Nonprofit marketing: Take a business-like approach

Heather Hoffman, owner of HIH Consulting LLC in Reno, reviews waves of marketing materials from nonprofits in the region as she advises her business clients on effective use of their charitable contributions.

What is she looking for?

More than anything, Hoffman says, she wants the marketing materials — whether they are delivered via social media or traditional channels — to reflect a business-like approach.

“Sometimes, nonprofits get so passionate about their cause that they lose sight of the fact that they need to be run as a business,” she says.

Pete Parker, a co-founder of NPcatalyst LLC, a Reno-based consultant to nonprofits, takes matters a step further.

Effective marketing is nothing less than a reflection of overall excellence within the nonprofit organization, Parker says. A poorly functioning nonprofit simply won’t be able to market itself well to potential donors and others in the community.

And he says a poor marketing effort in turn may reflect a weak or troubled nonprofit.

Parker points to marketing powerhouses such as Food Bank of Northern Nevada, Boys and Girls Club of the Truckee Meadows and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northern Nevada.

All of them are highly effective at delivering their message, Parker says, only because they are highly effective at delivering their service to the community.

And along with a skilled staff, he says effective nonprofit marketing depends on a committed board.

That’s particularly important, Parker says, of the small nonprofits — the ones with less than $200,000 in annual revenue — that make up about 85 percent of those in the region.

“Those nonprofits depend on working boards,” he notes, and the willingness of board members to deliver the small nonprofit’s message is often the single-most important part of its marketing effort.

The most powerful marketers among board members, he says, often are those that began their work as a volunteer. That means they understand the nonprofit’s mission and are enthusiastic about communicating it to potential supporters.

“What you want is an emotional connection,” Parker says.

But the marketing can’t be entirely about emotion.

A nonprofit’s marketing of itself as a business-like organization, Hoffman says, begins with the basics: They respond in a timely way to requests for information.

The marketing materials that Hoffman finds useful provide a succinct statement of the nonprofit’s work and help potential donors understand how the organization stands out among the dozens that Hoffman lumps together as “kids, kittens and cancer.”

“To stand out, you need to understand what is unique about your organization,” she says.

The consultant also checks the marketing materials to ensure that they are clear about the nonprofit’s status — have organizers completed filing with tax authorities as a 501(c)3? — and whether they are compliant with new state regulations.

Nevada law now requires that charities that are soliciting money must file financial reports, lists of officers and directors and a summary of their purpose with the state government.

Ann Morgan, an attorney with Fennemore Craig Jones Vargas in Reno, has noted that the state law means that marketing marketing materials should be reviewed to make sure they are in compliance. And staff and board members also should be trained in the new requirements, Morgan says.


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