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15 Ways to Grow Your Nonprofit With Word-of-Mouth Marketing

Author: Terry Ibele
April 30, 2023
🕑 11 min read

Whether we’re aware of it or not, we’re constantly surrounded by word-of-mouth marketing messages. Here are some examples of this type of messaging that you might encounter in the day-to-day: 

  • “Have you tried the breakfast burritos at Lenny’s Cafe? They’re the best!” 
  • “Thanks for complimenting my sweater—I got it at the new store downtown. They have great prices.” 
  • “We saw that new action movie last weekend at the MoviePlex on Main Street, and you would love it. Definitely go see it when you get the chance.” 

You might talk to a coworker, read a post on social media or receive a text from a family member recommending something to you. This is the power of word-of-mouth marketing—people talking to each other about a product, service or experience. And as people mention the things that they love, their family and friends become inclined to engage with the brands providing those products, services and experiences. 

Your nonprofit can tap into the power of word-of-mouth marketing, too. It’s an excellent tool for growing your organization’s community in an organic way that involves people hearing about your organization’s impactful work from people who are already involved in it. 

And not only is word-of-mouth marketing a cost-effective and efficient way to boost your fundraising success, but it’s also an effective method to engage your members and get your nonprofit’s cause out into the world. 

To help you get started with word-of-mouth marketing, we’ll cover 15 time-tested tactics for encouraging individuals to spread the word about your nonprofit and its mission. Let’s begin!

1. Offer incentives 

Motivate your members to talk about your nonprofit by offering some incentives. These, coupled with your members’ love of your cause, will get them excited to share about your nonprofit’s work and campaigns. 

Not sure what incentives to offer? Try small yet meaningful gifts. According to Kwala, some popular choices include: 

  • Branded items like tote bags, t-shirts, and coffee canisters
  • Food items or coffee beans
  • Recognition on social media
  • Plants 
  • Pieces of art
  • Paper goods (notebooks, stationery, etc.) 

You could also bundle these items together for an extra incentive boost. For instance, you might bundle together a branded coffee canister with coffee beans or specialty tea bags. 

Click through to claim your 60-day trial of WildApricot to create effective QR codes that will speed up event check-in.

2. Create excitement

Think about the types of stories you share with your friends and family members. One of the ways to get people talking about your organization is to create memorable, share-worthy experiences for your members. Try the following ideas to get people talking:

  • Host an in-person event, and make your event a memorable experience for attendees by recruiting a popular speaker, giving out top-notch swag, presenting your organization’s impact in a fun way, or offering people the chance to take fun pictures in a decorated photo booth.
  • Enter all your event attendees into a drawing for a special gift at the event. The person who wins the gift will love telling the story of his or her big win—and the people who didn’t win will talk about how amazing the giveaway was.
  • Create buzz for your event on social media by crowdsourcing your event content, creating event pages on social media sites (like Facebook), live streaming your event, or creating an online “Photo of the Day” contest.
  • Make your member meetings extraordinary by giving attendees coloring books, holding your meeting while you play a pickup basketball game, or inviting people to join in singing an organization-related song. 

3. Keep your current members engaged

The more you engage with your members, the more likely they’ll be to promote your organization to their peers.

Encourage your members to share your email messages by including unique and exciting stories, or useful educational content. Make your emails so helpful and interesting that people can’t help but forward them to their friends and family.

Your phone calls can be memorable, too. Think of a personal and memorable way to say “thanks” when you call current members to tell them you appreciate their membership, donation, or event attendance. Your organization will stick out in people’s minds when they have the opportunity to speak to someone, one on one, about something related to your organization.

Make it easy for your members to engage with you online by publishing free content regularly, telling visual stories on social media sites like Pinterest and Instagram and enabling comments on your blog posts, social media posts and online forums.

4. Run a public relations campaign

Press releases are a great way to generate media coverage for your organization. The trick is to write a compelling release that piques reporters’ interest.

You can start by creating a well-written, attention-getting press release about your news item. As you’re writing your release, always remember that your job is to inform the press about what’s going on in your organization (whether it’s an event, fundraising campaign, staff change, or other newsworthy event), not to sell the reader something.

Always include the five W’s in your release:

  • Who
  • What
  • Where
  • When
  • Why

Liveabout has a great press release template you can use to start the writing process.  

Once you’ve completed your press release, find appropriate media targets, and distribute the release to reporters who cover news related to your organization or cause. 

5. Encourage your members to tell their personal networks about your organization. 

You can probably come up with a quick mental list of your most engaged members. These are the people you’ve built a personal connection with—the ones who show up for every event and are the first to respond to your organization’s emails.

But, have you ever asked these ultra-engaged members to help you spread the word about your organization?

For example, you could ask your animal shelter’s most prolific major donors to invite a friend to your next fundraising campaign. Or, you could ask the members of your professional association to mention your group at their next company meeting. 

You can also ask your members if there’s anything they need to help strike up conversations with their peers about your organization. You can offer things like phone scripts, email templates, brochures and business cards. 

Some nonprofits can feel squeamish when it comes to asking their members to reach out to their networks. They often say they don’t want to come across as “salesy.” However, the opposite is usually true—people like helping their friends and family members, and don’t mind being asked to share useful information.

6. Publish testimonials on your website

Why not take the words out of someone’s mouth, and use them to your advantage?

Testimonials are a highly effective marketing strategy, and it’s a good idea to include them on your website, in your brochure copy and on your social media profiles. Researchers have even found that adding testimonials to lead generation pages (like a website page where you ask a potential member to join) can increase conversions by 50%. That means 50% more people may sign up to join your organization if you include a testimonial on your sign-up page.

To get started, ask your most engaged members if they’re willing to give you a quote about your organization to use in your marketing materials. If someone seems willing but hesitates to get back to you, send that person a pre-written testimonial and ask him or her to approve or edit it. It’s easier to edit a testimonial than it is to write one from scratch.

7. Create eye-catching headlines 

Attention-grabbing headlines will help you get more eyes on your blog posts, emails, and newsletters. And when your content delivers on the promises made in its headlines, people will be inclined to share that content with others. 

Here are a few tips for writing eye-catching headlines: 

  • Keep them short. The shorter you can get your headlines, the better. Aim for 10 words or so. This will keep your headlines easy to read and ensure that you’re prioritizing the most important information when you write them. 
  • Instill a sense of urgency. Make your readers feel like they need to read your content now. This is especially useful for email subject lines. Use words like “Act Now” or “Start Today” to encourage readers to click on your message immediately. 
  • Use numbers or statistics. Numbers often catch the eye quicker than words and can raise more questions that readers will immediately want answered. So, try writing headlines like “Moore County’s 3000 Homeless Cats Need Your Help” or “25% of educators don’t know this classroom management secret…” 

8. Build trust with your members 

This is an important one: You simply must build trust with your members. Without that trust, they’ll never recommend your organization or send you referrals.

Make sure you’re being honest and transparent with your members, and always keep your promises. If you mess up, apologize (publicly, if you need to).

To establish trust with your members, you can take steps such as relying on data to support claims. Data signifies hard facts to people, which is hard to argue with. Also, focus on the outcomes of projects and drives. These outcomes show people that what you’re doing really works. It is a sign of success, which gives them faith in your work.

Another way to build trust is by hosting a pledge drive with your donors. When you ask for pledges to support your organization, you show your supporters that you trust them to keep their pledge promises.

Pledges differ significantly from donations, which are paid immediately. Pledges require a lot of trust in your supporters because they are donation promises which will be paid out at a later date. When you show trust in your donors, they can clearly see the reciprocity of the relationship, encouraging them to trust you as well.

In addition to showing your trust, pledging also opens up further communication with your donors as you can send thank-you messages and reminders to them. Don’t forget to be transparent about what the pledge is for. After the drive, highlight your outcomes. Show supporters all the good that came from a mutually trusting relationship with you.

9. Go the extra mile for every member 

Does your organization go above and beyond to recognize and take care of your members?

When you can, get to know your members personally. Call people by their first names. Recognize birthdays, anniversaries and other special events. And make everyone feel like they’re a valued member of the team. 

Even small touches like this can make a big difference in how people feel about being a member of your organization—and they’ll talk to others about how you made them feel special.

10. Thank your members regularly 

When your members feel appreciated, they’ll be more likely to talk about your organization with others.

To thank your members, you can:

  • Create a video thank-you message from the leader of your organization. Share that video on your website, your social media profiles, and your email newsletter.
  • Each year, make a list of all the events, services, and educational opportunities that were made possible by your membership fees. Publish the list on a separate page on your site, and link to it on a regular basis in your online content and email campaigns.
  • Host a yearly event to say “thank you” to your members. Consider a member brunch, picnic, pool party or another fun gathering.
  • Write handwritten thank-you notes to your members. A personalized thank-you note is even more meaningful and memorable, whether you handwrite it or send it via an eCard platform. 

11. Start a peer-to-peer fundraising campaign 

Peer-to-peer (P2P) fundraising allows your current members to act as ambassadors for your cause and to get their family, friends and professional colleagues involved in giving to your cause. 

To start your own P2P campaign, empower your members to create their own fundraising pages that they can circulate online to their personal networks. Your volunteer fundraisers can share their passion for your cause as they share their pages and track their progress toward their individual fundraising goals. 

To give your campaign an edge, Donorly’s guide to peer-to-peer fundraising recommends that you create a wealth of shareable content for your members to circulate in addition to their own personal fundraising pages. This might include images or videos, eye-catching statistics or campaign updates. Whatever content you decide to create, ensure that it’s visually appealing and easily digestible. 

As your members actively fundraise for your organization with their P2P fundraising pages, they’ll not only deepen their commitment to your work but also encourage the people they know and love to make their first contribution to your cause!

12. Recruit people to share your content 

You’re more likely to get people to share your online content (including your social media posts and email messages) if you recruit a team of “share volunteers”.

These folks will repost or distribute your content when you have something special you’d like to promote (like a particularly useful blog post, a social media post announcing a big event and so forth).

Reach out to engaged members to ask them to become “share volunteers,” or ask for volunteers using your newsletter.

You can also connect with influencers in your industry and ask them to partner with you to share your content. These individuals have large followings on social media and can help you shout your organization’s messages from the rooftops! 

13. Learn what resonates with your audience

Not sure if your messages are landing the way you want them to? Instead of wondering, go straight to the source—ask your members what resonates with them. 

Create a short survey or online poll that you can share via email or social media. You can include questions such as: 

  • How did you first hear about our organization? 
  • How satisfied are you with the level of communication from our organization? 
  • What communication channels do you use most often? 
  • On which communication channels do you typically get the most updates about our organization’s work? 
  • What do you like most about our email newsletter? What would you change? 
  • What topics would you like to see covered in our blog posts or social media posts?
  • Is there anything else you’d like to share with us about communications from our organization? 

You can use your members’ responses to fine-tune your messaging and pinpoint the channels where you should spend the most time trying to reach them (and other people who are interested in your organization!).

14. Create a social sharing package

If you want more social shares, make it easy for people to share your stuff!

You can equip your board and members with social sharing tools that point back to your organization. You can:

  • Give people short, interesting tweets to share on Twitter. These little quotes are called “tweetables”, and you can make it even easier for people to share them by creating links using Click to Tweet.
  • Create shareable images using tools like Canva. Your members can share the images on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, which can greatly increase the number of people talking about your organization. 
  • Create a hashtag to use for your organization or event. A hashtag is simply a word or phrase, preceded by a pound sign, that is used to identify messages on a particular topic. Before you announce your hashtag, publicly search for it on Twitter to make sure it hasn’t already been claimed by another group.

15. Start with yourself 

Every person you meet is an opportunity to share your organization and gain a prospective member. To make sure you’re always ready, prepare a simple, concise elevator pitch about your organization, and always keep your business cards with you. 

Word-of-mouth marketing is an essential part of any nonprofit marketing strategy, and simply relies on you creating such a great experience for your current members that they’ll be excited to share the news about your organization with their family, friends, and professional connections. 

Get started with word-of-mouth marketing today by using these fifteen tips! And remember, start with yourself—whether you have the chance to strike up a conversation about your cause in the grocery store or forward the next edition of your newsletter to an old friend from high school. You’ve got this!

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