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How to Promote Nonprofit Events with Little or No Budget

As a nonprofit organization, the goal of your event is probably to raise money for your services, programs or operations. While you likely will have many event expenses from the venue, food service and administrative costs, you can reduce your expenses on marketing and promotions if you take advantage of resources and tools already in your nonprofit organization arsenal. 

Email marketing

Hopefully, you’ve been utilizing email marketing and creating an email address database for all your donors, volunteers, community partners, supporters, students, clients, and more. These are your biggest fans. 

If you are new to email marketing, it’s not too late to start, but your email marketing campaign for this event won’t be as effective. But do start now, and you’ll be in much better shape for next year’s event.

Send out a Save the Date email six to 12 months in advance. You know your community and how many other events and activities you are competing with for the time and attention of your followers. If your event is an annual event, six months in advance is perfect timing. If your event is a one-time, special event, you should send out the Save the Date email nine to 12 months in advance.

The Save the Date email doesn’t need to be complex. Clear and concise is better. Make sure you include: event name, your organization's name, event date, event location, a brief section on your organization’s mission, and/or the event’s impact on the organization. If you offer early-bird ticket sales you can include it, but remember this is the Save the Date email, not a pre-registration campaign.

The extent of continued event email marketing can vary depending on your organization’s time and resources. You don’t want your followers to get tired of hearing about your event, but you do want to keep them excited about it. Depending on your community, weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly updates comprising personal-impact stories (volunteer, awardee, or client testimonials), new developments (speakers, entertainment) and interesting details (historic facts, by the numbers, community influence) can be shared in longer story form — or even video. 

All of your email messages should include a call to action. You want to lead people to your website (for more information, ticket sales or RSVPs) or social media pages. 

Social media

There are so many social media channels you could be using. We’ll focus more on Facebook and Instagram in this post, but you can easily adapt these ideas to other channels if you are more comfortable or have more followers on another channel.

Be consistent in your message. Develop a hashtag for your event and include other hashtags for your organization, values, and community. You don’t want to include 12 hashtags in every post, but including at least three is recommended. Tools like Hashtagify.me can help you develop a hashtag for your event and analyze strong hashtags for your community.

Create an event page through Facebook — you can then share content through the event page and your nonprofit's Facebook page. The event page is easily shared and can be the homepage for your event for information, ticket sales, and RSVPs.

Create a social media content calendar with engagement goals and posting schedules to help keep you organized and on track. Social media content could include sharing photos, content about your event, testimonials, sponsor/donor thanks, countdown to the event — the possibilities are endless. 

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Local media

Promoting your event through the local newspaper, magazine, or radio station is one of the best ways to reach your community. Most media outlets have a news division and an advertising division. You’ll want to work with both.

On the news side, promoting your event is free, but there are no guarantees on the scope of the coverage. The first step is to create a press release for your event. Here is a good guide to creating a press release

Make sure to include the relevant details about your event (name, date, time, location, cost). A press release should be no more than two pages. Keep it simple and factual. This is not the place for emotion, embellishment or persuasion. But do provide sufficient facts and information to explain the importance and impact of your event and organization. Highlight the key features of the event (speakers, awardees, entertainment, funds raised for) — especially mention if this is a first-time event or significant anniversary event. 

Also, include a quote or two. One from the nonprofit director about the importance and impact of the event and one from a community-centric voice about what the event and/or organization means to them.

Timing of a press release is crucial. You want to give the news reporters enough time to develop the story, but submitting a press release too far in advance could get it put in a pile for “later” and forgotten about. Two to three weeks before your event is the perfect time to submit a press release. You can send it to an individual reporter if you have worked with one in the past, or most newsrooms have a tips email for press releases. 

On the advertising side, you’ll most likely spend a few dollars to promote your event. However, many media outlets have nonprofit rates, and you could even talk to them about a trade for sponsorship and advertising. Swift Local Solutions can help you find a local advertising representative for your community and create a cost-effective marketing campaign comprising a print and digital advertising package tailored specifically for your event.

Word of mouth

Word of mouth is still one of the most effective ways to promote your event. Generate enthusiasm for your event among your employees, volunteers, and supporters, and they will help spread the word to their friends, family, neighbors, and more. 

Liking, sharing, and commenting on posts on social media is another type of word of mouth. Find some community influencers who can re-share your posts on their own channels. These influencers could be your board members, community partners or young professionals with strong community involvement. 

Other community resources

Community online calendar — Most city and/or county websites have a community calendar. Contact the communications or public relations manager to find out if your event qualifies to be listed. Most local media outlets also have a community events calendar. This could be free or available for a small fee. Many times this calendar listing also appears in print in a daily event story.

Community business partners — These could be your vendors, event sponsors and business donors (or businesses your individual donors own/manage). Do they have a company bulletin board where you can display a poster for your event? Do they have an online (either public or employee) calendar they can list your event? Do they have a storefront window or public counter to display a poster or postcards? Do they have a digital marquee they could publicize your event? These are just a few of the ways they could help spread the word about your event.

If this is your first time promoting an event, don’t be overwhelmed. Consider your resources to develop a promotions plan that works within your timeframe, manpower and budget. As your event grows, so will your promotion plan. 

Contact Swift Local Solutions as a first step to make the best use of your time and budget.

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