5 Biggest Nonprofit Marketing Mistakes (And How To Avoid Them)

November 16, 2016 0 Comments

Is digital marketing not your strong suit? Do you have a tough time portraying your nonprofit and your mission online? Do you feel like your voice is overlooked in the sea of other organizations?

Don’t worry, you’re not the only nonprofit feeling this way!

70% of organizations feel they lack the time or knowledge to manage digital media effectively, which means that they’re missing out on incredible marketing opportunities every day!

This post will show your nonprofit how to avoid the 5 biggest nonprofit marketing mistakes that are preventing your online growth.

#4 might be sabotaging your growth directly:

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1. You confuse marketing strategies with marketing tactics

The most common mistake nonprofit marketers make is confusing strategies with tactics.

This is especially true when it comes to online or digital promotion.

When you create a piece of digital content, like a webinar, your goal is to drive attendance.

Your first thought might be to send an email, post on Facebook, or send a tweet to members and donors about your upcoming event.

However, unless you have a significant and loyal following these efforts won’t reveal the results you’re hoping for.

The answer is in creating an integrated nonprofit marketing strategy.

Nonprofit Marketing Goal

Let’s define a few key terms:

  • Goal – A broad outcome that you would like to achieve. Ex/ Increase Webinar Attendance
  • Strategy – A means to achieve goals you’ve set. Ex/ Content Promotion
  • Tactic –  Methods you execute to achieve your strategy. Ex/ Email Marketing

Applying the theory

For this example, we’re going to use content marketing to drive traffic to a landing page where visitors can sign up for your offer.

First, post pieces of your webinar as individual blogs with a relevant call to action (CTA).

If your posts are useful to your audience, it will make them curious about your gated content, in hopes that this content is even better! You can then offer the full learning experience when visitors sign up for your webinar.

Second, make the webinar CTA available throughout your site as opposed to on one, isolated landing page. Standalone pages with an offer can be difficult to find.

In addition, global CTAs in the top and bottom folds of your site increase conversion rates.

To really maximize results try A/B testing your CTAs to optimize for conversions.

what is a/b testing

For example, try changing the word “register” to “sign up” on the text of your CTA buttons.

It may sound silly, but this blogger increased conversions by 254% by analyzing word association in relation to CTAs.

Third, promote your webinar through as many channels as resources allow:

  1. Email Marketing
  2. Face-to-Face
  3. Phone Calls
  4. Social Media
  5. Print Media
  6. Advertising
  7. Guest Blogging

Psychology plays a crucial role in successfully promoting your content, due to a marketing concept is known as the rule of 7.

It suggests a person needs to “hear” an advertiser’s message at least 7 times before they make a purchase. 

Therefore, the more exposure your audience has to an offer the more likely they are to take action.

For the best results, you should spend 80% of your time promoting content, and 20% creating it.

By following this step by step digital marketing process you’ve integrated three core marketing strategies to promote your webinar.

Thus, you’ve better positioned your offer to achieve your marketing goals. 

2. You’re not focusing strategies into a single marketing channel

Before you sign your nonprofit up for another social site ask yourself these three questions:

  • Are we effectively managing the platforms we’re on?
  • What is the cost of being active on the wrong channel?
  • Do we really need 15 different social media accounts?

Working with limited resources is common for small to medium staff sized organizations, so you could imagine why then some may feel overwhelmed by digital marketing.

This is especially true if your organization treats digital platforms as a “nice to have,” instead of as a necessity.

Marketing a nonprofit organization in the digital era requires you to test every action you make, which can often be easier with the help of nonprofit marketing software. Marketing software for nonprofits can help you manage tweets, organize posts, and regulate your content so you can expand your donor base digitally and without too much stress.

As it relates to marketing channels, your goal is to figure out which ones will produce sustainable online growth.

wrong marketing channel

Take a look at the graph above for example.

While traffic increased by 100%, conversion rates decreased to near zero.

Your site may be driving more traffic, but it does not mean it’s the traffic you want.

It might be satisfactory if your marketing goal is to increase awareness to your mission, but what if you want to increase online donations?

By focusing on fewer channels you are attempting to target an audience that will convert on your offers or be responsive to your content.

Applying the theory

Your core audience is not active on every channel so you don’t need to be either.

As a result, your first step is to identify where your audience reads most of their information.

The best way to identify a popular and meaningful channel is to measure:

  • Engagement: Likes, shares, follows, and comments.
  • Traffic: Visits to your site.
  • Conversions: Highest converting content including email subscriptions, membership sign ups, or donations.
  • Content: Topics your audience interacts with or finds engaging and relevant.

By experimenting with different digital channels you can identify the performers from the underachievers.

For example, content promoted through Facebook may generate more traffic and engagement than content promoted on Twitter.

You can measure this engagement in terms of social shares and traffic.

Measuring social shares is easy, but you’ll need to add a few tracking scripts to measure traffic from sources.

The first method is done by setting up a UTM tracking code to track URL performance.

nonprofit marketing UTM Tracking Codes

If you already have Google Analytics connected to your site, Google will automatically track your campaigns in the dashboard.

Alternatively, you can set up the following pixels to monitor social traffic and conversions:

Next, survey your audience by asking where they search for information online.

This can be a direct survey through a service like SurveyMonkey, or indirect with an on page survey tool like Qualaroo.

nonprofit marketing on page survey qualaroo

When you’re surveying visitors on your website, be concise.

The process should be effortless and quick, taking no more than 30 seconds to complete.

Furthermore, ask questions that you can take an action on.

Here are a few simple, but effective questions to ask that will impact your nonprofit marketing activities:

  • What topics would you like to learn about?
  • Did you find what you were looking for on this page?
  • Is there anything preventing you from committing to a donation at this point?

The first question, “what topics would you like to learn about,” is helpful because it ensures your content strategy is aligned with what your audience wants to read.

Once you’ve collected the survey results, combine it with the data on channel measurements to identify your optimal marketing channel.

Lastly, double down your investments in one or two channels that you’ve identified a positive trend in.

This may come in the form of increasing the frequency of posts to promote content.

Or, it could be targeted campaign like Facebook advertising for nonprofits to generate more online donations.

Environmental Defense Fund Facebook Advertising

By following this exercise, you’ll have a better understanding of which channels can generate sustainable online revenue.

Likewise, you’ll collect invaluable data on how your community feels, thinks, and behaves towards your organization.

3. You think digital marketing will give an immediate return on investment (ROI)

Marketing for nonprofits, both online and traditional, takes patience and persistence to yield results.

Realizing a noticeable lift in revenue from digital marketing within the first year is rare.

In fact, 43% of marketers say proving the ROI of marketing activities is a top marketing challenge.

top marketing challenges

You could see then why focusing on immediate ROI will set you up for failure.

Think about it this way:

How are you supposed to generate more money if you’re not growing your audience?

Marketing, whether in digital or traditional forms, is an investment in attention, which builds awareness to your brand.

In other words, maximize attraction and onboard with the information you’re putting out.

Then, and only then, do you start thinking of ways to monetize your

A common reaction to little or no measurable results is to give up.

But, this is one of the biggest nonprofit marketing mistakes you can make.

You know your organization could realize unprecedented online growth with slight tweaks to your strategy.

However, your board and executive officers want to see results in their investments.

While there’s no silver bullet to guarantee results, there is a formula used by marketers to determine marketing ROI of individual campaigns.

Enter the revenue to cost ratio, also known as the efficiency ratio:

revenue to cost ratio

This ratio looks at incremental revenue driven by a marketing campaign divided by its cost.

Applying the theory

Let’s say your goal is to increase online registrations for an upcoming conference.

With this in mind, you’ve decided to send a member only discount for the conference in an eNewsletter.

At a total cost of $500, you are able to reach out to 1,000 members.

As a result, you notice a 2% conversion rate on online registrations, signing up 20 attendees.

proving nonprofit marketing roi


At $250 per registration that’s $5,000 in revenue, or a revenue to cost ratio of 10x.

A 5x yield is good, while 10x is great. Anything above 10x is considered a home run.

In addition, you can apply this concept to social media or paid advertising to measure impact.

Since the revenue to cost ratio measures incremental impact you will help to satisfy leadership’s need for results.

Likewise, it builds a strong case to invest in long-term marketing strategies.

4. You’re hiring the wrong digital marketing talent

Marketing for nonprofits can mean staff wear many hats, where responsibility for online initiatives often falls to development specialists.

Of course, this makes sense.

After all, they are in the profession of generating revenue for your organization.


Online marketing and sales have two completely different skill sets, yet complement and support each other in all nonprofit marketing initiatives.

Just because you are responsible for development does not mean you have the skills to transform your marketing plan into a revenue-generating opportunity.

This is why SEO and digital marketing agencies are in such high demand.

And hiring the wrong talent can be a costly mistake.

Even worse, it will take time for you to realize your online goals are not meeting expectations.


This blogger increased organic traffic by 583%. It just took a year until the results showed.

This means it could be months before you know if you have the wrong people behind online outreach.

Personally, I believe application trumps theory.

The ability to do will always overcome those who say you should do.

Applying the theory

Here’s how I applied theory to help improve search visibility for the Direct Marketing Association.


I noticed some posts lacked a featured image. A costly mistake losing potential views to their blog.

This is because content with relevant images gets 94% more views than content without images.

Digging a little deeper into the source code I found this:


A post with an image is missing an optimized alt tag.

Unlike humans, Google’s web crawlers are not able to visually read and categorize images.

They rely on a description, or alt tag, to index images in search results.


When we view this picture we see a baby laughing under a towel or blanket.

Unfortunately, search engines will view this picture as the default tag if the image is not optimized.

This is important because optimized alt tags reinforce search engine confidence in your site.

Alt tags don’t increase traffic by thousands. But, it is best practice for Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

I was also able to see that the Direct Marketing Association runs their website on WordPress.

By installing SEO plugins like Squirrly or Yoast, they will be better prepared to optimize their blog.

yoast-best-seo-wordpress-pluginIn 2 minutes I was able to identify an area of improvement and suggest tools to optimize their site.

If you’re hiring for a digital marketing position consider posing a similar challenge:

  • Have a brief unscheduled phone conversation with the candidate
  • Ask the candidate to evaluate areas of improvement on your site
  • If they don’t have immediate recommendations, move on

An unscheduled call will place the candidate under pressure to prove their application of knowledge.

Talented marketers need to be able to think on their feet.

In this case, it means identifying at least one key area of improvement at a glance.

5. You’re producing irrelevant content

How useful is your content? 

Does each post get you hundreds or thousands of social shares?

Don’t get too discouraged if they don’t, even the biggest nonprofits struggle. 

In fact, 79% of consumers feel brands deliver “irrelevant” information

Related Article: 8 Researched-Backed Ways To Improve Marketing For Nonprofits

content marketing value

This means content is produced without the audience in mind.

Before posting a new piece of content ask yourself this question:

Will potential donors or members find this useful?

Fortunately, there are a number of ways to do this. 

Comments, for example, could be used as a source of content topic ideas. After all, comments are a continuation of the author’s conversation.

They allow us (readers) to interact with one another in a forum setting. We can then share ideas, and expand upon key points.

For example, there is a subreddit called Water: policy, science, controversy, issues, hydrology.

Nonprofit Subreddit

The community has over 9,000 active subscribers who post about issues relating to water use.

In this case, an organization like Charity: Water could find useful content topic ideas within the comments.

This market research is quick, easy to do, and has a compounding impact on donors and members.

Whatever you do, think to add value for your members first. 

With this in mind, try giving something away for free.

Applying the theory

I am a firm believer of going above and beyond expectations.

This simple idea forges deep, meaningful relationships that can be built upon.

I recently gave away a 40-page digital marketing plan for a nonprofit.

Nonprofit Digital Marketing Plan

The plan included detailed examples and step by step processes to improve their digital presence.

For example, I analyzed hundreds of posts and pages and provided actionable ways to better optimize their site.

Then I reinforced my points by combining screenshots from their site with relevant statistical data.

It wasn’t that difficult to do. It just required an investment of time on my end.

As a result, I formed meaningful relationships with key executive officers.

In short, too many people look for quick wins.

Building authentic relationships with donors and members take time, trust, and persistence to form.

By applying this approach in marketing for nonprofits, you will provide useful content for your audience.


Nonprofit marketing is slow.

At times, painful.

But, the first step to a successful digital strategy is to acknowledge the long-term investment.

Focusing on how many likes you have, views your content received, or an immediate return on your investment.

Instead, focus on providing value to your audience. This is the first step to building an authentic relationship.

By avoiding these 5 biggest nonprofit marketing mistakes you are one step closer to realizing your online goals.

Have a digital marketing mistake you’d like to add? Leave a comment below and tell us how you plan to overcome that challenge.

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AboutRafi Norberg