Conversation Starter: Should Nonprofits Think More Like Corporations?

Last month, MediaPost published an article entitled, “‘Nonprofit’ Is A Tax Classification, Not A Business Strategy.” Coming from the for-profit world myself, this was intriguing. Are nonprofits and for-profits so different? Let me count the ways. We can start with “budget” and move over to “bandwidth” pretty easily. With less money and fewer bodies to get things done, executing big marketing strategies can seem daunting if not impossible.

But I would hasten to say – that’s not the point. The idea is that nonprofits can think like corporations. In the article, Michele Campbell of Kingfish Media recounts top tips from a panel at the Event Fundraising Roundtable. For me, one lesson a corporation can offer a nonprofit is to adopt a “donation” funnel approach to marketing.

From Awareness to Consideration to Intent to Purchase, corporations understand the need to earn the trust and “wallet share” of their consumers, starting at the top. Flip “Purchase” to “Donation” and we’re on the right track:

  • Awareness: Make sure there is awareness around your nonprofit’s “brand” (it’s not a scary word!) generated through display ad campaigns, PR, and social media. “Learn more.” is a great call to action to keep people engaged without asking for donations right off the bat. Investing at the top of the funnel will encourage action at the bottom of the funnel.
  • Consideration: Make sure you’re where your constituents are so you can become a part of the consideration set for their charitable giving. Keep people engaged through non donation opportunities like pledges, polls and petitions – that’s the middle of the funnel – give them a reason to consider your cause when they are ready to donate.
  • Intent: When you have them on your list or if you’re going back to the same audience through a paid media buy, take advantage of the information you have and the relationship you’ve built with the prior engagements. Capture the user’s attention with relevant messaging based on what you know about them or where you find them – is it a petition, a dedicated email to a targeted list or an ad on a specific site with a particular audience? If you’ve got them, keep them in your sights and drive them to the finish line.
  • Donation: Go in for the ask! By now, you’ve had a few engagements with your audience. They understand who you are and why it’s valuable to become a part of your community or support your cause financially.

Fighting for donation dollars is more difficult in tough economic times – so making small, strategic investments to ensure your cause is familiar, trusted, and part of the consideration set before asking for donations could be the key to increasing revenue down the road.


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