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Why Non-Profits Need Marketing

November 28, 2011 Allison Gibbs

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Marketing is something that pretty much all businesses do (or should be doing). Selling products and services requires finding customers. However, in the non-profit world where the task is usually to do more with less, marketing sometimes gets lost in the shuffle. I've observed countless terrific non-profits doing great work that truly makes the world a better place, yet struggle to generate revenue because of weak marketing.

Non-profits have customers, just like a business. They are typically called donors, members, sponsors, or volunteers. These people sometimes needs to be persuaded to work with your non-profit, just like a business customer. They need to understand the benefit of becoming a donor, member, sponsor, or volunteer. They need motivation.

Too often, non-profits operate under the cloud of "no budget", "on the cheap", or "all volunteer". While a frugal mindset is not necessarily a bad thing, it can sometimes keep great non-profits from reaching their potential due to lack of marketing.

So how does a non-profit utilize marketing?

1. Tell stories. Non-profits typically have a mission that involves creating change. Maybe it's providing aid to a specific group of people, or providing value to a community. This work comes with stories that are emotional and relevant. Get on video and tell these stories. Get your board members, volunteers, and staff members on camera to speak from the heart and explain why they come to work every day. Post these videos on your website and on social networks. Get stories out there.

2. Have a plan. Too many non-profits are just "winging it" when it comes to marketing. They give the task to an inexperienced intern, an overworked staff members, or a volunteer who will get around to it one of these days in his or her spare time. This usually leads to disorganized execution. Create a marketing plan that defines who your customers are, how you are going to reach them, and what your system is for motivating them. A roadmap gets everyone on the same page.

3. Don't be afraid to spend money. I've seen a lot of non-profits that are terrified to spend money on marketing. They feel that it's irresponsible to spend money on marketing. Quite the opposite. It can often be irresponsible to avoid spending money on marketing. How else will you reach the people who can support your cause?

Volunteers help run operations. Donors, members, and sponsors bring in revenue. Revenue and operations keeps an organization running. Not so different from a business, right?

Non-profits are doing great work and changing the world. For this reason, they need to devote attention and resources to reaching those people who can support them and help them continue the work. There is a balance to be found between creative use of limited resources, and proper budgeting for marketing. Embracing marketing principles that serve the business world can ensure that your non-profit grows, flourishes, and continues to make the world a better place.

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Allison Gibbs

Allison Gibbs

Allison found her love for marketing while studying business alongside her theatre degree at Indiana University. She loves offering simple solutions to complex problems (and tacos). In her down time, she loves a good run and staying involved in theatre (which landed her in a SuperBowl halftime show alongside Madonna)

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