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Applying the Inbound Methodology for Nonprofit Organizations

If you think about how you used to build awareness for the mission of your nonprofit organization, your marketing was probably pretty straightforward. Most of your marketing resources were likely spent on typical marketing tactics – things like solicitation letters, glossy print newsletters and events. Depending on the size and scope of your organization, you may have also used PR, Radio, TV, Billboards and other traditional methods to get the word out about your cause and reach as many people as possible.

Trouble is, most of the people your advertising reached had little if any interest in your organization, so your ads interrupted their regularly scheduled programming. The Internet has caused a shift in giving behavior that has made traditional, “outbound” marketing less effective for driving donors and volunteers. Today, people go online to find the information that they do want, when they want.

A study by the Stanford Social Innovation Review found that, while 70% of respondents learn about a cause through traditional media, those channels are becoming less effective for a few reasons.

  1. Technology allows people to do their own research to find the information they want and block the messages they don’t want.

  2. People – especially Millennials – engage with causes in ways that traditional nonprofit methodologies ignore. Most nonprofits chase the big donors. But millennials spend more time online and give smaller amounts more frequently.

  3. Social media has changed how constituents interact with causes. Social media is the new “word of mouth” that allows people to spread the word about their experiences with your cause – both positive and negative.

The Internet empowers people to control their giving cycle and decide what information they want, when they want it. They can record TV shows and fast-forward through the commercials. They can block telemarketing calls. They don’t have to wait for your direct mail letter. Instead, they can do a Google search to find the information they’re looking for, so when that direct mail solicitation letter does come it likely goes right into the circular file.

Technology has changed how people respond to your marketing messages.

When I was growing up, my dad had 4 inputs: he watched TV, he read the newspaper, he got mail, and he talked on the phone. My dad would come home from work around 5:30 and turn on the news. We watched Walter Cronkite because “that’s the way it was,” and Carol Burnet and the Bob Newhart show, and his friends watched the same shows and saw the same commercials. During the newscast, he would thumb through the newspaper. Then he would retire to his office to open his mail. He got a lot of mail, and he read everything, so it would take a half hour or so. If a marketer wanted to reach my dad, it was easy: call him, advertise on traditional media, or send him mail.

My life is very different. I like the phone, but I will not answer a call if I don’t recognize the number on the caller ID. I bring in the mail every day and put it on the coffee table. I open it when it starts to slide off because the pile gets too high. I don’t read the print newspaper. Instead, I browse social media sites and click through to stories on various online news sources. Email used to be a good way to reach me, but Google has a really good spam filter to block a lot of junk email.

Since people use online channels more and more (email, social media, etc.) to do their own research and guide their own buying/giving decisions, nonprofit organizations need to leverage their online presence to interact with them. Inbound marketing is a methodology that:

  1. Attracts visitors to your website: gets strangers to visit your website earlier in their decision-making process, while they’re doing their research.

  2. Connects with those visitors so they give you their contact information and you convert those anonymous visitors into supporters.

  3. Engage them with relevant content, so more of those contacts become donors, volunteers, members, etc.

  4. And Inspires them so they feel like VIP’s and become advocates of your cause.

The Inbound Marketing Methodology for Nonprofits

The Internet enables consumers to do their own research, instead of relying on marketers to provide information to them. And it empowers consumers to control their own decision-making process. This wealth of information online is great for consumers, but it presents a challenge for nonprofits who now must adapt their marketing tactics to make people aware of their cause.

Get started with the inbound methodology by creating valuable content and experiences tailored to your organization’s audience.  Before you know it, you’ll be turning strangers into friends.


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