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December 6, 2011
3 Approaches to Marketing Your Impact

Marketing Nonprofit Impact“Many of us wish marketing was not necessary and that people would give to us without expecting anything in return...Regrettably, simply being right is rarely enough to secure the victory of our cause. If it were, the world would be a perfect place.” - Katya Andresen, Robin Hood Marketing: Stealing Corporate Savvy to Sell Just Causes.

Have you ever had those same thoughts? Do you wish people would just give to your organization because it’s the right thing to do? If so, you’re not alone. Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen very often.

There has been a seismic shift in the world of nonprofits as charity has shifted to investment. Whereas at one time people gave donations or gifts, now more people view their philanthropic dollars as investments and themselves as investors or funders rather than donors. Let’s explore 3 approaches to effectively market your organization and its impact to these investors.


Traditionally many nonprofit organizations have promoted their activities rather than their impact to attract clients, funders, and other supporters. For example, many of the brochures and websites I see highlight the programs offered or the number of people served. However, as Bob Dylan sang years ago, “Times they are a-changin” and increasingly people want to see the results of your activities rather than just a list of the things you do.

One major exception I’ve seen to this rule occurs around end-of-the-year giving and volunteering. Many nonprofits experience a surge during the holiday season simply because people want to be involved in some type of service or giving activity. For example, around the holidays many people and/or organizations want to:

  • Serve a meal at a homeless shelter
  • Pay for XX number of meals for a holiday dinner
  • Purchase holiday gifts for a family or child

These are just a few of the activities people want to get involved in during the holiday season. Though this proves that there are times when marketing activities can be beneficial, I recommend using this strategy sparingly; keeping in mind that the trend is for investors to want to see tangible signs of real community impact not just busyness.


We all love great stories. I love the feeling of getting lost in a story and having my imagination along for the ride. When a storyteller does a good job the reader can picture the scenes, hear the voices, and experience the emotions of the characters. There are books that make you laugh, cry, change the way you think, or motivate you to take action. Likewise, you’ve probably read books that left you uninspired and wishing they would just end.

Generating emotions and creating an experience is the effect many nonprofit marketers desire when they tell their stories. They share testimonials in hopes of inspiring and compelling people to get involved with their organization. Unfortunately, a story doesn’t prove to grant makers and funders that what happened in this situation can be duplicated or repeated in other situations. Kevin Monroe of X Factor puts it this way, "people appreciate your work, they invest in your impact." Stories have their place, are invaluable to your cause, and there’s great value in collecting them. However, there are ways to add depth to your stories and allow you to highlight the impact made by your organization. Let’s explore that now.


Vince Lombardi said, “As a leader, you must know people all want to be part of a winning team.” Numbers can prove that yours is a winning team.

Investors want to know that the money they are investing with your organization will undoubtedly make a difference in your community or the lives of your clients. And not only will it make a difference, but it will make more of a difference than if they invested the money to an organization down the street.

Michelle Obama highlighted this fact when she said, “By focusing on result-oriented nonprofits, we will ensure that government dollars are spent in a way that is effective, accountable and worthy of public trust.” Documenting and sharing your results helps to prove you are worthy of that trust.

Three types of impact that resonate with investors include:

  • Change of status - This occurs when a person, organization, or community transitions from one state or condition to another. For example, your organization may be successful at moving people from an unemployed to employed status. You may do this by providing job training to 1,000 people per year. However, most funders aren’t really interested in paying for job training unless it results in the trainees actually getting jobs. If your organization is producing these results, share them and show that you are a good investment.
  • Return on Investment (ROI) - ROI is defined as a performance measure used to evaluate the efficiency of an investment or to compare the efficiency of a number of investments. Nonprofits can use ROI to show investors that they are good financial stewards and that their investment will have a greater impact in their organization than with a competitor. For example, if you can show potential investors that for every dollar they invest with your organization the community will receive $3 of benefit compared to $2 provided by an alternate provider - you look like the better investment.
  • Systemic change - This often occurs as a result of collaboration or large-scale community initiatives when several providers join together to move the needle on a social issue at the community level. To create a systemic change, it is important to build partnerships and collaborations around an community issue. Participate in the effort for change by being a good and active partner, providing leadership where you can, and promote the results you (and the collaboration) are achieving.

Ultimately it’s the change we are making, not our activities that most effectively makes our case to investors. Therefore, we recommend that you determine the difference you are making, back it up with actual numbers, and begin sharing it with current and potential investors.


Each of the three approaches above may be effective in engaging clients and investors. However, combining the three approaches is likely to be the most effective way to market your impact and your organization. We recommend:

  • Building a storehouse of stories and testimonials and add to it on an on-going basis. Pick several stories that clearly demonstrate the change(s) you are after and then share them frequently with those connected to your organization. This will help to create organizational folklore that can be shared and celebrated with others.
  • Documenting and promoting your high-impact outcomes. These outcomes should provide statistical support for your stories that this wasn’t a one-time win. Show that our outcomes can, and have been, duplicated time and time again.
  • Using activities, when appropriate, to engage others. This can also be used to enhance your stories or answer questions about how you produce your outcomes.

The shift from charity to investment requires that we change the way we communicate. We must not only be familiar with our organization’s activities and equipped with stories of success; we must also be able to share the outcomes we are producing with potential investors. CHIP of Virginia does an excellent job of combining all three methods in their CHIP Saves Money publication where they provide brief client statements and photos, share the number of people served through their programs, and show dollar amounts that validate a significant ROI. They are making an impact, and as the flyer shares, the numbers prove it.

Marketing your impact shows you are really making a difference. It helps you capture mind share, and as a result money share. Review your marketing materials this month to see how you’re doing.

Posted by Tiffany Applegate on December 6, 2011 at 3:27 PM
Categories: Marketing
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