Not-For-Profit Marketing — Think Big With Micro Philanthropy

Odds are that a decent percentage of the readers of this column are directly involved in the direction of a not-for-profit organization. I know this because a decent percentage of our clients are non-profits and an even higher percentage are involved as board members or volunteers to non-profits while excelling in their commercial pursuits at the same time.

Indeed, most of us have at least one meaningful contact with a charity or non-profit whose mission is important to us. Virtual Farm Creative donates services to several area organizations and I am personally an at-large or board member of even more.

Contributions to those non-profit groups and charities have been affected as bad or worse than the commercial concerns laying off employees and taking even more extreme measures to protect their bottom lines. The bottom line of a charity is affected directly by the corporate and individual contributions it receives and, with more and more businesses and families tightening their belts, those contributions are shrinking faster than my list of metaphors related to Route 422.

So, how can non-profit's successfully market during this longer-than-expected national economic decline? They could take a lesson from the 44th President of the United States and Wikimedia founder Jimmy Wales among others. These two innovators and their groups, Obama's campaign for the presidency and Wikipedia– the collaborative online encyclopedia, successfully funded their mission pools one drop at a time.


In the late 1970s some revolutionaries within a company named after a fruit developed a personal computer system small enough to be called microcomputers. Apple may have popularized the 'micro' moniker but small, craft beer makers were gaining in popularity and microbrews were on everyone's lips a short time later.

The concept of smaller being better is not a new one. In fact, it's one of the lynch-pins of technological advancement. But, when it came to philanthropic contributions, fewer large donations were always preferable to many small contributions. It makes sense that you'd have to work a lot harder to collect a greater volume of capital with small donations. In fact, the same amount of effort always brought in greater contributions just a short time ago with a few big doners.

Now, however, with giving being heavily scrutinized by the board of directors and the family bookkeeper, many smart non-profits are focused on increasing the volume of smaller contributions.

Micro-Donations are a form of charitable donations that, in general, are an amount under $10. Micro-Donations vary in size yet target a larger audience to make up for their small increments through quantity.

In the real world of charitable giving, micro-donations have been used most effectively by organizations collecting spare change at the registers and checkouts of retailers. Recently this form of philanthropy has become more popular with the advent and popularity of online donating.

Obama's campaign, for instance, was funded more by $25 donations than it was $25,000 donations. And Wikipedia, where more grateful students turn for fast information, is gratefully funded with very many, very small contributions.


On a large scale some Internet leaders have emerged as development models for micro-donating. KIVA Microfunds, for example, allows people to lend money via the Internet to microfinance institutions in developing countries that in turn lend the money to small businesses.

The Footprints Network is an online program promoting corporate social responsibility. With the descriptive tagline, "the power of many," Footprint Network raises money from thousands of micro-donations collected as part of another e-commerce transaction.

Now, most regional non-profit groups have spent a considerable amount of time and energy developing a mission and a member list and day-to-day activities often focus on marketing to that list for big donations.

If the charities and non-profit groups situated in and around the Route 422 corridor could shift their marketing focus to bigger groups contributing smaller amounts, it's likely that they can reach an acceptable level of sustainability during a time when it's difficult for almost everyone to give big.


Micro-donating is a viable alternative for all regional non-profits and can be implemented fairly easily. First, modify your marketing messages to explain to your target group, whether it's your membership list or a larger pool of potential donors, that any amount is an acceptable amount.

Second, increase the size of your potential pool. Partner with other organizations to utilize their lists and cast a broader net to increase the chances of more volume at a smaller per-individual donation.

Lastly, make it easy for people to donate. If your non-profit does not have an online mechanism for simple and easy donations, large or small, it's behind the times to say the least. There are many simple programs set up to integrate an ecommerce component into your web site. Pay Pal and Yahoo are simple commercial alternatives that make online donations possible while mechanisms like Network for Good are set up just for non-profit donating.

Whatever the non-profit group that you're most closely affiliated with decides to do, remember to keep it simple and to attach a marketing message as a call to action– an emotional incentive– promoting affordable micro-donations that add up to a lot.