Rethinking Your Unhealthy Relationship with Social Impact Marketing

Marketing in the social impact space is a thorny issue. Release your reservations; marketing is the best way to reach supporters and realize your mission.
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What would you do without your supporters? How would you achieve your mission if it weren’t for their generous donations, selfless volunteering, and energetic advocacy of your cause? Thanks to your nonprofit’s marketing efforts, they can learn about your cause and push change forward.

Yes, you read that right: your marketing efforts. You employ marketing tactics, whether you’d like to admit it or not. After all, marketing is nothing more than persuading someone to take action.

That's because traditional marketing is associated with so many negative ulterior motives, from consumer manipulation to the encouragement of shameless excessive consumerism. It goes without saying that ill effects like these are antithetical to the nature of social impact organizations.

Knowing where traditional marketing ends and social impact marketing begins is your guilt-free ticket to owning your marketing efforts and multiplying your impact.

The Difference in Marketing for Social Impact Organizations? Purpose

It might surprise you, but there are marketing characteristics that social impact organizations do share with their more traditional, for-profit counterparts. Tactics that aren’t manipulative or selling out in nature, but rather driving people to take action.

For example, traditional marketing encompasses brand loyalty and customer relationship management. Whereas your social impact organization calls them, membership programs and donor engagement.

Traditional marketers use tactics like social media, email marketing, website content, and events to get the word out about their company’s product or service. Your nonprofit should use those same channels to amplify your message.

Employing traditional marketing tactics doesn’t mean you’re crossing over to the dark side. Far from it! It means you’re doing your job to create awareness and build buzz around your cause. And more awareness and buzz equal more donors at your doorstep.

What it all comes down to is the purpose behind your marketing strategy.

The purpose of your social impact organization’s marketing plan is not to persuade someone to buy your product so you can make a profit. Rather, your purpose is to inspire people to get off the couch, pick up the proverbial picket sign, and march next to you toward systemic change.

Every time you call on your supporters to take action, you are creating, building, and sustaining a community. You’re creating a place in the world for like-minded people who care about making a positive change to connect and act.

See? It’s not so prickly after all.

Break Through the Noise With Your Digital Marketing

There’s no getting around it: Effective marketing in today’s attention-and-algorithm economy is tough. Neverending breaking news, omnipresent viral tweets, and last-minute Zoom calls take up more of people’s time than ever. How does your social impact organization reach through?

The only way to break through the digital noise is with scroll-stopping content that captures your supporters’ attention — and emotions. Intrigue them enough to make them continually come back for more.

And guess what? That all falls under the social impact marketing umbrella.

As a supporter’s engagement increases, your marketing will be required to bridge the gap between their digital experience and real-world actions. As they move up the engagement pyramid, they may go from reading about your impact story to sharing content with their network to volunteering in person at an event. And you will need to be there every step of the way to give them the information, tools, and resources they need to stay in tune with the state of your issue. That’s marketing.

In today’s digital-first world, digital engagement is simply part of the work you do — it is no longer optional if you want to move the needle on your cause. And part of your digital engagement means marketing to your supporters so you can expand your reach and welcome new funders into the fold.

Forget Selling Something. Social Impact Marketing Needs to Tell a Story.

What is your organization’s purpose? Somewhere in your answer is a compelling story. More likely several.

At the end of the day, social impact marketing is about telling your organization’s story — where it’s been, what it’s doing, and how people can be part of it. As such, all of your stories have the potential to be catalysts for change.

Because people connect with emotional content, telling authentic impact stories about your organization’s big wins (or even losses) lets them connect to your organization on a deeper level. The deeper the connection, the better the engagement.

For instance, once you start talking about how your supporters’ donations paid for an orphaned elephant’s medical expenses, suddenly they’re no longer just interested in helping baby elephants. They’re invested in Lemeki, an orphaned baby elephant from Kenya who was found alone after a flood.

Your supporters will connect with your work and remain engaged if you speak to their core beliefs and identity. If they see themselves as an animal lover, they will want to make sure Lemeki heals and thrives.

For Effective Nonprofit Storytelling, Focus on Positivity and Proof

It can be daunting to start telling your nonprofit’s stories. But it doesn’t have to be. To make your storytelling effective, there are two must-dos.

  1. Keep it positive. As you tell your stories, separate yourself from traditional marketing techniques by avoiding fear and sadness. Those negative emotions are too present online already. While some of the nature of your cause may truly be frightening or depressing, content with that bent won’t spur the reaction you’re hoping for. Instead, give your supporters a positive action or hopeful fact that inspires them to jump in and get involved.

  2. Show your impact. Tell your stories to prove your organization is doing it right. The return on investment for a donor or supporter is to see their efforts lead to positive change. Show stats on the number of people your organization sheltered, the number of animal adoptions you arranged, or the number of acres your advocacy preserved. And it’s true: Social impact organizations have a marketing burden that for-profit businesses don’t. You have to show proof of impact to grow your revenue. How else do you prove that your donors’ dollars are making a difference?

Social impact marketing is all about giving your audience a way to take a positive step forward in changing the world. It’s not manipulative. Nor is it an otherwise unsavory way to reach people.

Instead, it’s hopeful and galvanizing — a true catalyst. If you believe in the power of social impact marketing, so will your supporters.

They’re just waiting for you to ask them to join you.

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