Which would you rather read? A story about the latest donation figures to the Peace Corps? Or a story about a volunteer’s experience learning from Indigenous tribes in Costa Rica? If you clicked on the second link, you’ve just been pulled into an organization through their inbound marketing.
Inbound marketing is a relatively new but important strategy — especially for nonprofit organizations (NPOs)— that attracts volunteers and prospective donors through engaging stories and content in addition to direct advertising.
Not only do public relations, communication and marketing specialists provide vital outreach to media outlets and donors, they help educate the public on important issues. Despite this, while 71 percent of nonprofits surveyed in 2016 reported they utilized inbound marketing solutions, many nonprofits still only allocate less than 10 percent of their budgets to this powerful means of communication.
With inbound marketing programs, you can:
Raise donor awareness and boost donations through emotional connections. Inbound and content marketing produce three times more leads than traditional advertising because it taps into human curiosity and emotion. Remember that prospective donors won’t remember the statistics or small details, but they will remember how your stories made them feel. Donors want to know what their money supports, and what better way to explain it to them than through storytelling.
Strengthen your organization’s profile and brand across a variety of media channels By nature, nonprofits have less visibility in a sea of brand names. When you hear names like Coca-Cola, Microsoft, or United Airlines, you know exactly what the company does, it’s guiding ethics and recent history. Unfortunately, significantly fewer people know anything about your nonprofit unless you are the Red Cross, ACLU or other international organization.
Inbound marketing helps you establish your position as an authority in your field and build awareness through insightful and informative storytelling. Websites with blogs, for example, have 434 percent more indexed pages than those without. That’s a lot of eyeballs viewing your stories and learning about your organization.
Create an institutional history through stories, photos and videos. Content creators help develop an institutional memory. They explain where your company came from and where it is going. If your organization has a dedicated journal of its projects and successes, its easier for investors, volunteers and other stakeholders to understand what you do and why they should work with you.
Types of Inbound Marketers
Inbound marketers come in many flavors, and while this guide from SquarePeg can explain them in more detail, here we’ll just look at three that have a direct impact on building awareness and engagement.
Content Marketers These marketers are the bread and butter of a team. They produce words, photos and videos of issues, events and other functions that build interest in your non-profit. These marketers are often freelancers or in house skilled experts in their fields. Social media savvy isn’t required but often a beneficial skill for these marketers.
Field Marketers Field or event marketers manage tables at street fairs and other in-person projects at anything from tabling at a political rally to a workshop or family event. Field marketers build outreach through direct donations or sign ups for email lists.
Email Marketers Email marketers build email lists and send relevant stories to prospective donors. For example, if your nonprofit works in the education and justice sectors, these marketers build an email list for donors interested in funding legal efforts and a separate list for those who want to fund school outreach programs.
Internal vs External Marketing Organizations
When planning your marketing efforts, first decide whether to use an internal team of retained artists, writers and analysts or hire an external organization.
Internal organizations cost more to start up and sustain, but can provide a larger benefit over time as they become established and trusted by staff. These teams can be expensive for a developing organization and often have to spread themselves thin until the organization can dedicate more budget.
External organizations are effective methods for plugging holes in a content calendar. They are more agile and can be brought in to work with an existing team or provide content until you can establish a communications staff.
When starting your own marketing and outreach program, think small. Start with short stories that focus directly on what you do and the impact you make. Begin by producing two distinct types of stories, and build from there.
Feature stories are designed around a single event in your NPO’s timeline. It can be anything from attending a political rally to hosting a fundraiser at a local pub. These stories not only allow you to explain your mission and goals, but gain voices from locals and passersby to build a media presence.
Recurring stories tell repeated stories from your organization’s work. NPOs geared towards animal rescue might have a regular feature on local animals up for adoption, while education organizations might host a regular family night at the library.
Photo features are excellent ways to cover events, but require a capable photographer who can capture genuine candid moments as well as posed photos.
Build a team that works for your organization and budget
While all of these facets might seem overwhelming, remember that you can add them over time. Start with blog posts that document your organization’s successes, grow them with photography. Over time you can expand your budget to include a variety of talent, from dedicated content creators to email and field marketers.
And when budget season rolls around, fight for your department’s funding. When the public knows what you do, they’re more interested in supporting your work.
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