Marketing tends to be seen simply as a creative process that includes graphic design, advertising, or selling. However, marketing is actually much more than that. It is critically important to the sustainability of nonprofit organizations. The danger of nonprofit leaders thinking in these simplified terms is that marketing can seem like an optional business activity or unnecessary expense that does not directly meet client needs or impact the organization’s mission. Nonprofit leaders must keep in mind that the primary purpose of marketing is to determine and anticipate customers’ (clients) needs and wants and to develop solutions that meet those needs. Marketing activities weave through the very fiber of the organization – from conception to completion.
Each of these areas plays a critical role in the success and sustainability of nonprofit organizations. Let discuss each of these areas and their impact on nonprofits.
The corporate world spends billions of dollars annually researching customers and identifying their needs and wants before creating new products. They spend hours upon hours evaluating trends and listening to current and future customers in order to truly understand the needs/wants of their audience. After garnering an understanding of the needs and wants, they develop solutions or create new products to meet these needs – and the process doesn’t stop here. After releasing the product they continuously evaluate whether or not the need is being met or if adjustments should be made to increase the product’s profitability.
So how does this translate to the nonprofit world? Products for nonprofits often consist of the services or programs offered by the organization. Just as the corporate world spends time and money researching the needs and evaluating the solutions provided – so must the nonprofit world. It is critical that nonprofits offer program(s) and services that meet real community needs that have been identified by conducting (or reviewing) a community needs assessment. Unlike large corporations, most nonprofit organizations (NPO) do not have billions of dollars on hand to conduct a needs assessment. However, it is important to spend time gathering real data on what the community needs, what other options are available, and the best methods for meeting the identified needs. This can be started by visiting the library or talking with those in your community. Additionally, NPO should invest (time and money) in the on-going review of the community and the programs and solutions offered.
Price is an interesting discussion for NPO. Unlike the corporate world nonprofits are not striving to maximize profitability; rather, the goal is to make a lasting impact on the clients, communities, and causes served. Therefore, many nonprofits offer their services free of cost or on a sliding scale and depend upon donations or external funding for ongoing operations. These decisions are often made in order to best achieve the organization’s mission and make the services/programs available to those who need them most. For ongoing sustainability, pricing and product offering (for example: memberships) should be reviewed regularly as part of the overall fundraising strategy.
Place is sometimes referred to as ‘distribution channel’. For an organization like Kraft Foods, the strategy for ‘place’ consists of distributing Kraft products at as many locations as possible. Other businesses choose to be more exclusive and provide a limited number of locations for distribution. Many high-end clothing or fashion products are distributed in this manner.
In the nonprofit world, place is most often the location of service delivery. In some cases, it is the plan for distributing product as well. There are many things to consider when evaluating your nonprofit’s distribution or place strategy, including:
- Proximity to the client base you wish to serve
- Availability of public transportation
- Accessibility for all potential clients (including disabled and physically handicapped)
- Adequate space for providing services
- Channels for ‘selling’ product or memberships
Regardless of the strategy developed, it is important to continuously review the success of the strategy and other opportunities for ‘distribution’. If your clients or ‘market’ cannot access your services, sustainability will be difficult at best.
For most nonprofits, promotion is the primary focus of their marketing efforts. While creating a strong brand and communicating effectively with clients, volunteers, donors, and the media is important – it should be part of an overall marketing strategy, not the strategy in its entirety. Once you’ve developed a product (program) that meets real client needs, determined your pricing or funding approach, and developed your distribution (place) strategy you can confidently promote the organization knowing that your efforts are impacting the overall mission.
As you can see, marketing is an integral part of a nonprofit’s journey to sustainability. Without a consistent focus on marketing, a nonprofit’s programs and services will be less effective, funding will suffer, clients may be neglected, and the community will not be impacted as greatly as desired. Therefore, we strongly recommend making marketing a key component of your organization’s sustainability plan. If you have any questions about this process or would like assistance developing your marketing plan, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.