My Nonprofit Isn't Sexy

One of the first episodes I recorded for the Nonprofit Jenni Show podcast talked about marketing strategies for “non-sexy” nonprofits…in other words, those nonprofit organizations which don’t work in a cause area which regularly receives media attention. I spoke with several nonprofit professionals who told me about how they address this issue in their organizations’ marketing messages.

Please note: I highly encourage you to listen to the My Nonprofit Isn't Sexy podcast episode before reading this blog post! My blog lists some great “action items” for you to take after you listen to the podcast, plus additional resources you can check out if you have further questions. However, my podcast guests give so much additional rich information which isn’t included in the article you’re about the read.

My first guest on this episode was Kristen Korzenowski, who has worked with various “non-sexy” nonprofits, including the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, and FiftyForward (a senior-serving agency). She gave me some great advice about how to keep your nonprofit in the public eye, even without that built-in widespread appeal.

  • Kristen’s biggest advice is to use your organization’s connections. Who do your board members know who could help you generate some attention? Do your volunteers have any clout in the community? Throughout this podcast episode, Kristen gave several examples of connections her organizations were able to take advantage of to host fundraiser events, give speeches to the community about a cause, and spread awareness through social media.

  • Kristen also explained that it’s important to consider your organization’s audience. In one of her fundraisers, she needed to attract college students and millennials, so she hosted a low-cost, casual-dress event that included lots of cheap beer, food trucks, and a trendy ice cream brand.

  • Another big piece of advice Kristen gives is to use trial and error, because you never know what simple trend will generate huge public interest. For example, no one knew initially how big the Ice Bucket Challenge or #MeToo campaign would become.

  • Kristen also recommends having a few short sentences ready to go in an elevator pitch in case you come across an unexpected opportunity.

I also had the privilege of speaking with Jennifer Abernathy and Mandy Hansen of the Tennessee Respite Coalition, whose mission is to “enhance the quality of life for family caregivers through respite.” Most people who hear about the TRC for the first time have no idea what respite is, or sometimes even what a family caregiver is. Jennifer and Mandy told me about how they make their mission relatable to the average Joe.

  • They equate the TRC’s mission with something easy to understand--time. Everyone understands that time is a limited and valuable resource...especially if you’re responsible for taking care of a family member who needs your full-time attention. Jennifer and Mandy shape the TRC’s marketing message to explain that their organization exists to help full-time family caregivers add some extra time into their day so they can go run errands, or just enjoy some needed rest and relaxation.

  • Jennifer and Mandy agree with Kristen--you need to get creative and change it up! They are always thinking of new and creative ways to engage potential donors and volunteers. For example, in keeping with their metaphor of creating time, they have encouraged fundraiser event attendees to help them fill an hourglass with donations. They also have new phone chargers that are marked with the words, “Recharge with Respite.”

My last guest this episode was Maegan Phan from the Tennessee Foreign Language Institute. Maegan’s big piece of advice for nonprofits is to “find your people.” In other words, find the people who already care about your cause area and will want to join your fan base right away! Here are some other things we talked about:

  • Maegan says it’s very important to stay in touch with your evangelists. Your loudest supporters need to feel appreciated and engaged on a regular basis!

  • If you’re having trouble figuring out who your evangelists are and where to find more of them, she suggests surveying your current donors, volunteers, and clients. Ask them why they love you, and how they found out about you. Use that information to find more of “your people,” and to figure out how to attract your people to your cause.

  • Maegan also takes time to educate TFLI’s potential clients about what they should look for. People who use interpretation services or take language classes probably don’t do so very often, so they may not even know what criteria their new provider should meet.

  • Maegan is also a big fan of collaboration with other organizations who may be able to connect you to more of your people. For example, TFLI often partners with the Frist Center for the Visual Arts to provide language students with free passes to art exhibits that complement the language lessons they’re taking.

Don't forget to subscribe to the Nonprofit Jenni Show on your favorite podcast platform for more advice on marketing, development, and management in your nonprofit.