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Lessons from Brandathon: Tips for Non-Profit Marketing Success


As of 8 am on the last Friday in March, MADE officially wrapped up its 13th Annual Brandathon. That's 13 years, more than 1,500 working hours, nearly 100 nonprofits, and over $600,000 worth of design, strategy, and marketing projects. With this time and experience, we've learned some important takeaways that non-profits can implement in their marketing strategies and design to help them share their important messaging and the work they do for their communities and beyond. 

Celebrate the Milestones

Non-profit marketers are often unsung heroes. With limited budgets and rarely a fully-staffed team, you are expected to produce marketing miracles everyday. Getting donors, keeping donors, promoting events, recruiting volunteers, sharing the mission–the list of what needs to be communicated is long. And it all needs to be done within an increasingly competitive non-profit landscape. The daily grind of marketing responsibilities can distract you from the big picture, and the big picture is probably why you decided to work for the non-profit in the first place. But don't forget to celebrate the milestones! Make sure you take the time to commemorate the anniversaries, the number of followers you gain on social media, the fundraising goals that your team crushed. Take a step back to reflect on all the needs being met by the mission of your non-profit and be proud that you play a part in making it all happen.

Brand with Purpose

When it comes to non-profit branding, being crystal clear is key. Know who you are, what you stand for and who you're talking to. This forms the backbone of your brand identity, guiding all your marketing efforts. Keep it simple, though. Say what you mean, mean what you say and say it in a way that resonates with like-minded supporters. And don't forget about design consistency—it's like your brand's signature, making sure people recognize you wherever they see you. Whether it's an eye-catching logo or a clever tagline, simplicity packs a punch, cuts through the noise and makes sure your message sticks.

Clear as Crystal

Clarity is your best friend. Don't try to juggle too many balls at once or cram every detail into your message (or logo for that matter). Keep it simple, and concise—know your endgame. Whether it's raising funds, increasing awareness, or rallying volunteers, keep your focus. When people understand your mission loud and clear, they'll know exactly how they can hop on board and make a difference in the most impactful way possible.

Strategize Your Stories

Inside your organization, you see the impact of the work you and your team are doing on a daily basis. You can talk about the purpose and strategies behind your programs and services in your sleep. The value of your non-profit's mission seems obvious—or is it?

Even though it may seem like you are sharing your nonprofit's stories all of the time, consider who your target audiences are and craft a playbook of a few short, impactful stories that will resonate with those people. Some audiences will need more statistics while others will be influenced by personal anecdotes. New donors may have misconceptions about your cause that will need to be debunked, whereas current donors may already understand the challenges and want deeper information. By having some carefully curated stories ready for various groups, you'll be ready to share your organization's impact effectively. 

Quality Over Quantity

Non-profits are full of passionate, dedicated people who are eager to help the world be a better place. They see a need or opportunity and fill that gap for members of their community to have access to resources, healthcare, food, essentials, books, art, programs, education, and so much more. Some have a whole team, while some are just a one-person show. But no matter how big or small, it always seems like there aren't enough hours in the day to get everything done. 

It's important to be realistic about what you and your team can accomplish. Consider how many hours you have to dedicate to your marketing efforts and what your goals are. Then, make a realistic plan. Maybe you only can send out one email a month or publish two social posts a week. That's okay. Spend a little extra time making sure that these posts are well-crafted, on-brand, and accomplish a need for your audience to ensure you're getting engagement and growth.