Marketing Lessons Nonprofits Can Learn from Small Businesses


In the ever-evolving landscape of philanthropy, nonprofits face a multitude of challenges, including securing funding, building a strong donor base, and conveying their mission to the public. To navigate this complex terrain successfully, nonprofits can turn to a surprising source of inspiration: small businesses.


Small businesses, which often operate with limited resources and tight budgets, have honed their marketing strategies to make a big impact.


In this guide, we will explore four marketing lessons that nonprofits can glean from small businesses. Whether you’re seeking inspiration from a coffee shop, dog daycare, or dance studio, these insights will help you embrace a new perspective on promoting your organization’s mission. 

Get to Know Your Target Audience

Small businesses often conduct market research to identify and understand their target audience, as it ensures that their communication efforts are focused on the people who are most likely to invest in their product or service. Nonprofits can follow suit by using the following research methods to define their ideal supporters:  


  • Surveys and questionnaires: Create surveys to collect information directly from your audience. Ask questions about demographics, preferences, pain points, and engagement behaviors.
  • Competitor analysis: Study your competitors in the fundraising space and their supporter base. What strategies are they using to appeal to a similar audience? What can you learn from their successes and failures?
  • Social media listening: Monitor social media platforms for mentions, comments, and discussions related to your vertical. Pay attention to what prospective donors are saying, their sentiments, and their interests.
  • Online forums: Participate in relevant online communities, forums, and discussion groups where your target audience hangs out. Listen to their conversations and engage with them to gain insights into their needs and concerns.


Use these findings to create detailed supporter personas that represent different segments of your target audience. Compile information about their demographic information, pain points, goals, challenges, and preferences. Then, create content and campaigns that resonate with each group. 


For example, a dog groomer might split their target audience into two personas: “pampered pet owners” and “busy professionals.” Pampered pet owners are affluent and willing to spend more on their animals’ appearance. They will receive promotions on premium grooming services, spa treatments, and products. 


Busy professionals have limited time and resources for grooming but still want their dogs to look presentable. As a result, the marketing team will promote hassle-free grooming services that fit within their schedules and budget.

Take a Multichannel Approach to Outreach 

Multichannel marketing is a common practice in the for-profit sector. That’s because businesses that use two or more channels in any single campaign experience 166% higher engagement rates


Nonprofits can receive similar results by leveraging multiple channels, including:


  • Social media: Nonprofits can utilize a wide range of social media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and TikTok, to engage with their audience, share impactful stories, and raise awareness about their cause. Each platform caters to different demographics and content formats, making it essential to tailor content for each.
  • Email marketing: Email campaigns are a powerful tool for nonprofits to communicate directly with donors, volunteers, and supporters. Email allows for personalized messaging, fundraising appeals, event invitations, and regular updates to keep stakeholders informed and engaged.
  • Website: A nonprofit’s website serves as a central hub for information-gathering, storytelling, and online transactions. It should be optimized for both desktop and mobile devices, making it easy for visitors to access key resources, donate, and get involved.
  • Direct mail: While digital channels are important, traditional direct mail campaigns, including fundraising letters, newsletters, and annual reports, remain effective for reaching certain donor demographics. Well-designed and compelling mailings can help nonprofits connect with older supporters who may prefer offline communication.
  • SMS (Short Message Service): SMS marketing involves sending short text messages to supporters’ mobile phones. It’s an effective way to deliver time-sensitive updates, event reminders, donation requests, and urgent calls to action. SMS is particularly popular among younger, mobile-savvy audiences.


As you prepare your marketing materials, Getting Attention recommends using the same color scheme, logo, and typography across channels. Doing so will reinforce your nonprofit’s brand identity and build credibility with your audience.

Invest in Industry-Specific Software

Industry-specific software enables small businesses to deliver better customer experiences, stay compliant with industry regulations, and adapt to marketing trends more quickly than competitors using generic software. Plus, many of these solutions are scalable, which is valuable for businesses that anticipate future growth and want software that can accommodate their evolving needs. 


Nonprofits should also consider leveraging mission-specific software. For example, an animal shelter might benefit from investing in Gingr’s dog boarding software, as it has built-in marketing features and templates that cater to animal lovers. 


For the best results, prioritize software that has: 


  • Comprehensive features: Ensure the software provides a comprehensive set of features that align with your nonprofit’s specific needs. This may include automated outreach, engagement tracking, and reporting capabilities. Customizability is also important to adapt the software to your organization’s unique workflows.
  • Integrations: Integrate the software with other relevant tools, such as a customer relationship management (CRM) system, to streamline your marketing processes and provide a more comprehensive view of your outreach efforts.
  • Free training and support: Free or low-cost training resources, such as online tutorials, webinars, documentation, and customer support, are crucial for nonprofits. It’s important that staff and volunteers can access training materials to maximize the software’s potential without incurring additional expenses.


Before making an investment, meet with key stakeholders, including board members, staff, and volunteers, to ensure that everyone understands the potential benefits and impact of the software you’re considering. 

Leverage Data-Driven Decision Making

Data-driven decisions help both small businesses and nonprofits optimize their marketing efforts and allocate resources more efficiently. Use data analytics tools to analyze these marketing metrics:


  • Conversion rate: Measure the percentage of website visitors, email recipients, or social media followers who take a desired action, such as making a donation, signing up for your newsletter, or volunteering.
  • Donation metrics: Track giving data, including the total amount raised, average donation size, and donor retention rate, in order to monitor the performance of different fundraising campaigns and channels.
  • Engagement metrics: Assess user engagement through metrics like click-through rates (CTR), email open rates, and social media likes, shares, and comments. Engagement metrics indicate how well your content resonates with your audience.


By analyzing these data points, you can gain insights into what content resonates with your audience, which marketing channels are most effective, and how your audience responds to your messaging.


Taking inspiration from small businesses can help you create a successful nonprofit marketing plan. However, it’s important to remember that these lessons are not one-size-fits-all solutions. Adapt them to meet the unique needs and challenges of your nonprofit, keeping the well-being of the communities you serve at the forefront of your efforts.