eventNon-profits are always trying to find creative and inexpensive ways to market their organizations more effectively. Sometimes, you are aiming to promote a specific event, like a fundraiser or a membership drive, while in other situations, you are aiming a bit broader, and just hope to get your organization’s name out there in a positive fashion.

After all, you never know who may see your banner somewhere and be hit with the sudden urge to make an impromptu donation. It’s happened to me more than once.

While there are many traditional means to advertise, such as print, radio, and TV spots, these can really impact the bottom line in a negative way. So, it makes sense, then, to look for outlets that will really catch people’s attention, but do so without breaking the bank.

One avenue that I liked to explore in my days of non-profit managing was the “large community event”. First of all, these events were great because they came with a built-in audience. I didn’t have to spend any money or do any work in order to get these people together.

Second, with large community events, people are already in a good mood. They are pre-disposed to being open to what they see and hear. Not many people go to a parade or concert if they are in a lousy mood to begin with.

Third, by being a presence at these kinds of events, you start to develop a good reputation in your city/town for being “involved”. Even though you are technically helping your organization, you still are perceived as being a “team player”.

Fourth, the cost to participate in these large community events is usually pretty cheap. I’m sure there are exceptions to this, however, in my small town, the sponsoring organizations of the events usually wanted to encourage other non-profits to be involved, if only because it made the event look “fuller” and more vital. In some ways, we were doing them a favor by being there. So, I never found myself spending too much of the company money at these events.

Last, I always found that large community events were great opportunities for me to network with other non-profits in the area. In a small town, you’re bound to bump into your peers over and over again. I often deepened my connections with other non-profit leaders and gained valuable information, such as dates of their upcoming fundraisers, which helped me plan my own fundraising calendar.

Here Are a Few Great Ideas I’ve Seen Used Effectively by Nonprofits:

1.Goodie Bags

Provide the actual bags that are used for people to collect things like brochures, free-bee gifts, or even something like eggs at an Easter Egg hunt. These kind of events always draws huge crowds of young families- a highly desirable demographic. There is a very informative article in the Step by Step archives that talks about cloth grocery bags, which are even more permanent than the plastic bags, and they are much better environmentally, as well. With your logo and website information printed on the bags, this makes a long-lasting impression.

2. Bottled Water

Pass out free bottled waters with personalized labels during community events like parades or carnivals. Yes, there’s a little cost up front, but on a hot day, you’ll get all sorts of parade-goers loving you!

3. End of School Year Party

There is a local theater group in my community that has turned the last day of school, which is usually a half-day, into a huge party under our town pavilion. A local pizzeria and ice cream shop donate pizza and ice cream for the day and the non-profit sells both scoops and slices for 50 cents each. This has become an excellent tradition with hundreds of kids and adults in attendance.

4. Concerts/Festivals

For the past four years, there has been a large Christian music festival in my community. The concerts draw thousands of people each summer. Since so many of the attendees were from out of town, this wasn’t exactly the event where I would push student enrollment at the Christian School I was in charge of. However, I still saw the value in making our name and presence known. So the concert organizers allowed us to be the only sponsor of the children’s play area at the festival. We got to put up a huge sign right at the entrance, and we were very successful in raising our profile.

5. Service Projects

Get heavily involved in a city-wide clean-up day to help reclaim a park or an abandoned lot. If there isn’t such an event, create one and the exposure will be terrific. The local newspaper will give you all sorts of free publicity.

6. Red Cross Blood Drive

Offer to host a Red Cross blood drive at your facility, if feasible. It will get people into your building and asking questions about you, as well as doing something good.

7. Own a Holiday

Take a holiday that isn’t being celebrated widely in your community and create a huge celebration. When I was running a Christian elementary school, our town’s National Day of Prayer had a poor turn-out. As a school, we offered to take the day over and really turned it into a special event with hundreds of people aware of what we were doing.

Conclusion

As you can see, none of these ideas is targeted for a specific event like a fundraiser or for registration. Rather, these events are designed to just make people aware that your organization is out there in the community- doing good and being good.

If you are able to make a good impression with people who are not involved directly with your group, it is possible that they may respond favorably to you in a future fundraising activity. You never know how or when good will toward your group will occur. You just have to do all you can to make people aware of who you are and what your mission is.

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Posted on 16 February 2009

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