Marketing for NGOs - Strategies and Tips

ngos marketing donors
Wednesday, 19 May, 2010 - 10:45

Valued by think-tank sustainAbility at more than US$1trillion per year globally, the not-for-profit sector is big business with a fluffy, feel-good exterior.

Yet, it is seldom commended for great communication or its ability to market and brand itself. Watched by ever vigilant financial eyes, who guarantee that rands, cents, pounds and dollars are spent to the benefit of others, marketing is seldom seen as a Good Samaritan spend.

Yet, there is a strong argument for the third sector to invest smartly in good communications.

South Africa has a jaded audience of givers – buffeted by stories of financial mismanagement and inappropriate spending, and brought up in a society where if everyone needs, why give. The problem is compounded in that competition is tough in a marketplace teeming with social agencies, each with a strong purpose and all chasing the same pots of gold.

As a result it is vital that charities brand themselves both to donors and their target audience as trustworthy, transparent, accountable, focused, campaigning organisations that are essential to a positive, robust society.

Research in the UK supports the argument for strong marketing spend. In 2005 a survey by the Economic and Social Research Council showed that a person’s decision to donate was heavily influenced by their impression of the organisation, the tone of a charity’s communication and its ability to provide emotional and intellectual stimulation.

These results are very relevant to the South African market: social organisations need to focus on building their donors by building their brand and marketing their vision, credibility, value and impact of work.

This is time consuming stuff that often cannot be measured in terms of direct benefit to a community or individual. But as the funding market contracts, it is becoming increasingly vital for South Africa’s civic organisations to sell what they do, and to be accountable to their donors, participants and brand.

The following are key dos and don’ts to ensure that you market and brand your social organisation effectively:

Define your message

This seems simple, but so many organisations are trying to be all things to all people – impossible. Define who you are, and what it is that you do (a support organisation, community-based or policy and lobbying organisation?) and establish your core values, the honesty and ethics that shape you.

Just as business spends billions telling us why they are different to their competitors, identify what are the key factors that differentiate you from others.

Guilt is so 1980’s

Remember the awful famine and poverty ads of the 80’s, which forced people to give out of guilt?

Today’s message is wholly positive - it’s about engaging with people, convincing them of your mission and bringing them on board.

This turnaround in giving has been sparked by a transformation in donations – the shopping centre tin-rattler has been replaced by debit order donors who believe in what you’re doing. Ultimately their R5 monthly donation is far more valuable to your long term security, than the one-off generosity of a passer-by.


It’s simple psychology, but people give to feel good. So always say thank you, and involve them in your work. People enjoy their association to better the world around them, and want to feel a part of the action. As your donor base gets bigger, newsletters become essential but should never replace personalised communication.

Thank you, In-Kindly

NGOs and charities are fixated with money, but these aren’t the only forms of giving. Some of the best value donations are in-kind, from training, corporate services and skills transfer to volunteer programmes – and there are clear links between legacy pledges and involvement. Expand your ask.

Think like a donor

Potential investors are likely to encounter your brand before they encounter you. What is the message you want them to take home? Your marketing must entrench the vision of the organisation, and engage with your target audience.

Use your impact – you’re selling your work, not a product, so make it personable. Transform your monitoring and evaluation data into case studies and market your impact.

New Media

The Internet is a wonderful environment to inform people of what you do, raise awareness on campaigns, and have a donations/volunteer page. Spend money building a decent, professional website and take the time to update it regularly and invite and respond to feedback. Invest in a search engine optimisation tool, use Google Ads, and set up pages on Twitter, Youtube and Facebook. There are myriad ways to keep your world in the mind of others online, and communicate what is being done.

Combine new and old technologies – charities such as Shelter in the UK are using print media such as posters and flyers to capture interest, and are following up with SMS’s once people are on board.


Surveys are underutilised in South Africa, but make for great copy in the media. They don’t always have to be serious news – if they are, great, you’ve bagged a genuine news headline that outlines the merits of your cause. Otherwise have fun with your work and make the most of your column and pixel inches. The Durex Sex Survey is still a great example of reinforcing a brand and its values, in an entertaining way.

Suck up to a celebrity…chef, designer, champion of your cause.

But not just for their name value – research the A and B lists, and find someone who is passionate about your cause, and use them to promote your work. Or get a famous designer to put their name to a creation that is exclusively yours or a chef to create and sell a dish that’s branded to you. Find a champion and use their talents to raise both your profile and theirs.

Market your charity’s IMPACT

All good charities will have intensive monitoring and evaluation studies of their projects. Instead of regarding this as data, transform it into case studies, stories, photo-essays and information that can be fed back into the donor market and build credibility for your cause.

Get Media Savvy

This is critical and an article in itself, but in a survey of UK journalists by the Charity Media Monitor (March 2009) the following came up as being the key ways to treat journos:

  • Case studies – this is the best way for a paper to tell the story, without it being a shameless advertorial.
  • Don’t just target the newsdesk – target all sections of the newspaper from features, travel and business through to recruitment
  • Build relationships with journalists at different papers, know what they need and target them appropriately.
  • Be available – make sure that you have people on call and can respond to queries at all hours. Don’t become institutionalised and bland in your messages with stock phrases or the infuriating No Comment.
  • Don’t forget your local press.
  • Spend time on the intro of your press releases and make sure you engage the reader. The golden rule is to e-mail press releases, but phone through exclusives.


Measure the impact of your marketing

Do people now recognise your charity? Do they associate your brand with your values? Have you increased your funds? Have you improved your lobbying position and the pressure you place on government? Do people view you as a credible respected organisation?

It is essential to measure the response to your marketing, to ensure that your message is broadcasting successfully, to allow you to adjust and change your strategy if its not, and to enable you to report back to your donors – reinforcing your core values as a credible, ethical and accountable organisation.

- Krige Kerryn heads up loveLife’s Corporate and Donor division. This article first appeared in the Strategic Marketing Magazine. It is republished here with the permission of the author.

Biography: Kerryn Krige

Kerryn Krige has worked extensively in the third sector in both the UK and South Africa, heading up the Africa programmes for London based Digital Links International, and setting up the award winning radio station VIP ON AIR with BBC Scotland. Kerryn currently works with the Dutch government as the South African member of the Third Chamber advisory council. Kerryn has consistently worked to raise awareness on the work done by social agencies, and to improve interaction between the social and business sectors. Kerryn currently heads up loveLife’s Corporate and Donor division.

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