How to Market Your Nonprofit Business

How do you market your nonprofit? The same way you’d market any business because being a nonprofit only impacts your taxes, not your strategy. The steps you take, your resource needs, your marketing challenges … in essence, everything about marketing your nonprofit mirrors what you would do if you were starting or running a for-profit business. Obviously, the rationale for starting a nonprofit is very different from starting a for-profit company, as you feel a calling to help your community or members of the community in some way. And that’s admirable. But don’t get fooled into thinking it’s any easier, less stressful, or more likely to succeed than a for-profit business. So, buckle up and here we go!

register your nonprofitSteps to create a nonprofit

Again, the steps necessary to start your nonprofit are virtually the same as starting any business, with a few exceptions. Above, you can see some of the differences associated with starting a nonprofit, and you’ll find that most focus is on the legal issues and tax exception filings needed to establish your business as a nonprofit.

Define your mission

Since nonprofits are mission-driven rather than having a profit motive, you need to start by refining your mission and developing a mission statement that will draw in donations. Maybe you want to start a fund to raise money to research a specific disease or to support education in your area. I recently worked with a business seeking nonprofit status for their training gym focused on building world-class gymnasts. While their goal was to make it easier for members to pay for training and entry fees rather than raise outside funds, the process is the same.

You’ll find many charitable organizations out there competing for donations, so it makes sense to understand how your nonprofit differs from others seeking to serve the same mission. Just like an organization must define its unique value proposition, you must clearly articulate how your nonprofit differs from others seeking donations for the same cause.


While for-profit businesses can operate without taking the step to incorporate, nonprofits can’t. They must establish a separate entity from the owner if the business wants to seek nonprofit status.

Complete paperwork for nonprofit status

Nonprofit organizations must file and maintain the necessary paperwork to qualify as a nonprofit for tax purposes. Each country has different rules and paperwork and some states or regional areas have their own paperwork requirements. You’ll also need to maintain scrupulous records related to the money raised and where it went. Failing to do so might mean losing your nonprofit status. Also, work to keep administrative costs low as many donors consider high administrative costs as a negative when it comes to making charitable donations.

Once all the legal niceties are finished, you can start marketing your nonprofit.

Steps to build your nonprofit

Below is an outline of the steps necessary to market your nonprofit or any other type of business.

Image courtesy of Fits Small Business

You may have completed some of these steps already, but we’ll review them again.

Build a sound business idea

If you’ve already expanded on your mission and built a mission statement, you might have finished with this step. Bounce the idea of other folks to see if they can help you further develop the idea.

Environmental scanning

An environmental scan involves understanding all the outside forces that may impact your business. This first step in developing your marketing plan includes the following:

  • Competitive analysis – who are your biggest competitors, how do they operate, what advantages do they offer, who are their customers, and more
  • Customer/ cultural analysis – who are your likely donors, who will benefit from your charity, what’s important to them, how can you reach them, where do they already contribute, how much can they afford, how important is your mission to them, and more
  • Political/ legal analysis – are there proposed changes in laws that might impact your success? For instance, when the tax code changed how charitable donations are taxed, it placed pressure on all nonprofits to survive. If government agencies change spending priorities to give more or less to causes like those aligned with your mission, it may impact how you market your nonprofit.
  • Economic conditions and forecasts of the future. Tight economies make it harder for donors to maintain their level of giving.
  • Technological environment – can impact numerous aspects of running your nonprofit, from offering alternative ways for donors to support your mission to ways to provide services to those you support from that giving to how you run the business to streamline the operation.

Create a business plan

The next step when you market your nonprofit is to build a thoroughly researched business plan, which must include your marketing plan as a major element.

The completed environmental scan is the first part of your business plan. Then, it’s essential to set goals and objectives. You want SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound) for both the short and long term. Try to plan out at least five years with less detail each year. As you complete one year, you flesh out subsequent years with more detail and add another year to the plan.

Other aspects of the business plan include:

  • Financial projections and financing options to cover shortfalls
  • A marketing plan
  • An operational plan
  • A human resource plan
  • a series of action plans detailed enough to cover your major projects for the year

Steps to market your nonprofit

Establish brand assets

First and foremost, you want to establish some brand assets. If you haven’t already, these assets are crucial as they help your nonprofit become more recognizable and, hopefully, a household name someday.

You’ll want to create a style guide that includes your brand colors and fonts, a logo, and critical images you can use to market your nonprofit. To keep the brand image consistent, everyone should access this style guide before creating any collateral for internal or external use.

I used AI to generate my new logo, then updated the colors and text using Photoshop. I’m thrilled with the way it turned out. Using this tactic, including Dall-E, can save a lot of money, often in short supply, while still creating a nice image. You can update your logo later if you want something created by a graphic designer.

What appearance does your nonprofit have, both in its physical presence and in its digital one? Building a functional and attractive website is no longer an option, so you can either pay a developer to create one or use my guide, which walks you through the process of creating one without writing a single line of code.

Reworking your nonprofit’s appearance will help it get seen in a positive and influential light. When you want to know how to start a nonprofit that’s successful, you should look at its appearance and how you can improve your brand’s image.

Create a timeline for success

Creating a timeline for success is essential as you work to market your nonprofit. You want a timeline that ensures everything comes together without wasting time, money, or talent. Plot the critical path on the timeline so you can focus your efforts on that path rather than working to finish something you won’t need until later. A timeline also helps you focus on those aspects that aren’t coming together as planned to get them back on track.

With a timeline, you have direction and milestones to achieve, which keeps you accountable. That can be great when struggling to garner success for your nonprofit and marketing. By having a timeline, you can better allocate scarce resources where they’ll have the greatest impact rather than squandering them away.

Invest more time and money into marketing

Remember the old adage that you can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs? Well, that’s certainly true when it comes to marketing. You need a sufficient budget to reach your goals. Of course, spending that budget efficiently is essential, especially for nonprofits that often sport small administrative budgets when compared to for-profit businesses.

Commonly, business allocate their marketing budget based on anticipated revenue. When starting a new nonprofit, you don’t have the track record to anticipate donations, nor is that method sufficient for jumpstarting your efforts.

Use storytelling to entice donations

Storytelling is good marketing practice, especially for a nonprofit with a mission that resonates with a group of donors. It can create something meaningful that tugs at the emotions of those who want to donate or support the nonprofit. Consider how storytelling methods could inspire and influence your followers within your marketing efforts.

Another way to raise more donations is to tell donors explicitly where their money goes. For instance, telling them that every $5 donation means eight kids get a back-to-school item will raise more money than simply asking for $5 for needy kids to get school supplies.


Marketing your nonprofit takes time, but it’s worth the money and time invested. Use these tips to ensure that you’re marketing your nonprofit business this year.

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