The importance of marketing your nonprofit



I was asked to write about the importance of nonprofit marketing for CharityChannel, a professional online home for nonprofit colleagues. This post grows from that article.

I am sure by now that we all agree that marketing is essential for your nonprofit’s survival.

A recent study Branding Forward: Navigating a Branding World in the Midst of Transition  found a significant number of marketers believe there is still a need to understand the fundamentals of marketing, even while embracing change.

After all, nonprofits are a business; they have customers. Marketing consists of the strategies and tactics used to identify, create and maintain satisfying relationships with “customers” – donors, members, volunteers, clients and other stakeholders.

These relationships result in value for your organization and its stakeholders. I will go so far as to say that without these customers your nonprofit could not fulfill its mission and make an impact in the community.

At the heart of marketing is positioning. As described by Philip Kotler, marketer extraordinaire, positioning designs an organization’s image and value offer so that its customers appreciate what the organization stands for in relationship to its competitors.

Marketing is known to “pull” the audience from where they are to the nonprofit to create a desired action. Communications “pushes” out messages. Positioning is the linchpin between the two. 

Positioning flows from your nonprofit’s mission. Positioning guides your organization into the future and works to build its reputation with your key audiences.

Positioning is strategic. Can you think of anything more valuable than your nonprofit’s reputation? And, in this changing landscape where nonprofit’s must be nimble and quick, positioning takes on even more importance in competition to be loved “or be out.”

You can find more details about The Power of Positioning in an earlier post.

Loud & Clear: Successfully Marketing Your Nonprofit is a PowerPoint presentation I developed for GCN’s Nonprofit University. If you’re interested in our Marketing Communications Template, please contact me at



Don’t shoot yourself in the foot: Revisit your communications plan before you speak!

“If you don’t know where you’re going it doesn’t matter which way you go!”

How could one of the country’s most trusted nonprofits end up in a no-win situation with its supporters and corporate partners?

How could a well-liked and respected organization that does so much good for so many find itself on the defensive?

Below is a brief overview of how the Susan B. Koman Foundation landed in such a difficult spot.

On January 31st AP reported that Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the nation’s leading breast cancer charity, was halting its partnerships with Planned Parenthood affiliates that provided breast screening services through a Komen grant.

This caused a bitter rift between the two organizations. Planned Parenthood responded immediately and launched a fundraising initiative to replace the lost funds; at first the Komen Foundation was quiet. By the time they responded it was too late.

The ongoing effects were almost instantaneous. The once venerated Komen Foundation found itself on the defensive and it appears it will remain there for a long time to come.

It is hard to imagine, but as Kivi Leroux Miller describes in the Accidental Rebranding of Komen for the Curethe foundation waded into an area of highly charged public feelings without a communications plan. Or, I would suggest, without using their marketing communications plan to guide their actions.

This is not the first time that Komen has hurt itself. Nancy E. Schwartz, in Getting Attention, describes corporate relationship snafus Komen made, and how the brand suffered.

So, what can you do to prevent your nonprofit from shooting itself in the foot?

Here are some guidelines:

  1. Always keep your marketing communications plan  updated & use it!
  2. Always market your mission.
  3. Carefully define whom your mission serves. You need to meet the needs of your core stakeholders.
  4. Measure your constituents’ needs. Research, research, research to ensure your programs & services resonate with your target audiences.
  5. Evaluate the success of programs & their relationship to your mission.
  6. Communicate regularly & consistently.
  7. Craft your messages to reflect how our mission affects your different audiences.
  8. Communicate in terms of your ROI even when it is not in monetary terms; quantify your economic impact.
  9. Celebrate your successes. Show how your ‘market diversification’ creates the funding to provide your services.
  10. Know your organizational elevator speech so you can articulate your vision & Competitive Advantage Statement.
  11. Keep a “face” on your marketing initiatives.
  12. Evaluate often & be prepared to refocus your efforts.
  13. Do not go into the dark. Have a crisis communications plan and be prepared to use it.
  14. Keep your social media outreach up-to-date. If/when a crisis strikes be prepared to address issues head-on. Make sure your posts & tweets are relevant to the issue at hand.

Not certain your new initiative serves your better purpose?

Test it before you launch!

I would love to hear your thoughts on ways to ensure your communications integrity and success.

Interested in a CS&I Marketing Communications Template? Contact me at


AJFF 2012 soars above the ‘social media noise’

Let’s face it – the more important  social media becomes to marketing special events, the more difficult it is to be heard above the ‘social media noise.’

The AJFF 2012 is scheduled to start for February 8th. Incredible that more than 21,000 tickets sold in the first two weeks of sales!

How is the film festival getting above the noise? A focused year-round marketing plan topped with strong social media is key.

AJFF communication strategies consist of a blend of online buzz with compelling content for social media websites and consistent outreach to secure coverage in the news.

To ensure that the AJFF team reached its communications objectives to cultivate diverse audiences, increase awareness and enhance coverage, the marketing committee held brainstorming sessions and developed a social media content calendar.

AJFF 2012 Facebook page is visually compelling. I’m one of the more than 1500 people who have liked the page. Each day I get engaging posts with tickler descriptions of different films including video-clip trailers and reminders to purchase tickets.

AJFF website is geared to provide information on films, location of theatres and ticket sales. The online media center contains press releases and press kits – everything bloggers, reporters and twitter influentials need. Contact information is visible. Email queries and phone calls are answered promptly.

In an earlier post Promoting a Film Festival in 3 weeks! I describe marketing tools to use to increase the buzz and ticket sales for a film festival.

If you would like a copy of my film festival PR template, please contact me at

Special thanks to Brad Pilcher and Shayne Walsey, AJFF communication co-chairs and Kendel White from Weber Shandwick for their hard work to make AJFF 2012 a communications success.

Now, if you will excuse me I need to finish ordering my tickets for the festival before they’re sold out!

Power of Positioning

“If you don’t know where you’re going it doesn’t matter which way you go!”

While putting together my PowerPoint slides for an upcoming marketing session at GCN’s Nonprofit University, I had an ‘aha’ moment. I clearly saw that positioning was key to virtually everything we were going to discuss in the session.

A positioning statement is a tight, focused description of the core target audience to whom a brand is directed, and it provides a compelling picture of how the nonprofit wants its targeted audiences to view them. A well-constructed positioning statement brings focus and clarity to the development of a marketing strategy and tactics. Note: Brandeo is an online marketing resource and provides an excellent description of positioning and what is needed to craft a positioning statement.

I truly believe that the only way to be heard above the noise, and to create and sustain what your audiences think about your organization is to position it correctly.

A couple years ago, I worked with a dynamite team on AMA Atlanta’s pro bono project. The Team conducted a SWOT analysis, reviewed and critiqued all written materials provided by the nonprofit client and the website, and conducted audience discovery calls.

The audience discovery consisted of 11 interviews from members, funders, sponsors, partners and a legislator.  Looking at the interviews by audience segment, it became clear that their Funders found the message and purpose of the organization to be clear and concise, and felt that they were valued partners. However, its sponsors/members/partners and the legislator believed the client needed a clearer message statement. They wanted more involvement with the organization to feel included as a valued stakeholder. The organization had an opportunity to gain additional funding through its members/sponsors/partners by having a clear message and involvement with this core group.  There was also much to gain on the advocacy front with these segments knowing the defined mission, vision and services.

After analyzing the results of the SWOT and Audience Discovery calls, the team decided to create a Vision Statement, two positioning statements [The client separated its advocacy and program/services into separate units] and to provide a list of marketing communications opportunities in the short term.

If you would like more information on positioning and audience discovery calls please contact me at