3 Steps to Funding Nonprofit Marketing

juliebrownGuest blogger, Julie Brown, is the program director at the Findlay-Hancock County Community Foundation. Julie is intrigued by storytelling, and the opportunity it offers to inspire donors and volunteers to act.

We’ve all seen them: social media pages or websites for grassroots nonprofit agencies that appear to have been designed by a student or a well-intentioned volunteer.  And those of us who appreciate the power of storytelling are left to wonder why an agency with such amazing stories overlooks the opportunity to leverage them into donations or volunteers.

More often than not, the lack of investment in nonprofit marketing is fueled by a lack of resources:  financial and talent.  Nonprofit agency directors are so busy serving people that they can’t find the time or money to invest in quality marketing and storytelling initiatives.

As a program director for a community foundation, the most common request I have heard from potential grantees over the past several years is “We wish we could afford to professionally brand and market this grassroots agency.”

And true to form, I ask the question that all funders ask:  “Why?”

Regardless of the type of organization, answers fall into one of these four categories:

  • To recruit potential recipients of direct services
  • To educate the community about an important cause
  • To attract volunteers
  • To increase financial donors.

During the last three years, the Findlay-Hancock County Community Foundation has made marketing grants to a range of nonprofit organizations, including:

  • A food pantry seeking more financial donations
  • The local chapter of National Alliance on Mental Illness, to build awareness of services and reduce stigma
  • A youth development agency that dreams of serving more children
  • A children’s mentoring agency that needs to recruit more mentors
  • A watershed partnership that plans to educate the community-at-large about the importance of local clean water practices.

The agencies have used the funds in many ways, including:

  • Storytelling videos
  • Newspaper advertising
  • New logo design
  • Website update
  • Billboard campaigns
  • Creation of educational materials.

So what are the three secrets? The marketing grants are still in process and we continue to monitor interim reporting, but here’s what we have learned so far.

1. The agency director/project manager is key.  For a marketing campaign to be successful, the leader must have a marketing mindset and be goal-oriented. 

2. The marketing consultant or firm hired is critically important.  Selection criteria should include:

  • Quality of work (not just the lowest price)
  • Evidence of successful marketing work including measurable success from past projects.

3. The ideal request for a marketing grant includes:

  • Desired outcomes that are specific and measurable (i.e. recruit more mentors)
  • A strategic marketing plan created in concert with the preferred vendor  to clarify specific marketing goals and benchmarks for success
  • A sustainability plan for marketing efforts after the grant period, such as a board commitment to add marketing/advertising to the organizational budget.

Now give your friendly program officer a call and schedule a discussion about a grant to fund marketing and storytelling for your nonprofit agency!  If the funder doesn’t accept marketing grant requests, be prepared to explain how marketing could help your agency better fulfill its mission.  And as a fallback, consider including requests for marketing needs within program grant requests.

Let us know how you’ve been able to partner with funders on marketing requests! Share your triumphs and challenges here.

P.S. Get more nonprofit marketing tools, templates, case studies & tips delivered right to your in-box! Register here for the Getting Attention blog & e-news.

Guest Blogger on May 8, 2014 in Budgeting | 5 comments
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  • Kathleen Murphy

    At EPIC- Engaging Philanthropy, Inspiring Creatives, we think you’re absolutely spot-on about the power of storytelling. We’d like to offer an alternative (at least to your Illinois and Minnesota readers) to traditional nonprofit marketing grants with our Creative Rallies program. We welcome nonprofits to apply to be matched with top tier creative talent for pro bono design and marketing services: http://www.iamepic.org/apply

  • Pingback: Mixed Links for Nonprofit Communicators | Kivi's Nonprofit Communications Blog

  • Nancy Schwartz

    Thanks much for adding your thoughts, Kathleen. Love your Creative Rallies program! I’d like to see more like that, for orgs beyond IL and MN.

  • http://GettingAttention.org Nancy Schwartz

    Fantastic opportunity, Kathleen. Thanks so much for sharing out!

  • http://www.OrangeGerbera.com/ Lance Leasure

    Excellent topic Julie and Nancy! Thanks for sharing. An additional tip, that we find improves marketing funding in grant requests where we think we can get it (optimistically, maybe half of the applications) is to include a line item labeled as “outreach”, “community engagement”, or even simply “communications”. Unfortunately, the term “marketing” simply isn’t as palatable as the others. Thanks for the post!

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