Content Strategy

The Nonprofit Marketing Musts That B2B Marketers Can Do Too

By Christine Warner on March 26, 2018

Heartfelt marketing isn't just for nonprofits. Every brand has a center of good.

Using this good to get results might be more intuitive for nonprofits, but it can do the same for all kinds of organizations-even in the B2B world. Nonprofit marketing goals and objectives may be fundamentally different, but there are definitely shared marketing musts. I've seen these unexpected similarities in my own career working with both for-profit and nonprofit marketing teams.

People are people, no matter what general audience category they fall into: consumer, business, employee, donor, volunteer. And every person has a heart. The heart has a role in most decisions, business or philanthropic, as does the head. Let's examine these principles that apply to both nonprofit and B2B marketing.

Hikkaduwa, Sri Lanka

Image attribution: Alexandr Podvalny

Lead With a Spirit of Service

Keep service at the core of your marketing strategy. Every business serves its customers, but not every business serves the community. Typically, a business's expression of community support takes shape as a corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy. Your CSR strategy is to the community what your business plan is to your customers. And in saturated markets, it could be one of your only differentiators.

April Timko, director of marketing and communications for Knoxville Habitat for Humanity, suggests, "Create a CSR plan, and stick to it. Time and again, marketing research proves that the average consumer will more likely support a company or organization that talks about what they are doing to better their environment and its people. A corporate social responsibility plan is no longer a nice-to-have . . . it is a requirement if you want to succeed and rise above your competitors."

How you define what you stand for and support is up to you. Whatever it is, it should be a cause-micro or macro-that your customers and your own team can relate to or get invested in. (If it's not a genuine effort, it will eventually show.) Then figure out how you're going to act on it to make a real difference.

Besides the social community you serve, you also serve your marketing audience. But not just in the standard "business benefits" way. Rather, the way your marketing communicates how you improve their lives. Does your software cut down on busy work so they can spend more time on high-impact projects? Does your device increase efficiency so their employees are happier and the office vibes stay positive? Focus on the personal effects of your business benefits.

Your CSR strategy shouldn't just be a footnote in your marketing plan; it must be ongoing and obvious. And your cause isn't just an awareness play; it can bring in business.

An international study of 20,000 adults performed by Unilever in 2017 found that 33 percent of participants proactively choose to buy from brands they believe are contributing to a social or environmental good.

Unilever also revealed the impact of this customer preference on internal performance. Brands like Dove and Ben & Jerry's that keep their cause of sustainability central to their products and purpose are growing 30 percent faster than their other brands. And in 2015, these brands contributed almost half of Unilever's global expansion.

Having service at the heart of everything you do will serve you well.

Plant growing from sand

Image attribution: Evan Kirby

Retain, Retain, Retain

Prioritize customer retention. Amp up your efforts if you've let them slide. Happy and engaged customers will keep coming back.

"Marketing in a nonprofit is not so different from marketing in a for-profit," explains Adrienne Irizarry, owner of Leviosa Communication, a nonprofit marketing firm. "The key difference is in a nonprofit the strategies and tactics are geared more toward engaging and maintaining relationships with donors, volunteers, clients, and stakeholders."

Without profitability as a goal, nonprofit marketers naturally understand the need for retention. Alayna Frankenberry, manager of inbound marketing for BlueSky ETO, knows this from her work with multiple nonprofit clients. She shares, "Most nonprofit marketers focus largely on current members and donors. They have detailed nurturing and sustaining campaigns that keep these individuals engaged. B2B and B2C companies, however, often forget to focus on this major demographic."

It's normal (and necessary) to focus on acquisition as a B2B marketer. Just remember that a consistent customer base will give you consistent revenue. The data shows it, too: It costs five times as much to attract a new customer than to keep a current customer. Your existing customers are 50 percent more likely to try new products, and they spend on average 31 percent more than new customers.

Take advantage of marketing automation tools and technology to create a robust and efficient customer engagement strategy.

Tell Authentic Stories of Impact

Sharing stories about a nonprofit's real-life impact furthers its mission. It's how nonprofits get support and spread awareness.

Of course, storytelling is the soul of marketing for any cause or company. There's loads of research to back the power of stories to grab attention, create empathy, and motivate action. B2B marketers might not have as much feel-good material to work with, but you can still tell stories about how you change the lives of your customers for the better. And it will help both your acquisition and retention goals.

Marion Donahue, digital media specialist at Scott Allen Creative, a branding and marketing agency for nonprofit organizations, described her team's storytelling value: "People are genuinely interested in the life stories of other people. Meaningful stories evoke an emotional bond that strengthens relationships."

Support Those Stories With Facts

A story alone won't always close the deal or convince the donor. Make sure you include, or follow up with, data that also points to your impact. This factual support is especially important when purchase decisions are involved versus philanthropic giving.

Choose the metrics that mean the most to your audience and relate to your mission. As nonprofit consultant Dave Wakeman urges, "Remember that people buy with emotion and justify with logic. So once you have told the emotional story, give the person the facts that they need to justify."

Appeal to All Sorts of Emotions

Not everyone will have the same emotional response to a story. And not everyone is motivated to act by the same emotion. Tell your story in different ways to cater to a variety of sentiments.

Image attribution: Igor Ovsyannykov

Frankenberry advocates for this emotional diversity: "That emotion shouldn't always be the same. Excitement to be a part of a community, fear of missing out on a limited offer, empathy and pity for a cause-these are all different emotional responses that will resonate with different people at different times."

Connect With Immersive Content

Once you've got your stories, present them in the most immersive, interactive, and sensory way possible to pull people in.

Content Marketing Institute's most recent nonprofit marketing and B2B marketing research reports show that the most common digital content types used by both nonprofit and B2B marketers are those primed for immersive experiences: social media content, videos, and visual content (photos, illustrations, and infographics).

Most-Used Content for Nonprofit Marketing

  1. Social media content
  2. Email newsletters
  3. Articles
  4. Videos
  5. Photos or illustrations

Most-Used Content for B2B Marketing

  1. Social media content
  2. Case studies
  3. Videos (pre-produced)
  4. Ebooks/White Papers
  5. Infographics

Nonprofit marketing consultant Simon Tam’s work for a small community college proves how emotional messaging paired with video content can do a lot with a little budget-or in his case, no budget. He created a video-first strategy with YouTube as his primary distribution channel, sharing videos of students and mentors talking about what made their community uniquely special. Within a few weeks, the college was in the top Google results-even above for-profit universities with large advertising campaigns. Tam was thrilled with the results: "Every seat in every classroom was filled that semester."

Start From the Inside Out

Nurture a heart for your mission and values in your team, and hire people who share that passion. Build a team of people who are genuinely invested in what you do. Hire for mission fit, not just skills and experience. Empower your employees and peers to live your values outside the office, too.

Timko recommends, "Educate all employees of your organization so they can also walk the walk and talk the talk. Encourage them to be your strongest advocates and provide incentives for sharing communications through competitive events, etc.

Your team culture and collaboration will strengthen from a unified commitment to a cause. Your coworkers will start to feel like family. It won't go unnoticed externally, either.

So let your center of good focus your internal culture and marketing strategy. It won't fail you.

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Featured image attribution: Bill Wegener


Christine Warner

Christine Warner is a freelance writer and digital marketer with agency, brand, and non-profit experience developing integrated campaigns and content platforms for diverse brands such as Uber, Samsung, Walgreens, Victoria’s Secret, Dunkin’ Donuts, and Dignity Health. Her digital marketing specialties include content marketing strategy, customer relationship management, brand product marketing, digital media planning, social media marketing, and search engine optimization. Currently, she is the Senior Manager of Digital for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, where she oversees the digital marketing efforts for the various non-profit communities and ministries throughout Southern California. As a freelance writer, she contributes regularly to various lifestyle and marketing publications. You can check out her writing portfolio to browse all her work.