How to Promote Your Nonprofit Events for (Nearly) Free
Your nonprofit invests weeks, sometimes even months, of staff time, energy, and financial resources in hosting your events. Whether your event is primarily for fundraising, increasing the visibility of your work in the community, serving your beneficiaries, or all of the above, the last thing you want is empty chairs at tables and unmet attendance targets.
The best events can fail because nonprofits weren’t strategic about promoting them. Don’t let this happen to you! Learn no-cost and low-cost ways to promote your next gala, fun run, art show, or other important nonprofit event below.
Must-have information to promote your event:
• A catchy title: Show your audience the vibe they can expect by giving your event a memorable title. Whether formal or fun, the title of your event will set your tone from the start.
• A clear purpose: Help potential guests understand why the event is taking place—are you trying to raise the last few thousand dollars to get you to the top of an important goal? Are you simply celebrating a significant accomplishment? Having a clear purpose gives participants a sense of urgency in attending.
• Easy-to-follow registration instructions: Is the event free? Do guests need to buy tickets in advance? Make sure that the specifics are clear so there are no misunderstandings.
• Guest benefits: Why should guests attend? Sure, they know they’re helping a great cause, but you’ll need to sweeten the deal with benefits like live music, guest appearances, or sponsored giveaways. Even the chance to hear from individuals supported by your organization can draw participants in if they’ve donated in the past.
• Prominent date and time: This one sounds simple, but it’s surprising how many event promotions leave the date and time mixed in with other information and difficult to spot.
Consider using these free and nearly free strategies for event marketing:
1. Social Media:
Whether your event is for 50 people for 500, social media is a great place to start your promotion. By marketing your event on social media channels like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, you meet your audience where they are already spending time each day.
• Create organic (non-paid) buzz around your event by posting a short (30 seconds or less) video that gets people interested. Depending on the tone of your event, it could be fun, serious, or somewhere in between. Ask a question that will be answered at your event. The idea behind the video is that if it’s well-done, your followers will be more likely to share it, expanding the reach of the post to their friends and networks.
• Consider using paid promotion of your event post in order to reach more people. You’ll want to target your ad to relevant local areas, demographics, and interest areas to increase its likelihood of resulting in real registrations for your event.
• Be sure to create a Facebook Event where you can offer key details like when/where and allow guests to create a reminder on their calendars as the event date nears. They can also invite their friends!
2. Local media partnerships:
With all the focus on social media these days, it’s easy to forget about more traditional forms of advertising for nonprofits. Local media can include:
- Regional newspapers
- City/state magazines
- Local news and radio stations
- Online community blotters like Patch.com
Promoting your event in local media doesn’t have to come from paid advertisements. Consider these key ways to leverage local media for free:
• Search online or ask your local newspaper for networks of journalists who are always looking for contacts for their next story. Reach out and introduce yourself and your organization. Be sure to follow up and invite the writer to your event, but remember—there must be a compelling angle other than fundraising. Be creative!
• Submit your event to the community section of your local newspaper
• Develop partnerships with media brands for free advertising through sponsorship of your event. Smaller radio stations with listening audiences who are interested in the work that you do may be most interested in this type of partnership. Be sure not to invite a station with any questionable content as every partner you have reflects on your legitimacy and credibility in the field.
3. Word of mouth:
In the world of sales, it’s common knowledge that your existing customers are the most likely group to buy from you again. Similarly, for nonprofits, your existing supporters are most likely to be your best advocates. They know who you are, believe in your work, and feel allegiance to you since they have already donated in the past. Here are a few ways to leverage them through word of mouth:
• Issue a challenge: Ask volunteers, high-dollar sponsors, or other key groups to sell a certain number of tickets or bring a certain number of guests to your next event. Not only will they be willing to help out (a prize to those who achieve the challenge wouldn’t hurt), but people who are unfamiliar with your work are much more likely to attend your event at the invite of a friend rather than a ‘cold invite’ online.
• Invite Influencers: Do any fans of your work have fans of their own? They don’t have to be celebrities to be influencers. Maybe your colleague’s college-age son or daughter has thousands of Instagram followers, or perhaps a teacher who often volunteers in your workshops runs a popular education blog. If you don’t already know a local influencer, reach out to an individual who you think would care about your work. Influencers could be:
- Athletes from local sports teams
- Bloggers who write about issues relevant to your work
- Executives from your organization with a strong digital presence
- People from your community with interesting stories or a recent ‘claim to fame’
By inviting influencers to attend, you gain built-in advertisers and champions of your event and organization. If the influencers is unfamiliar with your organization, consider paying for their event participation with an agreement of online promotion and event coverage in return.
4. Google Grants:
Nonprofits often don’t realize the many creative ways Google Grants can be used. Did you know that you can use Google Grants to market your next nonprofit event? Be sure to keep these tips in mind:
• Use Adwords people will actually search: Remember, no one is likely searching for “fundraising events,” but they might be searching for “youth art workshops.” Think through which relevant thematic keywords you can use to get potential guests interested.
• Use targeting functionality: Google Grants enables you to target the audience who will see your ad when they search for appropriate keywords. Don’t forget to segment your ad appropriately in order to get the best results.
• Focus on your landing page: Rather than increasing general interest in your organization, you want people to register and attend your event. This means you’ll need to be more thoughtful in creating a compelling landing page that makes your event sound so important and exciting that the viewer can’t say no. Be sure to make the ‘register’ button large and visible at all times.