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Survey Results: Houston Nonprofits Rank Communications Challenges

We just finished our first survey of Houston nonprofit communications trends. The main takeaway is that if you are feeling overwhelmed by the difficulties of getting your message out to the community, you have a lot of company.

In April, we surveyed nonprofit leaders on their views on marketing and branding, and the communications tools they use. It may be the first time anyone has tried to gauge local nonprofit communications needs.

The Results

No one is happy with their current communications approaches. At the top of the list of things they want to improve are social media, with websites, grants, and email marketing following close behind. This was true regardless of mission or size of the organization.

It has gotten much harder to reach supporters. Across the board, participants say that since the pandemic, it has been more difficult to stay in touch with their supporters and the people they serve. They also say that the expanding number of ways to communicate is making it harder, instead of easier, to reach people.

Nonprofits want to do better at using communications to advance priorities. Their biggest needs are to use communications to attract new donors and keep the ones they have, but they are looking for better ways to achieve all of their goals. In particular, they are looking for ways to increase the Houston community's awareness of their missions.

Nonprofit leaders are looking for ways to engage their boards, and fundraising is at the top of the list. Every participant said board training on fundraising was important. Strong majorities also said they want to involve their boards in creating their communications and branding strategies.


The study confirms one of the big paradoxes of COVID-19: The pandemic created an outpouring of generosity and brought a lot of new donors, but it also made it harder to engage donors, clients, and the public in general. That continues to be a problem as nonprofits try to engage their audiences. Related to that, instead of making it easier to reach people, nonprofits find that all of the different communications tools have make it harder to have real, meaningful conversations with their audiences.

It's also not surprising that grant writing and websites were high on their list of concerns. Grants are the life blood of so many organizations, so it is only natural that nonprofits would focus on them. Similarly, websites are the focal point of nonprofit marketing. Every other communications channel should lead people to the donation page. Some of the dissatisfaction with websites may be because many web developers can create beautiful sites, but not understand the specific needs of the nonprofit.

There were two big surprises in the survey for me:

What’s the obsession with social media? Social media ranked first under communications needs, while email marketing was down on the list. That’s backwards. Email has been proven to deliver the top return on investment for nonprofits and is the most effective tool to retain existing donors. Yet nonprofits continue to see social media as a silver bullet. As we have discussed before, social media is becoming a less and less effective way to reach people as Facebook, Instagram and other platforms try to monetize their users. It needs to be a part of marketing, but only if it is used strategically and in conjunction with an integrated communications plan.

Reaching the populations we serve is harder than most people realize. More than 70% of nonprofits said they want to improve their ability to communicate with the people they serve. So much attention goes into reaching donors that this fundamental part of a nonprofit’s mission doesn’t get enough attention. It makes sense, though, since so many of the people who are served by nonprofits live on the margins of society. They may move frequently. They sometimes can’t pay cell phone bills. It is easy to lose touch with them, and the pandemic only made that worse.

StoryBoard HTX Can Help

As a full-service communications company, StoryBoard HTX can bring together all of the elements of an effective nonprofit marketing and branding program.

Strategic – StoryBoard HTX can:

  • Train boards on fundraising and help develop strategic plans for nonprofit communications.

  • Map out integrated marketing plans that drive donor and supporter engagement through multi-channel approaches.

  • Create realistic strategies that allow nonprofit staffs to manage their communications needs in-house.

Execution – StoryBoard HTX can:

  • Serve as your outsourced marketing department, managing your communications to free your staff for other objectives.

  • Develop content for your website, emails, social media, and other marketing channels.

  • Develop and manage email marketing and social media campaigns.

  • Create or advise on websites, grant submissions and video campaigns.

Right-sized Service. Based on experience, StoryBoard HTX understands that nonprofit budgets are tight, and services need to be geared to the size, mission, and budget of each nonprofit.

Want to read the full survey? Email us at


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