5 Important Marketing Lessons Nonprofits Can Learn From The Hunger Games | npENGAGE

5 Important Marketing Lessons Nonprofits Can Learn From The Hunger Games

By on Dec 5, 2013


Nonprofit Marketing Lessons from the Hunger Games

Fans’ obsession with the Hunger Games saga isn’t by chance. It’s by design. The stories, the characters, the themes, the plot, the brand — they’re all crafted in a way that envelopes even the innocent bystander. As a Hunger Games fanatic (if Disney creates a Panem-based theme park, I’ll be first in line to visit the Capitol), I’ve been thinking about how nonprofits can learn from the phenomenon and generate this type of dedicated following.

If I can be inspired by a fictional girl with braids and arrows, what kind of fandom could our real-world heroes inspire?

Here are a few nonprofit marketing lessons from the Hunger Games that might just change the way you approach building your fan base.

Hunger Games Lesson 1: Storytelling is Vital for Survival.

Before the games even began, Katniss and Peeta discovered that for survival, they needed a credible tale about their relationship – one that would inspire support across the Capitol – a love story. It was this relationship that transformed them from mere tributes from District 12 to a couple worth rooting for. Their story became bigger than the games.

Think of the Capitol viewers as your constituents (minus the crazy makeup): They need something to grasp onto, a storyline to follow.  Turn your mission into something they can see and engage with (show where donations are going; make use of photos and videos, let them be PART of the story).

Nonprofit marketing becomes significantly more powerful when stories are used to demonstrate impact. It gives organizations meaning beyond mission statements or yearly reports. More importantly, it provides hope. For cure. For change. For possibility. And that is what your constituents are willing to fight for.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum used video to tell the story of how World Memory Project was able to give one holocaust survivor closure surrounding the details of his father’s death. It’s one thing to write a story or speak of your mission’s impact. It’s another thing entirely to show it.

Hunger Games Lesson 2: Your People Are Important.

Katniss Everdeen. Peeta Mellark. Gale Hawthorne. Haymitch Abernathy. Johanna Mason. Finnick Odair. Cinna. They weren’t just names listed on a website with a short bio. They didn’t just wear symbols of the revolution. They WERE the revolution. They formed connections. They inspired.

In much the same way, it’s imperative that the people and leadership of your organization are forming meaningful connections with your community of supporters. Use events, notes or phone calls, volunteer engagements, and social media to connect with your supporters. They want a relationship with your organization, and your people are your best representation.

Big donations or small – every donor (and dollar) counts. The best way to ensure their support is long-lasting is to make connections worth sticking around for. Know each other by name. Build Trust. Show you care.

Below, you’ll see an email I received from Executive Director of Wreaths Across America upon making my donation. Receiving the email from Karen made the email seem more personal. Sometimes, it’s the little details that make a big difference in nonprofit marketing.

Personalized nonprofit email

Hunger Games Lesson 3: Precision Matters

What’s Katniss’s weapon of choice? A bow and arrow. Her every shot thoughtful and every move calculated. The precision matters to her and it should matter to you.

It’s a tenet of all marketing today that the more you can personalize the experience for your audience, the better you will be able to engage. If Katniss shot her arrows at random, it would have been about as effective as you sending out blanketed communication to your entire supporter base.

For effective nonprofit marketing, you must be able to track and understand the behavior, needs, and interests of your audience. What’s their connection to your organization? How do they show support? Are they active on social media?

It’s about being thoughtful and ensuring that every communication is purposeful.

Consider online vs. offline interactions with your supporters and potential supporters. If they’re visiting your site, reading a blog, or attending an event, tracking this behavior allows you to be prescriptive with your nurture.

Geotargetting: Share Our Strength geo-targets by inviting supporters to events in their hometown, at recognizable locations. It’s immediately resonant and supporters are far more likely to respond to this than to a more generic “See if we’re in a city near you!”


Hunger Games Lesson 4: Change is Contagious.

Katniss may not have known the spark she caused when she chose to eat the berries, but all of Panem watched and change was ignited. For the first time in almost a century, districts believed they could fight back. Things could be different. She gave them hope, and this hope spread like wildfire.

Your nonprofit is fighting the good fight every.single.day.  YOU are the beacon of hope for change. The key is to provide supporters and potential supporters with an idea of what that change could look like.

By giving supporters an idea of the progress they could be a part of, allowing them to see how many lives could be impacted and how much good could be done, you give them a cause to stand behind.

Take a look at this Girl Effect video. They don’t just outline the problems girls in poverty are facing, but they show the change that’s possible by joining together to combat the issues.

Hunger Games Lesson 5: You Need a Mocking Jay.

What started as a simple tribute token worn by Katniss during the games, became the symbol of rebellion and hope across the districts of Panem. The mocking jay, no longer just a singsong bird, was now the brand of the revolution – weighted with meaning and representation of the fight for change.

What about the symbol of your organization? What feelings does it evoke amongst your constituents? How does it tie-in with your organization’s brand?  Is it recognizable to even those not directly associated to your cause?

Your nonprofit’s brand should be the umbrella of your entire organization, encompassing everything your organization does, wishes to do, and the body of people that support you. And your logo should serve as the symbol- the identifier- of your cause, signifying to others your presence and service in the community.

Here are a few organizations that have nailed it.


Human Rights Campaign


Nonprofit Logo

Charity: water


charity water

Rainforest Alliance


Rainforest Alliance

And here’s a list of about 50 other nonprofits with killer, memorable logos.

Your cause can catch fire, too.

The nonprofit marketing stakes are high. You have competition for supporter attention around every corner and behind every mobile device (just check out the retention rates). But you can do something about it: Start telling stories. Make real connections. Be purposeful with your communication. Demonstrate the change that’s possible. Be recognizable.

And may the odds be ever in your favor.


Madeline Turner is a social media expert, and was formerly the online and social marketing manager at Blackbaud. Prior to running Blackbaud’s social media and thought leadership blog npENGAGE, Madeline worked as a managing editor for Blackbaud’s content marketing program. It is her goal to create content and share ideas that challenge the status quo of the nonprofit industry. When Madeline isn’t tweeting or writing blog posts, you can find her drinking coffee out of her ‘Crazy Cat Lady’ mug, wearing giant headphones and singing off-key.

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