The Digital Age is Changing Community Outreach Marketing, and it could help or hinder Non-Profits

04.12.2022 11:00 AM Comment(s) By Touch CLE

What happens when organizations that rely heavily on community support begin to see their non-profit peers charge them to spread the word?


“Sure, we’ll help distribute your message about this extremely valuable resource to the communities and groups we also claim to support but first you must pay us!” Sounds a bit harsh, but it is a rather sarcastic way of paraphrasing actual responses my team and I have heard in our line of work.


Non-profit organizations thrive with low-cost creative strategies that can make a big impact. To afford the luxury of having a marketing and advertising budget, non-profits must fundraise. However, fundraising also requires dollars to reach donors. It becomes quite the paradox. The simplest and most cost-effective method to meet these goals is through community partnerships and outreach.


Medium.com defines community outreach marketing as “the standard strategic way to help increase awareness about your products or services. It is a strategy for searching out organizations or groups that have a shared or dependent interest in what your business has to offer.” Precisely. Yet the digital age is changing the way non-profit organizations work together. Everyone wants to monetize their social platforms. What was once a no-cost request, is now requiring orgs to rethink where their advertising dollars will go.


The evolution of technology coupled with the new norm of socializing virtually has given non-profits a new way to earn capital. Organizations with a huge social media following and newsletter subscribers are turning to an influencer style of helping their partners, stakeholders, and non-profit peers.


Let’s take a moment to reflect here. As always, there are two sides to every story. You can’t help but to give kudos to the non-profits that have successfully created another revenue stream by monetizing their digital audiences. On the contrary, non-profits with smaller audiences and limited capital are further stretched and puzzled with deciding how to allocate their budgets. Should they spend their money on advertising externally or hire someone internally to grow their own audience? Adding to the dilemma is determining where you will get the greatest return on your investment. Do you spend with non-profits that have a similar target audience or with major publications that are less targeted but reaching the masses?


I would say, do all the above. Establishing a not-for-profit operation does not mean your organization should not be profitable. All ethical methods for earning revenue should be explored. Non-profits should reconsider the value of their marketing and digital teams and explore how growing those departments can help them better reach their desired audiences more effectively. I have found spreading your dollars among multiple channels is more effective than investing large sums of money with just a few outlets.


Nevertheless, for every cause there is an effect. Consequently, the non-profits that want to step into this game are going to have to be ready to deliver metrics like the pros. If you’re charging for eblasts or social media posts, you should be ready and willing to share your metrics. Here are a few data points that you should collect and deliver:

    • How many people are on your list?
    • Are you able to segment your list by demographics or interests?
    • What percentage of your database opens your emails?
    • What is the average click-through rate of those who open your emails?
    • What were the demographics of those that responded to the email?


If you have no idea how to answer any of the questions above, you are probably not ready to charge for your digital currency. This new way of spreading the word is also trickling down to non-profits needing to establish formal partner agreements as issues and laws surrounding cyber conduct are growing rapidly.  In other words, before you begin charging to post on your digital platform, check-in with your insurance company and your lawyer.

“We have certainly begun to explore new ways to enhance our sponsorship offerings with for-profit organizations,” says Alyssa Perna, Managing Director at Ingenuity Cleveland. “One of our partners wanted to promote an educational program geared towards supporting creative entrepreneurship which is also our core audience. We added dedicated social media posts and newsletter blurbs into their package. This was a win-win scenario,” says Perna. “We earned more sponsorship dollars while driving awareness about an initiative beneficial to both Ingenuity and our partners audiences.”

I am personally interested to see how the evolution of technology will begin to blur the lines of ethics for non-profit organizations. I would encourage not-for-profit organizations to utilize this new way of community outreach marketing to gain revenue from the for-profit stakeholders they support. When it comes to your non-profit peers, there should be a more mutually beneficial arrangement. After all, almost all non-profits are engaged in supporting causes that are closely tied to one another and targeting the same individuals and communities. Where one organization fails, those connected to similar missions fail too. Cleveland area organizations are long overdue for learning how to move forward together to maximize their individual efforts. The last thing we need is our non-profits competing for dollars and attention.
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