When it comes to digital marketing, sometimes nonprofits want outside help.
Whether it’s managing high-converting search ads to drive new donations, or crafting email marketing series that turn cold subscribers into ardent supporters, your organization might find it helpful to lean on an expert advisor.
But finding a great digital marketing agency can be difficult, especially if you don’t know what questions to ask or where to push back.
Some companies quickly promise the world and then fail to deliver. Sorting out the good agencies from the bad ones can feel like a wild chase to get accurate information and solid references.
We understand the frustration. As a consultant that truly cares about the success of the nonprofits we serve, the horror stories we’ve heard from past clients even surprise us.
So while we’re certainly not unbiased, we created this article to help nonprofits find the right digital marketing agency for their unique needs – including questions and frameworks to evaluate potential agencies and a short list of partners we would happily recommend.
At Beeline we recognize that we’re not the best choice for every client, but we want to help regardless.
Learn from our hard-won insights and experience from over a decade in the nonprofit digital marketing space and let us know if we can help your organization hit its goals!
What is a Digital Marketing Agency for Nonprofits?
A digital marketing agency for nonprofits is a specialized company that offers digital marketing services tailored to the needs of nonprofit organizations. These agencies help nonprofits create and implement online marketing strategies to raise awareness, drive engagement, and increase fundraising.
In practice, what a digital marketing agency means differs greatly from company to company due to the wide range of services that these businesses offer.
The concept of “digital marketing” covers an assortment of promotional activities carried out over the Internet including:
- Social media management (organic posts or paid advertising on platforms such as TikTok, Instagram, or Facebook)
- Email marketing (newsletters or relationship-building sequences)
- Content marketing (SEO-focused blog posts or video content)
- Search engine advertising (paid or grant-based advertising on platforms such as Google or Bing)
- Digital resource creation (lead magnets and downloadable content to capture subscribers)
- Website design and development (landing page design, donation page design, or wholesale website creation)
Regardless of the exact strategy at play, the goal of these services is to help nonprofits reach their target audience, build relationships with supporters, and achieve their underlying mission.
When Do You Need An Agency’s Help?
Your nonprofit likely has some in-house marketing skills. And better than any outside party can ever understand, your nonprofit knows its objectives and priorities.
This means that in many cases, your nonprofit is better off relying on alternative options such as:
- Leveraging full-time employees to handle marketing responsibilities
- Paying for specialized coaching or self-guided training courses
- Sparingly using marketing consultants on a one-off basis
However, there are two cases that indicate it’s the right time to look for a digital marketing agency’s help:
- When an agency offers expertise that is clearly additive to your internal capabilities – for example, if you have a great copywriter on staff but lack any advertising experience.
- When marketing decisions are taking too much of your team’s time – especially if this is causing you to neglect fundraising or outreach activities that are better managed in-house.
The problem with approaching a marketing agency too early is that many try to coerce clients into complicated, months-long engagements that require massive budgets.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed with a large menu of choices before you even know what strategies work for your particular needs.
Instead, the right time to engage with a nonprofit marketing agency is when you have identified a clear skill gap internally and can appreciate how an agency’s approach can further your organization’s goals.
That way your nonprofit can target specific agencies with the right expertise and hold them accountable to a plan that aligns with your mission.
The right agency should welcome this focus and work with you to test and iterate on techniques before leaning into what is working.
Remember: you as the nonprofit are the subject matter expert – even if you outsource certain roles to an agency, it’s important to stay involved to maintain a consistent voice with your audience and to keep an ownership mindset.
Determining Which Digital Marketing Agency is Right for Your Nonprofit
Ideally, the agency you pick should have already provided some value to you in the form of a webinar, whitepaper, podcast, or other medium ahead of time.
This is the best way to distinguish whether a company is capable of serving your particular needs.
Alternatively, if that’s not the case, you can refine a short list of contenders by considering some important qualities that define digital marketing agencies and comparing these to your nonprofit.
Here are some attributes to consider when determining if a partner is right for you:
|Defining Features of Nonprofit Marketing Agencies||What This Means in Practice for You|
|Industry Focus||Some agencies have more experience serving nonprofits in a particular sector – for example, faith-based organizations or educational institutions.|
|Scope of Service Offerings||Digital marketing covers a wide spectrum of services – if you have focused needs, consider engaging an agency that is an expert in one field to get the best possible service rather than one that claims to do everything well.|
|Size of Clients Served||Some agencies struggle to serve small nonprofits effectively and are only organized to handle routine arrangements with large in-house marketing teams.|
|Budget Requirements||Many nonprofit marketing agencies begin with prices in the tens of thousands of dollars per month and require large advertising budgets to be set aside on top of that. Make sure your nonprofit isn’t committing to something unreasonable with the wrong partner.|
|Size of Service Team||Is the agency a one-man or woman show? Or is there a team of support behind the scenes to ensure continuity and ongoing help?|
|Partnership Approach||Look for indications that the agency you choose will treat you as an equal partner. Are there routine check-ins or sessions to report progress? Do they communicate with you on an individual level promptly?|
In addition to these deliberations, we suggest asking any potential agency you’re going to partner with 3 key questions to determine if they can approach your nonprofit’s marketing spend with the same care as if it were their own.
3 Key Questions to Ask Your Next Agency
Over the years, we’ve heard some real horror stories from bad agency relationships that we wouldn’t wish on any client.
How about a nonprofit website that took over a year to deliver fully and still wasn’t set up properly with analytics!?
To make sure your organization never gets taken advantage of like this, we suggest diving deeply into 3 areas to vet a potential partner.
Ask your next agency these questions and listen carefully to how they respond:
- Have You Served Clients Similar to Me? You want to find an agency that has delivered results for clients similar to your nonprofit. Look for a partner that provides case studies of real client engagements with tangible outcomes along the lines you’re hoping to achieve. Ask follow-up questions to determine whether the company provides customized service or simply sends pre-baked reports.
- Who Owns the Marketing Strategy? Any suggestion by an agency that they own the creative assets or that they won’t give you admin access to your website, ad accounts, or other marketing platforms is a HUGE red flag. Being a good steward of your nonprofit requires ownership and the best digital marketing agencies understand this. Yes, the agency should guide decision-making but you must hold them accountable.
- What Happens When Things Go Wrong? Effective marketing campaigns require tweaks and reassessments. You don’t want a partner who is going to “set it and forget it” when it comes to your ad spend for example. Try to distinguish how the agency makes adjustments or what it does if a strategy isn’t performing. Also, consider if they have a process to back up their work or continue service in unforeseen circumstances.
While these questions oversimplify the process of evaluating a potential partner, they provide a comprehensive starting point and hone in on the most important aspects of a successful relationship.
6 of the Best Digital Marketing Agencies for Nonprofits
Now that we’ve covered when and why your nonprofit needs a digital marketing agency and how your organization can ensure it’s signing on a caring and capable partner, we can move on to actual suggestions.
Here are 6 of the best digital marketing agencies your nonprofit should consider.
All of these are companies we have (or would) readily refer clients to – take this as our short list of high-quality options.
Hey that’s us! (We did admit we were slightly biased.)
Beeline specializes in helping nonprofits create engaging content to attract subscribers, running paid or grant-based advertising to send traffic to this content, and then converting cold interest into lifelong donors through email nurturing sequences.
We help nonprofits produce compelling digital resources that provide value to their communities in ways that align closely with their missions such that new followers eagerly turn into supporters.
We do this through a combination of:
- Valuable lead magnet creation
- Efficient search advertising
- High-converting landing page design
- Relationship-building email series
As part of this subscriber-to-donor journey, we are also experts at managing Google’s Ad Grant program and Microsoft’s Ad for Social Impact Grant program and can help nonprofits secure thousands of dollars of free advertising to further their cause.
Beeline doesn’t pretend to be all things to all clients. We are extremely focused in the services we provide in order to maximize results for the nonprofits we serve.
Additionally, unlike other agencies, Beeline is structured to properly service nonprofits of all sizes, including small or even self-funded organizations.
Rather than locking you into long and expensive engagements, we take a customized approach to each client and partner with nonprofits on a month-to-month basis, providing hands-on help that delivers targeted outcomes based on your organization’s goals.
With Beeline, you get individualized service based on what you need (not what we want to sell you) supported by a team of experts that builds redundancy into our operations.
Get to know us more and see how we can help your nonprofit achieve its fundraising targets.
NextAfter is an expert at helping nonprofits map their donor experience journey and providing data-driven insights on how donors behave.
The agency maintains an extensive library of optimizations and past experiments run for clients in order to learn systematically from millions of individual donor interactions.
They then use this information to help organizations create effective:
- Donation pages
- Subscriber pages
- Digital advertising
- Email fundraising appeals
NextAfter also provides ongoing education through certifications, training, and webinars as well as hosting one of the premier nonprofit marketing conferences (NIO Summit).
While the agency is a great partner to the clients they serve, NextAfter might not be the best choice for small organizations that can’t afford in-depth, long-term engagements and are looking for more focused help.
Community Boost is a full-service digital marketing agency that helps nonprofits increase their revenue from online sources.
The agency offers a wide range of services including:
- Google Ad Grant management (as well as paid advertising)
- Facebook advertising
- Instagram advertising
- Email marketing
- Search engine optimization (SEO)
- Youtube Ads
- Conversion design and analytics
Community Boost also hosts The Nonprofit Marketing Summit – an annual conference for innovative nonprofit professionals.
Community Boost is a great option for larger organizations looking for general digital marketing help that are structured to receive help from a bigger service team.
4. Whole Whale
Whole Whale is a B Corp certified digital marketing agency for nonprofits that focus on positive social impacts.
Apart from extensive service offerings including…
- Many forms of digital advertising
- Email marketing
- Google Ad Grant management
- Google Analytics 4
- SEO Content marketing
- AI Capacity Building
- A/B testing and analytics
…the agency also offers a paid (but affordable) DIY online education university for nonprofit professionals wanting to sharpen their marketing skills. At certain times of the year, they also put together cohorts of nonprofits to go through their DIY online courses to provide the community and encouragement a lot of people need in order to implement what they’ve learned.
Whole Whale is a great option for nonprofits that want to learn on their own affordably or for larger organizations that can afford hands-on implementations further down the line.
Positive Equation offers low-cost, practical instruction for nonprofit professionals looking to learn how to grow awareness and support through Facebook and Instagram ads, as well as a mastermind for organizations that are serious about growing their recurring donor programs.
The company offers valuable courses that cover all the elements of a successful social media campaign including:
- Picking the right marketing assets
- Navigating social platforms and ad tools to create campaigns
- Measuring and assessing the success of your spend
Additional trainings cover how to create high-converting lead magnets to grow your email list and how to set up on-site or Facebook donation campaigns.
Positive Equation is a great choice for nonprofits seeking hands-on learning that don’t want to pay an outside party for implementation.
MarketSmart helps nonprofits bridge the gap between marketing and fundraising with automation tools that create more effective outreach.
The company helps organizations bring in qualified leads with tech-enabled donor discovery services and then convert those leads into actual donations with targeted interactions.
MarketSmart is a good choice for organizations with large budgets that want to secure major donors for their fundraising team using digital marketing and automation software to grow their benefactor base at scale.
Work with a Nonprofit Digital Marketing Agency That Cares About Your Success
Regardless of which digital marketing agency you pick, the most important thing is to find a partner that cares about the impact they are helping you achieve.
This ensures your nonprofit will find an agency that wants to deliver outcomes that move the needle for your mission and community.
So the next time you’re starting (or restarting!) the journey to find the best digital marketing agency, remember to take responsibility for your nonprofit’s marketing spend and hold service providers accountable for the results you want to see.
We hope you use our helpful guide to evaluate potential choices along the way or use one of our suggested options.