Inbound Marketing: A Philosophy and a Technology

As a nonprofit communication guy, my primary concern is to ensure that people know who we are, care about what we do, and are inspired to “get involved” in some way, shape, or form.

In days of yore (by which I mean 18 months ago), we would attract potential supporters/advocates/customers/donors/etc with mainly traditional “marketing” methods. We’d mail them something (a letter, a brochure), show them a PSA, email them something, or the like. This worked sometimes, but it was expensive and not precise at all, and was becoming more and more obsolete at a time when technology was starting to allow people to shut out the “noise” in their lives (commercials, junk email, etc) and only focus on what they want to see, when they want to see it.

So, we had to make a change in how we engaged people; that change has come in the form of inbound marketing.

So, what is “inbound marketing”?

Here is an explanation from Hubspot, a leader in this field: “Instead of the old outbound marketing methods of buying ads, buying email lists, and praying for leads, inbound marketing focuses on creating quality content that pulls people toward your company and product, where they naturally want to be. By aligning the content you publish with your customer’s interests, you naturally attract inbound traffic that you can then convert, close, and delight over time.” (from

As you can imagine, we’ve undergone this transformation by focusing primarily on creating excellent content that our various “customer” groups want and need. For example, we sell fatherhood skill-building materials and training programs to other community-based organizations (CBOs) around the country. These are often small CBOs with relatively small staffs and budgets who are looking not only for a curriculum to offer to dads, but guidance on how to be effective in serving fathers. So, we have created loads of content that has little to do with “making a sale” on our curricula, but everything to do with helping these organizations learn how to successfully start and run a fatherhood program.

The philosophy is (and this is the heart of inbound marketing) that these potential customers will be searching for advice on how to start a fatherhood program, they will find the free, downloadable how-to guide we published on the topic, and eventually (hopefully) come back to us on how to implement the next steps, since they now trust us as experts in this area. The key is that we did not start with the hard sell – “buy our curriculum!” We started with, “here is some free, helpful information to get you going.”

We have done the same thing with individual dads. In the past, we may have sent them a fundraising letter if we wanted them to become donors. Now, we focus on getting them into our “funnel” where we can give them free fathering advice, pass inspirational stories and videos onto them, give them free online tools they can use to improve their fathering skills, etc. We get them into the funnel by making all of this helpful information easy to find for anyone who is doing a Google search on fatherhood. The philosophy again is that once we’ve given them lots of helpful information, they will then be more likely to want to either donate, volunteer, advocate, etc on our behalf.

Now that you have a sense of the “philosophy” behind inbound marketing, I will give you an example of how Hubspot provides incredible technology that allows you to put these principles into practice. (I will put all of the Hubspot terms in quotes below so you can tell when I am referring to a specific tool)

We know that lots of people come to our website looking for research on the causes and consequences of father absence. We used to provide this information for free, so people would be able to come to us, copy or download the research, and leave our site without us ever knowing who they were. That was kind of stupid, right? But here is how it works now with Hubspot (you can actually do this yourself at home!). You Google search “fatherhood statistics” and find our website. On this page there is a blue “call to action” button that invites you to see “detailed data on the effects of father absence.” You click that “CTA” and are taken to a page that provides one free data point on various categories of the effects of father absence. But in order to get more than just that one data point, you can click on another “CTA” that says “Access Additional, Free Research on <Fill in the Blank>.” When you click there, you are taken to a “Landing Page” that contains a “Form” you have to fill out in order to get to the research that we, frankly, spent a lot of time and effort gathering and organizing.

Once you fill out the “Form” you are taken to a page that contains pages and pages of free research! You got exactly what you wanted, but now we at least know who you are. The “Form” also asked you if you want to sign up for our free, weekly Dad Email, which is another way we can give you even more of what you want.

Next, now that this person has filled out a “Form” and is in our funnel, they become part of a “Workflow,” which is a series of automated (but personalized) emails that go out to a contact based on his/her specific interests. So, for example, if you downloaded the above mentioned research and indicated that you are a student, you will start to receive emails from me inquiring about what you are studying, telling you about other research we have available, and even offering to publish your research project on when it is completed.

In the longer term, we now have an enormous list of people in our database who we can “single out” as people who learned about NFI via our research download page. We can track what they did after their initial visit – Did they open the follow-up email? Did they download more research? Based on those behaviors, we can further customize our approach to them.

I hope you can appreciate the profundity of this to any communication geek! This is just one example – we have dozens of processes like this set up across our website, helping us learn why people come to us, what they want, and how we can move them from website visitor to customer or donor, etc. See the picture of the funnel below for how you get  people from not knowing who you are to loving you.

In terms of my “day in the life” experience with inbound marketing, I spend time every day tweaking things in Hubspot, tracking key user behaviors and web traffic, and much more. I was even fortunate enough to speak at their conference in Boston last month on a nonprofit panel (more on public speaking later!).

The reason I have gone into so much detail on this is because inbound marketing is truly a transformational philosophy and technology that I am confident will become the primary way in which nonprofits and for-profits alike engage with audiences. So, I urge you to start learning as much as you can about it as you prepare to enter the communication workforce!  

(by: Vincent DiCaro, Vice President, Development and Communication, National Fatherhood Initiative)Image




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