyone inside that target audience is able to understand.

Just remember that even though you are tailoring a different message to each audience, there needs to be a continuity across all those messages. By this I mean that you need to pass a solid and clear image of the NGO to your stakeholders – they need to understand what kind of organization you are. Which means that these messages need to be also in line with the core values and general goals of the NGO.

In future articles, we’ll go even further and talk about how to use Personas and their Customer Journey to build an effective segmentation and communications strategy. Meanwhile, I would be more than happy to hear your opinion, questions and case studies.

Examples on how to apply the segmentation process

  • Plan the content strategy of your Social Media. If you have a specific target audience, lets say young parents, that is still under-represented in your existing database, you can plan and create more tailored content for your Facebook and Instagram, to attract more of those people to your website.
  • Tailor the newsletters you send: since the way you are talking to the different target audiences (donors, partners, beneficiaries, …) can be significantly different, you should send different Newsletters, with different tones, topics and design, at different days and hours.
  • Refine the messaging of your website. You can maximize the engagement of your different targeted audiences with your cause, by adjusting the call-to-action messages in your website, accordingly to their preferences and profile.

These are just examples so you can have an idea of what type of tactics you could use if you apply market segmentation inside a more broad Marketing Plan. Again, the strategy comes first and only then the tactics to apply it.

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