Marketing for a charity?! Nonsense!

Marketing often gets a bad wrap, especially when it comes to an organization like a charity. Why should marketing be involved in providing people necessary services? Why are we wasting money that could be going to the people we serve? Here are just a few quick reasons why marketing is crucial to any non profit:

    1. Hopefully your non profit is providing useful if not fully required services. People need to hear about these services if they are going to be able to use them. When it all boils down, marketing is the process of communicating about a product or service that fills a need. In many cases non profits are filling far more important needs than for profit companies, and should therefore be encouraged to shout from the rooftops all of the great ways they can support the people they serve. Without marketing, the sole way people would hear about these necessary services would be through word of mouth. While word of mouth is great, it is far from enough to communicate the message that needs to be out there.
    2. Marketing is about more than advertising. Marketing is about shaping every part of your organization to best support the people you serve. Marketing involves the process of developing your organization to ensure it is filling a void, and not simply duplicating other services that already exist. Duplicating the services of another organization is a great way to split scarce resources and create inefficiencies; however, if you see a hole in the services others are providing and design projects to fill those holes then you are doing necessary and important work. This process of differentiating yourself from other organizations, and then making sure people know about the differences, is also marketing.
    3. We all believe our organizations are doing the best work. If we didn’t we wouldn’t be working for them. If you are doing the best work then it stands to reason that your organization should grow so you can serve even more people. In most not for profit organizations grants for specific projects are not indefinite, which means you need to find additional sources of revenue or the project and services shrivels up just about as fast as it was created. Without the ability to spread your message and engage donors and interested parties, growing (let alone maintaining the services you already provide) would be very difficult. You need to be able to use a variety of strategies to get your message out to people and communicate that you are doing important work, and this too is where marketing comes in.

But who pays for it? Nobody wants their donations to pay for marketing. Or at least they want as little of it as possible to go to marketing. Well rest assured in most cases marketing doesn’t make up more than 1% of all spending. Gateway Association for example has one employee (yours truly) who is responsible for most marketing responsibilities as well as splitting time developing and applying for grants. The topic of overhead expenses like marketing are a hot button issue in the not for profit world, one that I won’t touch on more than I already have in this short post. If you want to read more about why looking at overhead is a terrible way to judge where to donate your money, please read the third edition of our digital magazine theLens, where Keenan Wellar from Live Work Play has a great article on that very topic.

I am confident your eyes have now been opened and you are screaming for more marketing from not for profits. Or maybe you aren’t, but hopefully you still learned a tiny bit?

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