Do you ever wonder why some nonprofits are wildly successful? I’m talking about those that seem to have that special sauce. They don’t just have supporters, they have raving fans. Everywhere you look you see people sharing their posts or starting fundraisers for them.

What is it that makes some nonprofits seem simply irresistible? And how can you harness that energy for your organization?

While there is more to it than we can explore in this article (or on the podcast), if you look closely, you’ll see there are a few key ingredients they seem to have in common. And these ingredients really have to do with how they tell their story.

Stories are a fundamental device that we humans use to communicate and process information. We think in metaphors and we learn through stories. Which means that every time you communicate to your audience – whether through your website, email, videos, social media, events – you are telling people a story about your nonprofit.

The question is: Is it a story that makes people want to
 engage and take action?

If you struggle to get people to engage with your nonprofit…

If you feel frustrated that more people don’t respond to your marketing…

If you want to cut through the noise, connect with more donors and raise more money…

Telling the right story about your nonprofit can make all the difference.

Here are three secret ingredients that can help make your nonprofit irresistible to donors. If each of these come through in your brand story, it can radically transform the effectiveness of your marketing.

Secret Ingredient #1:  TRANSFORMATION

At its core essence, nonprofit work is really about transformation. Your organization exists to bring about positive social change.

The challenge for us as marketers is to boil it down and communicate the before-and-after, the from-to, in its simplest, clearest form.

From people drinking dirty water…to people drinking clean water

From kids not getting an education…to kids going to school

From a rainforest that is under threat of deforestation…to a rainforest that is now protected

It’s easy to assume that people implicitly understand the change that happens through your work, but that’s simply not the case. If you don’t explicitly communicate both the before and the after, there’s a good chance people won’t quickly and easily see the value of your organization or understand why they should donate.

charity: water is a good example of an irresistible nonprofit. The transformation that happens through their work seems obvious. But rather than assume people know, they keep talking about it, clearly and explicitly. The tweet below is a great example.

When you clearly communicate the transformation that happens through your work, donors are much more likely to want to get involved and help make the change happen.

What is the before-and-after for your nonprofit? Does it shine through clearly in all your marketing?

Secret Ingredient #2:  EMOTION

You’ve probably heard the marketing adage that people make decisions based on emotion, not facts. It’s simply the way we’re wired.

“Scientists have uncovered that humans feel first and think second. When confronted with sensory information, the emotional section of the brain can process the information in one-fifth of the time the cognitive section requires.”
 – Jenblat, Omar. “Let’s Get Emotional: The Future Of Online Marketing.” Forbes Online, February 26, 2018. 

If you study successful nonprofit marketing (like we do at Leading Good), you’ll find that there are two aspects of emotion that make a dramatic impact. And it just so happens that these two aspects are directly tied to the idea of transformation.

The first way emotion plays into marketing is through empathy. Great nonprofit marketing creates empathy for the people you’re helping, and it does this by clearly explaining the problem you are solving.

Back to our example of the charity: water tweet above, it’s not just the fact that Sanjita didn’t have clean water that looked and tasted bad. It’s that the dirty water caused her children to get sick and led to disease in her village. This explanation creates empathy in me, the donor. I know how awful it is when my kids are sick and how I want to do anything I can to help them feel better.

Notice, however, that I said empathy, not sympathy. I’m not a fan of marketing that focuses too much on the problem, especially the sad, sappy late-night commercials. Clearly explaining the problem and its impact is enough to help donors feel empathy.

Empathy helps attach emotion to the “before” aspect the transformation. But don’t stop there. The other side of the emotional coin is joy and hope.

When you show donors joy and hope through words and images, you’re telling a story they want to be part of. The transformation becomes more than just factual, it oozes with positive emotion.

It’s no longer just “from dirty water…to clean water.” It’s now “from suffering and despair…to joy and hope.”

Emotion makes it a much more powerful story – a story that donors find irresistible.

What is the emotional transformation for your nonprofit? Do donors feel empathy, as well as joy and hope, through your marketing?


Secret Ingredient #3:  SIMPLICITY


Your potential donors are busy people. They’re distracted with thousands of marketing messages every day. So regardless of how important your cause is, unfortunately people are not going to spend much time or effort trying to understand it. That’s why having a simple, clear message is absolutely vital.

Nonprofits that are most effective at marketing follow the KISS principle: Keep It Simple, Stupid. This means…

Their website has plenty of white space with minimal text.

They use conversational language, simple words and short sentences.

They make it easy for people to understand and take action.

Most nonprofits confuse donors by not saying enough, trying to say too much or trying to sound too smart.

If you want people to fall in love with your nonprofit, keep it clear and simple.

Review your website, emails, and other marketing. Can you say what you want to say more clearly, more simply, and with fewer words?

At Leading Good, we help nonprofits clarify their message and maximize their marketing, so they can raise the money their cause deserves. If you’d like to talk about how we can help you, you can schedule a call with me here.

Recent Posts

What is your nonprofit’s true potential?

What is your nonprofit’s true potential?

Your cause is important. Your work is transforming lives and communities. You should be attracting more attention, bringing in more supporters, and raising more money. So, why aren’t you?  If you feel frustrated because your nonprofit is not reaching its potential,...

Year-end Fundraising: Get Your Story Straight

Year-end Fundraising: Get Your Story Straight

The leaves are turning and the days are growing shorter. You know what that means, don't you? It means year-end fundraising is right around the corner! And for most nonprofits, it's the most important season of the year. What is the most vital thing you can do to...