Help for Military Non-Profits:  Best Ways to Market When You Have No Money


The struggle during business ownership and non-profit management is finding capital.  Capital to jump-start the business.  Capital to advertise.  Capital to purchase goods to sell.  The list goes on.

But when capital is short, one of the biggest things that suffers is the organization’s marketing.  As they say, you need capital to grow and you need growth to get capital.  It’s an endless cycle, and a frustrating one for those with tight budgets.

I have a significant background in working with non-profits, mom and pop shops, and military organizations with virtually no marketing budget….and still found high levels of success.

Below are my top strategies for organizations that know they need marketing strategies but have no idea how to implement them cost effectively in order to gain donations and other funding.

  1. Create Content

Content is free and your organization can create it fairly quickly.  Content can be a myriad of things from eBooks, blogs, brochures, or videos.

When you’re a non-profit, the messages behind these pieces of content is even more important.  Keep in mind two things – education and donation encouragement.  Non-profit content creation should be focused on teaching target audiences about what their organization aims to fix, protect, or do.  The second piece is to create compelling stories that encourage that audience to donate to the cause.

Through a mix of statistics, storytelling, success stories, and encouragement, non-profits can boost their trust and recognition through content marketing, therefore leading to future donations and fundraising efforts.

2. Use Email Donation Campaigns

Email campaigns are another form of free marketing.  Through email automation platforms like MailChimp, non-profits can “own” their marketing efforts for free.  Unlike social media, email is an “owned platform” that isn’t at the will of algorithms or news feed updates.  As a result, email campaigns are a great way to access target audiences from home, on-the-go, and at work.

Usually a user signs up for an email newsletter or list by opting into a “freebie.”  This free opt-in could be a unique piece of content your team has created, like an eBook, informational guide or article, email course, or video series.  It could also be a promotional gift or discount.  The goal of the opt-in is to make it irresistible to your target audience.  The website reader must be so intrigued by your offer that they not only sign up, but are also interested in learning more.  The eventual goal is to create a donation funnel of interesting and persuasive content that encourages a subscriber to donate.

  1. Use Social Media Organically

Every non-profit and business knows that social media is the current and future of marketing.  The part of being where your clients are is vital to building relationships and creating trust.

With the current algorithms, social media can be frustrating.  Facebook makes any promotion not paid for incredibly difficult to be effective.  However, my experience with Facebook and organic posting on all platforms is that it can be done with the proper posting strategies.

Social media is about being social and building relationships.  In non-profit work, your entire goal is to help others.  As a result, non-profits are the perfect social media success stories.  As long as non-profits follow Facebook’s said (and unsaid) marketing rules, non-profits already have the kind of stories and content that the platforms thrive on.

The biggest mistake non-profits make is becoming too promotional on social media.  Instead of building relationships with potential donators, building trust, and fostering thought-leadership, most non-profits spend their time on social media posting pictures of their latest gift shop products, asking for donations, and dropping links.

All of these tactics will get you flagged on algorithms platforms, like Facebook, which are super testy on the language and type of posts on business pages.  Instead, use storytelling and content creation to build organic posts online – ones that don’t use so many links, provide helpful and valuable tips, educate followers, and actually show the ways your non-profit helps others.  All of these concepts are free and build loyal followings over time.

  1. Guest Post and Team Up with Influencers

One of the fastest ways to get significant traffic to your non-profit is to partner with influencers.  Influencers are those with established followings.  These followings view the influencer as a thought leader (the go-to person for advice) in a particular industry.

It has been said that influencer promotions have better results than celebrities because they are already trusted resources in the targeted industry.

To cross-promote with influencers, build a relationship with them and consider guest blogging or collaborating on an upcoming webinar, video, or campaign.

While some influencers charge money to work with their brand, many in the non-profit realm are happy to connect with other non-profits to encourage additional donations or promotions.

  1. Host a Contest or Challenge

Lacking the brand awareness to do any of these things just yet?  Build your reputation and influence through a challenge campaign or small contest.

A challenge campaign can be something as simple as putting your logo on a graphic with a statistic and asking followers to comment on it for awareness.  A challenge campaign can also be massive and viral, like the Ice Bucket Challenge or 22 Push Up Challenge.  All of these recent challenges brought significant donations and awareness to non-profits.

Another option is to host a small contest, such as giving away promotional swag or gift certificate to the non-profit’s shop.  While these are all ways to increase followers, reach, and engagement on a particular status, a majority of the time, the attracted audience does not become your ideal donator or purchaser.  While contests and freebies bring temporary success, the key is to use them to create long-term converters and supporters.

Marketing with no money is never easy (trust me!), but it can be done and done successfully.  I have made a living marketing for organizations, national companies, and non-profits with zero budgets and seeing increased results.  However, marketing takes a significant amount of another resource – time.  Time to create the content, post on social media, build a relationship, massage a donation funnel, and moderate a contest or viral challenge.

That’s a lot of extra duties for a non-profit with no official marketing department or team member with a lack of marketing experience.  To optimize this problem (that many non-profits have), consider having qualified volunteers assist with the marketing efforts of the organization.  For those living near colleges, upper class students at local universities often actively seek marketing work experience through internships. Consider reaching out to your local community for marketing and content creation help.

If you’re still struggling to find a marketing strategy that works for your military-focused non-profit, get access to my FREE guide for social media marketing at and reach out about a marketing reset consultation to find areas you can improve on instantly.

Military Marketing GuruJenny Hale is a marketing and social media consultant, coach, and teacher for military spouse and veteran business owners.  Nicknamed “The Military Social Media Guru,” she uses her background working with military non-profits, corporate companies, the Army, and as an entrepreneur to help others struggling to meet their business dreams.  With the goal of bridging the gap between the military community’s marketing efforts to civilians and vice versa,  Jenny works to make an entrepreneur’s vision come to life.  You can follow her on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

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