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Marketing on a tight budget

Interesting and shareable stories are the core of marketing strategies.

Simon had a dream he had to put on hold while living as a teenage refugee in Lebanon, where he worked two jobs because as a Syrian refugee he was not allowed to go to school. After two years in Australia making up for lost time, the 20-year-old is on track to achieve his dream – to be a doctor.

Leaping over language barriers, he has completed his HSC and this year applied to study medicine at university.

“Over the past two years, relatives in Syria have died of unknown causes,” he says in a Facebook video post. “That motivated me to get into medicine.”

Simon spent about two hours making the video, which cost him $50 to promote. His story reached 14,000 people who reacted, most liking and sharing it.

Big advantage

Having access to such stories is one of the biggest advantages we at Settlement Services International (SSI) have over our peers in for-profit businesses. Interesting and shareable stories are at the core of marketing strategies for NFP organisations. They can be client stories, like that of Simon, or a simple narrative of how an organisation is working to make a difference.

They are one of the most effective ways to tap into audiences and inspire action. And being inexpensive, storytelling is a powerful tool in the NFP marketing arsenal.

Storytelling has several purposes. It can interest readers enough for them to respond to your call to action, such as donating to volunteering. It can show potential funders how you are going above and beyond your contractual obligations to support the communities your organisation serves. It can subtly raise awareness about the issues or causes that are important to your organisation.

Storytelling also helps NFPs influence the public narrative about the cause or communities they support. In the case of SSI, storytelling gives vulnerable individuals and families a voice to counter what is, in many cases, a dehumanising narrative about their communities.

The divisive discourse surrounding refugees, for example, often positions them as victims, focussing on the tragedy of the war and persecution that brought them to Australia’s shores. Storytelling helps these new community members take control of that narrative and show that behind the “refugee” label are people with a level of resilience that is unimaginable to most Australians. It shows they are people who should be admired, not pitied.

Power to change

Storytelling has the power to drive change; it can break down barriers between vulnerable communities and the broader Australian public.

In marketing terms, storytelling is content — the connective tissue between your marketing efforts, including SEO, social media and PR.

Stories can attract, inform and engage while also promoting your objectives. Good website content can be found in search engines, and generates natural inbound links. With access to real, absorbing, human stories, this approach to marketing can be truly cost-effective.

One of the best, and affordable, ways to share these stories is through digital marketing. Social media, blogs, EDMs — all these channels tap directly into an audience of dedicated and potential supporters. The power of building a strong community of supporters is that they will in turn share the stories that resonate with them, particularly when nudged along with an explicit call to action.

Good value

And if you do have a budget to spend on paid marketing channels, social media is where you can gain good value for money, if you do your homework and work to a strategy. Facebook, in particular, enables advertisers to accurately target their audience, and ads can be up and running for as little as $5 a day.

Social networks and platforms also offer powerful, free or inexpensive tools you can use to help plan and evaluate your progress; for instance, Google Adwords, and Facebook and Google analytics.

Facebook and Google even offer free courses to help you with marketing. Another tool, Hootsuite, has a guide for social-media return on investment.

Relatable human-interest stories lay the foundation for budget-conscious marketing, but there are other advantages NFPs can capitalise on.

Organisations of all sizes are partnering with bloggers and social-media figures to introduce their online followers to brands or products. These influencers spruik everything from diet shakes to Disney parks, using easy-to-spot “sponsored” posts and more covert “recommendations” that hide the plug behind a subtle endorsement.

Relationship building

The influencers can command huge fees for blogs, posts, infographics, videos, tweets and images that endorse products, brands and experiences. But the use of influencers is not restricted to marketing teams, whose budgets can accommodate a four- or five-figure payment for an Instagram post.

In the same way NFPs partner with celebrity ambassadors, they can also work with influencers with a social conscience aligned with their cause. Careful relationship building with key influencers can be initiated through approaches to collaborate on events or in content creation, but once established can pay more general dividends through, for example, social media.

Built on trust, these relationships can seed social recommendations, further involvement with events as MCs and performers, and more.

It is important that influencers be credible and respected, as well as friendly to your organisation’s vision or communities.

It is also in the interest of businesses to partner with NFPs if it can show they have a social conscience. According to Deloitte’s 2016 Millennial Survey, 73 per cent of millennials — a key category of consumers — believe business must have a positive social impact on society.

Identify the companies that care about the cause your NFP represents. Engaging personal stories also play a key role in demonstrating the value of a relationship to potential corporate partners.

Supercharged marketing

Many for-profit businesses also offer services to the NFP space pro bono or at a reduced rate. This can help supercharge marketing efforts.

Google, for example, offers free access to many of its products via its Google for Nonprofits arm. You can also apply for Google Ad Grants to raise awareness of your organisation using Google AdWords. The team at Google also offers training for its products.

In the end – or from the very beginning – what you need to motivate your audience is stories like Simon’s: content that is good quality and relevant.

But remember, if intending to connect with audiences that share your organisation’s values and with businesses that are ethical and have a strong social conscience, your storytelling must also aspire to those standards.

While there may be a “marketing’” benefit for an NFP and, ideally, better outcomes for people represented by the storyteller, it is important to share stories in a way that empowers the teller so they retain control of their own narrative.

It is also important to ensure the storyteller’s consent is informed by knowledge about where their story will be shared, any associated risks, and what you are hoping to accomplish. One of the biggest mistakes we can make is to reduce someone to victimhood and, in doing so, reduce their humanity.

Hannah Gartrell, communications assistant, Settlement Services International.

This article originally appeared in Third Sector’s print June magazine. 

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