Digital Marketing for charities and non-profits, with Catchafire

Catchafire Digital Marketing class

Last night I taught a class, sponsored by Catchafire, on how non-profits can market themselves.  The typical student for “Digital Marketing for Everyone” is an entrepreneur thinking about how to bring a new product to market.  It was a really fun experience taking the for-profit marketing framework and applying it to the challenges non-profits face.  The main thing I learned is how powerful digital can be for nonprofits to tell their stories, connect with their community, and let their donors see quite literally what they are up to.

Tell your story

Every non-profit begins with an amazing story and telling that story is the bedrock for successful marketing.  There were a variety of charities in the room last night, serving a wide range of needs, from health to education to housing to toys for kids.  The demographic in need is usually well-defined, so we talked about what type of person is attracted to a specific cause, both for volunteering and giving.

Your weakness is actually your strength

Digital marketing is all about creating compelling content and non-profits have an endless amount of this resource.  Many large for-profit companies, and large non-profits as well, have trouble creating authentic content because managers and “marketing” teams are far from the front lines and trenches.  But many nonprofits with very small teams are blessed with being  close to their work and can create authentic content naturally from their interactions with their community.

Close the loop between your community and your donors

The interaction between your charity and your community is what captivates donors.  I found this idea to be the biggest takeaway from the evening and a major difference between for-profits and non-profits.  A for-profit company uses customer engagement to create more customers (people paying the company directly for a product or service).  A non-profit uses community engagement to drive donor demand.  And the income generated from donors then creates more services for the community, leading to a fresh round of engaging and interesting content that can be shared with the donor base.

What’s your product?

One of the students in class suggested thinking about a charity’s mission from the perspective of a donor and a commercial venture.  Then the question becomes what is my donor getting in exchange for their money.  This is familiar territory for me because now the donation becomes a question of value.  As an experiment, think about what value your organization provides to donors and let the answer drive the content you create.

Best actionable marketing idea

At the end of each class I ask each student to write down their best actionable marketing idea that they can actually do next week.  It was great to see the wide range of responses, again indicating that there are a variety of successful ways to marketing your organization and they all depend on what you want to accomplish.  Here are some examples:

  • Run a contest to donate old toys by giving away a superior collectible toy that will excited the community/donor base
  • Share success stories in multimedia (pictures/videos) through social, email and the web
  • Curate “local” foods from far-off places and share recipes based on the food
  • Student design competition
  • Partnerships with for-profit companies that share a demographic base
  • Link investor/donors and community/beneficiaries with greater granularity by sharing stories and faces through interviews and user generated content


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Posted in Class follow-up, Digital Marketing for Everyone, Marketing, Social Media
One comment on “Digital Marketing for charities and non-profits, with Catchafire
  1. Thanks for a very thought-provoking session. It was a great opportunity for non-profits to learn some lessons from your for-profit background. My favorite is that we should be producing value to our donors. It’s OK to “sell” investment in our mission and it’s also OK for donors to get something in return for that investment.

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