Inexpensive Marketing Tools to Grow Your Friends Group

Guest Blog – by Sean Carnell @seancarnell28                          Reading Time: 5 minutes, 30 seconds


Operating a small non-profit like a Friends Group takes a lot of work. When you’re coordinating volunteers, raising money, organizing events, or advocating for the National Wildlife Refuge System, your marketing and communication efforts can fall by the wayside if you don’t have enough resources.

My hope with this article is to provide you with a list of inexpensive and/or free marketing tools that you can use to increase your relevancy, membership, event attendance, and unrestricted funding for your Friends Group. I encourage all of you to assess your capacity and current needs, explore the tools listed below, and conduct your own research to ensure that you pick the right tools for you.

Social Media Tools:

Before we discuss the importance of investing in your social media channels, I think it’s important to mention the following:

If we want to grow the constituency of the National Wildlife Refuge System as a collective, we need to spend more time engaging with our fans, rather than creating or posting content just because we can.  Engagement is key. The tools outlined below will help you identify your supporters, provide you with recommended content, and save you time.

  • HootSuite

    • Scheduling and posting social media content on each platform can take a lot of time. With Hootsuite, you can schedule all of your social media content in advance, curate content that is relevant to you, and interact with your followers on one centralized platform. Their free version allows you to schedule up to 30 posts at a time on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, and LinkedIn. By scheduling your content in advance, you can focus on the more important things, like engaging with national wildlife refuge supporters.
  • FollowerWonk

    • FollowerWonk is a free social media listening tool for Twitter. With FollowerWonk, you can learn more about your following, connect with influencers, analyze your competitor’s followers, and post content that is relevant to you.
  • Instagram Insights

    • Connect your Facebook page to your Instagram account to receive useful insights for your Instagram posts and stories.


Do you feel like you spend too much time searching for relevant content? Below are a few resources that you can use to bring great content to you.

  • Google Alerts

    • With Google Alerts, Google will send you a daily or weekly email with top articles on particular topics or search terms. For example, if you set up a Google alert for “XYZ National Wildlife Refuge,” you will receive the most relevant content related to that term on a daily or weekly basis. It’s a great tool to monitor major trends, important legislation that impacts the Refuge System, and your brand.
  • Feedly

    • Feedly is a unique tool that compiles all of the top publications and blogs related to the topics of your choosing. With Feedly, you can review all of the top articles on one platform without spending a lot of time searching through authoritative websites.
  • Pocket

    • Have you ever read an article online and wanted to save it for later? With Pocket, you can save articles that are of interest to you, reference it at a later time, and share it on your social media platforms. You can use their application on your computer or mobile device.

Graphic Design Tools:

If you don’t have a designer on staff, the following tools can help you create professionally designed content to suit your marketing needs.

  • Canva

    • Canva is one of the best free tools to create fun graphics, event flyers, social media content, and much more. With their large collection of free professionally designed layouts, you can create custom content with a breeze without hiring a graphic designer.
  • PiktoChart

    • PiktoChart is another free tool to create powerful info-graphics, presentations, reports, and flyers. With PiktoChart’s drag and drop functionality, you can create unique info-graphics to articulate complex issues in a simple way.
  • USFWS Flickr Accounts

    • Every photo that is published by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are in the public domain and free for you to use. So if you’re searching for great photos to show off your national wildlife refuge, be sure review photos from the USFWS by searching “USFWS” on Flickr.

Email Marketing Tools

In my opinion, small non-profit organizations don’t spend enough money or time acquiring new supporters and cultivating them into repeat donors. For non-profits, real and genuine email addresses of people who love you can become a gold mine for your organization.

According to M+R, a highly regarded marketing research agency for non-profits, wildlife and animal welfare organizations received their highest share of online revenue through email, 57% of which is sourced from email, compared to the overall average of 28% within other sectors. So if you’re looking to increase your un-restricted funding, an effective email marketing campaign may become a good source of revenue for you.

If you currently do not have a newsletter or an email list, I encourage you to review MailChimp as a free option.

  • MailChimp

    • If you’re looking to increase your membership or jump-start your Friends Group email newsletter, MailChimp may be the right solution for you to connect with your fans. MailChimp is a fantastic email marketing and automation tool that allows you to design campaigns and email newsletters without hiring a web developer. The platform is intuitive and user-friendly. With MailChimp’s free version, you can send up to 12,000 to 2,000 contacts each month.
  • Grammarly

    • I’ll be honest, writing and grammar is not my strong suit. Thankfully, I can rely on powerful proofreading tools like Grammarly to check my spelling, punctuation, and grammar on the fly. Grammarly is a free online application that detects words out of context, improves your writing, and even reviews your documents for plagiarism. If you download Grammarly as a Google Chrome Extension, it is a perfect tool to review your blogs or social media content before you hit publish.

Event Management Tools:

Do you feel like you’re capitalizing on your event attendees? How many of them are becoming members of your Friends Group? With a tool like Eventbrite, not only can you increase your event attendance, but also you can actively re-engage with your attendees.

  • Eventbrite

    • Eventbrite is a free event management and ticketing website that allows organizations to create event pages in minutes. Whether you’re hosting a lecture by a prominent speaker or organizing weekend nature walks, Eventbrite can be a great resource for you. With Eventbrite, you can capture email addresses from registrations, collect payments through the website, and automatically send reminder and follow-up emails to your attendees.

Supporting Resources:

The way we communicate continues to evolve and is rapidly changing. In order to remain relevant, we as a community need to become practitioners of our craft.

If you have not already done so, I strongly encourage you to join the following Facebook Groups to connect with other members of the Friends community. The community is welcoming, supportive, and always willing to help.

  • Coalition of Refuge Friends and Advocates

    • The Coalition of Refuge Friends and Advocates is a great place for Friends Group leaders to share insights and guidance on non-profit management and governance. It has become a national peer support group for members of the Friends community to learn from each other and to discuss collaborative opportunities to advocate for issues related to the National Wildlife Refuge System.
  • Friends of National Wildlife Refuges

    • The Friends of National Wildlife Refuges Facebook page is the official Friends Group page of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The purpose of the Facebook Group is to provide Friends and Service staff with opportunities to share best practices, foster partnerships, and increase the shared knowledge between Friends Group leaders.


Thank you for all that you do to protect and conserve our nation’s National Wildlife Refuge System and I hope to see you on a refuge soon.


Sean Carnell @seancarnell28 is Senior Account Executive at a marketing firm located outside of Washington DC. Connect with Sean on LinkedIn, Twitter, or his website to learn more about his recent work.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.refugeassociation.org/2018/06/inexpensive-marketing-tools-to-grow-your-friends-group/

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