A 2021 guide to nonprofit marketing.

A 2021 Guide to Nonprofit Marketing

Imagine this: Your nonprofit spends months planning the perfect fundraising event. You’ve gathered the resources, hired the catering, and recruited volunteers to pull it all together. A scattering of your most active supporters register, but you don’t get the turnout that you hope. This shortcoming is due to your nonprofit marketing. 

As a fundraising professional, you already know the importance of an effective marketing strategy. A comprehensive nonprofit marketing plan can spread awareness of your mission, deepen relationships with donors, help you engage with new prospects, and better align your team with your organization’s values and goals. 

However, every marketing effort has its challenges. Whether resources are tight, strategies aren’t garnering the needed results, or you just aren’t sure how to craft your next fundraising email, nonprofit marketing is no walk in the park.

You’ve come to the right place! During the past year, nonprofits have made tremendous efforts to digitize their communication strategies and increase convenience for their donors. In this 2021 guide to nonprofit marketing, you’ll learn more about:

Whether your organization is at the grassroots level or your nonprofit is more established, it’s always beneficial to ensure that your current marketing plan isn’t missing any essential elements. Let’s dive in with an overview of what nonprofit marketing is. 

Contact us to learn how the Google Ad Grant can help your nonprofit marketing.

What is nonprofit marketing?

What is Nonprofit Marketing?

Nonprofit marketing is the use of marketing tactics and strategies to amplify an organization’s cause and mission, solicit donations, and attract volunteers and supporters.

After you and your fundraising team work hard to plan out a campaign or set up an exciting fundraising event, the next step is getting supporters interested and invested. Without an effective marketing strategy, you won’t be able to grab your supporters’ attention, let alone meet new prospects. 

Effective nonprofit marketing is easier said than done, however. You need a carefully crafted plan with clear goals in mind and dedicated software solutions to carry them out. This level of thought and comprehensiveness in your nonprofit marketing can benefit you by:

These are the benefits of nonprofit marketing.

  • Raising mission awareness — One of the biggest roles of your nonprofit is to spread the word about your mission. Effective marketing will raise awareness of your mission, ensuring that people not only know your nonprofit goals, but also what you’re doing to achieve them. 
  • Increasing funds — This is an obvious one, but worth noting. When you’re able to market your nonprofit and raise awareness about your mission, the more potential funding you’ll receive. 
  • Driving long-term donor support — Nonprofits don’t just thrive with monetary funds, they need long-term support. Good marketing can build key relationships and result in more consistent and reliable donations, rather than one-off gifts. In fact, the average monthly online donation is $52 (which is a total of $624 per year) compared to the average one-time gift of $128.
  • Attracting all types of support — As you craft your nonprofit marketing strategy, you might be thinking that your main goal is to get donations. However, there’s an abundance of other types of support that your marketing can help with. This includes volunteer recruitment, fundraising events, membership programs, and other forms of support you may have. In fact, this can even lead to monetary gifts down the road. In fact, volunteers are twice as likely to donate as non-volunteers.
  • Promoting your services — What exactly does your organization do? How does it aim to impact your mission? Your nonprofit services are an integral part of your fundraising efforts and is inspire your supporters to give. With a comprehensive marketing plan, you can more effectively promote those services. 

But how can you utilize nonprofit marketing smartly and reap the above benefits? The answer: with a detailed and organized nonprofit marketing plan. 

How to create a nonprofit marketing plan.

Creating A Nonprofit Marketing Plan

If you want your donor outreach and communication strategy to be successful, it’s recommended to craft a dedicated nonprofit marketing plan. A nonprofit marketing plan is a comprehensive document that outlines all the information you need to meet your audience’s needs and spread your mission effectively.

Your nonprofit marketing plan will be unique to your goals, mission, and audience. However, you can take these general steps to ensure you’re not missing out on any essential elements:

  • Perform a marketing audit — It’s a good idea to get a sense of your current marketing standing and gather the resources you have. This way, you can start thinking about the changes and tweaks you’ll need to make. A marketing audit can consist of a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis, data analysis of results, and then creating an action plan.
  • Define goals and mission — Your marketing plan shouldn’t just guide your actions, but really support your nonprofit journey to your ultimate goals. We recommend using the SMART (Specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based) method to create your marketing plan goals. Then, list your goals by priority. 
  • Understand your audience — It’s critical that your nonprofit marketing plan knows who it is trying to reach. You should outline both your current audience and your target audience. Further narrow down your audience with donor segments and donor personas. 
  • Craft your message — Your supporters are bombarded with online ads and companies trying to get their attention all of the time. It’s important that your marketing messaging stands out through the crowd. We recommend using the CRAM (connected to a cause, rewarding, actionable, memorable) rule to connect with donors. This is also where you’ll think about the language and tone of your message, the specific calls to action you’ll use, and any visual branding elements. 
  • Allocate budget — Marketing plans aren’t cheap. You need to create marketing materials, invest in online tools, and pay your hard working staff. As a general rule, it is advised that 5-15% of your operating budget is reserved for marketing. This is also when you might consider applying to nonprofit marketing grants.
  • Outline marketing channels — There are tons of marketing channels that you can choose from, and each has its own strengths and challenges. We’ll review the different types in the following section. 
  • Analyze performance — Every marketing plan needs a dedicated way to measure performance. Otherwise, how do you know if it worked or whether it needs to be improved for the future? Consider the metrics you want to track and the tools you’ll use. 

Crafting a comprehensive nonprofit marketing plan isn’t a small feat, but once you have one, this document can guide your team to its goals.

For more help, we advise you to visit our dedicated article on nonprofit marketing plans with free downloadable templates to keep you organized and on track. 

Explore these nonprofit marketing channels

Nonprofit Marketing Channels to Explore

The nonprofit marketing channels you use are incredibly important when it comes to effectively reaching your donors and meeting new prospects. With new tools making online communications easier and nonprofits leaders hosting elaborate fundraising events from the comforts of their own home, there are several valuable marketing channels.

Let’s walk through some of the most popular channels that can catapult your marketing efforts:

How does email marketing impact nonprofit marketing?

Email Marketing 

Email is an extremely reliable and comprehensive channel for nonprofit marketers because it allows you to connect with all types of supporters. From first-time donors to longtime major donors, fundraisers use email to send appreciation letters, event invitations, and regular newsletters with general organization updates.

Here are a few ways to leverage email marketing to reach all of your audiences:

  • Send a regular newsletter with your newest content, updates about your organization, industry data, and volunteer needs. 
  • Send monthly emails with donation needs and opportunities.
  • Segment your email audience based on common traits for more targeted and relevant messaging. Marketers who use segmented campaigns note as much as a 760% increase in revenue.
  • As soon as a donor gives, a volunteer participates, or some other form of support, send an email showing your appreciation. 

Email generates $42 for every $1 spent. With an ROI of 4,200%, it makes sense that this is a marketing channel worth investing in and taking the time to flesh out. 

How does direct mail impact nonprofit marketing?

Direct Mail

Many nonprofit marketers make the mistake of assuming that direct mail is dead. However, direct mail response rates actually hover between 5% and 9%. When compared to the email response rate of 1%, it’s clear why direct mail is still an incredibly valuable channel. 

For nonprofits, direct mail marketing and fundraising is the process of writing, printing, and sending out hard copy requests for funds, event invitations, or thank you letters to your passionate supporters. These letters arrive in your donors’ mailboxes and end up in their hands, providing a tangible connection to your organization — especially when compared to opening up an email.

If you want your direct mail content to hold genuine value and inspire action, here are some tips:

  • Lean on storytelling — Perhaps the most unique aspect of direct mail is the personal touch. This is a key opportunity to connect with donors through good storytelling. For example, you could describe a family that your nonprofit has helped to get readers invested in your cause and excited to give.
  • Connect copy with visuals — No one wants to read a huge wall of text. Make sure you incorporate visual and written elements together so that they support your call to action. Whether you use photos of real people or creative graphics to explain different points, the visuals you choose should be strategic and reinforce the messaging in your copy. Plus, a compelling photo can do wonders in enticing readers to internalize your mission. 
  • Combine direct mail with digital marketing — Direct mail marketing does best when it is combined with your other digital marketing efforts. For instance, make sure to include easy ways for direct mail readers to connect online if they’d like. You might include a QR code within the letter directing supporters to your online donation page. Or, you can include social media information to encourage engagement on a different platform. 

Direct mail can benefit both your nonprofit and show donors that you really care. Make sure to check your recipient’s communication preference before sending out letters willy nilly, however. Plus, consider partnering with a direct mail marketing company to make the process of writing, stuffing, and sending your letters easier. 

Explore how event marketing can support your nonprofit marketing.

Event Marketing

One of the most engaging and fun ways to market your mission to supporters and gain some beneficial press coverage is with a nonprofit fundraising event!

From charity marathons to fundraising auctions to fancy galas, there are a number of different nonprofit events that you might host. Not only do you raise a good amount of funds, but you’ll also have the opportunity to connect with your community in-person (or virtually) on a more personal level.

Here’s how you can take your nonprofit event to the next level and market your mission effectively:

  • Have consistent branding on digital and physical event materials.
  • Advertise mission on event signage, both digital and physical.
  • Provide easy ways to give or connect after the event, like a text fundraising phone number.
  • Send an event thank you letter as soon as it is over.
  • Provide free or sell branded event merchandise so that attendees can continue to promote your mission.

Nonprofit events provide invaluable opportunities to engage your donors in unique ways and promote your mission memorably. Make sure you’re making the most of this marketing channel. 

How does video marketing impact nonprofit marketing?

Video Marketing

Video marketing has been exponentially growing in popularity, and for good reason, too. From short videos on TikTok to longer content on Youtube, many nonprofits have found success in using this form of media to promote campaigns, events, and their mission in general.

Why is this? Well, here are some reasons why video marketing is so valuable:

  • Easy to process — Humans process visual content 60,000 times faster than text. This is why it’s so great for educating your audience or explaining a point. 
  • Inspire action — Videos are known to do really well when it comes to inspiring emotions. This is much harder to emulate with just a photo or a paragraph. 
  • Shareable — Who hasn’t gotten a cute video of a pet sent from a friend? In fact, 92% of consumers on mobile will share videos with others. 
  • Entertaining 60% of people report that video is a media they consume thoroughly, unlike images which are easy to flip through. 

Some popular ways to use video marketing are within your nonprofit website, in social media posts, and in email content! Send out an event invitation with a video teaser or record a video of a community member your nonprofit has helped to show donors just how much they’ve made an impact. 

Bonus Tip! Because of their file format, videos can potentially slow down a website. We recommend turning off auto-play to prevent this from happening!

Social media and nonprofit marketing.

Social Media

In 2020, there were 3.96 billion people actively using social media in the world, which is an increase of 10.9% from 3.48 billion in 2019. It’s no surprise that this is one of the most viable and successful ways to reach supporters and market your mission.

Not only is social media free, but it’s also a key way to connect with supporters on a deeper level. You can engage with followers, encourage them to comment or repost, and build a brand personality that supporters want to keep coming back to. 

While this will depend on the social media platform you use, here are some general ways you can leverage this type of online engagement:

  • Share news about your organization and cause.
  • Boost brand awareness and recognition.
  • Post calls-to-action for online gifts, event registrations, volunteer signups, and more.
  • Recruit volunteers and employees.
  • Announce appreciation to donors, employees, and volunteers.

Whether you use Twitter for its short-form posts and shareability or  Facebook for its pages and peer-to-peer fundraising features, social media is definitely a channel you should spend a good amount of time thinking about. 

How does your nonprofit website impact marketing?


Your website is a huge resource when it comes to marketing your mission. It’s likely the first place prospects go to learn about your mission and where long-term supporters go to give support. It not only hosts valuable information on your organization but also provides engagement opportunities like online giving, event registration, and more.

When designing or optimizing your nonprofit website, keep these tips in mind:

  • Ensure full and regulatory accessibility compliance with the WCAG and ADA.
  • Liberally use calls-to-action buttons and links to direct users to your popular landing pages.
  • Keep user experience in mind when it comes to ease of use and navigation.
  • Make sure all tools and content management systems are functioning properly and are updated.
  • Have consistent branding throughout the site.

It’s important to remember just how much your website does. Not only do you use it to collect online gifts, but it’s also where supporters learn about your mission, get inspired through its online content. Essentially, your website is the accumulation of all of your marketing efforts in one platform. 

Thus, making sure your website is optimized and functioning well is essential if you want your nonprofit marketing to be successful. 

How can content marketing help nonprofit marketing?

Content Marketing

Content marketing is all about creating valuable and promotable nonprofit content that can build your nonprofit brand and reputation in the sector. This content will likely live on your website, but you can also create specific content to email or host a downloadable or gated resource. 

Here are the type of content you might create:

  • Educational content about your mission, cause, and industry news and trends.
  • SEO optimized blog content to get your online content ranking higher in search engines.
  • Easily shareable content that encourages your audience to send it along to their friends.
  • Content that is easily repurposable, like a downloadable resource into an email message!

Plus, your content marketing materials can be used for future marketing efforts, whether it’s for email or social media. Consider creating a dedicated team focused on content copywriting.

Use text message in your nonprofit marketing.

Text Message

With a 98% open rate, text message marketing is one of the best ways to promote a campaign and reach your audience where they already are. 

To use text marketing, it’s recommended to invest in a comprehensive text giving tool. This not only allows you to send outbound messages but also empowers donors to give by text as well! This is a powerful way to leverage contextual giving.

Contextual giving is a donation given at the moment when the donor was inspired in the first place. For instance, let’s say a prospect stumbles upon an in-person fundraising event and is inspired by the turnout and the mission. They see the phone number plastered on event signage and decide to text it to give a gift. If you didn’t have text giving, they might have waited until they got home to give, which at that point was too late. 

Use text marketing to announce events, send urgent appeals (remember to include instructions for donating!), remind volunteers about upcoming shifts or training, and promote donations throughout your campaign or specific event. And, you can do all of this with your text giving tool.

How can the Google Ad Grant help your nonprofit marketing?

Google Ad Grants

A popular way that nonprofits expand their marketing is with Google Ads, a platform where organizations display advertisements, services offerings, products, and other marketing content. Google places these ads strategically in the search engine result pages as well as non-search websites, mobile apps, and videos. 

This is why many nonprofits will apply for the Google Ad Grant, a program that offers nonprofit professionals $10,000 in ad credits to spend each month. This is an incredible opportunity to not only expand your marketing strategy but do it all without pushing your budget.

The best part? Any nonprofit that is eligible and complies with Google guidelines can use this grant. 

Interested in learning more about how to apply and manage the Google Ad Grant? Explore our dedicated article about applying for the grant here. 

Contact us to learn how the Google Ad Grant can help your nonprofit marketing.


The number of marketing channels you can use to reach donors these days seems to be never-ending — we only listed the most popular ones! The good thing is you don’t need to leverage each one for your marketing campaign to be successful. 

Choose a couple of key channels, and then take a multi-channel marketing approach to reach your donors at multiple touchpoints. This is the best way to build meaningful relationships and successfully spread awareness of your mission. 

Follow these nonprofit marketing best practices.

Follow These Nonprofit Marketing Best Practices

When it comes to your nonprofit marketing, there are a lot of moving components that you have to keep in mind. From how to craft your messaging to the strategies and channels you use, there’s quite a bit to juggle.

To keep your marketing team organized, here are some general best practices that can help any fundraising team hone their marketing:

  • Understand your audience. Every marketing campaign should have a target audience in mind. Knowing what demographic group or type of supporter you are trying to reach will inform every step of your nonprofit marketing plan.
  • Have a goal. Are you trying to raise money or awareness? Encourage volunteering? Garner registrations for a fundraising event? Every marketing campaign needs a concrete goal and target action in order to be successful.
  • Make it personal. It’s much easier for people to relate to other individuals than broad generalized groups. Make sure your marketing efforts feel personal enough to connect with donors emotionally and inspire them to take action.
  • Segment your list. We mentioned this already, but segmenting your marketing audience is critical. After all, people will respond best to communications that are targeted to their needs, goals, and preferences.
  • Use current events. A good way to bolster your nonprofit marketing is to use what is currently going on in the world as a way to create urgency. Is there a story related to your cause in the news? For instance, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, many nonprofits took the time to connect their mission to this broader world issue and leverage that public awareness.
  • Follow up with donors and volunteers. For a successful nonprofit marketing campaign, you don’t just send out materials and communications and be done with it. Marketing isn’t just to promote your nonprofit services but to build ongoing relationships with supporters. Make sure you have a system in place to check in with current donors or volunteers, as well as follow up with any lapsed supporters to ensure they stay active.
  • Track your data. Data is the backbone of your nonprofit marketing efforts. Not only is it tracked to ensure that your campaign is performing positively and creating genuine benefits, but it can also be used to improve future campaigns or act as a resource for supporters wanting to learn more about your nonprofit efforts. In the end, your nonprofit data can be just as valuable as a marketing asset as your email!

The fundraising landscape seems to change year by year, so keeping up with nonprofit marketing best practices and trends is critical. With digital innovations making it easier to connect with donors and new tools increasing the types of support you can utilize, you have to remember that your supporters’ needs are a priority. Without them, your nonprofit cannot make as meaningful of an impact in your community. 

Additional Resources

How can you continue to kick start your nonprofit marketing efforts and drive even more conversions for your organization? Explore these additional resources to continue your research:

How can Getting attention help your nonprofit marketing? With the google ad grant!

Cause Marketing 101: How to Partner With For-Profits for Mutual Gain

Cause marketing is something your organization should know more about, if you’re not already involved. Consider the headline-grabbing Red/Gap and Susan G. Komen/Pink everything partnerships!

But cause marketing can take many other shapes as well, including going local to partner with small businesses in your community (which works especially well for organizations that serve a specific region, town or neighborhood).

Selecting the right marketing strategies is more critical now than ever, with resources so scarce. So for those of you who don’t have cause marketing in place (and that’s most nonprofits), the question is: How do you know when cause marketing is right for your organization? And if it is, how do you bring the program to life?

I spoke recently with cause marketing expert Joe Waters, author of Cause Marketing For Dummies and the Selfish Giving Blog, to answer these questions and more.

1. Joe, why is it so tricky to understand cause marketing? How do you define it?

Cause marketing is one of those terms that means a lot of things to different people.

Some people call anything related to corporate giving cause marketing. Others think that the marketing of causes is cause marketing. But if you go back to 1983 and look at one of the very first cause marketing campaigns between American Express and the nonprofit restoring the Statue of Liberty you’ll discover what the term really means. Whenever American Express cardholders used their card, the company donated one cent to the renovation of the Statue. Those pennies added up and American Express and its cardholders contributed $1.7 million to the effort. Here’s the kicker: use of the American Express card increased 28 percent. The promotion was truly win-win. A win for American Express, a win for restoring Lady Liberty.

It’s in the spirit of this important promotion that I define cause marketing as a partnership between a nonprofit and for-profit for mutual profit.

2. Joe, you are all cause marketing, all the time. And you’ve just written “the book” on the topic. What makes you so passionate about this strategy?

Two things. First, I truly believe that any nonprofit or company–of any type or size–can use cause marketing. Cause marketing just isn’t for Komen, Product RED, and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. If you scale your program for local companies and are realistic about what you can raise, you’ll be successful! Nor, from the business owner point of view, is cause marketing just for Starbucks, Wal-Mart and Kentucky Fried Chicken. Businesses of every size can demonstrate your commitment to the community and build your favorability with customers.

Second, cause marketing has an important connection with two interests of mine: technology and social media. Cause marketing began as an innovative marketing strategy. Now it’s a marketing strategy that is being shaped by innovation. As the web, social media, location-based services and mobile technology are growing and changing, cause marketing is adapting and evolving with them.

3. We all hear about the big players and their successes. How can small and medium nonprofits get started with cause marketing?

A lot of nonprofits begin with developing a program idea and listing the companies they want to approach. That’s not a bad start, but I have a better one: Start by looking within your organization for assets. Assets are things you already have that are of value to a cause marketing partnership.

One of the most valuable assets is an existing connection to a company. You might have a CEO that personally supports your cause. Or your organization might have a longstanding vendor relationship with a company that would make a good candidate for cause marketing. Other assets include events, social media – anything a company would value in a partnership. Causes don’t usually know where to start when it comes to cause marketing. The key is to look within and focus on assets that can jump-start your program.

4. Can you give me an example or two?

Over the July 4th holiday I hosted a contest at my blog asking for examples of Independence Day cause marketing. I received a lot of responses and posted them on my blog. Two of these focus on small companies and nonprofits; and both show a lot of creativity and initiative in using cause marketing to give back.

5. One push back I hear from nonprofit folks is that cause marketing requires a huge effort and can actually decrease traditional giving. Is that true?

For every study that says cause marketing decreases giving, there are five more that say it increases donations. Cause marketing is a positive force for nonprofits, but like any form of fundraising it requires work and resources. In our book we make it easier by taking the reader through the steps of identifying things that could be valuable to a cause marketing partnership and how to recruit a partner beginning first with those companies you already call supporters but not partners.

6. Are smaller, local nonprofits at a disadvantage in the cause marketing game?

I don’t believe so. Local nonprofits actually have two advantages over large nonprofits: 1) 2010 research out of Cone, a Boston cause marketing firm, suggests that consumers are gravitating to more local causes and are expecting companies to follow suit; 2) Social media can help level the marketing playing field. These tools are a competitive advantage for nonprofits that know how to put it to work for their business partners that are increasingly interested in location-based and hyper-local marketing.

7. What are realistic expectations of results for the first few years?

I think raising 5 – 15% of your revenues from cause marketing is a realistic goal. So if your nonprofit annually raises $2 million, you can expect to add around $200,000 to your bottom-line.

You can also expect heightened public awareness of your organization thanks to cause marketing, although nonprofits generally lack the expertise and resources needed to accurately measure increased awareness. Nevertheless, in the book we give nonprofits a few key ways to evaluate their success with cause marketing beyond the dollars it raises.

8. Joe, your book is a terrific guide for those just getting started with cause marketing and those eager to improve the impact of their efforts. Where can they get your book, and learn more from you?

I have a book page on my blog that’s a good first stop, with special offers for purchasers including free teleconferences and webinars with me.

9. What other cause marketing learning resources can you recommend?

My blog Selfish Giving, of course! I’ve been writing it since 2004 and there are over 700 posts to learn from.

Another great resource is Cause Marketing Forum. They have a valuable web site with lots of free information. Members have access to interviews and teleconferences and white papers. CMF also has a great annual conference in Chicago that is a must-attend for cause marketers.

What’s standing in the way of your organization putting for-profit partnerships into play? Please share here.

Joe and I will respond to as many comments as possible!

Is Cause Marketing Right for Your Nonprofit?

You know that cause marketing is a partnership between a for-profit and a nonprofit. Each partner has something to offer the other.

Cause marketing is certainly a potentially significant strategy in your overall nonprofit marketing plan. And some of you have a cause marketing program in place already. But for those of you who don’t (and that’s most nonprofits), how do you know when cause marketing is right for your nonprofit? And if it is, how do you bring the program to life?

These questions are more weighty than ever in light of the controversies surrounding the Komen-KFC deal (guidelines for productive partnerships here) and the more recent Nature Conservancy (and other major environmental organizations)-BP deal.

I interviewed expert cause marketer Joe Waters, Director, Cause & Event Marketing at Boston Medical Center, to answer these questions and more. There’s no better resource on cause marketing than Joe’s blog, Selfish Giving. Joe features case studies (with specifics), trends and news from the field – it’s a must read for all cause marketers, and those still considering jumping in.

Nancy: How do you define cause marketing? There are so many definitions out there. Many nonprofit marketers are confused.

Cause marketing is a win-win partnership between a nonprofit and a for-profit for mutual profit, usually involving point-of-sale and/or percentage-of-sale programs. The “profit” for the nonprofit is visibility and/or money. For the for-profit, it’s an enhanced image and sales.

Nancy: How did cause marketing evolve as a major strategy for corporate support of nonprofit issues and causes?

Joe: American Express’ campaign for the Statue of Liberty in the early 80’s was the first major cause marketing effort. Since then, companies have slowly caught on to the value of moving beyond straight philanthropy. Frankly, many have had no choice because of the disappearing bottom-line that once made “charity” possible. Cause marketing allows companies to serve two masters: Consumers that expect them to give back, and investors who demand growth. It’s called cause marketing, but a more accurate name is “Cause Sales”.

Nancy: What kinds of nonprofits are likely to benefit from cause marketing, and to solicit interest of corporate sponsors?

Joe: A company will sometimes partner with a small, unknown charity simply because it’s a worthy cause, but most look for charities that are well-known and respected by consumers. There’s a double benefit here because they’re supporting a worthy cause AND a reputable organization. Companies also favor charities with a large supporter base and, increasingly, marketing know-how.

For instance, the studio that released Charlotte’s Web partnered with Heifer International, an Arkansas-based nonprofit that provides livestock to poor farmers, because of a natural farm animal connection. What sealed the partnership was Heifer’s 160,000 person mailing list and ability to conduct grassroots marketing from a nationwide network of offices. The studio could have partnered with any organization that worked with livestock, but Heifer delivered advantages they could take to the bank.

Nancy: Who usually benefits most, the charity or the corporation?

Joe: People always seem to think it’s the company, but I disagree. For most companies, cause marketing is just one of the ways they’re building reputation and driving sales.

Their marketing mix is like a dish with 100 ingredients: If you leave one out, no one will miss it. But with fewer ways and dollars to promote themselves, nonprofits stand to gain a lot from cause marketing, especially if they land the right partner.

Take the partnership between Starbucks and Boston-based Jumpstart, focused on early literacy skills. Since 2006, Starbucks has raised money and given Jumpstart great visibility via its website and stores, especially in the northeast. Thanks to Starbucks, Jumpstart now enjoys national awareness. But what has Starbucks gained from this one partnership? Can we really say that Starbucks would be any less successful if they hadn’t partnered with Jumpstart? Nope.

Nancy: What are a few “best practices” case studies?

Joe: Well, I think the Starbucks/Jumpstart partnership is a very strong one. It demonstrates just how much one company can impact a nonprofit. And Starbucks has benefited over time from its cause marketing partnerships with Jumpstart and others to forge a credible brand that has probably helped its business.

I also really like the point-of-sale cause marketing program A. C. Moore and Easter Seals recently completed. Even though it was a national program, it has some good lessons for local cause marketers like me (and probably most Getting Attention readers).

The breakdown of the program was simple. At A. C. Moore’s 136 stores cashiers asked customers to donate a dollar to Easter Seal’s Act for Autism campaign and together they raised over $141,000.

Great results, but here’s what makes this cause marketing effort noteworthy…A special in-store event. During the point-of-sale campaign, A. C. Moore invited customers to a Make & Take crafting event in stores that involved a jigsaw puzzle (for autism awareness). What a great combination of crafting and cause! I was thinking how great it would be if we did an in-store pumpkin decorating event at iParty stores during their October point-of-sale program for us.

: How should a nonprofit dive into cause marketing for the first time?

Joe: There are many steps, but the first is to honestly assess what you have to offer a corporate partner. Does your organization’s mission resonate with a company’s customers? Do you have an event that will provide great visibility for your partner? Do you have a relationship with a sports star or celebrity to feature in a joint advertising campaign? Do you have an extensive network of volunteers or local offices to help market a company’s products or services?

With my organization, Boston Medical Center, we started with strong relationships with just two Massachusetts-based companies, iParty and Ocean State Job Lots, which had been consistent supporters of the organization for many years. Since then we’ve inked over 50 cause partnerships with Mass-based companies.

Nancy: Whom on the nonprofit staff should be involved? Is this a marketing or development responsibility?

It’s both. But what’s more important is that everyone understands the value of cause marketing to the organization. If leadership and staff members aren’t committed, it really doesn’t matter what department you work for or how talented you are. It won’t work.

: OK, let’s assume that there’s a nonprofit that doesn’t fit your criteria for cause marketing success? What other kinds of corporate support are available?

I would tell them to stop worrying about cause marketing and just focus on opportunity. If you have something of value that you think companies will want, you don’t have to stay between the lines of cause marketing.

A friend of mine works for a Boston organization with lots of foot traffic. She does traditional cause marketing, but she closed her best deal when she convinced a company to sell their products in her main entrance area. That one deal raises her organization several hundred thousand dollars annually. Is it cause marketing? No. Is their money green? You bet it is.

Readers, I’d appreciate hearing your experiences with cause marketing so we can share them with the Getting Attention community.

  • For those of you still on the fence, what are the barriers keeping your organization out of cause marketing partnerships?
  • For those of you whose organizations are recent entrants, what motivated the decision to develop such partnerships and how are they going?
  • And for those of you who are long-time cause marketers, what is different (and more challenging) in today’s cause marketing arena?