Nonprofit marketing trends to watch in 2014

In the spirit of a new year, here are three trends to study and experiment with in 2014. These aren’t the only trends, nor are they the flavor-of-the-month variety. As opposed to fads that come and go, we expect these major trends are longer lasting and indicative of broader shifts in our culture, the marketplace, and our industry at large.

The convergence of program and marketing/fundraising

More and more, nonprofit program IS marketing, and marketing IS program. And yet one of the most common tensions within a nonprofit is that of program vs marketing.

Example: Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission did something about this. When the time came to plan the fall and year-end campaign — a historically fundraising-only campaign — they brought together stakeholders from across the organization to create the One Meal, One Hope campaign. This started before any creative was done, or even overall campaign messaging — a broader group was involved from the planning stage. Now instead of just marketing running with the campaign, they had marketing, volunteer programs, church engagement, and ministry programs using the One Meal, One Hope campaign in a cohesive way. Not only have the results for SUGM improved thanks to tighter integration, relationships between departments have been strengthened, and the donor experience has been improved.

Where might this be at play in your organization? A few questions to help you assess:

  • Do you run campaigns isolated to your department, without regard to what other campaigns might be run by other departments to the very same constituents? Do other departments do the same?
  • In day-to-day communications, do you know what other departments are sending to the same constituents, and do you coordinate schedules?
  • Do you ALL have a clear understanding of the overall organizational objectives? Do your colleagues in other departments? Do your strategies and tactics ultimately align with achieving those organizational objectives?

This isn’t to say that program and marketing don’t have distinct objectives, or different approaches to reach those objectives. But it does mean that they can no longer act in isolation, as if the other doesn’t exist. Some of the most successful nonprofits we know have a close relationship between program and marketing.

Creating marketing ecosystems

As direct marketers, we LOVE our channels. Whether you specialize in one channel, or you find yourself working across multiple channels, the temptation is to view each channel in isolation. Often we find ourselves talking about the performance of channel X, or the performance of channel Y.

But today, we have to think about creating and optimizing entire ecosystems to accomplish our goals. Think about creating an environment for action – one that combines direct response, relationship, and engagement.

Marketing Ecosystem — The sum of all media, messages, and interactions that forms an experience conducive to motivating constituents to enact the organization’s desired outcomes.

Factors that are driving this:

  • The proliferation of channels — there are more ways than ever before for constituents to engage with or respond to an organization. And, driven by consumer brands like Amazon, constituents expect you to be available in all those channels.
  • The behavior of constituents — constituents engage on their terms. When they want to. In what channel they prefer. They may prefer to receive emails from you but to respond in direct mail. They may be a fan on Facebook and engage with your content, see your email communications, receive direct mail, and then at the end of the day go to your website to respond.

Creating a marketing ecosystem is about providing a consistent experience for constituents, no matter where your constituents are, or in what channels they prefer to engage with you. That experience should drive people to action — to respond, to engage.

Data — going beyond traditional metrics

The question is no longer “IS the data available to me to be successful?” but rather “WHICH of the myriad of data available to me will help me be successful?” We’ve all heard of paralysis by analysis, or not seeing the forest for the trees — a phenomenon that occurs all too often when dealing with data.

Many of the most successful nonprofits in the past few generations have succeeded in part thanks to an intense focus on data and measurement. Metrics like ROI by segment/list/kit, long term value (LTV), gross/net yield per thousand (GYPM/NYPM), response rates, click rates, conversion rates, and so on form the bedrock of a successful marketing/fundraising program, and consistently when we see these metrics being used we see a successful program.

These foundational metrics continue to be critical to use, but today we live in a world of big data. Big data has been a trend for a couple years, but generally that seems to imply “there’s lots of data in the world — you should be capturing all of it and using it to make great decisions!” Unfortunately, the reality is not all data is created equal, and a lot of data simply isn’t actionable or predictive.

With the huge amount of data available to us today, the real question is which of that data will inform our strategies and tactics, and help us be successful? We believe 2014 will be a year of enhancing strategy through non-traditional analytics.

2014 is going to be a good year!

We hope you are expectant and excited for the year ahead — we are!

As always, I’m happy to answer any questions you might have — email me at Or you can always catch up with me on Twitter — @daveraley.