4 Nonprofit Marketing Lessons for Churches

4 Nonprofit Marketing Lessons for Churches

May 11, 2016 by

Having worked in both the church and nonprofit world, I’ve noticed a few differences between how the two communicate.

Sure, churches are technically considered nonprofits, too. But there are still some recognizable differences between secular charities and spiritual organizations.

Now that I’ve worked for Make-A-Wish about as long as I served on staff at a church, I’ve gained some valuable insight on some things that churches can learn from traditional nonprofit marketing.

1. Focus on the Mission

Your church has a unique purpose. Do you know what it is?

At Make-A-Wish, our mission is to grant the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions to enrich the human experience with hope, strength and joy.

I just typed that mission from memory. Most of our staff can also recite the mission by heart. That’s because it’s simple, memorable and we live it every day.

How many people at your church could recall your mission statement? Does your church even have a mission statement? What does it mean? Does it actively shape your decisions?

We’re all working to fulfill the great commission, but that does not mean every church has the same mission. You’re not trying to reach everyone. Your church has a unique purpose. Do you know what it is?

Many nonprofits, like Make-A-Wish, are so successful because they are laser-focused on a mission. We know exactly what we’re trying to do and committed to finding ways to do it. Too many churches are just content with being a church without having any clearer purpose.

Change that mindset. Clarify your mission. Stress its importance to the church. Repeat it during worship. Make it visible around the building. And if it isn’t something worth following, change it to something that is.

2. Protect the Brand

Part of the marketing team’s role is to protect and value the brand.

When I tell people that I work for Make-A-Wish, I rarely have to explain what the organization does. Most have already heard of it and some are impressed. That’s the power of good branding.

Our logo is recognizable. People are familiar with our name. Not only is the branding consistent, but it’s respected. Part of the marketing team’s role is to protect and value that brand.

Is your church the same way? Are there clear standards for how you market your organization externally? Does your church have a bad reputation? Or any reputation at all? Has anyone ever heard of your church?

As Mark MacDonald says: “Be known for something.” That something is your brand. If you don’t protect your brand, it could be easily tarnished. If you don’t promote your brand, it will be undoubtedly ignored.

3. Empower Your Advocates

Who do you know that is already active within your church community? What steps can you take to elevate them?

Any good nonprofit organization is going to have a positive effect on the local community. The same should also be said of the local church. Either way, the end result is a group of people who have directly benefited from your work.

The best thing you can do as an organization is find ways to leverage these relationships and empower your audience to become advocates on your behalf.

At Make-A-Wish, we’re doing our best to embrace this idea. We’ve started a program for kids and families who have gone on a wish to speak at different event about their wish experience. I’m also collecting a group of engaged volunteers to help us expand our social media presence.

Who do you know that is already active within your church community? What steps can you take to elevate them? How can you build a relationship that is mutually beneficial for both of you?

4. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask

Churches and nonprofits approach the concept of money from different angles. Many churches don’t like to broach the topic, while nonprofits are obligated to fundraise and constantly ask for donations.

But the reality for all of us as marketers are shoe-string budgets and an ever-growing list of needs. Thankfully, nonprofits have found an elegant solution to help mitigate this challenge—in-kind donations.

In-kind donations are non-monetary gifts of good or services—essentially pro-bono work. This equates to free photography at events, free (or discounted) printing services or free ad space in the local paper.

Now, it takes time and effort to convince people to donate their valuable time and services. But when you leverage a powerful mission and brand, people are more likely to help support your cause. And as the old adage goes, it can’t hurt to ask.

Church marketers can learn from this. Build relationships, both internally and externally. These connections can often yield great opportunities from your congregation and community. Don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone and ask for help.

What Nonprofits Could Learn From Churches

The biggest thing that that nonprofits could learn from churches is cooperation.

The difficulty here is that most nonprofits are essentially competing against one another for support. While every nonprofit is trying to improve their local communities, they all have different goals.

On the other hand, churches all (should) have the same overall goal—leading people to Jesus Christ. I don’t care if my hard work leads to someone giving their life to God at a church across the city. We have the opportunity to work together on a collective mission.

Post By:

Robert Carnes


Robert Carnes is the managing editor at the Orange Group and also serves as an assistant editor here at Church Marketing Sucks. He's the author of The Original Storyteller: Become a Better Storyteller in 30 Days. Previously, he worked in communications at two United Methodist churches in Metro Atlanta.
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2 Responses to “4 Nonprofit Marketing Lessons for Churches”

  • Jeff
    May 16, 2016

    Robert, what a great example of not just what nonprofits should be doing (cooperation) but a reminder of how we all should be acting within the Church.

    “I don’t care if my hard work leads to someone giving their life to God at a church across the city.” An awesome example of how to begin to operate like a true Christian.

    Thanks for the insight and advice.


  • Donna Karlen
    May 16, 2016

    Could you elaborate on how you’re going to work with volunteers to expand your social presence? Thank you



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