Inbound Marketing
for Non-Profits

Case Study


In 2012, non-profit organization Water is Life hacked this popular hashtag throughout social media to highlight the glaring disparity between the real world problems faced by the majority of people throughout the globe and the comparatively trivial issues experienced by inhabitants of wealthier “First World” countries. Using the #FirstWorldProblems hashtag to captivate an audience that was not necessarily seeking out non-profits, Water is Life leveraged social media to organically create awareness for its cause.

Today’s rapidly changing business climate challenges marketers to develop new ways to reach their targeted audience. Likewise, non-profit organizations must adopt new practices such as inbound marketing to achieve their goals of fundraising, volunteer support, and awareness. Here are three examples of non-profits that have found success with inbound.

charity: water

What causes do you support? We are constantly approached with this question, from our LinkedIn profiles to casual conversations with friends and colleagues.

charity: water challenges the premise of this question by readjusting the focus from the cause to the people. By highlighting the people connected with and personally fundraising for the organization and, more importantly, the people in developing counties directly affected by their efforts, charity: water offers a more profound message to connect with than just informing supporters of the need for clean water.

In an effort to tackle the most frequently asked question of non-profits, charity: water offers its donors a way to track every dollar they give through the organization’s Dollars to Projects program. This provides supporters information on the community they helped provide water for through GPS coordinates, the number of people served, the type of water project provided, total project cost, and photos of the finished project. The goal is to create a database for long-time supporters to see the number of people, communities, and villages touched by their contributions so every donor has a story to share about charity: water.

With the availability of social media channels and networks at your fingertips, charity: water goes full circle by exposing the organization’s personalized missions through promotional videos, Instagram photos with stories, and a webpage dedicated to storytelling.

By using research gathered in the field along with individual anecdotes, charity: water is continuously providing its followers with reasons to support the organization on an ongoing basis.

Beyond its targeted focus, philanthropic transparency, and relevant content creation, charity: water uses partnerships with other brands to promote its message to those consumers the organization normally might not have reached. By joining efforts with TOMS shoes and Bonobos, charity: water received a donated amount from the sale of specialized products that was put towards the organization’s fundraising efforts. Offering an excellent case study of effective non-profit marketing in the digital age, charity: water has even partnered with Hubspot, a leading inbound marketing software platform that has invited charity: water to its annual conference, INBOUND.


As we become more in-tune with the implications of scarce resources, the philanthropic organization Matter serves to leave a lasting impact on communities near and far by being resourceful with our cast-offs. While on a smaller scale than charity: water, Matter is another great example of how non-profits are using inbound marketing methodology to create passionate supporters instead of unattached donors.

Many individuals may have a desire to support various organizations, but are limited in the financial contributions they can offer.

Matter encourages those would-be philanthropists to offer what they can—recognizing that, in a broader sense, philanthropy can be defined as the love of humankind through the donation of resources other than money, such as time, talent, and treasure.

Matter offers contributors multiple donation options, which include contributions of money, unused goods, and even services, such as videographers, photographers, carpenters, doctors, or other professionals. By encouraging its supporters to promote Matter’s mission through their own available resources and talents, they become passionate about their efforts, many turning to their favorite social networks to spread the word. Inbound marketing in action.

Girls on the Run

With a more robust mission than simply running, the international organization Girls on the Run leverages web-based content to shape its message and mission.

Rather than focus on individual stories of those affected by their cause, the Girls on the Run blog covers many topics related to the development of young women and the issues they face today. Using inbound best practices, the Girls on the Run blog positions the organization as a thought leader by providing young women a well-rounded platform that addresses topics of relevance to them.

With charitable supporters often seeking ways to volunteer as well as financially support, Girls on the Run emphasizes the need for people to commit their time to the organization. Whether it is having a longer-term position as a running coach or attending a 5K to cheer on the participants,

Girls on the Run transforms the traditional notion of charitable giving as a one-way transaction into that of an ongoing, interactive support of a meaningful cause.

Fostering Deeper Engagement

Like their for-profit counterparts, non-profits can and should utilize inbound marketing best practices to foster deeper engagement through website and social media channels. In a survey of 500 non-profit professionals by Case Foundation in collaboration with Social Media for Nonprofits, 88% said their most important communication tools were email and website because they represent the pinnacle of engagement for donations.

As a non-profit, if you want to make your digital assets work for your cause, follow inbound marketing best practices and start a conversation. Don’t simply use social media as a megaphone but engage with your followers. And don’t forget to get visual! Use images to speak to your network about who are your donors, show the community you support, and utilize infographics to communicate dense data in order to create a lasting impression on your supporters.

Statistics That Speak

The previous examples give you a perspective of how inbound marketing works for non-profits, but it’s instructive to review the numbers that show why it works. A study conducted by blackbaud on the charitable efforts of four generations (Gen Y, Gen X, Boomers, and “matures”), The Next Generation of American Giving, exposes how generational differences in philanthropic behavior cause NPOs to target their marketing efforts accordingly.

While Boomers responded to expecting to increase their giving by only 10% in the next 12 months, they are responsible for 43% of all giving and nearly twice as much as the younger generations. Gen Y reported to increasing giving by 21% and Gen X by 18%.

In the relation of being able to see the direct impact of their donation as an influence on their decision, both Gen Y and Gen X were about half as likely to include being able to track their donation as part of their decision. Only 37% of Boomers stated that the direct impact linked to their decision. When looking into the responses further, Dennis McCarthy, the study’s co-author, reported that older generations tend to give to organizations they have for many years and choose well-established charities like American Cancer Society, Habitat for Humanity, or World Wildlife Fund because they believe their donations will be well managed. In comparison, the younger generations will give to new and different organizations based on a recommendation because they have a level of trust from the suggestion.

Roughly half of Gen Y and Gen X responded that they would purchase products because a portion of proceeds would go to a charity. Boomers were far less inclined by this cause-related marketing as it is typically targeted at younger generations.

McCarthy encouraged philanthropists of all generations to become informed because then “your charitable giving stops becoming transactional and starts becoming transformational.


  1. What are some examples of non-profits that could benefit from some of the inbound marketing best practices outlined above?
  2. How can non-profits use inbound marketing to turn social engagement into social action?