The Ultimate Guide to Hiring a Nonprofit Marketing Agency

It’s time. You’ve finally realized that you can’t do it all yourself. Nor should you – there’s so much more you could do if you had the bulk of marketing off your plate. You’ve got to hire a nonprofit marketing agency.

Nonprofit marketing agencies exist to help you get more out of your marketing dollars. With deeper expertise and specialists who eat, sleep, and breathe the marketing of organizations like yours, they can help you reach more people and generate more revenue.

But hiring a marketing agency for nonprofits can be a tough process. RFPs are the worst way to find real talent, and the language on agency websites all sounds the same.

Three hands put together pieces of the nonprofit marketing puzzle.

So what do you look for in an agency and how do you choose the right one? We’ll show you the right questions to ask at each step in the process.

Let’s start with a big one…

What do nonprofit marketers do?

A nonprofit marketing agency should amplify your mission by helping you reach out to donors and volunteers more effectively. A good agency can extend your outreach and lead generation through email, ads, social media, and search engine optimization (SEO); refine your messaging to attract your target demographic; improve conversions on your website; reactivate lapsed donors; and help you get more out of your current marketing tactics. A good agency will build upon your organization’s marketing strengths and supplement its weaknesses.

How much should I spend on marketing for my nonprofit?

First, you’ll need to have a clear understanding of exactly what you need help with and what you want to achieve.

The best agency partnerships are built on shared expectations, so you need to know as specifically as possible exactly what you need from your marketing agency.

Determine what types of nonprofit marketing you need help with

This is a perfect time to take inventory of your current marketing endeavors. What’s working and what’s not? What would you like to have done differently? What new tactics or strategies can be employed that weren’t previously used?

Analyze what your organization is currently doing and make a list of items that either need improvement or need more time invested to be successful, starting from the beginning with the your marketing strategy (wait – you’ve got a strategy, right?).

Take inventory of your tactics like donor acquisition campaigns, SEO, website development, content creation, social media, conversion rate optimization, and email marketing initiatives. What would you like to be doing more of? What have you seen your peers or other organizations doing well that you think might work for yours? These are all great things to ask an agency about when you get into your interviews.

Decide what objectives your nonprofit needs a marketing agency to achieve

After you’ve considered tactics, think about the financial goals of your organization. Are you falling behind in online donations? Are you struggling to convert one-time donors to anything more?

Measure your organization against industry benchmarks to identify challenges and ask how the agencies you’re interviewing helped others overcome them.

Any good nonprofit marketing agency should have ideas for both new donor acquisition, conversion, data collection, and reactivation campaigns as well as campaigns to help with volunteer recruitment, event promotion, and corporate partnerships. If that sounds like a lot (it is!), be clear on the one high-level function you need help with and look for agencies with those specific talents.

Research the typical costs of hiring a nonprofit marketing agency and determine your budget

Questions about budgets should happen internally before you start talking to agencies; if you just need ballpark figures to understand what’s possible, consider talking to your peers at other organizations to see what they’re spending, or do some research online. Figure out roughly how much should go toward agency services and how much you’ll spend on paid media.

Knowing what your budget is will help determine which agencies you’re realistically able to work with (bigger, more experienced agencies are more expensive and less risky), and what you can expect as outcomes.

Even if you don’t have a solid budget number, knowing that you’ve got $20,000 vs $100,000 will open very different doors with very different agencies, so get an understanding of the range you’re playing in.

How to find the right nonprofit marketing agency

So now you know what you need, why you need it, and how much you can spend. Why aren’t agencies beating down your door, ready to help?

Believe it or not, most great agencies are not out hunting for new clients, so don’t expect them to come looking for you. They often do not respond to RFPs and instead, wait for personal invitations from organizations like yours. (RFPs are extremely time consuming for them, and so often only agencies structured in a specific way to respond to them will do so – which means you lose out on so many of the great agencies that might be better partners.)

Google can help, but it’s impossible to know if agencies that rank well are good at ranking, or good at marketing for nonprofits.

Work with an agency that knows nonprofit marketing

Here are four steps for finding a good nonprofit marketing agency.

1. Ask for referrals

Your first move should be to get referrals from colleagues, friends, and other nonprofits. If you’re a local or regional organization, you’ll likely want to find a local agency. If you serve a larger region or national market, your search widens to a much larger area.

2. Search online if you must

You may need to get specific with your search to find a good list, because directories will litter the first page of results. Keep in mind that Google reviews are likely unreliable for this category, but directories like Clutch actually interview agency clients and write more objective reviews using that information.

3. Check out agency websites and research them online

Check out their blog and social media presence to see if the content they’re producing aligns with your values and demonstrates expertise in your areas of need. Check out their profile on agency directory sites like Clutch. See how big their team is and what kinds of specialists they have to know if they have the resources to service your account. Look at their service offerings to be sure their offerings match your needs.

4. Narrow down the list of marketing agencies to interview

This list should be no more than 3-5 so that you’re not overwhelmed with choices but have enough to evaluate their strengths and weaknesses against each other.

How to interview a nonprofit marketing agency

After you’ve established your shortlist, reach out to those agencies to schedule an initial sales call.

We suggest using the form on each agency’s website so that you can see how much effort and attention they’ve put into their sales process. You’ll start to get a little more familiar with their approach to communication, their copywriting, and their email marketing abilities just by submitting that form.

This first-touch will also give you an idea of how the agency thinks about client experience. Simple things like how quickly they respond to your inquiry, how easy it is to book a call, and how clearly they communicate expectations and next steps is a vital insight into their overall approach to work.

Who should be on the call when you interview a marketing agency?

That depends. You definitely want whomever on your team will be the main point of contact, and it’s likely you’ll be able to screen agencies with just that person (maybe that’s you!) to narrow them down.

Once you’ve got 1-3 finalists and you’re on your final round of interviews, you’ll likely want to include any of the stakeholders on your team who’ll have an opinion on the agency’s work, and the ultimate financial decision maker.

Questions to ask when hiring a nonprofit marketing agency

  1. Ask about their experience working with nonprofit organizations specifically. Look for a breadth and depth of experience with organizations and situations that might be similar to your own. Whether they have experience with animal welfare, healthcare, education, or human services might matter to the specific solutions you need, so dig in and get specific.
  2. Ask about their approach to project planning and management. How structured is their day, week or month? How do they handle ad-hoc work requests? How often will they communicate with you and on what channels? What kind of access will you have to your point of contact and what kind of response rate can you expect? Get an understanding of the pace and timing of their production schedules to be sure it aligns with how your team is comfortable working.
  3. Ask to meet your account lead and at least the key members of the team who will be working on your account prior to signing the contract. Much like an interview for a new employee, you will want to get to know the people you’ll be working with on a day to day basis. Make sure the sales team isn’t trying to make the sale without making the introduction. You’ve got to test the chemistry and make sure there’s trust and understanding.
  4. Ask if they produce their work in-house or hire contractors, and who will be managing those relationships. All agencies rely in some part on a network of freelancers who help out with specialized skills or creative talent, but they should have a core team who service your account in-house. There should also be one point of contact managing the project from all angles to be sure the outcomes are aligned with the strategy.

“The biggest red flag for me is the appearance of overpromising.

There is a lot of science to marketing, but there is also a lot of art, and that creates uncertainty. If example ROIs or deliverables sound too good to be true, ask questions and don’t be afraid to push back. You may think you don’t know enough about marketing to express doubt to experts, but that’s all the more reason to be thorough!”— Jonathan Goodman,
Director of Development & Communications, Champions for Children

Other questions you may want to ask before signing a contract with a nonprofit marketing agency

  • Ask about copyright and ownership of the assets they’ll be creating on your behalf.
  • Find out what martech tools they prefer and have experience with to be sure they align with yours (or perhaps they’ll help you migrate if that’s a need).
  • Ask about how they handle security among their team members concerning access to your website, social media platforms, and other platforms.
  • What does their reporting process look like? Will you have access to live dashboards? How often will they review their strategy and revisit their plan?
  • How do they handle overages or incremental work when it comes up? What is their hourly or project rate if that happens?

What to expect in a nonprofit marketing agency proposal?

A marketing agency proposal should contain clear descriptions of the work they plan to do for you (scope of work) or how they intend to determine a clear scope of work. It should also have pricing information and a little information about the team that will be working on your account.

The agency should be clear about how often they’ll review their strategy with you and if they plan to revisit their entire plan on a regular basis. No good agency will have a crystal-clear picture of all of the deliverables you’ll need at this point – that’s what the research and strategy phase is for, after all – but they should be able to share similar SoWs for other clients with similar budgets and goals so you have an idea of what to expect.

You will also want to review the agency’s Master Services Agreement (MSA) and contract language to be sure their payment terms, contract terms, and severance policies align with your needs.

Next round interviews: Narrow it down to two

Now that you’ve got proposals in hand, you should be able to narrow down your agency candidates to just two and schedule interviews with a larger group of folks at your organization. How many is too many? You’ll want to include anyone who will have an opinion on the work the agency is producing or the results they’re responsible for.

Trust me – you’ll want their buy-in early in the process, even if that delays the hiring a bit. If any of those stakeholders don’t support the agency choice, they could inhibit the ultimate success of the marketing by adding obstacles, challenges, and resistance.

Including stakeholders in the agency decision process will help ensure they trust the agency’s decisions later — when the success of your marketing program is on the line.

When you schedule these final group interviews, be sure to include the agency team members that will be leading the strategy of your account as well as the salesperson. Each person on the call will be able to speak to different aspects of the agency relationship, and should help to give your stakeholders a warm, fuzzy, trusting feeling – and the encouragement to move forward.

Be sure to schedule 15-30 minutes right after each interview with your team so you can gather raw, in-the-moment feedback from all on the call, and use that in your final decision if it makes sense.

Making the final marketing agency decision

Consider the team’s chemistry with your stakeholders, the quality of the team’s previous work, and the agency’s understanding of your business and marketing goals. After the final interviews, you should have a clear winner in your agency search process, and be able to get the contracts finalized.

(Don’t forget to let the other agencies know of your decision — the ones that didn’t make the cut, as well as the runner up. Ghosting an agency that put hours into building a relationship with you is generally frowned upon. If you want to be a real champ, offer feedback to the other agencies on the factors that influenced your decision so they can get a sense of their opportunities for improvement.)

Choosing a marketing agency for your nonprofit is no easy task, and making the wrong decision can have real, financial implications. Properly managing the process is essential to ensure that you choose a partner that can help reach your nonprofit’s goals.

The right agency will be able to understand your organization, its mission and purpose, and collaborate with you to create a strategy that aligns with your vision for success. Good luck!

Work with an agency that knows nonprofit marketing