Since you’re reading this, you’re either a marketer working at a nonprofit, or you’re the volunteer who got saddled with a shoestring budget and lofty expectations. Odds are, you’ve felt the push to churn out creative marketing ideas for your nonprofit organization to make up for a smaller-than-you’d-like marketing budget. And that probably feels like being asked to create a tidal wave with a firecracker.

So, how do you win as a nonprofit competing against multimillion-dollar ad agencies?

Tactic 1: Share x4, Then Ask

As a nonprofit, you have built-in goodwill. For-profit companies spend millions of dollars trying to get “the people” to have a positive opinion of their product or service, and millions more fixing mistakes when they slip up in the public eye. For a nonprofit, that positive opinion is built in.

The goodwill you start with as a 501(c) nonprofit is an incredibly valuable asset, and here’s how you maximize the value. Don’t ask for money, or volunteers, or even a “share” on social media.

You’re likely puzzled by this advice but think about it like this. If you’re on a first date and all you do is talk about yourself and what the other person can do for you, you’re not getting a date #2. The same strategy applies to your marketing messaging, especially on social media. If every post is “give us money, help us, we need you to act now, we need volunteers ASAP,” people are going to lose interest.

The best marketing advice for a nonprofit I can possibly offer is this: share x4, then ask.
This means that 4 out of 5 posts on social media, or emails you send out, or phone calls should NOT involve you asking for something. Because of your built-in goodwill, people are more likely to engage with your content compared to a for-profit company, so give them content to engage with!

Don’t beat around the bush with it, either. Make your ask explicit, simple, and then leave it at that. “We could use extra volunteers on Friday. If you’re free, fill out this form.” “We’re researching which organization we want to partner with for the Summer festival. If you want to nominate a group, take this quick survey.”

An “ask” isn’t just asking for time or money, it’s when you ask someone to do anything from sharing a post to recommending a friend sign up for the organization’s emails. Ask powerfully, with confidence. But the formula is always the same: after you post an ask, make your next 3-4 posts about ANYTHING but that.

Tactic 2: Use Your Volunteer Army to Blow Up on Social Media

Think back to 2014/15 when the Ice Bucket Challenge was gaining steam. Every third post on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter was related to raising awareness for ALS. That kind of virality is always the goal for any creative nonprofit, but posting a video and hoping it blows up like buying a lotto ticket. It might work, but you’re better off relying on the work of your own hands to get the success you want. And your volunteers are the key to that.
Imagine with me for a moment. You’re scrolling through your feed and you see a video, a handsome man staring straight at you. The video is silent, but then you hear a marker uncap, and he raises a silver sharpie to his forehead. He writes “Blame Me” on his forehead. Then he challenges two friends to either donate money to the Silverback Gorilla Protection Fund or to write “Blame Me” on themselves. There’s a caption and a hashtag that reads #silverbackchallenge.

Now, by itself, that video might shock the average person enough to make them stop and watch it, maybe enough to click the hashtag or read the caption. But would they like the conservation group on Facebook, or crack open their wallet? Probably not. But imagine they saw the same sort of photo or video a dozen times in a single day, interspersed with new profile pictures with “Blame Me” written on forearms and tee-shirts in silver sharpie. Wouldn’t that intrigue you, perhaps make you investigate the #silverbackchallenge hashtag to see what’s up?

As a nonprofit marketer, you can’t rely on luck to create a situation like this, and you don’t have millions of bucks to promote yourself. So, how do you do it? use your volunteers.

How to Utilize Your Volunteers to Go Viral


Design a simple message with a simple action and simple objective, like in our example above. Simplicity is the goal because a simple message is easier to spread.

Get every single person in your organization to take a picture or a video of themselves doing the action. Keep in mind, this doesn’t need to be a challenge per se, it can be anything from putting a blue piece of duct tape on your car’s bumper to using sign language to say “save the trees.” Once everyone has their picture or video, create a hashtag that they will use when they post, and choose a kickoff day.


Next, send out an email to everyone who has ever volunteered with your organization. Explain what you’re trying to do (raise awareness, reach $100,000 in donations, get more Facebook likes) and give them clear instructions on how they can help (by posting a picture or video on the same day as everybody else). Provide an example photo or video, and an example caption. Tell them what day to post their picture or video, and make sure they know to use the hashtag.


Then, have someone in your organization reach out to your local leaders and small businesses. Walk into the pub down the street, call the Mayor’s office, contact your local representative, and tell them what you’re doing. Ask them to commit to making a social media post doing the action and using the hashtag, and tell them what day to post on. Most local leaders and businesses want to be seen supporting a good cause, so it should be pretty easy to get a commitment.


Finally, you’re ready to go. On kickoff day, have the people from your nonprofit post and use the hashtag. On your organization’s social media pages, start re-sharing those posts, commenting, and thanking people for spreading awareness. Do this for every single person if possible, but give special attention to the local businesses you reached out to, the mayors and representatives, local celebrities, and the like. Your goal here is to reach people who don’t know about your organization and get them involved. People with big audiences (local celebs, politicians, business owners, etc) are very valuable here and are the key to creating organic growth.

Tactic 3: Invest in Niche Communities To Promote Yourself

Quick, what’s the one thing your nonprofit has more of than any for-profit company?

The answer is time.

Your local area is full of passionate people and groups that you can involve yourself with, and you have the time to both find those organizations and build relationships with them. Find the local cinephile association and go to a few of their meetings. Get to know them, the leaders, what they like and don’t their favorite films, and then propose a partnership between them and your organization. Because you put in the time to build an actual relationship, they’re much more likely to get involved. And if not, perhaps one or two people from that group will start to help out, because they like you and have gotten to know you.

On Friday after work, have your team go to happy hour at a local pub and get to know the servers there, maybe the manager. Become regulars, and let that relationship lead to new opportunities. And multiply this strategy by the number of people in your organization and the number of small businesses in your area. The math always works in your favor, and strong, invested relationships are much more valuable than the casual “like” you might get on social media from a stranger.

Spend time to invest in relationships with others, and it’ll give you myriad opportunities to help your organization.