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Smaller Non-Profits Have Marketing Advantages Too

For more than 20 years, I’ve heard non-profits say, “Why can’t we do what (fill in the blank) does?” Inevitably, the comparison is between a large-scale nationally recognized non-profit and their own small but successful organization.

So, I remind them that these large organizations have built and earned brand equity over a long period of time. Think about this. When a natural disaster hits, where would you go to donate? I have no doubt that your list and mine would be very similar.
I get it. Smaller non-profits have limited budgets and therefore tend to be more risk averse. One really bad test could blow their entire budget for the year. But being lesser known has some advantages too. Smaller organizations tend to be less bureaucratic and more nimble redefining their mission, goals and tactics. They can also try new things with little blowback from the public. I was only 14 at the time but still remember the branding fiasco caused with the release of New Coke.


Bottom line, you can’t count on a speech or interview like a presidential candidate to drive traffic to your website or dramatically build your list of supporters overnight.

However, there are a number of tremendous tools and programs to expand your reach:

  • Google Grants (free pay per click advertising with only a few restrictions);
  • Peer to peer platforms; and of course
  • Social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.)

Think about ALS and the Ice Bucket Challenge for a minute. That phenomenon was started outside the organization but brought tremendous exposure and revenue to their cause. Could another non-profit have something go viral like that? Sure. Should they sit around waiting for it to happen? Of course not.

Start laying the groundwork now!

  1. Put your toe in the water with as many different things as you can administratively handle while limiting risk and exposure. Start by utilizing tools to increase traffic and visibility.
  2. Make sure potential supporters see consistent vision and branding across all channels. Potential supporters are more inquisitive and skeptical than ever. They rely on tools like Guidestar and Charity Navigator to help determine which groups will make good stewards.
  3. Ask similar-sized organizations with completely different missions what they are doing. You’re more likely to get straight answers with real data. What’s working? What’s not? Are they doing it in-house or working with a specialist?

Finally, take advantage of the strengths and advantages you have. Before you know it, those days could be gone.

Brian Brilliant is Principal of Brilliant Communications, an award-winning, direct response agency. He can be reached at (703) 544-5633 or

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