SCORE

Word of mouth remains one of the most powerful marketing tactics at your disposal as a nonprofit.  People trust their friends, family and colleagues more than they’ll ever trust any other channel.

Learn to leverage word of mouth marketing effectively and you’ll bring in more donations, inspire more volunteers, and ultimately do more to make a positive impact on the world around you.

Over the past several decades alone, the marketing industry has undergone a series of staggering changes. There is, however, one aspect of marketing that has been part of its foundation since the earliest days: The power of word of mouth.

According to the 2018 Chatter Matters Word of Mouth Report, which studies how people shop, buy and vote, 83 percent of Americans say that word of mouth recommendations from friends and family members make them likelier to purchase a product or service. The same report found that 50 percent of Americans would choose word of mouth as their sole source of information. Finally, per the report, millennials find word of mouth recommendations 115% more influential than advertising.

At this point, you may be wondering what any of this has to do with you. After all, you’re part of the nonprofit sector, which operates under a very different set of rules from the larger business world.

Believe it or not, that means you have even more to gain from social media and word of mouth.

According to a 2016 paper in the Journal of Interactive Marketing, nonprofits have a considerable advantage over for-profits on social media - consumers find it far easier to endorse the former over the latter.

In short, if you aren’t already leveraging word of mouth to drive donations, bring in sponsors, and inspire volunteers, then you’re missing out.

The good news is that nonprofits by their nature are something people tend to talk about. Someone who donates to your cause obviously cares about it to an extent. They’re likely to mention it to their friends and family on their own.

That said, there are a few things you can do to make that easier - to get people talking.

Craft a compelling narrative

Everybody appreciates a good story.  Think long and hard on what you want yours to be, starting with your reasons for founding the nonprofit in the first place. That will, rather fittingly, be the foundation for your entire story.

From there, you’ll want to answer the following questions.

  1. Who does your nonprofit help?
  2. Who else do your programs impact, and how connected are they to the primary beneficiaries?
  3. In what way does your work impact these individuals?
  4. Why would donors want to give? Why would volunteers want to participate?

With the answers to these questions in front of mind, you can set to work creating your organization’s core mission statement. That, in turn, can serve as the unifying force behind your marketing efforts. Every piece of copy you create, every photo you take, and every video you plan should be treated as part of an overall story that traces back to your nonprofit’s focus.

Photos of communities your organization has helped. Video testimonials from volunteers and board members. Press releases that give clear updates on your nonprofit’s progress. These are just a few examples of the media you can use to further your narrative.

Consider the culture, habits and interests of the people you’re targeting this media towards. Copy should be understandable to laypeople.  Account for the connotations of everything you say and do.

In short, think about how you want to be perceived, and figure out what language and imagery promotes that perception. 

Consider your online presence

Before you do anything else, you’ll want to have a complete website, social accounts on Twitter and Facebook, and possibly a Google My Business listing. If you plan to produce video content, a YouTube account is also advisable, potentially alongside Facebook Live. Instagram is also a must if you plan to market your nonprofit through visuals.

Your website should include, at the minimum:

  • Contact information, such as address and phone number, for your nonprofit. How do people get a hold of you if they want to contribute or volunteer?
  • A mission statement.  Draw from the narrative you put together in the previous stage.
  • Links to relevant social media accounts.
  • Information on how to donate. Be sure to include several different payment options, including credit and Paypal.
  • A mobile-friendly version. Alternatively, you may want to consider designing a site that’s optimized for mobile devices from the start.

As for your social accounts:

  • A brief, elevator-pitch style mission statement.
  • A link back to your website
  • High-quality imagery for your avatar, banner, etc.

Be active on social media

Creating and sharing your own first-party content isn’t enough for success on social. Consider what online communities might be relevant to your nonprofit and its audience.  Participate in them in a meaningful way. Leverage your own expertise to contribute to your field, and show you’re interested in more than fundraising.

More importantly, interact with donors and volunteers.  Be open, engaging, timely and personable in your communications. The people who reach out to your nonprofit should feel as though you value their presence and their contributions.

More on that in a moment.

Host enjoyable events

Anyone can host a fundraising drive on Facebook or an online giveaway. If you want to drive interest and really get people talking, you need to take things a step further. You need to be unique and memorable with your charity events.

How you do so is entirely up to you, and the right approach depends almost entirely on your cause. That said, influencer marketing is almost always a good call. Get in touch with a popular guest speaker from your industry or secure the involvement of a celebrity with a personal stake in your cause.

Involve them in your advertisements, events and social marketing efforts. Have them galvanize their own fans to be more involved. Work with them to brainstorm buzzworthy events and social posts.

Conclusion

The most valuable piece of advice I’ll give you is to remember that the people you’re marketing too are every bit as passionate about your cause as you are. Treat them with respect, and always thank them for their contributions. I mean really thank them - don’t just send a generic mass email.

Show them they matter, and they’ll reward you in kind.

About the Author(s)

Brad Wayland

Brad Wayland is the Chief Strategy Officer at BlueCotton, a site with high-quality, easy-to-design custom t-shirts. As the place to go for high-quality, easy-to-design custom t-shirts, the company's professionalism, expert design guidance and obsession with customer satisfaction have won the company legions of fans.

Chief Strategy Officer, BlueCotton
word of mouth marketing