By Michelle Flores Vryn, CFRE,  frontline fundraiser, board member, and nonprofit consultant

Social justice nonprofits, in particular, must be able to inspire people to see the cause areas from a values-aligned perspective. Like any story that deeply moves you, the power comes in through the intricate details. Part of the story feels so real that it sets your heart on fire! To achieve this, we have to remember that we cannot fit in and stand out at the same time. We gotta pick. 

In nonprofit marketing, we follow the age-old assumption that casting a wider audience net guarantees a heftier and better catch. But does it, really? We borrowed this concept from the sales world and in my 15 years of nonprofit work, I find it leads down an unhelpful trail. In meetings, I have heard comments like “our target audience is everyone.” 

While a well-intentioned notion, this is simply not the case. 

For example, does everyone really care equally about a growing youth prison system in Texas? Probably not. 

Each mission is not equally engaging to everyone. Failing to recognize this has led many organizations to pursue broad, generalized messaging and marketing. What’s left is average messaging that lacks authenticity.

The Power of Focus

Open up Instagram. Your favorite brands are compelling and own a distinct vibe. I love the indie makeup brands, and yes, the Instagram algo has caught on! Araceli Beauty is a brand that uses key ingredients from Mexico, including agave. The Mexican-American owner does a fabulous job of representing the Latina culture in the beauty industry. But that angle will not appeal to everyone … and that’s okay. The people who love it really, really love it. We’re bought in. We are values-aligned. And we’re not buying our blush from L’oreal. 

For people to find and align with you, you have to show them who you are. And who you are is not generic. 

Social justice nonprofits, in particular, must be able to inspire people to see the cause areas from a values-aligned perspective. Like any story that deeply moves you, the power comes in through the intricate details. Part of the story feels so real that it sets your heart on fire! To achieve this, we have to remember that we cannot fit in and stand out at the same time. We gotta pick. 

As marketing leaders like Seth Godin have highlighted, this is because existing for everyone dilutes the unique essence that makes your mission special. The concept of “the smallest viable audience” emerges as a helpful beacon. It asks nonprofits to identify and nurture a specific community that is deeply invested in their cause. Choosing a very small market to engage is brave. This shift from mass to targeted outreach is not just a marketing tactic. It’s a fundamental reframe of your mindset.

Social Media: A Tool for Real Connection, Not Just Wide Broadcasting

Social media, often thought of as a platform solely for en masse broadcasting, holds untapped potential for creating meaningful relationships. It is a conduit of connection, and on it, uniqueness sells. Nonprofits can use their nuanced missions and people-centered stories to engage with specific groups who share their values and show a real interest in their social justice space.

The question then arises: should nonprofits tailor their content to cater to niche interests or try to resonate with everyone? The strategy of “we’ll just wait for some random people to find us” is not great. But also, you should understand that you have two audiences: one to help communicate with the communities served regarding programs and services and another to build a supporter ecosystem. 

Both audiences are important, but the marketing strategy to reach each is different. It’s also important to remember that in the supporter ecosystem category, quality beats quantity every day of the week. Engaging deeply with a smaller, more invested audience yields more meaningful and lasting support for your cause than superficial engagement with a less ‘bought in’ and larger group. This means that your special event or monthly giving program is not really for everyone. Design it with your smallest viable audience in mind. 

For inspo, here are a few nonprofits that are clearly and boldly articulating their social cause and why it matters: 

  • Rise: works to codify civil rights. Rise is superb at demystifying activism by breaking down the often-daunting process of passing new laws into actionable steps, empowering everyday people to become changemakers. This accessible approach makes civil rights advocacy feel achievable and inspires participation.
  • The Human Impact: helping Dallas’ homeless in a remarkably simple way. It promotes the oldest means of helping others: love and companionship.  The Human Impact cuts through complex solutions with one powerful message: friendship conquers homelessness. This disarming clarity resonates deeply, bypassing assumptions and connecting on a fundamental human level. They attract those who see reframing homelessness as a lack of connection, not just material resources. 
  • Nomi Network: works to end human trafficking by creating pathways to safe employment, empowering women and girls to break cycles of exploitation in their families and communities. Nomi Network has a clear focus on empowerment. Their message is not about rescuing victims, but about building resilience. They resonate with those interested in creating sustainable economic opportunities that equip women and girls to break free from cycles of exploitation and become changemakers themselves.

Embracing the ‘Tinder Approach’: A Strong Brand Elevates Social Justice Causes

Drawing an analogy to the dating app Tinder, the choice is clear. You can either swipe right indiscriminately, hoping to connect with anyone, or you can be selective, focusing on those connections that promise deeper, more values-aligned engagement. 

For nonprofits, this means honing in on those who are most likely to support and advocate for your mission. Even though your mission area may have a far-reaching impact, it will not be everyone’s passion area. For the people who get the importance of your work, they really, really get it!

Think about Community-Centric Fundraising–the movement is not for everyone. But for people who are in, they are all in! It’s a powerful micro-community. A micro-community is a group of people with a shared interest or passion, who connect with each other to discuss their specific interests.

Small is Beautiful, If We Let It Be

The nonprofit space is crowded, and there are so many worthy causes vying for attention. Do not try to compete with every nonprofit out there. Instead, start small and focus on being different for a well-defined group of people: this is the smallest viable audience. Ironically, the path to scaled success is not about reaching the masses, but rather about connecting authentically with those who truly care. 

Sound scary? Maybe. But ask yourself how far playing it safe and speaking to a non-descript audience has gotten you. By focusing on your true believers, you can lean more into your authentic voice and build a community of strong advocates. 

If you do work that matters–and I know that you do–then you can find people who genuinely care. Last year hasn’t held back any punches, and neither should you in 2024. 

Be bold, go big, stay true to your mission, and steer clear of distractions posed by skeptics in 2024.

Michelle Flores Vryn, CFRE

Michelle Flores Vryn, CFRE

Michelle Flores Vryn, CFRE (she/her/ella) has 15 years of experience in nonprofits and has worked in many areas of development, from institutional giving and capital campaigns to special events and digital fundraising. As a writer, speaker and thought provoker, Michelle is consistently asking how we can best drive outcomes to help the most people, at scale. She believes that the best work emerges from healthy organizations so she is invested in making the nonprofit sector a more regenerative environment. Michelle currently serves on the boards of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) Global and Mission Capital and is a CCF Texas chapter organizer. 

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