Nancy Schwartz, president of Nancy Schwartz & Company and blogger at Getting Attention, has just finished analyzing data from a nonprofit marketing survey of more than 900 nonprofit leaders, revealing that they are doing a poor job connecting with their audience and community.  Nancy explains:

“Nonprofit marketers say their key messages are failing to connect with the people who need to hear them and that is a serious problem.  The way nonprofits talk about themselves to the public is a core competency critical to any organization’s success. The bad news is that most nonprofits admittedly are doing a very poor job, despite a great deal of effort. The good news is that fixing the problem is highly do-able and promises vastly greater success than they are experiencing now.”

The survey results included:

Most Nonprofit Messages Don’t Connect Strongly with Key Audiences:
Eighty-four percent of 915 nonprofit leaders who completed the survey last month said their messages connect with their target audiences only somewhat or not at all. Respondents represented organizations of all size, issue focus and geographical location.

Behind the Disconnect—86% of Nonprofits Characterize Their Messages as Difficult to Remember:
Most nonprofits report that their messaging suffers from lack of inspiration (73%) and poor targeting to audience wants and needs (70%), and is difficult to remember (86%). Few communicators laud their messaging for its strengths: Only 13% of organizations characterize messaging as cogent while 8% describe their messaging as potent.

Here are some comments from survey participants explaining why their messages fail to connect:

  • “Our messages need to be more succinct to communicate how effective we really are.”
  • “We don’t move our base to action.”
  • “We have individual elements that are OK solo, but no unified path.”
  • “Our messages aren’t hard-hitting or targeted enough. So they fall flat.”
  • “We need to shape messages that are simple enough for staff to remember and feel comfortable in repeating it to others.”
  • “Too much jargon. I can’t even understand what we’re saying.”

Inconsistency Reigns, Leaving Confusion and Annoyance in Its Path:
Less than 50% of nonprofits report consistent use of their positioning (organizational tagline, positioning statement and talking points). That means that even though most organizations have taken the effort to craft messages, those messages aren’t used consistently across channels (website, direct mail, email), audiences or programs.

More information and complete survey results, plus specific recommendations on how nonprofits can start to immediately improve key messaging, are available at:

Nonprofit Marketing Report: Organizations Failing to Connect
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  • But it’s fixable, with focus and intent! Strong messaging makes a huge difference.

    • Nancy – I really appreciate your positive emphasis here and definitely agree. The first step is admitting the problem, right? 🙂

  • Perhaps some nonprofits are failing to connect via social media because

    1. Senior leadership does not dedicate significant time to understanding the benefits of social media


    2. Nonprofit development/marketing staff/volunteers are not given resources or opportunities to learn how to hone their message like professional marketers.


    3. Perhaps it’s more than just leadership and staff not having the full picture. Perhaps it’s actual lack of time, the ability to spend the time finding your audience and connecting to them.

    If the vast majority of the 1.9 million nonprofits in America are under $1M in budget (which they are) social media might seem like a risky time investment for their lone development staff person, when they could be doing grantwriting, events, appeals, etc.

    I guess the question here is, how can we make social media even EASIER for nonprofits to connect to donors? (Some kind of instant (Overcoming-compassion-fatigue-widget?)

    • Hi Mazarine-

      Thanks for joining in here! I really appreciate the variety of views you suggest and think the chord struck for me is the undercurrent beneath them all: how can organizations with small staff and/or small budgets, how can leadership and all departments be STRATEGIC in their messaging and use of social media tools. It isn’t strategic to throw messages everywhere, nor is it strategic to avoid social media when your community is already waiting for you there. It’s finding that balance and finding the community.