Nonprofit Marketing Tips: Define Your Target Audience


In nonprofit marketing, it is essential for leaders to define the target audience they hope to reach and make aware of their organization.

In their Messaging workshop, ESC Consultants Marjorie Bauer and Debra Yanofsky teach that targeting is the first step in a market positioning process, which consists of:

1.) Defining the target audience
2.) Selecting a category, or frame of reference, for your organization to fall under
3.) Differentiating your organization from competitors, and
4.) Creating a reason for potential clients to believe in your nonprofit.

Since the first step creates a foundation for your nonprofit marketing project, it is essential to think critically about the individuals and organizations you hope to connect with, whether they be constituents, volunteers, donors or board members.

In Principles of Marketing, Philip Kotler & Gary Armstrong define a target market as “a set of constituents sharing common needs, values or characteristics that an organization decides to serve.” What does this mean to your nonprofit? It may be helpful to look to the mission to define your target audience—does your nonprofit serve families? Public schools? A local park? As you can see, while looking to the mission can be helpful you often must go several steps deeper to define the target audience. For example, if your organization’s mission is to protect a local park, you’ll have to identify the people that protecting the park serves: children who can safely play, active adults who run their animals through down manicured paths, and individuals or corporations whose businesses benefit from the park, like property management professionals who profit from their real estate’s proximity to clean, safe recreation space. You should dig as deep as you can to define the targets, perhaps through a short brainstorming session or two among staff or board members.

MACDC Marketing 2 - Blog - April 2014

Most nonprofits have multiple targets since they must cater to donors, clients, funders and volunteers all at once, yet any strong marketing campaign must have a key audience, a primary audience in this case. Debra and Marjorie visualize this in ven diagram style. The Primary audience is defined first and foremost, and all other audiences, which are relatively standard within the nonprofit community, branch off of this primary target audience. The branches do not overlap—they only stem from that defined primary audience—but a robust nonprofit marketing campaign should speak to all parts of an organization’s audience clearly.

Throughout your nonprofit’s marketing project, it is important to remember that positioning works to define what people actually think of your organization rather than what you hope or intend them to think. The complexity of the process often calls for a marketing consulting project, and through such services your organization can, over time, influence your audience more effectively.

If your organization is in need of marketing assistance, an ESC consulting project may be right for you. We offer consulting in marketing, branding, and a variety of other capacity building and management areas to nonprofits in eastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Please contact Ulea Lago, ESCNE Director of Consulting, at or call 617-357-5550 today for more information.