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Big Goals, Small Budgets: Nonprofit Marketing with Wendy Martorano

Marketing is a huge focus around our blog. Part of that is because as a promotional products company, we create some of the very things that help make lots of marketing campaigns a success.

Another reason is that we know that marketing a business can be a challenge – not everyone has a marketing staff of hundreds with endless ideas and a bottomless budget. That’s why we love to hear stories about how companies got creative in spreading their message and spend a lot of time talking to people whose expertise is marketing.

One particularly challenging area of is nonprofit marketing. Many nonprofits are often already running their operations on a shoestring budget, making their marketing budgets even tinier. So how do nonprofits deal with dwindling budgets and still spread the word about their services?


Mutual Ground’s administrative offices and emergency shelter building.

Wendy Martorano is currently serving as the Director of Marketing and Events at Mutual Ground. Founded in 1972, Mutual Ground is a nonprofit organization that works with the survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. Their services provide education and awareness programs that work towards preventing domestic and sexual violence in the community. They also staff a 24-hour hotline for crisis services, work as advocates for children and hospital patients, and staff a 36,000 square foot emergency-housing shelter for women and children.

Before Wendy worked for Mutual Ground, she worked as a recruiting manager, helping match people to their perfect job in the areas of human resources, IT, accounting, and finance.  Now she manages the outreach and events for Mutual Ground. Part of her day to day job includes updating the website, managing social media accounts, and networking with potential donors. She also coordinates the support and promotion of fundraising events like the Walk for Hope, a 5k that raised $80,000 in 2014, and the Blossoms of Hope Gala, a formal dinner that features auctions, raffles, and music where all proceeds directly support Mutual Ground services.

Kicking off the Walk for Hope 5k in 2014

Kicking off the Walk for Hope 5k in 2014.

Mutual Ground is one of the oldest and largest domestic violence and sexual assault service agencies in the state of Illinois, making them a QLP neighbor!  We were excited to talk to Wendy about some of her experiences at the helm of marketing for a nonprofit.

How has your previous experience as a recruiter helped you in your current role?

As a recruiter, I had to reach out to people who weren’t necessarily looking for a job. When doing that, you have to be able to connect with the person immediately so that you can create a strong relationship. When you connect with people, they become loyal to you, and usually a fan of you and what you do.

Can you share a little bit about your personal philosophy when it comes to marketing nonprofits?

My personal philosophy is to use my small marketing budget to get the most bang for the buck. That usually means doing a lot of networking, so that I can tell everyone I meet about what I do, our cause, etc.  At Mutual Ground, we also believe that for people to want to support your non for profit, they have to see that we are not just taking from the community but also giving back.

Our Development team, including our Executive Director, are members of the Aurora Kiwanis, Rotary of Oswego, and Rotary Sunrise of Aurora, and the local chambers.  I am an ambassador for the Oswego Chamber, and I also serve on the Oswegoland Park District Foundation.  My Executive Director is on the Board of the Fox Valley Credit Union and Zontas of St. Charles, Batavia and Geneva.

Also we try to use every opportunity we are presented with to get a presence in the community. When staff cannot be present, we ask our volunteers to represent us, so that we are at as many community events as possible.

We use social media not just to ask for things when we need them, but to educate and to celebrate our donors or successes.

Director of Volunteer Services staffing an educational event at a local community college

Director of Development, Julie Judd, staffing an educational event at a local community college.

How do you measure a successful marketing campaign or strategy?

Like any business, we want to make sure our marketing is working and that we are utilizing our resources to their fullest. So when we get a new donor, we ask them where they heard about us. We also use Google Analytics to measure where visitors to our website are coming from. The tools on Facebook are also valuable to understanding what engages our Facebook fans.  I participate in a lot of non for profit marketing seminars so I can stay abreast of the latest trends and technology.

What are some of the biggest challenges in marketing as a nonprofit? For your organization specifically?

85% of our money is used for direct services to help our client, which means the remaining 15% is used to cover overhead and administrative costs.  My marketing budget is about 1% of our operating costs.  This doesn’t leave much money for me to do any type of marketing except for some marketing collateral to use when soliciting donors, and then some marketing materials to give to clients.  Currently we don’t do any radio or cable, and do minimal advertising.  I don’t believe we are unique in this, and believe that all non for profits struggle the same way Mutual Ground does.  This comes from the fact that often donors believe no money should be spent on marketing and that it should be spent on direct services, even though the two go hand in hand.

Can you share a time where you experienced a glitch (ranging from minor hiccup to unexpected disaster) in the launch of a marketing campaign or event?

Fortunately, I have not. I really do a lot of research before I launch any campaign and do my best to anticipate any hiccups so that immediately we can resolve the issue if any arises.

Volunteers tied green ribbons to the Mutual Ground property fence to raise awareness for National Sexual Assault Awareness month in April 2015

Volunteers tied green ribbons to the Mutual Ground property fence to raise awareness for National Sexual Assault Awareness month in April 2015.

Have you ever used promotional products in any of your marketing outreach or as giveaways for event participants and attendees?

We just celebrated our 40th anniversary and gave all of the VIPs at our spring fundraiser champagne glasses with our logos on it. Because of the small marketing budget, I only have pens to give away at awareness tables.  I would love the opportunity to do more but until we bring more money in, this is what I have to use.

What’s the secret to a really strong and successful campaign?

I think it is to use every resource that is out there. In today’s day and age, your campaign has to be multi-faceted, with print, digital, social media, etc.  It’s also important to make sure that your branding is current, and that through the campaign you are sending a clear and concise message.

We can’t thank Wendy enough for sharing her experiences and marketing wisdom with us! There are so many great ideas for people marketing nonprofits.  Every nonprofit is different and it might take some time to find a marketing strategy that really works for you and gets your community engaged. But we think these are some great starting points!

  • Use what you’ve got! Every opportunity – from standing in line at the grocery store to social media – can be used to spread the word about your organization or event or share your accomplishments. A small budget doesn’t have to limit you.
  • Every relationship has potential. By having strong ties to lots of different groups in the community, an organization can more quickly and easily spread the word about their services. They can also partner with different businesses and organizations to have a mutual presence at events or network
  • Don’t forget to delegate. Working at a nonprofit – particularly balancing budgets against annual goals – is a lot of work, so avoid burnout by enlisting volunteers. Wendy knows that the small staff at Mutual Ground can’t be everywhere at all times, but they still make sure they maintain a presence at plenty of community events with trained, knowledgeable volunteers.

Do you work in marketing or for a nonprofit? Where you surprised by any of Wendy’s experiences?  What are some of your best nonprofit marketing ideas? 

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  1. Kat D.

    What a great post! I have a ton of nonprofit customers and this helps me tremendously understand where they are coming from and also helps me for the future to give me more of an idea of items to suggest to them 🙂 Thanks for sharing and thanks to Wendy for taking the time to do this interview!

  2. Lily Diaz

    It is amazing to see how Ms. Martorano successfully and strategically organizes and plans her marketing campaigns. We see several wise strategies that Wendy uses for a successful non-profit marketing campaign, and how to successfully reach as many donors and recipients as possible. It’s a great explanation on how to use what you’ve got and don’t spare any opportunity to reach the goal. By using as many outlets to promote your campaign in as many directions as possible, you can be one step closer to the final goal. But she also states that while it’s important to create meaningful connections with people and different organizations, it’s just as important to be organized and delegate responsibilities and make sure every angle from a business stand point is also being monitored closely. Once this is all in place, you are for sure ready for a successful campaign. This article was very informative and gave great insight into helpful tools to use during non-profit marketing campaigns.

  3. Shauna

    Love this article! Having grown up in Illinois I’ve been a huge fan of Mutual Ground and what they bring to the community for quite some time. One of the things I really loved about this article is that Wendy spoke so wonderfully about how important it is not only for Mutual Ground themselves to put themselves out there, but to put themselves out there in a relevant and memorable way – and also in a way that enriches the community around them by educating them and involving them. I also love her clear, concise approach to working with a non-for-profit budget. Great work to both Wendy and all of Mutual Ground – also thumbs up to Marianne for her excellent ability with words. =)

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