Speaking to Hearts, Minds, and Wallets: What Every NonProfit Marketer Can Learn from Oxfam

Nonprofits face great challenges, but excellent marketing can help. Oxfam, one of the world's most prominent nonprofit organizations, offers lessons to its peers which are just as relevant in any field.

Why your nonprofit marketing needs to engage hearts, minds, and wallets—in that order.
Learn how Oxfam engages our human nature to raise funds—and how your nonprofit can do the same.

Shoestring budgets. Limited staff. Dwindling donors. Every organization knows the pain of building a strong supportive base—but for non-profits the challenge is particularly steep. Throw in a global pandemic, and the task becomes exponentially tougher: 73% of charities worldwide have seen a dip in contributions this year.

Yet without funding, a nonprofit’s mission grinds to a halt. So in the interest of keeping the coffers full, let’s look beyond the trends and circumstances of the current moment, and examine what’s remained unchanged for thousands of years: human nature. 

The fact is, whether you work at a global non-profit that spans continents, or a small upstart who has yet to secure your first donor, the principles that attract, engage, and retain an audience are universal. Specifically, you must artfully blend emotion, information, and action to grow and mobilize your base.

Let’s take a look at one of the world’s most prominent nonprofit organizations, Oxfam, and see what we can learn from their marketing efforts—and how it can be applied to your organization. 

Step 1: Emotion.

It starts with a feeling.

Maybe your nonprofit wants to reduce gun violence. Or protect the rights of teenage mothers. Perhaps, like Oxfam, your chief aim is to end world poverty. No matter what your goal is, the first order of business in engaging an audience is to connect with them emotionally. All the facts and statistics in the world aren’t going to make a difference if you can’t move someone. Oh, and you’ve got 2.7 seconds to do it. 

So how does Oxfam approach the problem?

First, you land on the Oxfam website. Instantly you’re greeted by bright, bold bursts of color that evoke a sense of global multiculturalism—and the feeling that it’s “one world” we’re all living in. The childlike paper cut-out look of the typography thaws your usual cynicism, gently stirring a sense of wonder and hope. The vibrant pictures put people front and center, juxtaposing the injustice of poverty with the richness of life. The affirming copy talks about the role you can play in joining with Oxfam to eradicate the inequities of the world. You’re leaning in. Suddenly, you want to know more. 

The takeaway: Oxfam knows what all good marketers know—emotion is the starting point for persuasion. Before you even think about making your pitch, or articulating the details of your offering, step back and think about the feeling you want to create in your audience. That feeling frames the conversation—and if you frame it correctly, that’s half the battle.

Step 2: Information

Backing it up with facts

So you’ve stirred the emotions. But emotions alone won’t often get someone to click the “Donate” button. Now you’re going to have to marshal the facts—and give your audience some rational reasons for why they should do business with you. How, specifically, are you going to right the wrong in question? Have you done so in the past? You’ve given us the feels, but why should we trust you? 

Oxfam manages it through a slew of searchable impact reports and fact sheets. They highlight certain case studies—mining in East Asia or fighting violence in El Salvador—which are liable to interest readers in particular. In addition, they offer a plethora of resources that are useful for activists and officials, as well as members of the public. Importantly, their emphasis on measuring impact means that they can show progress over time—essential for keeping donors giving again and again.

The takeaway: Once you’ve formed an emotional connection, bolster it with some proof points. Can you demonstrate your impact in hard numbers—audience size or growth, money raised, and so on? Moreover, what stories can you tell that help people see the benefits of your offering in action? 

MarketSmiths Case Study

The hands-down largest transportation network in North America, the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) in New York serves over 15 million riders. When the MTA decided to modernize the fare payment system and launch OMNY (One Metro New York)—contactless “tap and go” riding, it encountered an obstacle: how to communicate several options across a ridiculously broad range of languages, reading levels, digital savvy, and more. NY-based web agency Reflexions, on deck to build the new OMNY website, tapped MarketSmiths to write the web copy, introducing New Yorkers to their future of transit: crisply and effectively. As of November, 2019, OMNY rollout has been a massive success, with 6,100 taps on day 1, widespread early adoption, and installation across 472 stations. 

> Read the full case study

Step 3: Action

Empowering people to participate

Emotions stirred? Check. Facts presented? Check. Now you need to take the final step, and spur people to act. Of course, this could be as simple as a “Sign Up” or “Donate Now” button. But you can go further than that, and get creative about other ways to empower your audience to spread your mission. 

Oxfam does an amazing job of empowering its audience to get involved. Not only do they suggest DIY activities for people who want to join the cause, but they provide downloadable toolkits, step-by-step planning guides, suggested scripts, insider tips, free promotional materials, and much more. Importantly, these offerings aren’t just pushing for the sale—they are equipping people to take action.

The takeaway: Be an ally to your audience—and support them with resources to help them act. Even if you’re not a non-profit, this approach applies to you. Let’s say you sell B2B team communication software: You can create a downloadable guide that helps your target buyer seed the idea for why this software is valuable to their team, and empowers them with the facts about ROI that their boss will need to see to green light the purchase. 

Closing the deal:

An age-old copywriting commandment

One final point: Oxfam has successfully engaged your emotions, substantiated its claims, and proved itself to be an ally in helping you make a difference in the world. Still, when it comes time to click that “Donate” button, the organization hasn’t forgotten what is arguably the most important rule in copywriting: Translating the purchase into a benefit.

In Oxfam’s case, they make it clear what your level of support makes possible. You’re not just dumping money into a black box. Oxfam is doing the work of helping you visualize concretely the change your dollars make. It’s the ultimate copywriting commandment. And it’s yet another reason why, even as it’s becoming more difficult to remain a viable nonprofit in our ever-changing world, Oxfam continues to make a difference.

Looking for nonprofit marketing copy that engages the hearts, minds, and wallets of your audience? Get in touch with us today. 


Paul Rosevear

Paul Rosevear

What do you get when you combine the soul of a musician with the mind of a writer? Copy that sings. And for the last decade, that’s precisely what Paul has delivered for global brands, bootstrap startups, and everything in between. When he’s not hard at work crafting top-notch communications, you can find Paul hanging with his wife and two young daughters, singing and playing guitar for The Vice Rags, or roaming the streets in search of the nearest slice of pizza.

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