Starting a marketing revolution at your nonprofit

Starting a marketing revolution at your nonprofit

// By Jacqueline Brennan

Extraordinary organizations are reinventing their approach to marketing to make a bigger impact. Learn how to evaluate your nonprofit’s marketing weaknesses and redefine the role marketing plays in advancing your mission. Don’t miss the Upswell workshop, Starting a Marketing Revolution at Your Nonprofit, on Thursday at 4pm in Room K-Town, presented by Prosper Strategies.

According to Alyssa Conrady, President and Co-Founder of Prosper Strategies, most definitions of marketing don’t take the unique needs and nuances of the nonprofit sector into account, so they’ve developed a definition of nonprofit marketing:

Nonprofit marketing comprises the activities, touchpoints and messages that motivate stakeholders to take actions that advance a nonprofit’s mission and create sustainable social change.

Conrady says nonprofits’ highest order goal should be to utilize marketing to advance their missions and drive social change. Raising awareness and raising funds is typically part of the picture, but it’s far from the whole picture. Marketing can and should play a role in helping your organization achieve every single goal you set in your strategic plan, from diversifying your revenue streams, to advocating for policy change, to recruiting talent.

She also says now is the time for a marketing revolution because nonprofits are facing challenges as never before:

  • Cuts to federal and state-run social services are leaving more people hungry, homeless, and unable to meet their basic needs. This means more people turning to nonprofits for help.
  • Cuts to government grants have decreased the total pool of money available to nonprofit organizations, while at the same time, new nonprofits are launching at a record pace, so more organizations are competing for less money.
  • New tax laws and additional regulations are discouraging charitable giving. This means the steady stream of private donations many nonprofits have long relied on is likely to begin shrinking.
  • The first wave of digital native Millennial donors are entering the scene with unpredictable giving habits and nearly unlimited options for social investment. This means fundraising is becoming even more fragmented and competitive.

It’s clear that to survive, nonprofit organizations must make marketing a strategic imperative, and overcome common excuses for avoiding marketing:

“We’re not selling Pampers.”

Marketing isn’t just about pushing a product. It’s about inspiring your stakeholders (program participants, donors, members, legislators) to take actions that will help you achieve your goals. While there are unique nuances, like for-profit companies, nonprofits need to build a strong brand, cultivate trust, establish differentiation, garner support, and inspire loyalty, all areas where marketing plays a key role.

“My board doesn’t ‘get it.'”

Board members who struggle to understand why their nonprofit organization needs to invest in marketing to survive and succeed need to understand the new challenges nonprofits (like yours) are up against, and how marketing can help you overcome them.

“I don’t have the budget or expertise.”

You can’t afford not to invest in marketing, so find a way to start small. First, make sure you’re clear about your organization’s positioning and the key messages you want to communicate. Then, look at your strategic plan and choose just one or two of your most important organization-wide goals and employ a few low-cost, easily measurable marketing tactics to help move them forward. Once you see early successes from these limited efforts, it will be far easier to make the case for (and fund) a more robust budget for marketing.

Visit Prosper Strategies to learn more about unlocking the power of marketing and communications for your nonprofit organization. And if you’re a total beginner, consider these steps:

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