EXTENDING THE CONCEPT OF BRAND COMMUNITY:
BUILDING COMMITMENT IN THE CHARITY SECTOR
The paper introduces a model of brand community development that is extended to the nonprofit sector; a sector that has just recently begun to embrace relationship marketing. It is believed that brand communities represent a unique form of relationship marketing, with benefits that are particularly compelling for nonprofits. Indeed, the paper reveals that many of the characteristics of brand communities already exist to some extent within the culture and/or fundraising efforts of charitable organizations. The article offers a number of research propositions for research into the influence of brand community markers and mechanisms upon donor and volunteer support of charities. INTRODUCTION
“I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”
Based upon recent activity in nonprofit sector journals and publications, it is apparent that this sector has moved beyond marketing techniques and finally begun to embrace the marketing concept. Although slow to discover relationship marketing and its associated benefits of closer, longer term relationships with patrons, volunteers and perhaps most importantly donors, the nonprofit sector seems poised for full-scale conversion to a market orientation. For example, in the past few years, articles focused on: the marketing concept (Liao, Foreman and Sargeant 2001), donor lifetime value (Sargeant 2001a) and donor loyalty (Sargeant 2001b) have begun to appear in the academic fundraising and voluntary sector literature. The practitioner literature has been a bit quicker to embrace the relationship marketing concept and is currently awash with articles related to applications of customer relationship marketing (CRM), database marketing, relationship marketing, direct response marketing, fundraising marketing, events marketing and cause-related marketing. A search of CharityVillage.Com, a Canadian website serving the nonprofit sector, revealed over 150 articles related to marketing. One article underscored the importance of marketing to this sector stating simply that, “fundraising is marketing” (Canadian Fundraiser 2002). This marketing awakening within nonprofit organizations, is a reaction to a number of factors, namely: that direct donations to charities have declined (Peacock 2000; Williamson 2003); there is a declining trend in giving amongst those in the younger age groups (Fund Rasing Management 1999a; Peacock 2000); the effectiveness of donor mailings is declining (Lynch 1997); that government and public support has been declining (Hibbert and Horne 1995); there is increased competition amongst non-profits (Liao et al. 2001); foundation giving has declined due to the ill-performing stock market (Willamson 2003); and the introduction of legislation that imposes minimum returns from certain fundraising activities (Vandenberg 1998). These environmental factors have forced nonprofits to use their resources more efficiently and become more effective in identifying, attracting and sustaining relationships with individual donors and volunteers. It has also been suggested that relationship marketing has become more accessible to nonprofit organizations in recent years given the advent of increasingly sophisticated, affordable database management systems (Vandenberg 1998). These systems have allowed fund raisers to develop a better understanding of who their donors are, how they were attracted and what they have given ' what Vandenberg (1998) described as a buyer history. The charity sector is extremely important to the economic and social fabric of any nation. For example, in 1997 an estimated £17bn was contributed to the 209,000 charities registered in Britain (Liao et al. 2001), while over $225 billion was raised for charity in the U.S. during...
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