13 creative marketing ideas for nonprofits

13 creative marketing ideas for nonprofits_featured image

Nonprofits may be grappling with tough subject matter and loads of financial data, but that doesn’t mean they can’t have a little fun with their marketing.

We’re past the days of cold phone calls and mailers. The Internet and social media have emerged as the great equalizers of marketing—putting celebrities, big brands, startups, and customers all on the same playing field. And nonprofits have every right to get in the game, too.

So if you’re pulling your hair out, trying to think of ways to make your nonprofit “cool” and click-worthy, stop right there!

Here are 13 creative marketing ideas to help nonprofits reach new audiences.

01. Publish stories on Wattpad

Wattpad is a storytelling platform that allows anyone to publish content for a community of 65 million readers. It’s a book publishing app for the socially engaged millennial reader, and it’s a largely valuable and untapped resource for nonprofits.

Brands like Coca-Cola, AT&T, Disney, and Netflix have already used Wattpad to create series of stories, run contests, share reading lists, and target audiences. And within the past few years, nonprofits have started to jump on board.

Coca-Cola Wattpad stories

For example, Doctors Without Borders generated over 54,000 followers by sharing stories from the field. And Kiva shares stories about entrepreneurs across the world who have big dreams that donors can help support.

Kiva Wattpad stories

Create your own Wattpad book covers in Canva with templates like Nature Guide Wattpad Book Cover and Monochrome Thriller Wattpad Cover.

02. Deliver printable calendars

That’s right. Calendars aren’t just for shirtless firefighters and celebrity dogs. They’re also a fun tool that nonprofits can use to stay top-of-mind among their donors.

For example, the Movember Foundation hijacks the month of November every year to spread awareness about men’s health issues by inviting men to grow out their beards. The first year in 2003, 30 people were on board. Now, Movember has over 5.5 million participants across 20 countries, generating over $700 million to fund 1,200 men’s health projects.

How did they do it? By helping people spread the word with downloadable resources like—you guessed it—calendars!

Movember free calendar

Create your own calendars in Canva with templates like Black Simple Flowers Bordered General Calendar and Colorful Hand Drawn Floral Pattern General Calendar.

03. Get the Facebook “Donate Now” button

This one may seem simple, but it’s easy to overlook and it can go a long way in driving conversions. After all, sometimes people just need a good, strong call-to-action to inspire them.

That’s where Facebook can help. The social network is rolling out “Donate Now” buttons to nonprofit Pages, like this one from Habitat for Humanity:

Habitat for Humanity

To add a “Donate” button to your nonprofit’s Page, go to your cover photo and click “+Add a Button,” choose your call-to-action, and enter the URL for your website. Click “Create” and you’re done! This helps bridge the gap between the social space and your own website, driving Facebook fans and followers to learn more about your organization and lend a helping hand.

04. Send out report cards

Since you operate at the mercy of your donors, you need to update them about your financials and progress. Enter: data reports. Sure, they’re not the most exciting pieces of content, but they can still be engaging! We’ve already exposed how four successful nonprofits design and publish their reports, but now we’re here to provide another option: report cards.

Hey, there have been crazier ideas. Why not condense the most important facts from your data reports into a colorful, shareable, and easy-to-digest graphic? It’s a great way to distribute all of that must-know data while also promoting your quarterly or annual report.

Want to try it for yourself? Create your own report cards in Canva with templates like Red White High School Report Card and Navy Blue College Report Card.

05. Launch user-generated content campaigns

User-generated content (UGC) ticks a lot of boxes for marketers: It empowers other people to produce content on behalf of your brand, saving you time and money; it lets you showcase the work of your supporters and build affinity; and it helps you navigate around algorithms that prioritize posts from friends and family. In fact, 92% of consumers say they trust recommendations from friends and family over any type of advertising.

These are just a few reasons why UGC is a valuable strategy for nonprofits. Just look at The It Gets Better Project, a nonprofit that empowers and connects LGBTQ+ youth across the globe. Started in 2010, the initiative has inspired over 60,000 people to share their “It Gets Better” story and over 625,000 people to help their support.

People continue to tell their stories today. They can do so easily by visiting the organization’s website and reviewing their video guidelines.

06. Create illustrated Instagram Stories

Instagram may have copied Snapchat by launching its own Stories feature, but Instagram Stories has now grown to 400 million daily users—more than 2x the users of Snapchat’s entire app.

Nonprofits are already using Instagram Stories to create unique images and videos that disappear after 24 hours. CARE France used Instagram Stories to offer a glimpse inside the lives of women across the world. And UNICEF created documentary-style Stories about the challenges of delivering aid to refugees.

Still, others are going beyond filming and screenshotting to design their own illustrations and add a personal, colorful touch to their Instagram Stories. That’s what DoSomething.org did for its Thumb Wars campaign, which aims to stop texting and driving:

Thumb Wars Instagram story 2

Thumb Wars Instagram story 1

Thumb Wars Instagram story 3

Create your own Instagram Stories in Canva with templates like Greyscale Suit Photo Sale Men's Fashion Instagram Your Story and Blue Abstract Shapes Quote Story.

07. Stream live on Facebook

Since Facebook launched its livestreaming feature in 2016, the social network revealed that its Live videos drive 6x the interactions of its regular videos. Brands and publishers have used Facebook Live to go behind the scenes at events, stream product launches, and conduct Q&As. And nonprofits are no stranger to the platform either, having successfully used it to raise funds and generate support.

For example, the New York Public Library broadcasted a special storytime in front of City Hall to promote its early literacy program. And the Best Friends Animal Society generated 32,000 views by livestreaming a new batch of puppies up for adoption.

Facebook even has helpful pages of best practices for nonprofits looking to use Facebook Live. The page recommends showing behind-the-scenes footage of your programs to share real-time impact and partnering with celebrities in your community to go live on your behalf. You can also add a “Donate” button and attach a current fundraiser to your Live video so viewers can contribute money right from their Facebook page.

08. Host Twitter chats

Twitter is another resource that’s perfect for creating real-time conversation and interactive events, such as Q&As and information sessions.

Goldhirsh Foundation, for example, hosts “Twitter parties” to spark live discussions around its goal of making Los Angeles a better place to live. The nonprofit recently partnered with another nonprofit, Heal the Bay, to host a #KnowTheFlow Twitter party about LA’s water resources.

LA2050 Twitter party invite

Create your own Twitter party invitations in Canva with templates like Gold Photo Exhibit Invitation and Green Beach Photo Invitation.

“Together, we created set of questions that we shared on Twitter,” said Megan Park, Social Innovation and Design Coordinator for the Goldhirsh Foundation. “We ask a question, and people can respond. We ask another question, people respond, we retweet, we reply.”

#KnowTheFlow is just one of over 20 Twitter parties that Goldhirsh Foundation has hosted since 2013. This strategy has helped them gain social media followers, engage communities around hot-button issues, gather feedback, and get their message out there.

09. Insert pop-up website forms

“Pop-ups” used to be a dirty term on the Internet, associated with computer viruses and unwanted ads. Today, however, they’re a crucial tool for generating email signups and donations. These pop-ups—also known as shadowboxes or lightboxes—are often simple forms with clear calls to action that surface on a website’s homepage or blog.

Social Media Examiner increased its daily signups by 66% with this strategy and one study found that these pop-ups drive 1,375% more email signups than forms in the sidebar.

Check out how the International Rescue Committee uses pop-ups on its blog to garner donations.

IRC cta

10. Cook up recipe cards

Tired of infographics and annual reports? Try using recipe cards to share data and information in a fun and engaging way. You don’t even have to be a food-based nonprofit to use them. Just start firing that imagination and think of ways to fill out these graphics, like sharing the “recipe for a perfect volunteer,” “recipe for our next clean water initiative,” or “recipe for a year of giving.”

These designs are especially beneficial for nonprofits that want to reach audiences on Pinterest, where baking enthusiasts gather and recipes pepper boards across the site.

Create your own recipe cards in Canva with templates like Red Chicken Tikka Masala Recipe Pinterest Graphic and Brown Chocolate Flan Recipe Pinterest Graphic.

11. Repackage blog posts as ebooks

If you’re marketing a nonprofit, chances are you have a lot of information to share about your mission, and you’re already running a blog. In that case, ebooks could be a natural next step for your marketing strategy. They may seem overwhelming because they’re lengthier than a regular article, but the good news is that you don’t have to start from scratch.

You can simply compile several related blog posts, add an introduction, conclusion, and table of contents, and package it into a downloadable asset on your site. This can help you build your email list and spread important information about your cause.

Create your own ebooks in Canva with templates like Ocean End of World Thriller EBook Cover and Yellow Photo Cookbook Book Cover.

12. Design premade lesson plans

WaterAid creates content to reach influencers inside the classroom and on social media. The People Pipeline, for example, is a program that provides teachers across the US with posters, stickers, lesson plans, and activities to educate students about the water crisis and raise funds to help children in need. It was launched in August 2017 and quickly integrated into nine schools across the US.

Wateraid illustration


Create your own lesson plans in Canva with templates like Aquamarine Spring Flower Pattern Lesson Plan and Cream Elegant Floral Watercolor Weekly Lesson Planner.

13. Build fill-in-the-blank graphics

If you’re struggling to engage your social audience, try going beyond giving them something to look at and give them something to respond to. This doesn’t just mean asking questions in Facebook posts and Instagram captions. It also means create eye-catching graphics that have an interactive element, like a fill-in-the-blank challenge.

For example, instead of just telling Twitter followers that a lot of young drivers hit the road without a seatbelt, nonprofit DoSomething.org invited people to guess the statistic with this graphic:

DoSomething Twitter illustration

As the Twitter post states, users can text “FOMO” or visit the campaign page to find the answer: “drive without a seat belt.” It keeps readers on their toes, empowers them to join in the conversation, and does more than just talk at them.

This strategy is particularly effective for reaching millennial and Gen-Z donors, who are often active on social media and looking for something unique to pique their interests.

“Their social feeds are already so crowded with content from their friends as well as sponsored content from brands,” said Keri Goff, Creative Director at DoSomething.org. “It’s all about disrupting their space and creating content they want (or never knew they needed).”

Your secret weapon for stunning design