Nonprofit Target Market

“There is only one winning strategy. It is to carefully define the target market and direct a superior offering to that target market.” — Philip Kotler

Getting to the right folks

Naturally, we want everyone who hears of our good work to support our cause, but marketers know there’s no everybody, no general public. Try to speak to everyone and you speak to no one. Even if you won some magic lottery that gave you unlimited resources to reach everybody you’re still better off focusing.

Depending on your cause, you may need help from a variety of people: members, donors, volunteers, journalists to spread the word, people to attend events, advocates to sign petitions. You may want people to adopt animals, donate old furniture, or attend the symphony. Financial supporters differ: Some will write a large check, some will give $10 online, and some only want to go to the big gala. They all represent different audiences.

Nonprofit target market

So, who is your nonprofit target market? First, what does your cause absolutely need from many others to accomplish its mission? Is it funds, publicity, labor, something else? From your many answers, narrow it down to one singular need, which should drive your chief marketing goal. The folks who can help you meet this need are your target audience. Start by knowing these folks in real life. But also understand their age, gender, education level, where they live (demographics); their interests, lifestyles, and attitudes (psychographics). Delve deeply into what they care about, what they aspire to. The better you know someone the more effective you’ll be.

If you’ve done your work well, your cause will be good news to these folks. Focus the lion’s share of your communications here. “The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him [or her] and sells itself,” says Peter Drucker. To grow your cause, figure out how to connect with the right people. Create your messaging based on what you know about them.

You probably have a few other mission-critical communication bases you need to cover, perhaps with foundations or local media. These secondary markets don’t deserve the same level of attention. Certainly, you need to communicate with them, addressing their special needs, but save the big efforts for your target audience. Your core message doesn’t change, but how you speak with different groups may vary widely.

Much is written about marketing to different age segments, such as the greatest generation, boomers, and Gen Z. These and other types of groupings should inform your language choices. An appeal that works with retirees may bomb with teenage boys. Even though you are describing the same cause and making the same call to action, it may sound different. Major gift fundraisers take the time to understand that single potential donor’s interests, and their communication with that donor reflects those specific interests, with the message adjusted to a target audience of one.

Music performers joke about the difference between a rock musician and a jazz musician. A rocker plays three chords in front of three thousand people while a jazz musician plays three thousand chords in front of three. Depending on the audience, your message may sound different even though you’re playing the same tune. The song is your core message: How it’s performed or communicated can change. Craft messages to the concerns of your target audience.

— from Want to Change the World?

Four factors to help you define your target market. 2 min.

How to define your target market. 5 min.

reframe problem

Targeted Marketing vs. Mass Marketing


Chapter from Marketing Principles by Jeff Tanner and Mary Anne Raymond. The chapter and book are free online.

Authors explain the differences between targeted marketing and mass marketing, emphasizing the benefits of segmenting customers and forming relationships. It discusses the trend towards precise, one-to-one marketing strategies.


nonprofit marketing guide includes chapter on nonprofit target market

The Nonprofit Marketing Guide


By Kivi Leroux Miller

This is the ultimate resource for nonprofit marketing.