The Babe Ruth Birthplace Museum
Overcoming the Unique Challenges of Non-Profit Marketing

Marketing in any organization comes with some unique challenges. With the increase in digital marketing, social media, and the volume of messages that ping on our phones, email, and our ears every day, it becomes difficult to find what resonates with audiences. Besides effective messaging, marketers must also overcome challenges in terms of budgets, schedules, resources, project management, and measuring ROI. Nowhere are resources scarcer than in non-profit organizations, where marketing efforts are central to reaching audiences and generating the funds necessary to succeed.

A Surprising Top Challenge

Though profitability is not a key performance indicator for non-profits as it is with other businesses, non-profits must raise funds to stay viable, and do so with major budget constraints. Not surprisingly Nonprofit Times lists budget as the top roadblock for non-profit marketers in reaching their goals. But perhaps more importantly, non-profits are interested in finding out if their efforts are working and often find it difficult to measure their goals, which can include increasing donors, increasing members, decreasing overhead, increasing volunteers and reaching the right target audience with the right intended message.   

These challenges are echoed by Shawn Herne, Executive Director, Babe Ruth Birthplace Museum in Baltimore, who lists measuring ROI as a top pain point, as well reaching niche markets and overcoming budget limitations. While increasing attendance and raising money are key indicators, quantifying the efforts has been elusive. A simple way of measuring this in the past has been Orioles game attendance because museum attendance is often directly linked to this. Game attendance is still a reliable indicator, but digital marketing and data analytics have made measurement more accurate and accessible, and the organization has started to analyze email open rates, web traffic via Google analytics, and video views on FaceBook live. This has enabled them to more effectively target donors and visitors to see results.

Social Media as a Central Tactic

Social media has been a catalyst for measuring ROI because of the data available, but also in terms of targeting and reach. Shawn said that this is one of the most significant evolutions in marketing that he’s seen, and it has helped get their key messages across more effectively than traditional PR methods. “We are selling an experience,” he said. “We consider our collection one of our strongest assets, so we use that to get our message across.” He said that although the organization still relies on traditional print media and PR methods like media advisories and press releases, today creative content has been essential in telling the story of the Babe Ruth Museum, and that audiences are looking for new ways of getting their information.  Knowing this, the group has been creative in targeting historical bloggers, sports fans, and tourism groups to help distribute their messages in new ways.   

According to Shawn, social media has been effective in reaching key audiences beyond the low-hanging fruit of local baseball fans, using Facebook ads to target the fans of visiting teams. He notes that it can be especially challenging to get visitors in the door during the off-season, so they develop YouTube content to remind people they are still there and host special events like the annual gala event. He said, “We are like squirrels; we spend the summer gathering nuts” of their efforts to offset numbers gained in the summer to make up for winter months.

Creative Outsourcing to Alleviate Budget Constraints

With a small staff and limited resources, Shawn said the organization has developed techniques to maximize their efforts. They depend on volunteers to help prepare for special events, but also to provide feedback on the pesky ROI and messaging challenges they face. In addition, they rely on media relationships and the need for content to find opportunities for exposure. He said that oftentimes a media outlet may have a cancellation, so they will take advantage of this to promote the museum. They also partner with other area non-profits on advertising, something he says is a unique advantage for non-profits because in corporate organizations, these groups would be seen as competition. Likewise, these groups can leverage one another’s marketing tools and resources to their mutual benefit.

The Future of Non-Profit Marketing

So, what does the future look like for marketers in non-profits trying to overcome these challenges and stay successful? Shawn sees the competition increasing, as companies are less philanthropic, and younger generations want to see a return on their contributions. To combat these challenges, he envisions more collaboration between other non-profits, and likely some mergers to allow for more efficiency in accomplishing their missions.   

For now, the key to success for the Babe Ruth Museum, Shawn thinks, is staying relevant, and for that “you have to be a part of the conversation. You have your own YouTube channel and put out content on relevant topics in sports to the target audience.” Additionally, he said, “We try to position ourselves as a family-friendly place. Sports is a unifier and we focus on making sure it is a quality experience. We tap into people’s nostalgia, patriotism, and bring people together.”

To learn more about non-profit marketing, check out our takeaways from Port Discovery’s event on transforming messaging.