Using Weak Ties to Strengthen Nonprofit Marketing


by Heather Kallevig

Marketing is an important part of running a business or organization. In order to gain supporters, customers, people using your service, etc, a company must use public relations, advertising, and market research to promote and sell their products and services. All of these components require dedication of time and money. This is how for-profit companies stay afloat. For nonprofit organizations, this is where the problem comes in.

Historically it has not been socially acceptable for a nonprofit organization to spend their limited resources on marketing – whether it be the time of employees and volunteers or their small funds. This view is generally held by consumers, and felt by the nonprofit organization (Grau, 2014). Here is where the problem lies, how may a nonprofit organization gain support without traditional marketing strategies? How can new innovations increase the visibility of nonprofit organizations? These are the questions I wish to address in this post.

  1. How may a nonprofit organization gain support without traditional marketing strategies?

The answer lies in weak ties. In 1973 Mark Granovetter established the idea of weak ties – a connection between individuals and their acquaintances and strong ties – close friends and/or family members. Since this first publication these terms have become an established link in social network theory and social network analysis. Weak ties specifically have diverse benefits for individuals and society. These benefits include “innovation diffusion” – which applies to the circulation of ideas and information (Granovetter, 1983).

The concept of innovation or information diffusion can explain the success of many different nonprofit organizations. Their “marketing” takes place when awareness of a cause, brand, activities, fundraising, etc are passed in a network from one group to the next via weak and strong ties. The more weak ties an organization maintains, the stronger their outreach will be and in turn the likelihood of their success will be greater.

  1. How can new innovations increase the visibility of nonprofit organizations?

As our society bounces back from the recession and our government battles a major deficit, we see some alterations in the ways nonprofits can gain financial support. They are seeing diminishing government funding and thus increased reliance on vested independent donors (Grau, 2014). Their weak ties are more important than ever. Nonprofits are leaning to the help of new platforms through social media. Without spending a great deal of time and money, nonprofits can utilize social media platforms to make their weak tie network even larger, increase awareness, and gain additional support. Effective use of weak ties and social media can significantly improve a nonprofit organization’s success rate.

Granovetter, M. (1983). The Strength of Weak Ties: A Network Theory Revisited.

Sociological Theory, 1, 201-233.

Grau, S. (2014). Marketing for nonprofit organizations: Insights and innovation.

Chicago, Ill.: Lyceum Books.