Warren Buffett, one of the richest men in the world and renowned philanthropist, has had much to say about the recent difficulties in the financial markets. He has provided an abundance of advice and insight to our nation’s leaders regarding this situation. And though there are many disagreements about the cure for our nation’s economic downturn, all agree that Buffett has a wealth of experience and expertise in achieving success. When commenting on his many achievements, Buffett shared “I don’t look to jump over 7-foot bars: I look around for 1-foot bars that I can step over.” This provides great insight as we continue to develop our marketing plans. Buffett’s comment indicates that by paying attention to what’s happening around us, we can find numerous opportunities to step into excellence.
Over the last several months we’ve been exploring the elements of an effective marketing plan. We’ve discussed the reasons for developing a plan, setting marketing goals, and taking a good look at our organization’s strengths and weaknesses. Each of these elements is critical for developing an effective plan that will make a difference for our organizations – especially during rocky times. This month we take our plan a step further and begin exploring the external environment, or the situations outside of our organization that may impact our overall success. In other words, we begin identifying the 1-foot bars that we can step-over and the barriers that may hinder our long-term success.
Knowing your audience well will allow you to develop better programs and communicate effectively and successfully with the members in the audience group. Your audience(s) consists of the group or groups of individuals you are targeting in your marketing plan. Influences such as culture, ethnicity, education, social class, popular activities, income level, spending trends, and family status must all be considered. These influences could have a strong impact on the audience’s willingness to act for or on behalf of your organization. For example, if you are developing and marketing an after-school program in your community, it would be beneficial to know the percentage of students and families that are immigrants and how many require ESL instruction. If the percentage is high, your programs and your marketing plan will need to include strategies to effectively reach this audience group and meet their specific needs. Additionally, funders may provide special grants or make monies available to underserved minority groups. Therefore, this research would position the organization to offer a more effective program, communicate the opportunity in an appropriate manner, and solicit funding that may otherwise be unavailable. This type of information can be found through local papers, books, or online at sites like the Bureau of Economic Analysis or Census.gov. (Download our Reference Sheet for More Resources). Needs assessments conducted by your organization, or other service organizations in the community, may also provide great insight in this area.
We all know technology is constantly changing and this is impacting the way that people interact with our organizations. New technologies may be able to enhance donor relationships or provide insight into program outcomes. For example, research shows us that FaceBook has more than 200 million active users and the fastest growing demographic on FaceBook is 35 years and older. Additionally, during the first year of FaceBook Causes, they reported raising $2.5 million for 20,000 charities. However, Twitter is another social networking site that is experiencing exponential growth in the recent months. Investing some time researching these technological developments will allow us to determine if either of these tools is right for our organization. Research can be conducted online (http://www.google.com) or by developing a survey for our target audience(s). Regardless of the method, we must take the time to determine what is available and how it can benefit our organizations.
Note: Not all technological developments are costly investments. In addition to free social networking sites, we recommend visiting Tech Soup for extraordinary deals for nonprofit organizations.
As nonprofit leaders, we must identify any environmental barriers or accelerators that may affect our organization’s programs or marketing strategies. Environmental factors may include community growth, industry health, economic trends, taxes, rising energy prices, etc. Each of these factors may impact our organization’s short- and long-term sustainability. For example, if our organization provides transportation to those in the local community and gas prices rise from $2 to $5/gallon – our costs for maintaining services has just increased greatly. This change in cost will impact the amount of funds we need to raise in order to continue providing services. It may also result in limiting services and routes so that we can cover increasing fuel costs. Identifying these changes early will allow us to develop marketing strategies to combat the rising costs and target additional donors to raise the needed funds. This information can often be gained through observation or through governmental agencies, such as the Energy Information Administration, Census.gov or local government publications.
According to Wikipedia, the political analysis determines what the administration (local, state, or federal) has decided in regards to ‘who gets what, when, and how?’ This often causes anxiety for some nonprofit (and business) leaders during the initial months of a new administration, especially on a federal or state level. Will new rules apply or will policy changes be made that either benefit or negatively impact the organization? How will resources be allocated? These are valid concerns for nonprofit leaders. We should familiarize ourselves with our public representatives and the issues facing our community. This familiarization will allow us to be proactive in the issues that impact our organization and constituents. For example, your local government may be considering rezoning the district in which your programs are located. This rezoning may prohibit you from providing the services that are so desperately needed in your current location. Your early awareness will allow you to develop marketing strategies for combating this proposed change or begin planning for the relocation of your program(s).
Numerous laws and legal decisions are made each year that may affect your organization. For example, in 2008 the IRS implemented new reporting requirements for all nonprofit organizations. (Click here to read more about these requirements) It is your responsibility to be aware of the changes and comply with the new requirements. Other laws and legal matters may include licensing requirements, lawsuits that indirectly impact your organization, SPAM laws, or privacy issues. Any of these issues could impact your organization and the marketing plan that is being developed. For example, a change in a SPAM law could require updating your entire email database or adding opt-out functionality that is not currently part of your email system. Unfortunately, lack of awareness in these legal issues does not excuse the behavior. Compliance is mandatory and the responsibility to get this information is ours alone. As a leader, we MUST be aware of all changes and be sure our organizations are compliant in meeting any new requirements. We recommend consulting a trained attorney or tax accountant regarding your specific situation. (Visit Foundation Center for Pro Bono options).
In summary, knowing what’s going on around us will provide a better understanding of the opportunities available to our organizations. In these financial times, it may seem that the opportunities are limited while the barriers are abundant. However, Alexander Graham Bell once said, “When one door closes another door opens; but we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us.” Let’s not waste this opportunity looking regretfully at the closed doors. Let’s take the time to look around, find the 1-foot bars, and start stepping toward success.