Advocacy marketing is the business strategy every nonprofit should use

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Rachel MillsWhite arrow icon

Advocacy marketing is the business strategy every nonprofit should use

As any marketer will tell you, the best marketing comes from word-of-mouth. Think about it: When you try a new product or service, is it because you A) saw an unsolicited ad or B) received a glorifying recommendation from a close friend?

If you're anything like us, you answered the latter. And we're here to tell you that as a nonprofit, you can leverage this same powerful technique to raise awareness for your good cause.

Advocacy marketing is where you harness the power of happy, loyal customers to build your brand.

Even in the cause-centered space, you can use these grassroots efforts — leveraging your existing donors, board members, and volunteers — to help reach your campaign goals. 

Below, we dive into how you can use this for-profit marketing technique within a nonprofit campaign, and the tools you'll need to put things into action. 

What is advocacy marketing, exactly? 

Advocacy marketing is a type of word-of-mouth marketing where you intentionally use happy customers to promote your brand.

The goal of advocacy marketing is to transform existing customers into brand advocates for your company.

How do you do that? By delivering exceptional service! Picture a business you always recommend to friends or neighbors (your gym, nail salon, or local pub down the street). Why do you always recommend that particular spot? 

It could be because:

  • The gym instructors are the best in town and help you reach your fitness goals (translation: You love the people).
  • The nail salon spends extra time on your cuticles, and didn't hesitate to touch up your manicure for free when you chipped a nail (translation: You love the service).
  • You never have to order at the local pub. You pull up a bar stool, and the bartender hands over your "usual" pint without a word (translation: You love the community).

For-profit and not-for-profit companies alike can leverage these glowing customer relationships to acquire new customers (or donors). The first step is to gain the customer's trust, delivering great products and/or services at every turn. Once a customer is a loyal, returning member of your community, you need to create opportunities for them to send referrals to your place of business.

6 ways nonprofits can leverage advocacy marketing

advocacy marketing: Deal Check This Out GIF By Soul Train

Below, we offer a few tactics and ideas to help launch a customer advocacy marketing campaign at your organization, and the tools you'll need to get there. 

1. Create a video of the impact you've made 📹

When looking for brand advocates for your organization, the best people probably aren't your staff or board members — they're the people whose lives have been changed (for the better!) by your mission.

As part of your marketing strategy, create a video interviewing people who are/were directly impacted by your organization. Create two versions of your video — a longer version to share on your campaign page, and short snippets to post on social media. (Pro tip: Even if you're a beginner, there's plenty of user-friendly (and sometimes free) software to edit video, like Apple iMovie and Lumen5.)

If you're hosting an in-person or virtual fundraising event, consider live streaming your campaign. Throughout the evening, interview different individuals impacted by your cause.

2. Launch a guest blog series ✍

To create more user-generated content for your organization, have your community share their first-hand experiences of how your organization impacted their lives. 

Create a guest blog series where you invite your current customers, volunteers, donors, or other community members to share testimonials or write about their positive experiences associated with your organization. 

Re-share the blog post in your newsletter, Instagram or LinkedIn posts, and other marketing channels to help drive traffic to the content. 

3. Create your own version of a loyalty program 💰

Many times, for-profit companies use loyalty programs to help drive repeat business toward their establishment (picture "buy 10 get one free" punch cards at your local coffee shop). You can use this same advocacy marketing strategy within your organization — with a few tweaks, of course.

If you're throwing a fundraising event, create a "Buy five get one free" promotion to boost ticket sales. Or, if you are planning your annual donor appreciation gala, create a tiered structure where donors who gave over a certain dollar amount get to bring four guests (while those who gave within a lesser tier get two guests, and so on).

4. Use peer-to-peer fundraising to build a referral program 👯

For-profit companies often use referral programs to attract potential customers. With this strategy, customers might be incentivized with a special promotion (such as a gift card or a free iPhone) to refer their friends and family. 

In the nonprofit space, we have our own version of this very-familiar tactic — it's called peer-to-peer fundraising.

With peer-to-peer fundraising, you leverage your most loyal donors (i.e., your "customer advocates" within the nonprofit realm) to acquire new donors. There's a competitive element involved, where donors or teams try to raise the most funds for their cause. Encourage existing donors to invite their friends and family with text message invites or one-click social sharing to quickly spread the word to their networks. 

5. Rethink the after party (or start one) 🎉

Companies know that the customer experience doesn't end with a sale. Instead, they continue to follow up with their customers, seeing how they can offer top-notch service even after the credit card has been swiped. 

To get donors advocating about your organization, brainstorm creative ways to elevate a fundraising event after the "main event" concludes. 

If you sponsor a 5k run/walk, perhaps you pitch a beer tent where 21+ registrants can enjoy a pint post-workout. If you sponsor a fundraising brunch, perhaps you move the after party to a local coffee shop where donors can mingle and sip espresso with staff and volunteers. Or, if you host a bake sale, perhaps send each donor home with a special recipe card with their purchase. 

6. Regularly ask for reviews 💬

Here's where advocacy marketing differs from regular word-of-mouth marketing: Advocacy marketing efforts are intentional, not accidental. And sometimes, you need to be explicit about asking for online reviews, case studies, or referrals.

For-profit companies regularly ask existing e-commerce customers or in-person patrons for online reviews or referrals. (We've all received those emails in our inboxes.) And frankly, there's no reason that a nonprofit company can't mimic this strategy. 

Make it a regular part of donor engagement strategy to ask for referrals. Set a goal to email a survey or mail out referral cards bi-annually at your organization. Remember: This isn't annoying or salesy — these people love your organization and want it to succeed, they may just need a little extra push to help spread the word. 

Advocacy marketing can help drive organic traffic to your organization

Real Housewives Of Atlanta Nene GIF By Bravo TV

Advocacy marketing is commonly used by for-profit companies to help boost customer engagement. Within it, companies transform their most loyal, happy customers into brand advocates for their company.

Nonprofits can easily use the same strategy to boost brand advocacy efforts for their organization. By creating user-generated videos and blog posts, leveraging team fundraising, rethinking your follow-up strategy, and regularly asking for reviews, you can boost donor retention and acquisition. 

To set your advocacy marketing efforts into place, you'll need the right tools. Givebutter is a fundraising platform that offers 70+ features like SMS invites, team fundraising, live streaming, and ticketed events to help attract new donors. Set up your free account and start building your advocacy marketing campaign today.

Written By

Written by
Rachel Mills
Rachel is a fundraising and marketing consultant for nonprofits whose aspiration since she was 16-years-old is simply this: help others, help others.