Organizations Mix Old and New Venues to Bring Messages to Market
Nonprofits provide a voice for many and they also speak up for themselves in the marketplace. Creating growth and awareness through marketing is as important for a nonprofit as it is in a for-profit corporation, but the practice requires a different perspective.
The Greater Lansing Business Monthly chatted with several individuals acquainted with the methods and challenges of marketing a nonprofit enterprise. Here is some of what they said.
Joe Garcia started at Cristo Rey Community Center as the executive director about a year ago. He came from the private sector out of a love for the organization. Almost immediately, he noticed the differences in the marketing resources and methods versus the for-profit world.
“In a profit organization, shareholders typically expect the corporation to spend money on marketing,” Garcia says. “You put money in until you get a positive return. But in the nonprofit world, your shareholders — being your donors — might say they don’t want you marketing. They want everything they give and everything you spend going directly to the people you serve.”
Today’s nonprofits, Garcia says, can’t rely simply on grants to sustain their operations. Many, he says, need strong donor support and strategic planning to maintain and grow their services. That’s where marketing comes in.
“In general, nonprofits are at a disadvantage in communicating our goals because the needs and goals we tackle are so enormous,” says Garcia. “And when you consider that we usually have very small staffs, it’s like slaying the dragon.”
Cristo Rey has earned name recognition and community loyalty by virtue of the services they provide: needs-based programs for vulnerable populations. But marketing, he says, can broaden that awareness and help attract people willing to invest for the long term.
“We don’t necessarily want to be known as the generation that keeps charity overhead low,” says Garcia. “We want to be part of making the world better. But to do that, we need to help change the mindset of people who give to us from simply being a donor to being an investor.”
Ted Fox, marketing and new media consultant at East Lansing-based 3T Communications, agrees that nonprofits, especially charitable organizations, have one advantage over for-profits: built-
That connection with the mission, says the East Lansing-based marketing and new media consultant, allows nonprofits to more immediately engage an audience through marketing. The challenge is finding the most effective and budget-conscious way to do that.
“The Internet is most responsible for increasing the importance of marketing,” says Fox. “There is an explosion of content at your fingertips. In the past, people would push content through TV, radio and print advertising. Today’s it’s user-driven how you get your content.”
That, says Fox, both complicates and opens up venues for marketers. Unique Internet-based tools allow marketers to “micro-target” and pick-up cost efficiencies through free social media platforms.
“Social media is a pretty good bang for your buck,” says Fox. “Especially if you’re a nonprofit and you’re sharing with an audience that has empathy.”
Twitter, Facebook, email firms like Mail Chimp and Constant Contact and texting enable communicators to micro-target messaging with minimal cost and investment. A good practice, Fox points out, is to build your database, fine-tune your message, and use the target the appropriate people and associations who use the tools at your disposal.
“Tell don’t sell,” says Fox. “When you’re out there delivering a message, don’t preach as much as you inform.”
While TV, radio and print have their place in marketing, today’s organizations can build multi-prong approaches that combine new media with the traditional.
“What we see a lot is the power of social media for storytelling,” says Terry Streetman, membership and public affairs coordinator for the Michigan Nonprofit Association. “People like to share their stories, particularly when they share a passion for what a nonprofit does.”
Joan Bowman, MNA’s senior director of Public Affairs and Communication, agrees. She also observes that nonprofits have the unique ability to collaborate and partner with other organizations as part of an over-arching marketing strategy.
Examining the habits and techniques of nonprofit marketing can be difficult, Bowman says, simply because of the immense diversity of the nearly 42,000 nonprofits in Michigan. Lansing and East Lansing alone have about 1,340. Bowman adds, too, that a lot of marketing already takes place through events or other forms of face-to-face networking.
“Nonprofits generally market to employees, organizations or community members, not necessarily to the people they serve,” says Bowman. “Events and other forms of professional networking are ways we can amplify our reach, strengthen our message, and spread