Ethical Marketing Strategies for Nonprofit Organizations and Ministries

People don’t buy the products you create, they buy the stories you tell. And the stories that you tell come alive in the way you do the creative.”

Richa Goswami Johnson & Johnson APAC

When it comes to ethical marketing of products and services in today’s global market, it’s tempting to assume that nonprofits must approach marketing from a completely different perspective than for-profit companies. However, analyzing the responses from consumers investing in both nonprofit and for-profit sectors reveals a nuanced view.

In 2021 Adobe research revealed that 71% of customers in the U.K. are likely to stop purchasing from a brand that breaks their trust. Furthermore, the top three reasons for a break in confidence were all related to bad marketing practices.

Practices Consumers Were Most Annoyed by Included:

  • 49% of customers felt trust was broken when companies tracked data or contacted a customer without explicit permission. (Described as “being creepy”)
  • 39% of customers felt trust was broken when companies sent too many communications (Described as “being annoying”)
  • 39% of customers felt trust was broken when companies didn’t listen to requests, particularly requests to stop sending marketing communications.

Needless to say, consumers have strong opinions about how they should be treated. So, it shouldn’t surprise us that a large portion of nonprofit donors are taking the time to research the organizations regarding how they invest their money.

A 2022 study from BBB’s Give.org revealed that 41% of donors say they would not donate to a charity they supported in the past upon learning that the charity’s culture tolerates discrimination against people served.

The Give.org 2022 Report Also Revealed:

  • 54% of U.S. respondents assume that having a diverse, equitable, and inclusive board and staff positively affects how trustworthy the charity is.
  • 34% would not donate to charities using culturally insensitive images and language
  • 17% would not donate upon learning the charity’s board is not diverse
  • 20% of participants say that representation (of race and ethnicity, disability status, gender identity, sexual orientation, and religious identity) in the community served by a charity is “highly important” (rated as 9 or 10 on a 10-point scale) in their giving decision.
  • 25 and 30% report representation of low importance (rated as 1 or 2 on a 10-point scale)

Gen Z and Millennials are the most likely to do research and the least brand loyal consumers. Additionally, they are the most concerned with accurate representation with nonprofit boards and wording.

Focus On Your Core Donor Base

While the statistics above may seem like a field of landmines to maneuver, it’s actually great news! The best way to retain a strong base of loyal donors is to practice ethical marketing and stay focused on your mission. As nonprofits look to increase organization visibility, a loyal base of donors will become the group that shares by word of mouth and written promotion about your organization.

While the Bright Local 2022 customer reviews survey shows consumers are becoming more discerning about online reviews, 85% are willing to consider services or products presented when an endorsement comes from a known source. Additionally, knowing that 99% of 2022 consumers report using the Internet to research a company affirms the importance of having consistent messaging.

Who is Your Ideal Giver?

While it might seem obvious that leaning into your local church is a great place to start when looking for your donor base, Barna Research reveals a different story. In 2022, 25% of practicing Christians do not donate a tithe of any kind to their local church, and the large majority give a much smaller and less predictable amount. If Christians aren’t donating to their local church, it is less likely they will be inclined to extend generosity of any kind to parachurch ministries, either. At least not in a consistent manner.

When creating a list of your ideal givers, it’s important to think specifically about how to present the messaging about the values of your ministry or nonprofit. Ask yourself the following questions: Who will connect with the long-term vision of your mission? Who will understand the immediate needs? Who will share our message with others and convince them to give?

You may find that someone who doesn’t have the same faith but does hold many of the same values is one of your loudest advocates because they understand how valuable your efforts are for the community.

What Is a Digital Nonprofit Strategy?

A digital nonprofit strategy is a well-thought-out plan that coordinates your online fundraising and donor engagement efforts across your entire digital ecosystem. This includes everything from your online donation platform to your CMS and social media platforms.

The best nonprofits are able to use their digital nonprofit strategy to achieve their fundraising and donor engagement goals. They know how to leverage technology to make their cause more visible, raise more money, and grow their donor base.

Define Your Goals

The first essential step to developing a digital marketing strategy for nonprofits is to define your goals, says John Heidtman, CEO of Nonprofit Marketing Solutions. “Don’t use terms like ‘increase,” more,’ and ‘other,’ because those are vague,” he explains. “Instead, create goals that have metrics attached to them — such as acquiring more donors, increasing donations, etc.,” he adds.

By ensuring that every goal is SMART – specific, measurable, attainable, reliable, and time-bound, your team will have clear short and long-term priorities.

Don’t Compromise In Person for Digital

Digital marketing is an excellent way to raise awareness about your ministry or to connect with people who are looking to connect. But digital will never replace in-person ministry. People can hide their emotions, actions, and their entire personality behind a computer screen. Of course, You aren’t guaranteed the full truth in person, but you do have the added advantage of reading body language. Additionally, there’s something about showing up for people that breaks down walls.


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