Inbound or Outbound Marketing: Which is the Right Approach for Non-Profits?

inbound and outbound marketing for nonprofitsAt TMR Direct we talk a lot about both inbound and outbound marketing. Outbound marketing focuses on traditional marketing methods (direct mail, advertising, email blasts, etc.) that “push” a message out to a selected audience. Inbound marketing, on the other hand, focuses on social media (blogs, tweets, RSS feeds, landing pages) that “pull” interested individuals in for more information. Which path is right for non-profit organizations?

Both have their place as part of an integrated marketing plan. But each approach (and corresponding tools) has it’s own use. Direct mail, for instance, is still a very powerful tool for acquiring leads and potential constituents. It can be very effective for driving people to your website for more information. But it’s an expensive way to stay in touch with constituents. Once you’ve acquired a donor or partner it makes a lot more sense to stay in touch via email or an RSS feed.

On the other hand, while email is great for staying in touch with people you know (and who know and trust you), it’s not effective as an acquisition tool. People are unlikely to open an email from an individual or an organization they are unfamiliar with. In fact, sending unsolicited email can really harm your credibility.

We encourage our non-profit clients to use both inbound and outbound methods in their marketing efforts—but to use them appropriately. There’s nothing inherently good or bad about either approach. What’s important is to connect with your constituents in a way that they feel comfortable.

Non-profits have always had to be very careful about how they allocate their resources. One of the advantages of inbound marketing is that most inbound efforts are relatively inexpensive. That’s why we urge clients to move as much content online as quickly as is feasible. But you have to be intentional about doing that. You can’t just dump content online and expect people to find it. You still need to be actively and purposefully engaging your constituents. Your messaging still needs to be crystal clear. Your calls to action still need to tell people exactly what you want them to do. And you need to provide a simple, clear way for people to respond.

Should you use inbound or outbound marketing to reach your audience? Yes! Use them both, but make sure you use the right tool for the right result.

How do you combine inbound and outbound methods in your organization?