Examples of Killer Nonprofit Marketing Online & Offline

Successful campaigns to market your nonprofit will be measured by how much attention you bring to your message. An effective campaign will get people talking and get donations pouring in. Take note from the best of the best and prepare to be inspired by some truly creative examples of when you market outside of the box!

Examples of killer nonprofit marketing material we will cover from online and offline will be from the following foundations:

  • Water is life (Times Square Project)
  • UNICEF (Impactful Video Targeting Emotion)
  • Project Lifejacket (Humanizing Refugees)
  • American Civil Liberties Union (A Personal Dash Button)
  • Social Tees Animal Rescue (Swipe Right for Animals Puppy Love Project)

Each of these foundations has created a unique and creative marketing campaign that resonated for specific reasons. Each resulted in going viral and being noticed by the world.

You may be repeating your mission’s message for the rest of your life, so don’t you want to find new ways to engage with your community consistently? I believe in researching deeply to learn what is working for others in your nonprofit’s industry. You need to be cultivating inspiration each day to keep your message fresh and from going stale because of repetition – Here are some examples to get you started!

Examples of Killer Nonprofit Marketing Online & Offline

It is not necessary to reinvent the wheel, but you’ll need to take cues from what these nonprofits did so well and then reinvent it for your brand. Nonprofit marketing examples should never be copied under unless you are giving credit to the nonprofit that did it first.

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If you don’t plan to cite them for idea credit or say something like, “Inspired by UNICEFs campaign,” then I have to ask that you be original and don’t plagiarize.

I had a professor once that taught us that everything is a remix. Everything under the sun has been done a million times before. Since the beginning of mankind, ideas have been churned, and this professor claimed that everything unique had already been said.

Her argument was – we remix it all to make it new again. If there is nothing new under the sun, you have to take what you have and get innovative with it.

I love this concept because I feel it relieves some of the pressure of being completely original all the time. Feel free to take inspiration from others, but be sure you remix it into your own concept.

Without further ado, here are some stunning and impactful examples of how to market a compelling nonprofit message!

Water is Life

Water is Life is a nonprofit that writes on their home page, “nearly 1 billion people lack access to safe water.” They bring clean water to schools and villages around the world and even have a map on their front page for you to see where the World Water Crisis aid is being allocated.

The campaign of theirs I would like to bring to your attention is their video in 2016 that was displayed in Times Square, New York City, a straightforward video which you can view here.

Overview of Marketing Tactics: The team at Water is Life utilize hashtags commonly, which has gotten them thousands of retweets and an entire community discussing their topic. The hashtag things like, #firstworldproblems, which has received reach of 12 million viewers, while keeping things lighthearted with statements such as “I hate when my phone charger won’t reach my bed.”

They utilize hashtags often, and you need to take note of its effectiveness in keeping the conversation going.

The foundation makes a point in all of their marketing at how desperately in need these villages are and how lucky you are to be privileged with clean water.

A spokesperson for the nonprofit says, “We call it hashtag killer. Not just an attempt to end a hashtag, but to use social media to affect a real change in our world.”

Why it’s Brilliant: They offer Americans just enough guilt to see how much they have that other countries don’t. While targeting human emotion, something that I like about this campaign is that it’s short and sweet with a bit of mystery. You want to follow the #defunddapl hashtag so that you can understand who they want to defund. They make the viewer participate and builds intrigue amongst prospective donors.

How it Was Received: This campaign gained them over 300,000 views, and there are nearly 12,000 shares on Facebook alone. With almost 6 thousand likes/loves/wow reactions and nearly 800 comments, people are feeling very engaged with this message.

Marketing Channels Used for this Campaign: Video in Time Square and then following up on all digital platforms to let their viewers know about this fantastic Times Square campaign.


UNICEF is a foundation that helps child refugees and was created in 1946. This long-established and fantastic charity provides food and healthcare to children and mothers around the world, working in nearly 200 countries to reach the most underprivileged children.

It’s difficult to pick a single campaign by UNICEF because all of their videos are done so well.

The campaign I’ll bring up is a video they released where they put a six-year-old girl on the street alone to see how people would react.

Overview of Marketing Tactics: This nonprofit is known for creating marketing content that shock the viewer. They have a very active social media and digital presence while creating content that people love and connect to.

They utilize mostly video content, photo content, hashtags, as well as their ‘Please Donate’ call to action written in multiple spaces on their website. They make it easy for people to donate and know what steps to take to help this foundation – (many nonprofits make the process too difficult, and people give up mid-donation, so take a note from this).

Why it’s Brilliant: They strike a chord on our human emotions. All nonprofits need to pay close attention to why this works and how susceptible we as humans are to seeing our fellow man struggle. It’s one thing to hear about it but seeing the devastation in young children’s lives no less, is enough to drive someone to join the cause.

If it is jarring enough, it will capture attention.

How it Was Received: The video received 2.8 million views from streaming the video on YouTube, while also being shared over 70,000 times.

Marketing Channels Used for this Campaign: After the premiere showing of the video, they published it to their social media network to build on that momentum. They then received over 5 million views, 300,000 shares, and nearly 7,000 comments.

Project Lifejacket

Project Life Jacket is a project which was centered around helping people to see refugees as people. There are stigmas or an issue people can have helping those that seem very far away or removed from their present reality. The purpose of Project Life Jacket (who’s Facebook page you can view here) was to help humanize the Syrian refugees to others and make them seem closer to your world.

The intention was to make these refugees seem closer to home and like real neighbors in need of aid. They told their stories through videos and these lifejackets so you can hear personal takes from those who will receive benefit from your donations.

Overview of Marketing Tactics: They had refugees paint their stories on these lifejackets and then tell their stories. They wanted to describe the lives they left behind and show it symbolically.

This is a very unique marketing strategy because its more than just a post or tweet. It’s a piece of art made by human hands, from a person that has struggled and now wants to share with you their story.

Why it’s brilliant: It’s humanizing these refugees and making them seem more like people we love and care about, rather than far away foreigners we’ll never meet. I think this campaign is brilliant. They utilized digital marketing to share this message, but what I like about it is that it’s not a digital concept. It’s an art piece that has a real personalized quality which you can’t obtain by 100% digital means.

How it Was Received: The video on their Facebook page now received over 5.5K likes/loves/sad faces of engagement, nearly 3,000 shares, approximately 200 comments, and over 750,000 views on this platform alone.

Marketing Channels Used for this Campaign: The project used video streaming through the platforms of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and of course, posting the video to YouTube. They also began a hashtag of #projectlifejacket to keep the conversation going more intimately. They utilize hashtags like #refugees and work to help people flee unlivable situations.

American Civil Liberties Union

ACLU is a foundation that is helping offer civil rights to all humans and fight to expand right under the Bill of Rights for what they call, ‘a more perfect union.’ Some of the topics they are offering aid to include immigration issues, LGBTQ Rights, voters’ rights, national security, and human rights.

They are a fascinating organization that created one of the most brilliant copy-cats I’ve ever seen. If you’ve ever seen how Amazon has new Dash Buttons – they are a small button that may say, “Tide Soap,” for example. Every time you click that button, Tide soap will be delivered to your house. It’s a stroke of genius from Amazon to get people shopping with greater and greater ease that can only result in more money.

Well, ACLU unabashedly took this idea and created their own button!

I don’t know what the laws are to steal this kind of concept, and I would imagine they had to seek approval from Amazon before they could infringe on a copywritten idea like  The Amazon Dash Buttons. But somehow, they managed to pull it off!

Now people solely have to click this button whenever they want to send an automatic donation to the American Civil Liberties Union!  

Overview of Marketing Tactics:  It’s a physical call-to-action button by which donors can donate anytime they click the button. It’s an at-home marketing tool that doesn’t require an internet connection or physical interaction face-to-face.

Why it’s brilliant: It’s excellent in every way. People don’t have to feel the pressure of slimy sales tactics to get their donation. If you’ve got them as a donor, all they have to do in the future is click a button and wait to receive your thank you confirmation email.

Nathan Pryor of Ars Technica says about the innovative creation, “The button resides near my laptop now and every press sends another $5 into the fight. Sure, I could set up a recurring donation every month, but then I’d lose the tactical thrill of the press, and I wouldn’t have learned my way around this technology.”

How it Was Received: They haven’t publicized any figures on precisely how much this little dash invention has reaped for their cause; however, it probably will increase donations, especially heading into an election year. At the start of 2017, ACLU received $24 million in donations in one weekend.

Marketing Channels Used for this Campaign: Non-digital besides the email confirmation of donation. It is an in-home market device that has the donors living with a call-to-action button right in their home.

Social Tees Animal Rescue

Social Tees Animal Rescue is an animal nonprofit based in New York that helps connect animals in need with loving homes.

Their stroke of genius, like the ACLU’s marketing example, was inspired directly by the dating app, Tinder.

If this sounds crazy to you, give the genius a moment to sink in. They had a right swipe feature so that you could enjoy a lighthearted puppy swipe, which they adorably named, “Puppy Love.”

Overview of Marketing Tactics: Getting prospects involved through a creative and fun method that they’re already familiar with through the dating app. Digital engagement that leads to results of adoption.

The campaign development manager, Samantha Brody, says on the Washington Examiner, “I have no idea how Tinder would react, but I would hope they would appreciate the creativity attempt to draw more attention to animal rescue, which saves more lives.”

Why it’s Brilliant: It’s taking something old like animal rescues and combining it with something new and trendy like dating apps. The ‘swipe right’ phenomena is deeply ingrained in our pop culture. Because of this, people see the immediate humor and genius creativity from a foundation doing good in the world.

How it Was Received: There is no public data on how many adoptions stemmed from this innovative idea, but it certainly went viral and gained the foundation a lot of new attention. With pieces in major publications, being featured on many news channels, and being a source of positive news on the news – it was an overwhelming success.

With nearly 40,000 followers on their Facebook page and almost 100,000 on their Instagram, I’d say their visibility is gaining reach and exposure.

Marketing Channels Used for this Campaign: Digital and follow-up that led to an in-person adoption. They focus on social media promotion and continuously updating their website/blog with success stories and animals in need.

Summary with Bonus Tips and Extra Resources!

Being innovative in your marketing should be fun! Please don’t take it as a huge social pressure that will end up stifling your creativity in the long-run. If it feels like a tremendous job, you will be crippled by the weight and unable to move forward.

Ways to Market through offline tactics:

  • Print creative promotional items to pass out
  • Leave print outs at businesses and team up with other corporations to find a mutually-beneficial approach to each of your brands
  • Create competitions and contests
  • Pass out your business card to everyone willing to listen
  • Networking and speaking opportunities
  • Calling warm leads

Ways to market through online tactics:

  • Use all social media platforms
  • Diversify so if one account is deleted, you don’t lose all followers
  • Communicate with like-minded individuals on forums
  • YouTube Marketing
  • Google AdWords
  • Hashtags
  • Do live streaming and chats to engage personally through Facebook and Instagram
  • Post Craigslist Ad for donations – easy link with a call to action
  • LinkedIn Advertising
  • Work on your SEO for Search Engine Optimization to become more readily found
  • Start a blog
  • Interact with groups that have similar interests and causes like yours. See if you can partner to make more magic happen!

Here are a few other resources so you can dive deeper into the world of inspiring nonprofit marketing examples:

Keep your projects lighthearted in a difficult scenario and for a serious cause. This can be a delicate balance to find at first because you don’t want to be offensive to the nonprofit’s mission.

You want to reach people in a memorable way that will get buzz going! If you do this effectively and in a one-of-a-kind way, it will cause sharing, retweets, reposts, and hopefully make your campaign go viral. Good luck to your meaningful mission and content marketing!

Dan Sanchez, MBA

Dan Sanchez is a marketing director, co-host of the B2B Growth show, and blogger. He holds a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) and BS in Marketing Management from Western Governors University. Learn more about Dan »

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