5 Trends in Nonprofit Marketing & Communications

It’s an exciting time for communicators and marketers working within the social impact sector.

As we all know, the world faces complicated and big social issues — hunger, homelessness, environmental degradation and income inequality to name a few. The list goes on and on, and it can seem overwhelming to think about the many issues society faces and question if they will be solved.

But there’s good news.

The social impact sector — nonprofits, socially responsible businesses, social enterprises and the practitioners who work within them — has arguably never been more effective and innovative. Not only are smart communicators and marketers helping to raise awareness about these important issues, but many are also capably persuading target audiences to take tangible actions that support proven social change.

Georgetown University’s Center for Social Impact Communication (CSIC), a research and action center within the School of Continuing Studies (SCS), works with both students and practitioners to help increase social impact through the power of communicators at the University and beyond.

Through their applied research studies, workshops and classes, they keep their eyes on the exciting trends within the sector. Here are five trends that the CSIC team is currently following:

Trend One: The need for more strategic storytelling. Numbers numb, but stories get stored. Stories create emotional connections with target audiences and smart social impact organizations are firmly on the storytelling bandwagon. With this rise in the amount of storytelling for social impact comes the double-edged sword that traditional techniques are now falling flat. The bar is higher than ever before to create strategic stories that have purpose, interesting characters and a hook that drives people to not just watch but also take an action. Read more about the five essential (and strategic!) elements of an effective story in CSIC’s Stories Worth Tellingreport.

Trend Two: The power of smart imagery. Images can play a vital role in helping messages reach an audience. Smart imagery drives an emotional connection that words alone cannot achieve. Many social impact organizations are investing in professional, journalistic-style photography as a way to show an authentic side of the change the organization is working to drive. CSIC’s Communicating Via Imagery study shares lessons on how nonprofit organizations are using photography as part of their communication strategies.

Trend Three: The currency of influence. Nonprofits are – understandably – in a perpetual fundraising mode. But to view current or prospective supports only for their possible monetary donations is a mistake. The social impact sector must remember that social media’s empowerment of the individual means anyone can — and is — an influencer among his or her circle of friends and family. That type of influence is a new, powerful “currency” that shouldn’t be underestimated. CSIC explored this topic in its Digital Persuasion study.

Trend Four: The synergy of purpose and profit. Doing well by doing good is not only possible, but it’s also happening at breakneck speed. Through corporate social responsibility and cause marketing programs, corporations are proving that they can create profit while also being a good corporate citizen. There are still many examples of inauthentic green and pink washing out there, but as consumers continue to expect more social impact from the companies they buy from, most companies are responding in innovative, results-oriented ways. Through its research, CSIC actively looks at how corporations large and small are bringing together purpose and profit.

Trend Five: The rise of the social strategist. The above trends are not driven by amorphous organizations, but rather by the individuals behind them: the smart communicators and marketers who combine both head and heart to create social impact. Through nearly 60 interviews with expert practitioners representing organizations and companies like Doctors Without Borders, Chipotle and many in between, The Social Strategist Project uncovers insights about the skills and traits necessary to be an impact-driven communicator.


This post originally appeared on the Georgetown University Public Relations and Corporate Communications blog

John D. Trybus, APR is the director of Georgetown University’s Center for Social Impact Communication (CSIC), a research and action center dedicated to increasing social impact in the world through the power of communicators and marketers. He also teaches its signature Cause Consulting course, which has donated more than $2 million worth of pro-bono services to nonprofit and socially responsibly business clients through the dedicated work of graduate-level student consultants. 

Posted: December 10, 2015