Demystifying marketing communications for SA non-profits

In Agency Think Piece by Rachel Briant

As first published on the Media Update platform.

South Africa’s non-profit sector has been feeling the pinch lately with funding getting cut across the board. It’s time to lean into marketing communications to keep the organisation visible and sustain outreach and impact. 

As a country we have a very active Non-Profit Organisation (NPO) sector, with over 200 000 registered NPOs as of 2020 (as per the Department of Social Development). In the context of a country with complex system challenges and many living without their basic needs being met, NPOs play a crucial role in helping the country move forward.

But with funding becoming scarce across the board, off the back of a global pandemic and the impact of the Ukraine / Russia conflict, what role does marketing play in this sector

As a strategic marketing communications expert in social development and non-profit space, I’m here to tell you that magic can still be made on a leaner budget. This is thanks to tactics we refer to as “below-the-line” and “earned media”, which helps your money work harder for you by improving visibility and publicity through leveraging tactics such as:

  • editorial
  • partnerships
  • strong web and social content, and
  • good press. 

Often the first mistake made is that marketing budgets are cut down during tough times. While it makes sense that the pinch will be felt across the board, you’ll likely only sabotage future fundraising opportunities and organisational impact by undervaluing the role marketing and communications can play.

Instead, consider outsourcing your marketing function to consultants or smaller agencies who have the senior skills (even just in the short term), but are ready to get their hands dirty and adapt to the ever-changing digital media landscape. Another recommended approach is to do less, but better — in short, hone your marketing focus and do a few things very well, rather than trying to stretch yourself thin. 

Professional presentation — as achieved through efforts like proper photography, a website that makes a strong impression and a consistent presence in the media, for example — goes a long way in making a good impression It is crucial for fundraising efforts.

Marketing can also help NPOs with the following:

  • focus their messaging
  • define the target audience and outreach tactics, and
  • apply creative thinking to problem-solving. 

Despite the reputational distrust that the industry might have — due in part to a general lack of understanding of how it all actually works, and in part to some agency junior-fication — marketing and communicating your organisation can be a fairly straightforward exercise, and it also does not have to break the bank.

This is where SME agencies with shared passion come in. In saying that, marketing isn’t the magic pill that fixes everything, so remain realistic about what’s possible and what it can achieve for your organisation. Ultimately good end-to-end marketing strategies / campaigns rely on effective operations of the organisation.

For those NPOs who don’t know where to start, here is the A, B and C of marketing communications:


  • How am I reaching my market?
  • What communications channels am I using and can these be improved?
  • Do I really know my customer?
  • Do we have an ongoing digital presence for reaching and building our community (social media or other)?
  • Do we have an email database of stakeholders and partners that are regularly updated and POPIA compliant?


  • Is there an up-to-date written profile about the organisation that clearly communicates who we are and exactly what we do (free from jargon and ambiguity)? 
  • Do we have a good understanding of the current market, macroeconomic trends that relate to the sector — and a good opinion on it?
  • Do we have a consistent design look and feel that people identify with our brand?
  • Do I know who my key spokespeople are and do they clearly understand the organisation’s brand and how to communicate it in media interviews?


  • Do I have good quality, high-resolution photographs of the team?
  • Is our website up to date and easy to navigate?
  • Have we considered video content that clearly demonstrates the organisation’s positive impact?
  • Do we have examples of key projects to visually communicate our work?

If you answered no to most of the above, it’s probably time to bring in the experts. Overlooking the marketing basics could cannibalize your other efforts — even if you’re doing amazing work! 

As everyone knows, marketing communications can be a powerful tool in strengthening your organisation’s profile. Getting simple and effective systems in place for a longer-term marketing strategy (back to basics) can work wonders. And the good news is, I’m here to tell you that it does not have to be complicated or expensive!

Get in touch with us today to find out more.