Strategic Marketing Planning for Non Profit Organization

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Georgetown University

Center for Public & Nonprofit Leadership

Marketing & Communications in Nonprofit Organizations
David Williamson

Essays on Excellence

Lessons from the Georgetown Nonprofit Management Executive Certificate Program

© 2009 Center for Public and Nonprofit Leadership Georgetown University

Georgetown Public Policy Institute

Essays on Excellence

Lessons from the Georgetown Nonprofit Management Executive Certificate Program

Advocacy in the Public Interest

2

Marketing & Communications in Nonprofit Organizations: It Matters More Than You Think David Williamson
Marketing gets no respect in the nonprofit world. Program people tend to hold the most senior positions in nonprofits and accordingly have the most status. Fundraisers are often viewed as necessary evils, as are operations staff, including those who labor in the communications and marketing departments. Several factors account for the suspicion or disdain with which many nonprofit managers view the marketing function. Mostly, it’s a matter of ignorance. Usually trained in other disciplines, nonprofit leaders often fail to understand what marketing can and can’t do for their organizations. Consequently, they hold some strange assumptions (e.g. “Our good work will sell itself ”), unrealistic expectations (e.g., demanding to be in The New York Times once a week) and arbitrary funding theories (i.e., when fundraising is down, cut the communications budget). Compounding the challenge, few nonprofit managers recognize their lack of expertise in these areas. The same people who would never contradict a financial expert or ignore a scientist don’t think twice about overruling marketing professionals on audiences, messages, tactics — the very essence of marketing strategy. There are, of course, exceptions to the rule, primarily advocacy or social marketing enterprises where the core program involves communications, outreach and marketing. But in the main, the basic lack of respect accorded marketing comes as no surprise to anyone who tried to apply marketing to mission or build a nonprofit brand — we’re used to it. After all, why is this chapter near the end of this book? Forward-looking nonprofit leaders, however, will recognize what their counterparts in the for-profit sector understood long ago: marketing is essential. And although the marketing function masquerades under many names within nonprofit organizations — Communications, Advancement, External Affairs, Public Relations, or Brand Management — the primary objectives are pretty much the same: to define and then defend an organization’s position, and move it closer to success in its mission. Marketing answers the questions: How is our program distinctive? What do we want to be known for? Why is our work relevant? With the competition for philanthropic resources and public attention fierce, these are absolutely critical considerations for every nonprofit. While the benefits of investing in marketing may not be obvious to nonprofit leaders, the costs of failing to do so are becoming increasingly clear. With nonprofits coming under increasing public and regulatory scrutiny, organizations no longer can afford to relegate communications and marketing to second-class status. It’s a matter of survival. When the investigative reporters are circling your organization (think of the recent unpleasantness that befell the American Red Cross, United Way, and Smithsonian Institution, among others) you will wish that you had a robust, professional communications department to handle the incoming slings and arrows. An expensive outside public relations firm is a poor substitute for people who know your organization and command the trust of the staff.

moral: Show marketing some respect. It is essential

for mission success, but if you wait around until the need is obvious, it will already be too late. The author wishes to acknowledge the assistance of Douglas Meyer in preparing this...
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