Leveraging Inbound Marketing for Nonprofits: Part Four – Inbound Marketing for Revenue Generation

5 min read

If you’ve been following along with our recent blog series, you already know we believe that inbound marketing isn’t just for for-profit companies. As a nonprofit, you can and should use inbound marketing to fundraise, educate and activate your stakeholders and even attract top-tier talent to work for your organization. Now, in our final installment of this series, we’re discussing how you can use inbound marketing for one more important purpose: nonprofit revenue generation.

Many of today’s savviest nonprofits are focusing on revenue generation and earned income as a means for supporting their missions, ensuring their long-term sustainability and freeing themselves from over-reliance on donations or government funding.

Perhaps the most well-known example of nonprofit revenue generation is Goodwill, which uses the sales of second-hand goods in its retail stores to support programs for people with barriers to employment, including veterans, people with disabilities and individuals with criminal backgrounds. But large, federated organizations aren’t the only ones focused on revenue generation in support of their missions.

Here in the Windy City, 826 Chicago runs the Wicker Park Secret Agent Supply Company storefront, selling books and spy-themed toys and gifts to fund the tuition-free creative writing programs they host behind the store. Open Books uses a similar model with their store selling new and used books, from which all sales benefit writing programs for Chicago students. Rebuilding Exchange (our 2017 Changemaker Marketing Grants recipient), another Chicago-based organization hosts craftsman workshops and builds custom furniture to support its mission of reclaiming materials from landfills and promoting sustainable deconstruction practices.

While many organizations employ retail-focused earned income models, there are also great examples of nonprofits that are generating mission-sustaining revenue through services and B2B-like transactions. For example, Rising Sun Energy Services earns income by employing formerly incarcerated individuals to retrofit homes with energy efficiency technology. Kiva, a well-known microfinance platform, operates as a nonprofit social enterprise where individuals and organizations can lend money to entrepreneurs in the developing world. Kiva charges a small fee to the lenders to generate revenue that spurs growth.

If your nonprofit uses a similar social enterprise model to generate sustainable revenue, inbound marketing is critical for attracting potential customers. Here’s how you can make the most of it:

Understand and attract your ideal stakeholders.

To craft the right messaging for the people most likely to use your products or services, you have to understand who you’re talking to and what they really care about. The first step to achieving this is to develop stakeholder profiles — specific, personified descriptions of members of each of your target audiences –– that get to the heart of what they want and how you can help them. These profiles answer key questions like:

  • What do your stakeholders care most about?
  • What do they expect from your organization?
  • Why would they want to use your product or service? (Or why might they not?)
  • What marketing materials are they most likely to respond to?

Once you know how your stakeholders tick, develop content they will be interested in to attract them to your website. This can be done through tactics like public relations, social media and SEO-optimized blog posts that will appear in search results when stakeholders search for relevant terms. When they land on your website, encourage your stakeholders to fill out forms to provide their contact information in exchange for more information from your organization. Maybe they’re submitting their email address in exchange for a more in-depth educational resource, to access your annual report, to get a discount or simply to sign up for your newsletter. The call to action will vary depending on how they came to your website and what you believe each stakeholder is most likely to respond to.

Capturing stakeholder information is a critical first step in using inbound marketing for nonprofit revenue generation. Without an opted in list of stakeholder emails, you’ll have no one to sell to.

Educate and convince your stakeholders to buy or sign up.

Once you have your stakeholders’ attention, nurture and educate them with tactics like email marketing, social media advertising and educational content. Through these channels, take care to demonstrate the benefits of your nonprofit’s product or service, both for them and for your mission.

Remember, customers who are willing to buy from your earned income venture may have a different mindset than donors or volunteers (though sometimes, they can be the same people). Potential customers want to get something for themselves out of your products or services other than the fulfillment of their impulse to give back. As you help them through the decision to purchase your product or sign up for your service, keep this perspective in mind.

Even though you’ll approach communications with your prospective customers like sales messages –– emphasizing value first and impact second –– the impact aspect will also be extremely important. Educate your audience about the programs your earned income ventures fund, and the people they serve. Consumers are attracted to making purchases that make a difference. In fact, 40 percent of consumers seek to buy products and services that “have a clear purpose and act in the best interests of society.” For them, there is no better brand to support than a nonprofit social enterprise.

Show your gratitude.

Many of the people who buy your product or use your service are also likely donors, volunteers and supporters in other ways, or they could be in the near future. Don’t forget about them once they make a purchase. Keep them engaged with your organization through social media and email messaging targeted specifically to past customers. Provide special offers, incentives to refer others and opportunities to become more deeply involved so they keep coming back and supporting your programs.

Do you have a separate marketing plan for your nonprofit revenue generation activities?

If not, it may be time to create one. You can download our new and improved Essential Nonprofit Marketing Plan Template to begin building a plan and calendar for promoting your nonprofit’s products or services and growing your earned income.

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