Nonprofit Marketing Tips: Selecting a Messaging Category

In marketing for nonprofits, the Messaging process consists of four key areas: Defining Your Target Audience, Selecting a Category, Creating Differentiation, and Constructing Reasons to Believe. The second phase, Selecting a Category, may seem like a simple task, but, according to ESC consultants Marjorie Bauer and Debra Yanofsky, there is a great deal of deliberation and careful evaluation that must be done before this step is taken.

Selecting a category, or frame of reference, is so important to the Messaging process because it helps your organization find a place in your audience’s mind. Potential donors, constituents, volunteers, funders and other individuals or organizations vital to your nonprofit will find and remember you through appropriate language—that which describes the type of organization your nonprofit falls under. This is helpful on a number of different levels, between a person’s ability to efficiently find your organization in an online search or a potential funder’s memory of your organization as a viable recipient of a major grant.

The Category selection process also determines your competition, and vice versa. Depending on how you define your organization’s frame of reference, you could put yourself in a tough position (where competition is fierce) or set yourself up to be a market leader. Ideally, you want to look for the biggest category in which you can be distinctive and have the highest level of competency possible among competitors. The nonprofit sector can be difficult to navigate in terms of competition as we often share missions with other organizations if not collaborate and partner with them directly. Still, you are competing for a place in people’s minds as well as for resources. With this in mind, you must carve out your distinction within your competitive market.

Messaging is all about highlighting your nonprofit’s unique strengths. When you approach this process in a structured way, results can be beyond what you’d ever imagined. If you are interested in learning more about how an ESC Marketing or Branding project can impact your nonprofit, please contact Ulea Lago at or call 607-357-5550. We offer a complimentary 2-hour assessment visit to all interested organizations in eastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island.


Nonprofit Marketing Tips: Define Your Target Audience

MACDC Marketing - Blog - April 2014

In nonprofit marketing, it is essential for leaders to define the target audience they hope to reach and make aware of their organization.

In their Messaging workshop, ESC Consultants Marjorie Bauer and Debra Yanofsky teach that targeting is the first step in a market positioning process, which consists of:

1.) Defining the target audience
2.) Selecting a category, or frame of reference, for your organization to fall under
3.) Differentiating your organization from competitors, and
4.) Creating a reason for potential clients to believe in your nonprofit.

Since the first step creates a foundation for your nonprofit marketing project, it is essential to think critically about the individuals and organizations you hope to connect with, whether they be constituents, volunteers, donors or board members.

In Principles of Marketing, Philip Kotler & Gary Armstrong define a target market as “a set of constituents sharing common needs, values or characteristics that an organization decides to serve.” What does this mean to your nonprofit? It may be helpful to look to the mission to define your target audience—does your nonprofit serve families? Public schools? A local park? As you can see, while looking to the mission can be helpful you often must go several steps deeper to define the target audience. For example, if your organization’s mission is to protect a local park, you’ll have to identify the people that protecting the park serves: children who can safely play, active adults who run their animals through down manicured paths, and individuals or corporations whose businesses benefit from the park, like property management professionals who profit from their real estate’s proximity to clean, safe recreation space. You should dig as deep as you can to define the targets, perhaps through a short brainstorming session or two among staff or board members.

MACDC Marketing 2 - Blog - April 2014

Most nonprofits have multiple targets since they must cater to donors, clients, funders and volunteers all at once, yet any strong marketing campaign must have a key audience, a primary audience in this case. Debra and Marjorie visualize this in ven diagram style. The Primary audience is defined first and foremost, and all other audiences, which are relatively standard within the nonprofit community, branch off of this primary target audience. The branches do not overlap—they only stem from that defined primary audience—but a robust nonprofit marketing campaign should speak to all parts of an organization’s audience clearly.

Throughout your nonprofit’s marketing project, it is important to remember that positioning works to define what people actually think of your organization rather than what you hope or intend them to think. The complexity of the process often calls for a marketing consulting project, and through such services your organization can, over time, influence your audience more effectively.

If your organization is in need of marketing assistance, an ESC consulting project may be right for you. We offer consulting in marketing, branding, and a variety of other capacity building and management areas to nonprofits in eastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Please contact Ulea Lago, ESCNE Director of Consulting, at or call 617-357-5550 today for more information.

Top 10 Online Practices for Nonprofit Marketing


If you are a nonprofit management professional, you know that social media and online presence is vital to the success of your organization’s marketing efforts today. Mike Byrnes, an ESC Consultant and active independent social media speaker and consultant, names ten key points for managing online content, websites and social media for nonprofits.

1.) Fresh content
If you want to maintain optimal online presence for your nonprofit, you’ve got to provide followers with a steady flow of content on a day-to-day basis. Share recent industry news articles, keep up a blog, or share photos from recent events to stay in the present.

2.) Clear and easy navigation
Help viewers skip the hassle of looking for the information they want by bringing relevant content to your audience through a clear, simple interface. For example, part of any nonprofit’s audience is potential donors; it should be common sense to feature “how to contribute” on your home page, along with mission information and other hot, must-see content points.

3.) “Above the fold” real estate
Displaying the information you need to be seen “above the fold” is imperative to the success of nonprofit marketing efforts online. The phrase refers to content that’s seen on the screen without having to scroll down. If your nonprofit’s website has relevant content stretched throughout a long vertical homepage, you may want to evaluate its arrangement to be sure important text, links and photos are seen immediately by visitors.

4.) Scanable, to-the-point content
Websites and social media profiles don’t have to pack in a breadth of text. Quality content is concise and easy to read while still expressing all the entirety of details your nonprofit needs to convey. Ernest Hemingway may have never dreamed of writing online content, but his style provides an excellent baseline for writers who need to pack a big punch with few words.

5.) Pictures
Visuals are a necessary form of content today, and, thanks to social media, photo shares can make a huge difference in marketing for nonprofits. A post by Common Sense Media’s Taryn Degnan on Beth Kantor’s blog tells the story of producing a viral Facebook image and includes several points for best image creation practices, including how to add text, what to look for in competitors’ successes and why it’s important for nonprofit photos to be original. If you need help with sizing, HubSpot has produced a must-use infographic for the average social media manager.

6.) Videos
Videos are equally important storytelling tools for nonprofit management professsionals to incorporate in their online marketing strategy. If you are at a loss for how your organization could produce a video, or what subjects might be compelling enough within your nonprofit, think about the stories you have to tell. With modern technology, creating a video can be as easy as shooting and posting from your smartphone.

7.) SEO (eg. keywords, etc.)
Search engine optimization (SEO) can make or break your nonprofit’s online marketing campaign. Choosing the right keywords for your audience can seem like a daunting task, but a look at your mission and services should make this step a breeze for established nonprofits. For more thoughts on SEO’s impact, Mashable breaks down the concept and its history over the last decade for new and experienced online marketers.

8.) Independent pages
If your homepage features several tabs including your organization’s mission, history, constituencies and other relevant subjects, each of those pages must be able to stand on its own. This means anyone who comes across these pages through search engines, rather than being led to them through the home page, should be able to quickly identify that these pages are a part of your nonprofit’s website, and they should invite the reader back to the homepage for further exploration and to other connected sub-pages.

9.) Capture contact info
Without a way to capture contact info, your organization’s website and social media profiles can only be landing pages for eyes rather than certain connections. Develop something that is worth the exchange of an email address–a newsletter subscription, a guide that is useful to your audience, or another “gift” uniquely desired by the people you aim to connect with online–to maximize your online impact.

10.) Measure results
Finally, nonprofit website and social media managers should use analytics and other forms of measurement to track how their posts are helping their organizations better fulfill their missions. Facebook Insights, Twitter Ads and Google Analytics are just a few major examples of tools to help you navigate online marketing results. Without measurement, and a follow-up of adjustments your results may call for, time and effort put into social media and website work can be wasted. Keeping all ten of these best online practices for nonprofits at the forefront of your mind will ensure the success of your new media marketing efforts.