Big Ideas, Small Budgets: Finding Abundance in a NonProfit Marketing Budget

After my college internship at a national performing arts nonprofit was complete, I landed my first salaried job at a large financial services holding company that housed more than 80 different brands. We had a marketing team nearing 30 people, our own in-house print shop, photo studio, plentiful project budgets, and regular tech upgrades. Not to mention the weekly happy hours and fully stocked snack bar just for our department. We even had access to a private gym, complete with a personal trainer and fitness classes. 

Despite all of these perks (and much to my mother’s dismay) in the summer of 2014, I made the jump from this well-resourced corporate marketing gig to working at a small community development nonprofit with an equally small budget. While the decision made a positive impact on my overall mental health and gave me the sense of fulfillment I was looking for, it also left me with far fewer resources to work with in order to do my job efficiently and effectively.

I was suddenly faced with aging technology and a budget under $5,000 – including printing costs. Compared to my former role whose budget included $350,000 just for social media management and advertising alone, I was *winces* challenged to fulfill my role to the same extent, but without the abundance of resources to get our marketing where I envisioned it (and promised in my interview) to be. 

After the initial shock wore off, I did two things: first, I looked at ways to prioritize my investments to best utilize my marketing budget, and began digging into alternative resources that would still help me produce quality work without overstretching my organization’s already thin pockets. Today, I share those tips and tricks with those of you who also find yourself with big ideas, but constricted budgets. 

The Power of Partnerships:

There is great benefit to partnering with agencies who have similar missions and needs when it comes to reducing costs. The organization I worked for produced a printed newspaper that was delivered to the entire neighborhood. In order to keep this cost effective, they teamed up with two other organizations who wanted to do the same, each getting a bulk rate on printing so long as we produced the same size paper and ordered at the same time each quarter. This saved hundreds of dollars throughout the year, allowing us to cover the remaining costs with local advertisers. Do you have similar events coming up with a partner organization soon? Split the costs of flyers, share paid outreach and advertise both together. 

Photos, Photos, and More Photos:

Everyone knows that great marketing needs to be visually appealing to your target audience. This can be a challenge when the budget isn’t there for hiring local photographers at every event (which I do highly recommend when possible), or paying for premium stock photos. Not to worry, the companies below still offer great photography at little or no cost for use. Just remember to use what you need, but don’t fall into the trap of tokenization and depicting an untrue image of your work. 

Graphic Design Tools

In the last few years, the market has become flooded with cloud-based tools that allow for easier access to excellent graphic design. If your team is familiar with Adobe Creative Cloud, the nonprofit rate allows you to access the entire suite of products for as little as $30 per month. 

If you are only looking for photo editing and layout tools, another great option to consider is the Affinity Publisher. For one single payment of $54, you have access to a robust layout design program that can create longform documents to social media graphics to web design layouts. They also have photo editing and illustration software and templates available for additional cost. 

If $54 is still a stretch for your budget, I recommend a free nonprofit account with Canva. The best part about the nonprofit product is the ability to work in teams and access all of the pro branding functions. While it doesn’t have the best functionality for long-form documents in the way that Adobe InDesign can provide, it does well with presentations, infographics, social media images, and email newsletter graphics. 

For those who love playing with color, you won’t find a better free tool than Coolors. With designated mobile apps and a Chrome extension, this tool makes finding the best color pallet for your project fun and easy. 

Capturing & Editing High-Quality Video

These days, attention spans are short. The modern “need” to constantly take in information–quickly–has conditioned us to focus just long enough to read a tweet or watch a TikTok/Instagram reel. Videos are an excellent way to get an accomplishment or fundraising ask out to your community quickly and effectively. As mentioned above, Adobe Creative Cloud comes with a few video editing products, including Premier Rush, which allows for easy drag-and-drop editing to produce high-quality videos with professional-level graphics and transitions. 

If you decide to go a different route from Adobe, DaVinci Resolve is another high–powered option that’s regularly used by the film industry – but their basic software is free to download and use. A little less drag-and-drop friendly, but capable of beautiful color, audio, and lighting effects, this a great option if you don’t have a budget for additional software and can dedicate the time to learning the ropes. 

The best part about producing video for your nonprofit today, is the ever-increasing quality of cellphone cameras. The latest models of both Android and iPhone cameras produce very high quality video without the need for extra (and expensive!) video equipment. Simply film on your phone, download the video into one of these editing tools, and you’ll have eye-catching videos for your campaigns in no time.

Where NOT to Cut Costs

Now that you have saved money with design tools, there is one place I recommend not going with the lowest cost option – printing. When it comes to selecting perfect thank you cards or a banner for your event, I highly recommend sticking with local vendors over online options. More often than not, if there is an issue with the final product, your local printers will be able to address it more quickly. As you build relationships locally, these hometown vendors are also more likely to support you with discounts and donations that result in them being more cost effective in the long run.

Even with small budgets, you can accomplish great things with your marketing campaigns. Give these tools a try, reach out to your colleagues for more tips on local resources and don’t be afraid to go after those big ideas. It doesn’t always take big dollars to have a big impact. 

Jessica Payne, Director of Equitable Engagement, Gladiator Consulting

Jessica’s passion is making sure that all voices have the chance to be heard. Blending her decade-long experience in communications, social media, and design with her Master’s Degree in Social Work, she works with organizations and communities to reach their goals through consensus building using a racial equity lens. Her broad experience ranges from preparing neighborhoods for the planning process, to creating coalitions for policy action, to leading a small community development corporation in building new affordable housing. She spends her free time gardening and hanging out with her neighbors in Old North.

To learn more about Jessica, click here.