Skip to Content Skip to Footer
How Nonprofits Can Boost Donations Using the Marketing Mix

How Nonprofits Can Boost Donations Using the Marketing Mix

Tonya Williams Bradford and Naja Williams Boyd

Nonprofits contribute significant value to society with the support from the individuals who contribute to them. A new study in the Journal of Marketing finds that nonprofit managers may better meet their missions by learning to effectively employ the entirety of the marketing mix to attract individuals to available donation opportunities. Our research team suggests that managers consider the composite of sacrifices required from individuals as they proceed through each phase of donation and employ the marketing mix to proactively and compassionately address the various types of sacrifice that emerge. We use the topic of living organ donation, an extreme type of sacrifice, to explore this concept more fully.

We identify actions for managers to employ the marketing mix—product, place, price, promotion, people, and process—to address each of the three types of sacrifice—psychic (e.g., mental effort), pecuniary (i.e., financial expenditures), physical (e.g., bodily effort)—identified in the donation process. Also included are general considerations for organizations. Product is reflected most clearly in a nonprofit organization’s mission statement and manifests in the offering the donation supports. Place focuses on how disparate entities are integrated to support an individual’s escalation of commitment from interested to committed as well as the delivery of the offering. Price is the component that conveys the costs incurred by donors to provide the contributions. Promotion is most often found in messages educating and persuading potential donors through the conveyance of their importance to delivery of the offering. An organization’s people are an important factor in the entirety of the process and guide donors throughout the process.  


Donation is the manifestation of the process component that includes the steps required for individuals to transform from potential to actual donor. The process we define is comprised of three phases. In the deliberation phase, individuals considering the opportunity are more involved in moving the process forward with some input from the organization. Within the decision phase, there is a balance of influence between individuals and organizations. As individuals move to the donation phase, the balance of influence shifts toward the organization. Thus, an awareness of the process and perceptions of the organization to which individuals are contributing is also important. As such, it is imperative that organizations understand what they are asking of donors and how donors may experience sacrifice. Further, it is important for donors to experience a degree of success, particularly when they are not able to readily observe the outcomes of their donations. Therefore, it is important that the processes to which donors contribute provide them with satisfaction that may be in some ways commensurate with the sacrifices they make to participate. Importantly, process and people influence each phase of the donation experience and should be audited regularly to ensure that the interfaces between them and each phase, as well as the other marketing mix components, are integrated. Further, it may be helpful for managers to assess the extent to which the milestones within a donation experience are critical transition points for an individual to continue becoming a donor.  

The integration of each of the six marketing mix elements is more likely to result in an environment where individuals feel their donations are valued and respected. Each marketing mix element should be aligned to engender the desired response to the organization: that of converting an individual into a volunteer. We find that marketing mix elements mitigate sacrifice, which serves to engage individuals in the donation task and thereby increase the likelihood that they will continue. For organizations where donation may continue, the enactment of such sacrifices is likely to engender loyalty and continuity. 

Organizations are not static as evident in alterations to their operations, offerings, and positioning. Similarly, nonprofit organizations may adjust their offerings to remain relevant to those they serve, thereby maintaining or growing their client base. As they do so, it is important that they assess how those changes may impact the degree of sacrifice required for existing and potential donors and operationalize the marketing mix to address those sacrifices. The deft employment of the marketing mix to extend the tenure of donors may also accrue other benefits to organizations such as confidence in operational projections, service stability, and reduction in delivery service cost. 

Though these findings emerged from a particular type of donation, they are relevant to organizations that depend on contributions borne of sacrifice (e.g., hosts for foreign exchange students, families to adopt children, hospice care providers, or those offering compassionate care to individuals in crisis). We challenge nonprofit managers to employ the totality of the marketing mix to secure necessary contributions to meet demand. Try this approach—our communities are relying on you! 

Read the full article

From: Tonya Bradford and Naja Boyd, “Help Me Help You!: Employing the Marketing Mix to Alleviate Experiences of Donor Sacrifice,” Journal of Marketing.

Go to the Journal of Marketing

Tonya Williams Bradford is Assistant Professor of Marketing, Paul Merage School of Business, University of California Irvine.