Marketing for NGOs in the digital era

Written By: Zapriana Date: 18.07.2018 Categories: Marketing

In this day and age, the non-governmental organisation (NGO) field is a competitive one- as Gani Aldashev reports, governments channel "increasingly large amounts of development aid through NGOs”. This has created a competitiveness among NGOs to can gain much-needed funds from their key audiences. More and more NGOs are now realising that digital marketing is undoubtedly what will make them stand out and ensure that their message is heard loud and clear.


Marketing compassion

An NGO is defined by Investopedia as a “non-profit, citizen-based group which functions independently of government. Their purposes are cooperative, rather than commercial, in nature”. The two main types of NGOs are “operational” and “advocacy”. Operational NGOs focus on development projects, While advocacy NGOs are created to promote specific causes.

According to Dr Saumya Arora, when it comes to marketing for NGOs, the donor is the “customer”, while the cause or campaign is seen as the “product”. Understanding the NGO dynamic in this way helps us to better visualise what some potential marketing campaigns for such organisations may look like.

While marketing may seem unnecessary or even contrary to the aim of NGOs, more and more organisations are discovering the value of using digital marketing principles in order to further their cause. In a paper published by the SIES College of Management Studies, it was stated that “NGOs today use various marketing techniques” in order to influence their target audience to “voluntarily accept, reject, modify or abandon a behaviour for the benefit of their cause“. For example, the audience can be persuaded to stop using plastic straws and bags, or to fix any leaking taps in their home in order to save water.


Hope versus guilt

NGOPulse put it well- guilt is so 1980s. Today, the message which audiences are more receptive to is a positive one- one which encourages people to believe that the organisation is offering a solution to the issue as opposed to simply guilting them into parting with their hard-earned cash.


Call to action

When creating a call to action for an NGO, things to keep in mind include being highly specific, having a feasible, first priority goal and making the action as quick and easy to execute as possible. You can read more on how to create a great call to action in Network For Good's marketing plan guide for NGOs.


Case study- The Global Citizen Festival (Mandela 100)

The campaign around The Global Citizen Festival, which will take place at the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg on the 2nd of December 2018, is an example of NGO marketing done right. When the NGO in charge of organising the event, The Global Poverty Project, announced that A-list celebs such as Beyonce and Jay-Z would be attending the event, people were excited and wanted to know where they could get tickets; but there was a catch. Over half of the tickets, it was announced, had to be “earned” through becoming a “global citizen” and completing tasks such as signing petitions and sharing informative content related to eradicating poverty.

Obviously, most NGOs do not have the means to book today’s richest, most famous artists for a concert. However, there are a few good lessons to be learned from this campaign which any NGO can apply to theirs.

First and foremost, this campaign is a great example of incentivising action to be taken. According to NGO Pulse, South Africa has a “jaded audience of givers – buffeted by stories of financial mismanagement and inappropriate spending”. This means that in order for an NGO to stand out in such an environment, they would need to capitalise on people’s desires and give them the chance to win an attractive prize. People who otherwise wouldn’t have gotten involved with the movement are now spreading the word as much as they can in order to collect “points” on the Global Citizen site, thereby standing a chance to win tickets to the event.

Secondly, it is clear that this organisation spent a lot of time researching who their audience is and what drives them. They clearly aimed the campaign at young, tech-savvy South Africans who are lacking good concerts and shows to go to. This audience has jumped at the opportunity to earn free tickets to an international artist’s concert, since such concerts are few and far between in SA, and are usually unaffordable for the general public to attend.

Finally, this campaign utilises social media and has a well-designed website which is clear in its aims and the ways one can enter to win tickets. “Taking action” by sharing content and signing pledges is made easy with ready-to-go templates, which the user can complete with the click of a mouse.


NGOs benefit greatly from applying digital marketing techniques to their campaigns. Investing some money into working with a digital marketing agency can create campaigns which leave a lasting impact on audiences and exceed engagement and even donation expectations.