Why Business Marketing Automation Platforms Don’t Work for Nonprofits

As a large or perhaps mid-size nonprofit organization, you probably know the general value of marketing automation platforms such as HubSpot and Salesforce. You may have looked into using one or more of them, or even purchased and used one. But there’s one thing most of these have in common – they were designed for businesses, not nonprofits. And business marketing automation platforms simply can’t deliver what nonprofits need.

We’re going to look at several reasons why in this article.

What Are the Benefits of Marketing Automation?

There’s a reason businesses and nonprofits often end up using marketing automation platforms. It’s because there are simply too many tasks to perform to run a business, and many such tasks can be more efficiently and effectively managed with automation rather than using your employees to do them.

Here are some of the main ways marketing automation helps businesses and nonprofits:

Manage inbound leads across multiple channels

For businesses, it’s customers. For nonprofits, it’s donors. Either way, you have leads coming in from a variety of sources – social media, internet search, volunteers, events, word of mouth, direct mail, and many other places.

The more channels you’re using, the harder it is to manage and optimize them all. Marketing automation helps businesses and nonprofits run their marketing more effectively and efficiently.

Personalize outreach

Through segmentation and customer data, marketing automation enables you to communicate with prospects more personally. You can use their names. You can reference past engagement activities and metrics such as prior purchases, prior donations, surveys filled out, and quizzes taken. You can even use the information they provided in those surveys and quizzes.

Personalized communication is always more effective than generic communication.

Scale up

For small nonprofits, you may be able to keep track of all this. But as you grow, it becomes much more difficult. You can either hire a whole bunch of people, or you can use marketing automation to perform the tasks that humans don’t need to do.

Marketing automation enables you to scale up without having to grow your staff so much to keep up with the all that growth.

Collect and organize valuable data, metrics, and analytics

Personalizing is much easier with data. So is making smarter decisions. Marketing automation collects data and enables you to see the metrics that matter to your organization so you can analyze and it use it to inform your strategic planning.

Automate communications

Staying in touch with leads, prospects, donors, and customers takes a lot of work. With marketing automation, you can automate many of these communications. The better the automation, the more you can rely on it to handle so your donors feel heard, understood, and valued, and you have more time to devote to other tasks.

3 Reasons Business Marketing Automation Doesn’t Work for Nonprofits

This brings us back to the primary question. Marketing automation is a good thing for businesses and nonprofits. But the platforms designed for businesses often make it harder for nonprofits than it should be. It’s supposed to make life easier, but it often does the opposite.

Here are three reasons using business automation for your nonprofit will add more frustration than it relieves.

1. Business Automation Requires a Lot of Work

These things don’t typically come all set up and ready to go. This isn’t plug and play software. Instead, you get a fairly blank slate of tools, and you have to shape them to serve your organization.

Businesses that depend on automation expect this, and they devote large portions of their budgets and staff resources to making the automation work. Many businesses hire full-time employees just to set up and manage their automation.

Yes, it is still performing tasks that – without the automation – would require far more people. But the automation still takes a fair amount of work in order to benefit from its capabilities.

Nonprofits don’t typically have the time or the budget to devote to this. So when someone from the business community, like a person on your board, ‘sells’ you on how great some business automation platform has been for their business, be careful.

Just because it worked for their business doesn’t mean it’s the right tool for your nonprofit. In all likelihood, it isn’t.

2. Business Platforms Don’t Speak ‘Nonprofit’

These platforms are built and designed to serve businesses. They make particular assumptions about what the people who will be using them will need.

Businesses deal with customers, leads, sales, inventory, average order size, sales calls, marketing touches, lead generation, coupons and discounts, upsells, shipping, memberships, loyalty programs, ascension, and many other terms and processes that don’t apply to nonprofits.

As a nonprofit, you deal with a different set of terms and processes. With rare exception, you don’t have inventory. You don’t fulfill orders or do shipping – certainly not on a large scale. You don’t have sales. You have no products.

It’s very difficult to adapt your terminology and methods to the pre-set methodologies baked into business marketing automation platforms. You end up bending and twisting the software to do things it wasn’t really meant to do. And you ignore and don’t even use large parts of the platform, even though you’re still paying for them.

It’s like hiring a tennis coach to teach you pickleball.

Yes, there are some rough similarities. There’s a net. A ball. A thing you hit the ball with to get it over the net. But the details are very different. And the details matter.

3. Training Your Staff Is Very Difficult

Learning how to use most marketing automation platforms takes a while. There’s usually a pretty steep learning curve. That means you need someone to train your staff. Who will this person be?

If the trainer comes from the company that sold you the automation, you’ll pay quite a bit for their help. Is that a good use of your funds?

If you rely on the ‘tech person’ on your staff to learn the software and then teach everyone else, now you’re diverting resources from other priorities and hoping this person doesn’t run into too much trouble. Expect this person to end up watching hours of online videos, scouring help forums, reading articles, submitting and waiting for support requests to get answered, and many other tasks to learn how to use the business automation platform.

Furthermore, assuming this person learns the software well enough to train others on your staff, who will you choose to take the training? What other tasks are they currently performing that they can set aside?

Most nonprofits are understaffed already. Can you afford to devote this much time and personnel to learning a system that does far more than you need from it?

And the worst part is, what happens if the trainees, the in-house trainer, or both, end up leaving soon after gaining all this knowledge and skill? Turnover at nonprofits tends to be higher because of lower pay. It shouldn’t be that way, but it often is. They might decide that with all these skills and knowledge they’ve gained about this platform, maybe they can get a higher paying job somewhere else. It happens.

If the people you train end up leaving, now you’re back to square one and have to restart the whole process to realize the benefits of this automation software you spent money on.

An Alternative to Business Marketing Automation

High costs, poor alignment, training challenges, and turnover. Those make it pretty difficult to benefit from most business marketing automation platforms.

The question then becomes, are there any nonprofit marketing automation platforms? Has anyone created software automation that does what nonprofits need it to do, designed specifically for them?

As it turns out – yes!

For nonprofits, the greatest area of need that marketing automation can help with – and that will justify the cost of it – is your major gifts fundraising.

For most nonprofits, major gifts comprise over 80% (often over 90%) of your total budget. It’s a bit different for organizations like universities and hospitals, but only in degree. And even for them, the vast majority of your fundraising dollars come from major donors.

The processes of identifying, qualifying, cultivating, and stewarding major donors and prospects is well-suited to the strengths of marketing automation.

Marketing automation built for nonprofits helps you leverage your database of prospects and donors. You will be able to:

  • Identify potential major donors
  • Reach out and engage them with email and other forms of communication
  • Send surveys
  • Record and categorize responses
  • Identify prospects who are ready for human outreach
  • Amass profiles filled with data to better inform and personalize those interactions
  • Assign prospects to gift officer caseloads
  • Follow up
  • Steward previous donors
  • Pursue planned giving
  • And so much more!

Nonprofit fundraising automation can perform all these tasks.

The surprising reality is, however, there’s hardly any such software out there.

But there is one – us!

MarketSmart was built to perform all the major gifts fundraising tasks listed above, and much more. We exist because nonprofits need a way to scale up and perform major gifts fundraising more efficiently and effectively.

And our software delivers exceptional results. We’ve seen the return on investment for so many organizations that use our platform, and it has been so high, so consistently, that we now offer a 10:1 ROI Guarantee. Yes – we guarantee that qualified nonprofits will make at least ten times what they spend on our software.

That’s a pretty good deal.

It works, or we could never offer a guarantee that extreme. Watch videos and see what some of our clients have to say about using our marketing automation platform.

You can also watch this video that gives a basic overview of how it works.

And, you can schedule a free demo where we’ll take you through the system in much more detail so you can see if it’s what your nonprofit has been looking for, but hasn’t found in any business automation platforms.


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24 days ago

Totally agree with this article! I’m an experienced major gift officer who has worked with several non-profits, mainly in higher ed. One of the colleges I worked for used SalesForce, and it definitely wasn’t a fit. Another non-profit I worked with 10 years later actually switched from Raiser’s Edge to SalesForce because it was less expensive. Bad idea. As a fundraiser who also worked in business at various times, it was clear to me that SalesForce was fine for sales and marketing, but not adequate for fundraising.

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