5 Tips to Effective Online Marketing for Nonprofits (Guest Post by Christopher Zoukis)

Ed Note: Chris Zoukis is a friend, client, and fascinating individual that – after overcoming many obstacles – now runs a non-profit company dedicated to promoting prison education. You can find him published on dozens of websites, or view information on his causes at www.prisoneducation.com, www.prisonlawblog.com, or www.christopherzoukis.com. I asked him if he would like to submit a guest post about non-profit marketing and he graciously obliged. Thanks again Chris for your contribution and the work that you do.

5 Tips to Effective Online Marketing for Nonprofits

By Christopher Zoukis

For the small or micro nonprofit, marketing is a challenge. There are no multi-million dollar budgets, advertising agencies, or high-priced consultants who have teams of professionals working for them. Instead, there is one person –perhaps two or three — who are in charge of all marketing initiatives, creative and maintenance components included. With such restricted resources of time and money, nonprofits have to be smart in the projects they engage in and what they opt to devote their resources to. Nonprofits have to engage in a system of trial and error, albeit one which could result in their sustenance or downfall. Much depends on making the right decision the first time around.

In an effort to help nonprofits better understand how to engage in cost-effective online marketing, the following five tips — tested in fire — are presented for consideration:

Tip 1: Do Away With Faith-Based Marketing

Faith-based marketing is any form of marketing in which the nonprofit pays for marketing services, but doesn’t bother to track if it is effective or not. In the online marketing arena, this often consists of copywriting, search engine optimization services, and advertising. With all three of these areas of online marketing, the nonprofit should find ways to track return on investment. For copywriting and advertising, this could consist of tracking sales or traffic from pages that the copywriter has created and for advertising the same, just from a particular advertisement.

Faith-based marketing is an even larger issue when retaining the services of a search engine optimization firm. More and more nonprofits and small businesses are retaining the services of SEO firms. To them, they think that it is just something that needs to be done in order to be found online. While this is a correct belief, many nonprofits forget to track how cost-effective the SEO firm is being. A very basic metric to review would be the nonprofit’s search engine rank on Google and Yahoo. A more advanced metric would be to review Alexia.com reports, which can show how many inbound links are being indexed and credited to the particular website as a result of the SEO firm’s work.

Tip 2: Automate Social Media, Don’t Fully Manage It

While much of the literature and publicity on online marketing in this day and age concerns social media, few bother to actually analyze the return on investment of the time and money spent in the online social realm. While yes, there are good aspects to social media (e.g., customer service, product and movement promotion, etc.), there are also negative aspects — primarily in the time and resources department. To state it bluntly, fully-managed social media often doesn’t pay dividends for the small or micro nonprofit. There just isn’t enough return on investment to warrant the expense.

What does work for the small or micro nonprofit is social media automation. A fully-functional website is essential for any nonprofit, particularly those who can’t afford brick and mortar locations or massive direct marketing campaigns. Often, this website will include a blog, photo gallery, and other updateable components. It’s these updatable components which can provide true value external of the primary website.

Luckily for nonprofits, most website hosting platforms (e.g., SquareSpace, WordPress, Joomla, etc.) have self-contained social media automation tools. This often consists of automatic Twitter tweets and Facebook shares whenever content is updated, and the like. Nonprofits, especially smaller nonprofits, should take a hard look at utilizing such automation technologies. By doing so, costs will be significantly cut and they will only have to casually monitor the social media platforms and respond to direct messages. This provides the best of both worlds: product and message promotion and a channel for customers and members to funnel inquiries.

Tip 3: Invest in Product, Not Marketing Support

A hard-earned lesson that many in the small business and micro nonprofit sectors must learn is that it is much more valuable in the long-term to devote resources to product or message as opposed to marketing. A Facebook or Google Adwords advertisement is only worth a click, and when the advertisement’s budget has been depleted, the return on investment ceases to continue. But an investment in product will continue to pay dividends for as long as it is in existence. In the realm of online commerce and nonprofit outreach, content is the product, currency, and engine of potential future return on investment: online traffic from search engines.

The one area where no nonprofit should ignore is their website’s content development. Search engines continue to be nonprofit’s — and all website’s — most significant source of new traffic. Search engines are based on content review, categorization, and record retrieval. If there is one area where nonprofits should spend their marketing dollars, it is on copywriting for their website. This copywriting investment results in thousands — possibly many thousands — of words that search engines love. And once the search engines have indexed each new page of content, the new page becomes a landing page — yet another digital sales page that can turn thinkers into believers for nonprofits’ causes.

Tip 4: Make Friends, Network Effectively

Much like in business, successful online marketing can be a lot about who you know and the favors you can call in when the time is right. Just because a nonprofit supports a worthwhile cause doesn’t make them an asset to others who are in a position to help the nonprofit grow and succeed. So, the managers of the nonprofit have to identify their value to others, sometimes creating this value in the process. In the online marketplace, this currency of choice — even more so than dollars and cents — is content.

Guest blogging can be a great way to extend a nonprofit’s reach at very little incurred cost. All the nonprofit has to do is write an article or blog post, locate a likeminded website, and submit the piece of writing. Of course, it’s a good idea to research the blog in question first to ensure that it is a good fit, but it really is this simple. And at the very end of the post, the nonprofit should include a link back to their website (often in an About the Author box), which then helps in their search engine optimization efforts.

As the nonprofit succeeds in making more and more guest posts — and, in the case of news websites, article submissions — they will gain more and more favor with the managers of such websites, who will then become more and more willing to help the nonprofit in their branding and outreach efforts. For example, outlets such as <AND Magazine> and <Blog Critics> are known to offer contributing writers free advertising space. The same space could be offered to the nonprofit, not to mention publicity assistance by providing not only a very visible platform for the nonprofit to speak from, but also coverage from time to time when called on to do so.

Tip 5: Find What Works and Discard the Rest

The life of the nonprofit operator is much like that of an entrepreneur. It is a tale of trial and error, testing and replacement, and constant learning, experimentation, and project evaluation. There is no one sure fit or roadmap to success in business or in online nonprofit marketing. Each organization and company will find a different path forward that not only works for them, but is sustainable. But the key principle remains the same: trial and error, followed by an analysis of the effectiveness of any and every test project.
While the going is neither easy or simple, persistence does pay off. And by adhering to the aforementioned tips, much headache, money, and sanity can be saved in the process.

About the Author:

Christopher Zoukis is the author of Education Behind Bars (Sunbury Press, 2012), the Directory of Federal Prisons (Middle Street Publishing, 2014), and the forthcoming Hamish (Zharmae, 2014), College for Convicts (McFarland and Company, 2015), and Blood Sex Murder: The Untold Story of the East Coast Bloods (Headpress, 2015). As a prisoners’ rights advocate, he regularly engages in online marketing for http://prisoneducation.com and http://prisonlawblog.com.


  • Micah Abraham

    Micah Abraham is the owner and lead content writer at Great Leap Studios (https://GreatLeapStudios.com) and High Volt Digital (https://HighVoltDigital.com).
    Micah has over 15 years of content writing and digital marketing experience, and has owned and operated Great Leap Studios since 2013 and High Volt since 2022.
    He has a degree in Psychology from the University of Washington, and has researched and written content on a wide range of topics in the medical and health fields, home services, tech, and beyond.
    Micah lives with his family in California.

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