Let’s (Re)define Nonprofit Marketing

4 min read

Marketing shouldn’t be a dirty word in the nonprofit sector, yet it often gets treated that way. That’s why we’ve decided to develop a new definition of marketing, specifically tailored to the unique needs and challenges of the social sector.

Nonprofit marketing [noun]

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.

This definition is more than just words on paper. It can change how your organization thinks, works, and makes an impact in the world. Here’s how.

The new definition can help you feel more comfortable discussing the value of nonprofit marketing.

The nonprofit sector doesn’t often use the term “marketing.” Instead, nonprofits tend to use terms like communications, public relations, advertising and branding. But in reality, marketing encompasses those important functions, so it’s time for nonprofits to get comfortable with using the term. Focusing only on one of these pieces of the larger marketing umbrella just perpetuates small thinking.  

Once you begin to think about marketing as all the activities, touchpoints and messages that motivate your stakeholders to take action that advances your mission, new possibilities begin to open up. When marketing is tied to your mission, its value becomes undeniable.

Your mission is important, but let’s face it: Without marketing, no one can know what you do or how to help you do it. Today’s nonprofits are constantly called upon to do more with less and must evolve rapidly to stay solvent in a volatile fundraising, economic and political climate. This means they need to be more strategic about motivating supporters to give, volunteer, advocate and take other actions. Doing so requires an investment in marketing, but before an organization invests in marketing, it must understand marketing. That’s where the new definition comes in.

We’ve decided to develop a new definition of marketing. #nonprofitmarketing #redefine Click To Tweet

The new definition can help you squash misconceptions about marketing and secure the budget you need to succeed.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of misconceptions about nonprofit marketing that organizations like yours have to overcome in order to secure the (absolutely crucial) budget necessary to achieve your goals. Our new definition of nonprofit marketing seeks to quash those misconceptions.

Misconception 1: Marketing is just a tool for fundraising

Nonprofits achieve a wide range of strategic goals with the help of marketing, not just raising money. Marketing can help you achieve goals like:

  • Building partnerships with companies and other nonprofits
  • Developing internal cohesion and mission alignment with staff
  • Recruiting staff and volunteers
  • Attracting and retaining members (if you’re an association or membership-based organization)
  • Generating earned revenue through programs and services
  • Advocating for policies that are important to your mission
  • …and much more

In fact, we believe marketing can play a role in advancing every goal in your strategic plan.

Misconception 2: You must use for-profit marketing techniques for your nonprofit.

You’re not a business, so don’t market like one! Of course, you can look to successful marketing initiatives in the for-profit sector for inspiration, but your goals are entirely different, so you shouldn’t approach marketing the same way either. Take a look at the Nonprofit Marketing Manifesto to learn more about the unique nuances associated with marketing in the social sector.

Misconception 3: Marketing expenses are unnecessary overhead.

We see it all the time: boards are critical of the “marketing” line item on their organizations’ budgets (even when it’s called something else), and it’s often one of the first things to go in a cutback. This is a mistake. Your board simply must stop looking at marketing as a “nice to have,” and start seeing it as a necessity for your nonprofit to effectively achieve its mission.

The new definition can help you hire smarter.

When you begin to see marketing as more than just sending out tweets and creating brochures for an upcoming event, your hiring needs will change. It will become clear that successful marketing requires sophisticated, senior talent capable of helping your organization’s marketing achieve its full potential. We suggest making marketing a part of your C-Suite, and allowing your marketing leader to hire a team, as your budget allows. But marketing shouldn’t just be the marketing team’s responsibility. Everyone at your organization plays a role in marketing, and it’s important to make sure your staff, board, volunteers and other internal stakeholders understand how to communicate about what you do in a way that is personal, yet consistent.

Download our Nonprofit Marketing Manifesto to learn more about this new definition, discover a forward-thinking philosophy for nonprofit marketing and read about the 10 marketing commitments nonprofits must make to survive (and maybe even thrive) in the future.

 

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