3 Not for Profit Marketing Rules (And Why You Should Break Them)

There are 600,000 Not For Profits in Australia. That’s 1 for every 38 people. NFPs, like businesses, are in competition with each other. Achieving their social objectives depends on winning and maintaining the trust of the community / general public. And yet in the Not for Profit world marketing is often treated as an afterthought. A ‘nice to have’ but not core to the mission.

And when I say marketing, I don’t mean fundraising, the meaning of fundraising is in the name: to raise funds. Marketing, however, is to raise brand awareness and create a movement with your brand at the centre in order to achieve more awareness, more donations, more impact. It is a key part of building a trusting relationship with both your stakeholders and end users.

Both For and Not for Profits use similar forms of marketing. EDMs, social, online and print media – we have at our disposal more channels than ever before. And yet NFPs are generally not as effective or successful in using these mediums as their private sector cousins. This may be due to the fact that both sectors have unnecessarily been given different rulebooks.

Here are 3 rules for NFPs that need to broken in order to have an effective marketing strategy and in turn create long term social impact.

Rule #1

Don’t spend donations on marketing


All that money you raised during fundraising efforts has to go directly to your beneficiaries. Why? Because when you were convincing people to give money you told them it was going to homeless youth or disability services and not to a $5,000 marketing campaign. Sounds fair right?

Why you should break it:

Let’s be straight forward. As Dan Pallotta expertly pointed out – if you don’t market your cause, you can’t create awareness, if you can’t create awareness, you can’t get donations, if you can’t get donations you can’t possibly achieve the social impact you exist to achieve. So even though the money is going to a marketing campaign, the result of a successful campaign directly impacts your beneficiaries.


Big picture thinking is the key. Some leaders will go out of their way to minimise the marketing budget. It’s important to realise that a bigger slice of the pie will lead to a bigger pie overall.

Rule #2

How you brand looks doesn’t matter, it is the cause that is the most important part


Nevermind the fact the brand design can be expensive and time consuming – there are more fundamental matters at hand like getting the most SROI as quickly as possible and sourcing funding to enable this.

Why you should break it:

When a business is created in the commercial sector, great thought goes into branding, positioning and market research. NFPs seem to overlook this part, focusing on the cause, how to achieve social impact and where to get funding.

Branding, however, is integral to the success of the business. Branding has the ability to be a communication platform for organisations and the cause as a whole. In one logo or one glimpse of the website, people should be able to tell what you do and why you do it. This is the start of building a relationship.


Your NFP status doesn’t tie you down to a cheap-looking website. Today it is easier than ever to design simple beautiful website without the needing to foot the bill from an expensive design agency. Check out examples like FYA, SSE and Headspace. NFP’s that have embraced a modern look that is in line with their cause.

Rule #3

Don’t take risks with marketing campaigns


NFPs should exercise serious caution around new ideas. Failure can lead to a damaged reputation. Large chunks of donor and funder money spent on a failed campaign can lead to ruins.

Why you should break it:

There is a reason why some of the most impactful and successful campaigns come from the for profit sector. They are prepared to spend. Spend time, spend effort and spend money designing brilliant campaigns. NFPs are generally very risk-averse. We get it. NFPs face a higher level of scrutiny and accountability with every dollar they spend. This can lead to governance developing a form of Agoraphobia – articulated in this blog on Negative Risk Management


Don’t want to dive in right away? You’re in luck! The internet provides the perfect platform to dip your toe in – cost-effectively. Use social media to gauge the market’s reaction. Define the metrics and measure the engagement.

It is time to throw away the rulebook and change the way we think about marketing in the Not For Profit sector. Changing perspective allows for innovation, growth and ultimately creating social impact.

If you are interested in learning more about business strategy and sustainable business models
Download our Whitepaper on The Sustainable NFP


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