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Nonprofit marketing guide for professionals


In the nonprofit realm, the meaning of “sales” is not the traditional one. Nonprofits exist to fulfill a mission. Convincing people to donate their time, money, or resources to advance your particular mission is a unique challenge, but there are ways you can apply traditional sales skills to fundraising for nonprofit organizations.

1 Marketing

The first step in any nonprofit marketing plan is attracting potential customers by generating interest in what the organization has to offer.

Nonprofits build awareness by appealing to consumers’ emotions or sense of justice. They don’t hide painful circumstances because they want donors to know how impactful their contribution can be.

The main difference between for-profit marketing and marketing for nonprofits is often budget. For the former, it comes down to cost-effectiveness and markup. Nonprofits seldom have a significant marketing budget, so they are more reliant on social media campaigns and crowdsourcing to increase exposure and awareness.

Take the Make-a-Wish #ArmWrestleChallenge. The nonprofit encouraged participants to film an arm wrestling competition and tag the organization on social media, with the winner donating to Make-a-Wish and the loser doubling the winner’s donation. The strategy was layered: It created a viral phenomenon and benefited the organization’s mission simultaneously.


Being nimble enough to use the best elements of for-profit sales in the nonprofit world makes a career-starter a valuable addition to an organization's sales team.

Nonprofit Marketing Guide for Professionals_body 1_children library learning

2 Fundraising

Both fundraisers and salespeople are trying to convince donors/customers that their cause/product deserves their support. In both cases, generating leads is the first step of the sale. Whether fundraisers are researching marketing tactics, conducting surveys or doing grassroots advocacy, they’re identifying potential donors. Just as salespeople stay engaged with potential customers over a long period of time, fundraisers spend time building relationships with would-be donors and often use stories to relate to and empathize with their counterparts. Open Books4 –a Chicago nonprofit focused on literacy– is uniquely skilled at making the most of fundraising. It collects hundreds of thousands of used books each year, sells them at their two award-winning Chicago bookstores and online, and channels the proceeds to their reading and writing programs. Unlike most nonprofits, Open Books has multiple income channels. 70% of the $1.4 million annual budget comes from book sales and the rest from grants and gifts. That budget allows the nonprofit to run programs that serve nearly 5,000 students each year. Nonprofit Marketing Guide for Professionals_body 2_children_africa_going to school

3 Demonstrating
value proposition

While for-profits have a tangible element to sell, a nonprofit’s value proposition is the impact achieved through supporting its cause. Every nonprofit needs to find a way to show supporters why backing the organization makes a difference in a way others don’t. Supporters want to know where their donations go and how communities benefit beyond their initial contribution. charity:water6 has found an innovative way to achieve this. Every month the nonprofit puts together an email-driven program with exclusive content for subscribers, including a personalized message with updates on how their contributions are impacting a community in need. It also includes stories from local partners and benefactors with on-location video reports. Being nimble enough to use the best elements of for-profit sales in the nonprofit world makes a career-starter a valuable addition to an organization’s sales team, able to capitalize on changing trends and customer expectations.

(1) Speier, K. (2015, February 10th). Marketing For-Profit vs. Nonprofit Businesses: What Are the Differences? Retrieved from (2) Sherman F. (2019, February 4th). Difference Between for Profit & Not for Profit Marketing. Retrieved from (3) Creal, S. (2018, July 12th). Ending the Stigma: Fundraising Is Sales. Retrieved from (4) Richmond, R. (2016, May 16th). When Smart Business Drives Nonprofit Success. Retrieved from (5) Pulse. How to Craft a Unique Value Proposition for Your Nonprofit Organization. Retrieved from (6) Onorato, A. (2018, February 20th). Charity: Water Taps Exclusive Content for New Revenue Stream. Retrieved from
Editorial photo credit: John Wollwerth /
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