Key Takeaways From the 2018 Nonprofit Marketing and Brand Barometer Study

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Today, marketing is about more than awareness and fundraising. It’s about overall performance and positioning your nonprofit to advance its mission.

That’s just one of the key takeaways from the latest data released from the Prosper Strategies Research Institute.

Marketing is about more than awareness and fundraising. Click To Tweet

In our inaugural Nonprofit Marketing and Brand Barometer Study, we set out to discover how top-performing* nonprofits approach marketing and brand development. Here’s are some other key insights we discovered:

  • Top-performing nonprofits are 3x more likely to have a formal marketing budget than average performers.
  • A majority of top-performing nonprofits have a formal brand strategy (52 percent) and marketing plan (65 percent), while a majority of average performers do not.
  • Top-performing nonprofits are almost twice as likely as average performers to align their marketing plan with their strategic plan.

Read on to dive deeper into each of these key learnings, or access the complete results of our Nonprofit Marketing and Brand Barometer Study here.

Finding #1: Top-performing nonprofits allocate more budget toward marketing.

The Nonprofit Marketing and Brand Barometer Study results indicated that top-performing nonprofits are investing significantly more — not just money, but also time, resources and energy — in marketing than average-performing organizations.

Money isn’t everything when it comes to marketing, but investing your resources strategically does make a difference. Top-performing nonprofit organizations spent a larger percentage of their total operating budget on marketing in 2018.

Some of the best examples of the power of investing in marketing come from nonprofits who use marketing to amp up a particular campaign — whether it’s for awareness, fundraising or even higher aims. For example, Charity: Water used content marketing to spread awareness about their September Campaign. By investing in high-quality videos, they not only brought awareness to their campaign and mission, but also raised more than $1.2 million dollars for equipment they needed to provide water to people in Northern Ethiopia. By allocating more of their overall budget to their marketing efforts, they produced direct ROI.

Simply having a true marketing budget can make a difference in nonprofit performance, too. Sixty-one percent of top-performing nonprofits reported they have a formal marketing budget, while only 48 percent of average performers reported the same.

Simply having a true marketing budget can make a difference in nonprofit performance. Click To Tweet

If your nonprofit wants to get real results out of marketing in the year ahead, a formal marketing budget is a must. You should aim to allocate at least 5 percent of your total budget to marketing, including paid staff, agency or other professional services, paid promotions, etc.

Finding #2: Top-performing nonprofits put more strategy and structure around marketing.

The presence of a strong marketing strategy also correlates with overall nonprofit performance.

Top-performing nonprofits are more likely to put concrete plans in place to guide their marketing efforts. Sixty-three percent of top performers reported they have a formal marketing plan in place, while only 49 percent of average performers reported the same.

Your nonprofit would never want to go about its daily operations with a strategic plan. You should treat your marketing efforts the same way. It’s not uncommon for nonprofit and for-profit companies alike to de-prioritize or even dismiss marketing for months, until a specific need comes up. Then, they have to rush to pull together a plan to execute — which often doesn’t align with the organization’s overall strategic plan. Our Charity: Water example is a case in point: The were able to produce such strong results with their September Campaign because they aligned their marketing campaign with their overall organizational goals.

If you want to improve your nonprofit’s performance in the year ahead, one of the best things you can do is put a formal marketing plan in place now, then organize your team’s daily operations around that plan. Rather than making your marketing plan a running list of tasks that “need to get done,” aim to set marketing priorities and tactics for each goal in your organization’s strategic plan. This will allow you to move toward treating marketing as a true strategic activity that can advance every aspect of your nonprofit’s mission, beyond just building awareness or driving donations.

Put a formal marketing plan in place now, then organize your team’s daily operations around that plan. Click To Tweet

Finding #3: Top-performing nonprofits are more likely to have a brand strategy and align their internal and external identity with their mission.

The Nonprofit Brand & Marketing Barometer Study results found that 52 percent of top performers have a brand strategy (vs. 42 percent of average performers), and 70 percent of top performers say their internal identity and external image are both well-aligned with their nonprofit’s mission (compared with 64 percent of average performers). This indicates that top performers are likely establishing a more cohesive identity internally (with staff, board members and volunteers), and presenting a more consistent image externally (with target stakeholders like donors or program participants).

Organizations who are missing a cohesive brand strategy could experience an array of troubling scenarios — a board member who’s unable to speak appropriately about the nonprofit’s mission, for example, or an inability to engage donors who don’t fully understand how their contribution could make an impact.

While a “brand strategy” might mean something slightly different to every organization that has one, that’s no reason to stop from putting structure around the way you deliver your organization’s brand. You just need to find the approach that works for you. We suggest that, at minimum, your brand strategy includes:

Each element should be rooted in your mission so that your brand becomes an embodiment of the change your organization is working to drive.

One organization with a particularly strong brand strategy is Feeding America. Their succinct mission statement, “to feed America’s hungry through a nationwide network of member food banks and engage our country in the fight to end hunger,” is evident not only on their website, social media accounts and other marketing materials, but is communicated consistently through outside sources news articles. When your brand strategy aligns with your mission, people are more likely to recognize your cause over time and eventually support your organization as a volunteer, board member or donor.

How does your nonprofit measure up with top-performing organizations?

How can you use what you’ve learned about the marketing practices of top performers to improve your nonprofit’s approach to brand and marketing?

Take a look at even more insights about top-performing nonprofits in the Nonprofit Marketing and Brand Barometer Study — including their use of visual identity, how they trust stakeholders to personalize their brands and more — here.


*For the purpose of this study, top-performing nonprofits are defined as those with three or more stars on Charity Navigator.

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