The Ultimate Nonprofit Event Marketing Guide
You’ve picked a day and started to think of the programming for your event. Your team is excited, your budget is built out, and you have already set aside extra funds for the caffeine runs you’ll need.
Now how do you get people to come?
Many nonprofit event planners run into this challenge, especially since many wear multiple hats at their organization! Here’s an easy guide to market your nonprofit event effectively and generate the interest and attendance to make a difference.
While some of you may worry that printed materials for your event are no longer effective, this is still a useful tool. In fact, even digital natives (think millennials) prefer things in print! So how do you make sure that you get the biggest impact from your printed event marketing?
Creating a brand for your event
It’s important to think through the brand of your event. Is it a formal occasion, or a casual get-together? Is it in memory or in celebration? Is it large or intimate?
All these considerations should impact your branding choices. Your print materials should reflect your event—for example, a formal gala should have a sophisticated invitation, not something created in Microsoft Publisher with clip art.
Make sure that your event brand aligns with your organization’s brand, too. Think through colors that complement, not clash, and check that it looks like something your supporters would recognize.
Strategic design and timing
When designing your print materials, there are a few other considerations. Your audience needs to have information about the event and how to take the next step towards registering or attending. Keep materials clear and simple, and use white space to draw attention to the most important information. Your call-to-action should be obvious and prominent, and the event date and location should be easy to find with just a quick glance.
You’ll also want to think of a brief phrase that encompasses the event and explains what it is and why it matters. Be careful not to get too wordy—as the old quote by Blaise Pascal goes, “I'm sorry I wrote you such a long letter; I didn't have time to write a short one.” Don’t pull a Pascal.
Additionally, plan out the timing of your print materials, especially when you mail them. Too far in advance feels irrelevant to most people; too late risks losing guests to other plans. A good rule of thumb for larger and more formal events is 3-4 months beforehand, while less formal events can be publicized a month or two before.
Use free (or cheap) resources
When you’re working with a tight budget, designing attractive print materials can be intimidating. Don’t worry—there are ways to do this cheaply and effectively. Consider using a free or inexpensive design tool like Canva. These tools provide helpful templates to get your creative juices flowing, and Canva even allows you to send materials to be printed and shipped to you directly through the online interface. If you don’t have photos from previous events, try searching for something relevant through a few photo site like Unsplash.
If you get stuck, another inexpensive solution for getting print materials designed is to reach out to a board member or volunteer who works in or with the marketing sector. They may be able to help design something themselves or can direct you to someone who can. Many people are willing to do a small project for free if you ask, but be prepared to offer some kind of compensation.
The way you use print materials will make all the difference in how effective they prove. Consider bringing posters to local businesses, especially ones that are popular meeting places. When sending out mailings, segment your audience by past interest and giving level to narrow your list. Finally, give print materials to supporters and ask them to share with their network—you’ll be surprised by home many of them are glad to have the chance to help out in another way.
Emails are an even more cost-effective way to get the word out about your event. You can easily set up an account on MailChimp, Campaign Monitor, or Constant Contact to send mass emails to your subscribers.
It’s important that you don’t just blanket every email address you can find with a generic event promotional email. Segment your list here, too. Try dividing by gift level and frequency, and use an A/B test to see what subject line gets the most people to open your email.
And don’t send too many emails! Take people off the list who sign up, and limit the number of emails for the event overall. For larger events, think 4-5 at most. For a smaller event, don’t send more than 3.
Think of excuses
When sending emails, think of an excuse to send it. If your registration deadline is coming up, add a sense of urgency to your email with subject lines like “Time is running out.” Provoking a sense of urgency (when you have a reason to) has been shown to increase open rates.
However, be careful not to spend paragraphs at the beginning of the email explaining why you sent it. Get to the point quickly—most people skim emails or read them on the go, so direct communication is key.
Play the long game
No one signed up after your first email? Don’t panic. Reassess what you tried so far. How far out is your event? Should you test a different subject line? What time of day did you send your email?
If your first send was a flop, don’t be afraid to try again.
For nonprofits, advertising can feel outside the normal scope of your work. However, an effective campaign can bring in new guests that you wouldn’t have been able to reach otherwise.
There are places you can advertise for free! These are no broadness for your event. Check out your local tourism or Chamber of Commerce website. Another helpful step is to simply google “events in (your city).” Many of these websites that aggregate events will allow nonprofits to post for free. For example, you can post your event on our very own Events.org without cost! If you want to sell tickets through our site, you’ll just have to pay some processing fees.
In addition, think about reaching out to a business that supports you to see if they would donate some billboard space they were already budgeting for. It can be a great win-win if you can give them credit for the help.
Now comes the part you’ve been dreading—paid advertisements. For many of us, paid advertising feels foreign, and measuring the return on your investment can seem difficult. It’s important to ensure your paid advertising is targeted and strategic to make the best use of your budget. There are a few routes in particular that can be effective:
There’s a lot of details to understand for Google Ads, but here’s the gist—if you have an event that has a specific audience or target that’s relatively niche, you can reach supporters by targeting relevant keywords. Google has various materials to help you learn the basics. The plus side? You only pay when someone clicks on your ad.
Social Media Ads
Another way to get the word out is through Facebook and Instagram advertisements. You can try boosting posts from your nonprofit to test out advertising, and Facebook will typically give you a credit to try it your first time. Again, make sure to target specific audiences and interest that are relevant to your cause and your event.
Perhaps the most under-used method of advertising is endorsements. This can easily turn into spam, but if you have a supporter with name recognition in your area, ask them to promote the event and share about it with people they know. Featuring a well-known individual at the event can also draw attention to your event and spread the word even further.
Word of Mouth
The best way to market your event? Word of mouth! Tell people about it, and get your supporters to help.
One way nonprofits leverage this is by having people fill tables with guests at the event. In other instances, you can have your team reach out to specific supporters and ask for their help finding more sponsors or guests—many businesses use fundraisers as an opportunity to give their employees or clients a nice perk. For more casual events, try offering financial discounts if people convince others to sign up for the event.
It’s all the rage these days—asking friends and family to support the cause you care about. If your event allows people to attend in groups or teams, consider launching a peer-to-peer element of it. It will allow your supporters to share with the people they know and expand your reach exponentially.
You can do this!
Marketing your nonprofit event can seem overwhelming. With these tips, you’re well on your way. Just remember:
- Brand your event
- Target a specific group
- Get other people to spread the word for you
Best of luck!