Some managers of non-profit organizations, social entities and foundations mistakenly see the marketing process as a tool from the business world that is far removed from the third sector. This perspective is incorrect. The NGOs that grow are those that use marketing as a cornerstone to attract and retain a target audience with whom they share values and objectives. As a matter of fact, marketing consists of a set of actions and strategic considerations that must be applied in any type of organization, whatever its mission or legal form.

However, to achieve their purpose NGOs must face several challenges, such as fundraising through donations. For this reason, we have selected three marketing strategies addressed at the third sector to help them achieve their objectives.


Organizations related to the third sector have different needs to those of for-profit companies. Rather than selling products or services, they need to convey an idea to the audience and make people feel passionate about the cause they advocate.

Philip Kotler and Gerald Zaltman first developed the Social Marketing concept in 1971. It proposes that an organization must establish needs, desires and interests in order to promote value to their customers in a way that improves consumer and societal welfare.

Kotler and Zaltman’s marketing style was initially aimed specifically at companies and governments, rather than the non-governmental organizations that play such a great role in our society. In fact, the first examples of this type of Social Marketing were associated with institutional campaigns created by the U.S. government, such as road safety, forest fire prevention, defense and tax campaigns.

To satisfy demand, NGOs eventually adopted Social Marketing elements focused on the dissemination of values, ideas and attitudes, instead of the conventional sale of products and services. Some NGOs are still using this strategy today, however, Digital Marketing and Inbound Marketing have mostly supplanted more traditional Social Marketing tools.


From our point of view, marketing, and especially its digital side, opens up a world of possibilities for NGOs. However, the problem faced by many third-sector social entities is that they do not have the required experience and knowledge to implement an effective and efficient Digital Marketing strategy. We would like to shed some light on this matter with this article.

In a traditional marketing strategy, the development of the product or service is the first step towards creating a business that meets the needs of the public. But things work a little bit differently with the third sector. In this case, it is necessary to think of projects that raise awareness, as well as actions which communicate this purpose to an audience that shares the same values. We have outlined five steps of Digital Marketing below, based on the specificities of NGOs:

  • Creating an identity. People will only contribute to the NGO if they believe in the cause and relate to the idea. It is therefore essential to have a brand identity that represents the organization and informs the public about its history (storytelling), values and purposes.
  • Establishing objectives. The results expected by the NGO, the associated difficulties and what it really wants to achieve must be clearly defined. This strategic analysis will serve as the basis for all future activities, focusing efforts on actions that aim to touch the emotions of the public and influence people to embrace the same purpose.
  • Target segmentation. The key point for an effective strategy is to communicate the NGO’s reality in such a way that people identify with it and want to contribute. Segmentation is therefore critical. When studying the target audience, it is essential to define who the ideal donors or volunteers are, where they are located, and how to direct every detail of the strategy towards winning them over.
  • Investing in digital media. The website and blog should be the vehicle for traffic generation, allowing users to learn about the projects and be impacted by the campaigns. Interacting through social networks must be seen as a fundamental way to reach potential volunteers, along with leveraging influencers who allow a larger number of users to be reached. In addition, emailing should be used to nurture people who are interested in collaborating with the cause, provide valuable content and encourage participation. Some automation platforms such as Mailchimp and Mailrelay even offer discounts for third-sector organizations.
  • Attracting attention. In this sense, Digital Marketing for NGOs runs into limitations compared to other types of organizations. For example, it is crucial to take care with ads and mass advertising, as they can convey the wrong message. But there are other strategies that certainly work well for this type of audience, such as e-commerce, volunteer actions, loyalty programs and appeals for donations.


Inbound Marketing is probably the most widespread kind in today’s third sector. It is a sound methodology that combines non-intrusive marketing and advertising techniques to make contact with the target audience as they are beginning to gain awareness. In other words, it is based on establishing a relationship of trust with people who have sympathy for the cause. It also has a lot to do with content marketing, which will boost SEO positioning for the NGO.

To develop effective Inbound Marketing for NGOs, seven steps must be followed:

  • Defining the ideal donor. It is vital to have a well-defined donor persona or member archetype to create better targeted marketing messages and actions.
  • Creating topical blogs. One way to attract traffic to the website is to regularly post about the topic of interest while also using keywords.
  • Taking advantage of social networks. Create a profile and connect with people aligned with the cause. The goal is to build a large community and achieve maximum visibility.
  • Online advertising. Pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns are a good way to improve traffic to the website. They are useful if you have properly defined your ideal donor.
  • Signature collection. Databases can be compiled through forms on the website. Another way of collecting signatures is through platforms such as, which have completely changed interaction with the third sector.
  • Lead nurturing. A type of marketing software that allows for the creation of an automated email chain that can be managed with ease.
  • Measuring results. A major benefit of Inbound Marketing is that you can quickly analyze data from your activities in real time. Attention must be paid to the metrics, analyze them properly and draw conclusions

In summary, marketing should be performed by both non-profit organizations and companies, since the goal is to transform habits, attitudes and social behaviors. It is important to find out whether the target audience understands the concept behind the product/service or social cause, whether they perceive the benefits, and whether they consider these benefits to be important. In other words, to see whether or not they invest money or time in the NGO in order to change the world.

Author:  Joan Margarit, Marketing and Communications Analyst

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