Marketing is a constantly evolving thing. Just a few years ago, the Chicago chapter of the nonprofit Buddhist organization I belong to, Jewel Heart, could spread the word with an ad in the Chicago Tribune or the weekly Chicago reader.

Now, things are totally different. Advertising in publications is less and less effective. The Reader and the Tribune are a fraction of the size they once were. Craigslist has been of no use to us. How can we publicize our nonprofit organization? Here are some things I’ve learned the hard way from my own experience, and from a real professional, Stacey Recht of Hubbard Street Dance.

1. Word of Mouth.

This is the number one most successful way of attracting people who will visit us and stick around for our classes. People want to meet someone who has been to your facility/group and they want a personal recommendation. Simply telling members to tell their friends and acquaintances, on Facebook and in the “real world,” is the single best marketing strategy you can pursue.

2. Yelp.

Yelp performs some of the same functions I mentioned above–you get real people recommending a real cause, business, group, or other entity. Create a Yelp page for your group. Then “claim” it by clicking on the small link prompting you to claim it as your business. Fill out the form asking for some basic information, and prompting you to verify your phone number. Then, upload photos and information. Finally, you should tell your members to post reviews. Our page is still a work in progress, but you can check it out here.

3. Facebook

You probably do this already: You have a Facebook page. But flesh it out as much as possible with basic information. And encourage members to post information on a periodic basis.

4. Facebook ads

Facebook’s pay-per-click ads are affordable and highly customizable. By affordable, I mean you set a budget that specifies the maximum amount you are willing to spend in a given month. Even $10 or $20 per month can get a cash-strapped nonprofit a lot of clicks. You can also target your ad to your local geographic area, which is probably where most of your visitors come from.

Tip: Make sure all your ads have a call to action. Include a verb such as “explore” or “join.” It makes your ad more inviting and more likely to get a response.

5. Direct marketing with complementary businesses

You probably have businesses in your local area that are not direct competitors but that provide goods and services roughly complementary to your own. Put together a simple flyer and knock on their door; ask to post your flyer, and offer to publicize their facility at your own.

6. Do a Groupon or other daily deal

If you are looking for members or customers, consider offering your services or products at Groupon or one of the other daily deal sites. The big three are Groupon, LivingSocial, and Google Offers. But there are plenty of other options. This is not a moneymaking prospect. But it can get you return visits and build loyalty for the future. I say it’s not moneymaking because any one of the daily deal sites will want you to offer at 50 percent of the regular price. Then, they’ll take at least 50 percent of the proceeds. So you don’t end up with much money, but since you’re a nonprofit, this can still work out as a plus.

So far, our efforts are paying off. I’ll keep you posted on how our own marketing campaign is going. If you have any more tips on ways to spread the word either online or off, please pass them along.

May 1st, 2007

I spent part of the weekend at an Enneagram conference in Michigan. It was conducted by the well-known Enneagram authority Helen Palmer. She was very impressive. At the very end she produced gasps of surprise when she announced that she just turned 70. I guess when you understand yourself and learn to turn your vices into virtues, the stress drops away, and you sort of turn back the aging clock, or at least slow it down. The Enneagram, by the way, is a spiritual path based on a system of psychological profiles. It was apparently developed by monks back in the fourth century. I find it quite enlightening. My personality type is the four (there are nine types in all). Simply being around people who are “like me” was a thrilling experience.