The Nonprofit Marketing Manifesto
Redefining the future of nonprofit marketing and communications
For far too long, the nonprofit sector has thought far too small when it comes to marketing.
Marketing is for businesses that want to sell products and increase shareholder profits, many argue.
It’s crass to even discuss using marketing to drive goals as nuanced and complex
as those commonly held by social sector organizations – goals like ending hunger,
expanding education opportunities and combating the environmental impacts
of climate change. And it’s hard to blame them.
After all, the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines marketing as “the act or
process of selling or purchasing in a market.”
Definitions like these lead the uninitiated to declare that marketing is an irrelevant practice for nonprofit organizations where the focus is on social change, not sales.
Those who are open to the idea that marketing has a place in the sector often view it as nothing more than a tool for building awareness and raising funds, despite the fact that money and awareness alone will never be enough to make their missions a reality.
This limited thinking is the norm.
It’s been perpetuated by nearly every book ever written on the topic of nonprofit
marketing, and by every consultant who tries to force for-profit marketing models
to work for nonprofit organizations without modification or adaptation. Funders
and donors don’t help either. Their insistence on categorizing marketing and
communications as “overhead” and evaluating nonprofit performance based
solely on ratios of overhead vs. direct service expenses drives disinvestment in
marketing and encourages small thinking.
It’s even been perpetuated by every definition of marketing in every major dictionary.
But you see things differently.
You know it’s time to redefine what marketing means in the nonprofit sector, and you’re ready to try this new definition on for size:
Definition: 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.
You know that marketing is so much more than a tool for fundraising and awareness building. You believe that marketing can support every goal your nonprofit sets, from recruiting volunteers, to building partnerships, to diversifying revenue streams, and that when this happens, marketing becomes a tool for advancing your mission and driving social change.
You know an expanded approach to nonprofit marketing isn't just a nice-to-have.
It is an essential for any nonprofit that wants to fulfill its true potential. And finding new ways to fulfill your true potential for impact has never been more critical for nonprofits than it is now.
Today’s social sector organizations are constantly being called upon to do more with less.
The social, economic and political factors that have caused this growing stress on the nonprofit sector are numerous.
- Cuts to federal and state-run social services are leaving more people hungry,
homeless and otherwise unable to meet their basic needs. This means more
people are turning to the nonprofit sector 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 (nearly 40% growth since the 1990s). This means 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, from crowdfunding campaigns that support a friend’s medical expenses to venture philanthropy funds that support the explosive social enterprise space. This means an already highly competitive fundraising landscape is becoming even more cutthroat for most nonprofits.
These challenges are making it harder than ever to sustain a nonprofit organization and continue to advance its mission over the longterm.
Focusing marketing to the domains of raising awareness and raising funds might have been enough to get by in the past, but it’s not enough today. If your nonprofit wants to advance its mission and drive meaningful, measurable change, marketing simply must be integrated into everything you do.
Small thinking must be squashed.
So where should you start? Begin by making these 10 commitments, and ask the rest of your organization to make them along with you.
We will recognize marketing as a tool for driving social change.
We will develop a strong brand image and identity in alignment with our mission and values.
We will build cohesion internally and communicate consistently externally.
We will treat all of our stakeholders as brand ambassadors.
We will develop a marketing plan that aligns with our strategic plan and recognize that marketing can impact every single one of our strategic goals.
We will invest properly in marketing and treat it as core mission support, not overhead.
We will ensure marketing is overseen at the highest level of our organizations and contributed to by everyone on our teams.
We will use our brands and marketing to build partnerships and advance the broader causes we're focused on.
We will avoid, at all costs, sacrificing the dignity of those we serve for the sake of our marketing and communications goals.
We will measure the impact of marketing on our missions and continually optimize our efforts to drive more social change.
Driving meaningful change isn't going to get any easier.
The need for the services nonprofits provide is going to continue to grow.
Competition for money and resources from both inside and outside of the sector is going to keep heating up. Shifting demographics and dynamics will call everything we know about what it takes to succeed as a nonprofit into question.
In this new world, organizations that prefer to stick to the status quo will struggle just to stay afloat.
The longer they limit the role of marketing and communications in their operations, the more their growth will stagnate. With their focus dominated by the need to sustain their operations, making a meaningful impact on their mission will sound like a pipe dream.
But the status quo has never been your style. You’re
ready to start thinking bigger.
You’re ready to realize the full potential of marketing so that your organization can
realize its full potential to change the world. Right here, right now, you’re committing to do just that.
Will it be daunting?
Will you face confusion, contention and roadblocks from those who want to do things the way they’ve always been done?
Will you have to constantly communicate and reiterate your vision of what’s possible?
But when you start to see the benefits of an expanded approach to marketing and communications at your nonprofit, the hard work will be worth it.
More people will know your organization than ever before, and your fundraising revenues will soar, sure, but that will be just the beginning.
You’ll become a leading advocate for the causes you champion. You’ll develop partnerships you didn’t even allow yourself to dream of. You’ll introduce new products and services to diversify your revenue streams, and this time, they’ll actually take off. You’ll start to attract the best talent the market has to offer and build a team so innovative and effective, even Google will be jealous.
Most important of all, you’ll be making an even bigger impact on your mission than you ever thought possible.
And that’s how you’ll know…
the marketing revolution is real, and it all started with you committing to thinking bigger.
Download a PDF (Printable) Version of the Manifesto
About Prosper Strategies
The Nonprofit Marketing Manifesto is brought to you by the Prosper Strategies Research Institute, an initiative of the Chicago-based marketing firm Prosper Strategies. It was written by Prosper Strategies’ co-founders Alyssa Conrardy and Lindsay Mullen.
Prosper Strategies is the leading communications consultancy for the nonprofit sector. We design and implement marketing strategies that help nonprofits achieve their goals, advance their missions, and drive more social change.
Learn more at prosper-strategies.com.