Promoting your nonprofit’s events: a beginner’s crash course

When it comes to planning an event, it might seem like your team has a near-endless to-do list. Knowing what to prioritize and how to allocate your resources are fundamentals for nonprofit event marketing. After all, nonprofits work on limited budgets, leading them to weigh resources spent on marketing against their potential pay-off in funds raised.

How to promote nonprofit events.

Of course, a successful nonprofit advertising campaign isn’t created just by staring at a balance sheet. Rather, it’s about knowing your audience, coordinating your team effectively, and keeping your strategy agile to take advantage of opportunities and avoid roadblocks.

If your nonprofit is new to event marketing, this guide is for you. We’ll break down the essentials of promoting an event and suggest marketing strategies that stretch your nonprofit’s budget further.

Understand your audience.

Who do you want to attend your nonprofit’s event? Your first answer may be “as many people as possible” or “everyone is welcome.” While these sentiments may be true, promotional materials meant to appeal to everyone often appeal to no one.

Analyze your donor and past event data to assess who your average event attendee is. Of course, not every event will cater to the exact same group of supporters. For instance, a family-focused event with activities for kids won’t have the same crowd as a formal gala hosted to cultivate major donors.

As such, consider your event type and your potential audience together. Then, take the following characteristics of your average attendee into account:

  • Demographic data. Location, average salary, education level, age, and other factors may play a role in your event planning. For instance, if you’re planning to host an event during typical workday hours, you may focus on retirees as your core audience rather than working professionals.
  • Goals. What will guests get out of attending your events? What expectations do your supporters likely have? Are you fundraising for your nonprofit, or is this a concert to raise awareness? Answering these questions requires having a deep understanding of your audience as well as a bit of creative thinking to put yourself in their shoes.
  • Obstacles. Your guests are like any other event stakeholders—such as volunteers and sponsors—in that there are benefits to attending but also detractors that may turn them away. Consider what may prevent a potential guest from attending and how your marketing can resolve these roadblocks. For example, is it clear how to register for your event? Are parking or public transport directions to your event site readily available? Are you planning to offer virtual attendance?

Understanding your audience not only helps you market to them but is also essential for marketing to sponsors. Consider how your audience overlaps with potential sponsors when making your pitch to corporate partners as businesses want to work with nonprofits whose supporters they can market to. For example, an animal shelter may seek out pet-related businesses like pet supplies stores and dog groomers for sponsorships.

Choose your platforms.

When it comes to promoting any activity at your nonprofit, you need to consider two forms of marketing: direct marketing and advertising. Here’s a brief breakdown of these terms:

  • Direct marketing is communication with individual supporters, such as via email or traditional mail. In the case of an emailed event invitation, you are marketing directly to the supporter who receives it. In general, you will use direct marketing to connect with the supporters already in your database.
  • Advertising consists of promotional messages for a general audience. Advertising takes the form of social media posts, flyers, billboards, and any other marketing materials placed out in the open for anyone to engage with. Advertising can help you build brand recognition with current supporters, but it’s also your main tool for connecting with new audiences.

With this distinction in mind, consider your strategy for connecting with existing supporters via direct marketing and new audiences via advertising.

One especially effective advertising channel is search ads. Different social media platforms cater to different demographics, but search engines like Google are nearly universal with the average person making three to four Google searches per day.

Another benefit to Google is that certain nonprofits may be able to create search ads for free via the Google Ad Grant. The Google Ad Grant is available in over 65 countries to registered nonprofits, and grant recipients receive $10,000 in monthly ad credits to create and launch search ads.

Here’s what one of these ads looks like and one of its biggest benefits for events promotion: location data.

A screenshot of a Google search results page for the keyword “animal shelter volunteering.” The results reference animal shelters in Atlanta, which is the searcher’s location.

As the image shows, the user entered a query unrelated to their place of residence. However, Google automatically paired their location and the location data of a relevant nonprofit to connect the user with a local organization.

If you plan to host an in-person event, Google is an exceptionally useful marketing tool for getting the word out to interested supporters in your local area. Be sure to add your location data to your nonprofit’s Google profile even if you choose not to launch search ads. By doing so, your nonprofit can still appear in organic (unpaid) search results for locals.

Create marketing materials.

When you know your event’s audience and your intended marketing channels, you can begin creating your marketing materials. Create the contents and designs of these materials with your audience’s interests and marketing channels in mind.

Whether you’re creating a video, flyer, Google ad, or text message, all materials should:

  • Be branded to your organization. All of your nonprofit’s communications, especially external outreach, should have consistent branding. Using the same logo and color scheme across multiple platforms helps establish brand identity. Supporters familiar with your nonprofit will stop and take notice when they see your messages out in the world, and audiences new to your organization will slowly start to recognize your brand with each message they see.
  • Align with your marketing channels. The platforms you use dictate the medium and content of your message. On a platform like Instagram, you’ll primarily rely on images to promote your event with short descriptions and appropriate hashtags. In contrast, email gives you a bit more space for text to describe your event but should still be kept relatively short.
  • Grab supporters’ attention. Your audience receives a lot of marketing messages each day. This means standing out is essential, especially when it comes to digital marketing where potential guests might scroll through several emails or social media ads at a time. Depending on your platform, a few ways to grab guests’ attention include using engaging subject lines for email (such as by asking questions or sharing an interesting fact), eye-catching images on social media, and high-quality materials for mailed event invitations.

Of course, you also need to consider your event type and how that might impact your design. For instance, if you’re promoting an energized advocacy event, your event materials will look different than the ones you might create for a family-friendly picnic.

Events require extensive planning, from booking venues and researching event technology to managing volunteers and setting up activities. Make sure your efforts pay off by putting just as much effort into your marketing. Use your knowledge of your audience to guide you in marketing on the right channels with the right message.