How to Extend Your Nonprofit’s Reach by Defining Whom You Want to Reach and How

By Stan Hutton, Frances N. Phillips

Armed with information about the people who already know about your nonprofit, you’re now ready to extend your reach by defining target groups you want to serve and discovering how best to reach them. In general, it’s better to begin with your current constituents and work to expand within their demographic group or to others who are similar to them.

As you shift your attention to reaching new groups, be cautious. You may alienate and lose current followers. The more different demographically your new target groups are from the people you now serve, the more difficult and expensive your marketing task may be.

Here’s an example of how marketing research can help open your eyes.

A small nonprofit alcoholism treatment center for women was started in San Francisco in the late 1970s in response to studies that found multiple programs to help alcoholic men but few focused specifically on women. No local service of this type focused on helping Spanish-speaking or immigrant women.

The program’s mission was to provide comprehensive counseling and alcohol treatment services to low-income women, particularly those originally from Mexico or Central America. Four years into the nonprofit’s history, its programs were full and effective, and it had won prestigious contracts from the city. The center had even launched a capital campaign to create a permanent home. It appeared to be very successful. With one exception. The women being served were mostly middle class and white. A few were African American. None came from the neighborhood where the program was based.

The board realized that the center needed to change its image and marketing strategy. Through interviews with women from the center’s target population, the board and staff realized that the stigma associated with alcoholism was particularly strong among Mexican and Central American families, and women from these cultural groups were struggling with alcoholism in private.

The center began a multifaceted campaign to change this situation, beginning with cultural sensitivity training for counselors. When the center hired new staff, an aggressive effort was made to find Latinas to fill positions. The group published all brochures and other informational materials in Spanish and held news conferences for the Spanish-language press. The center hired a Latina outreach counselor to meet with community groups, churches, and schools and to develop connections and a system of referrals to the agency.

Within two years, more than one-third of the women served were low-income women from Mexico and Central America. The marketing aimed at this community was well worth the investment. Fulfilling the organization’s mission depended on it.

If you run a local history archive and have audiences of low-income students, middle-income mothers of toddlers, and affluent docents and volunteers, logical new target audiences may include the following:

  • Family members and classmates of the students using the libraries
  • Mothers and toddlers from a wider geographic area surrounding the libraries
  • Docents and volunteers who assist other local cultural institutions
  • Friends and acquaintances of the docents

Your marketing plan should then be tailored to reach these groups. To succeed, you may need to change both how you present your work and how you spread the message about that work. Consider some of the ideas in this list to reach the following groups:

  • The students’ classmates and friends:
    • Contact local history teachers and work with them to link their lessons to archival materials in your collection. Invite them to bring their classes to see your exhibits and archival collections.
    • Offer student internships and then use your interns as docents for the school tours.
    • Invite the students who currently use the library space to help in planning, researching, and presenting an exhibit. Honor them for their involvement at the exhibit’s opening and provide them with invitations for their friends and acquaintances.
  • More mothers and toddlers:
    • Advertise or place articles about your organization’s work in local newsletters for parents of young children.
    • Post fliers about your organization’s work at parks, playgrounds, local stores that sell goods for small children, and other cultural institutions with children’s events.
    • Provide childcare at lectures and weekend programs.
  • Docents and volunteers who also help other organizations:
    • Advertise or place articles in your local volunteer center’s newsletter.
    • Contact local parent-teacher organizations and offer their members special tours or presentations.
    • Co-host an event with another local cultural organization, and combine your email lists to extend invitations. Invite guests to sign up for your newsletter or announcements to keep in touch with them in the future.
  • Friends and acquaintances of your current docents:
    • Hold a volunteer recognition party and provide each of your volunteers with ten or more invitations for friends and acquaintances.

The cost of implementing new programs and spreading the word about them can add up quickly. Consider what resources you have available (including your time) before committing to big changes in your organization.