The Challenges of Non-profit Marketing

I’ve been fortunate to have had alot of experience in brand development and marketing for non-profits. A few of them from the “inside” as the Director of Marketing (for United Way and Sierra Arts), but more recently as a marketing and management consultant.

The more exposure to new clients, projects and challenges I’ve met – the more of the very same challenges I’ve come to see the typical trends that each face together. Many nonprofits see themselves as “charities”, and not businesses. Nothing is further from the truth. In fact, running a successful nonprofit is more challenging in many ways than being in the “default” business worlds. There are advantages…and disadvantages. Now I know that the principles of marketing are exactlyt the same for both types of business.

Among marketing professionals, it is generally agreed that an organization’s greatest asset is its brand. Unfortunately, brand assessment isn’t routinely considered relevant by non-profit management groups. Building on their current strengths, nonprofits need to take a step back and view their brand through the eyes of their potential donors to begin the process of expanding an existing brand or building a new one.

Defining a future non-profit brand is much easier than altering an existing one. The one question non-profit organizations need to ask (as does any business) is “what do we do better than anyone else”?

To build a truly meaningful brand, your cause must be truly unique. Since this differentiation (commonly known as value proposition) sets your mission apart from all others, make sure the organization (staff, Board and volunteers) not only honestly believes it, but can execute it every level of contact with your public. Once your brand is defined, every facet of the organization must be centered on that mission in every way.

The basic essentials of branding provide nonprofits with the structure needed to reflect on their individual brand process.
Begin with a current brand perception audit from individuals from a range of business sectors and private individuals from your community. Be certain to allow them a high degree of anonymity to enable them to answer questions about your current or proposed brand with blunt honesty. Then collate and listen to those answers – for that is the true basis of your brand.

Next, set a tactical plan to bridge the gap between current perceptions and your brand goal. As with any planning process for change, a series of activities that results in a successful brand shift takes time and patience. The greatest stumbling block for nonprofits lies in execution, as most plans are begun but are then left to collect dust on the shelf. Don’t forget that the nonprofit brand lives in the minds of each volunteer and donor, often resulting from years of multiple message layering. One “we’ve changed or we’re new” announcement simply won’t begin the process. Consistency is the key.
Most importantly, the key to a successful brand plan requires top-down commitment and dedicated involvement. An internal campaign to educate, inform, and establish complete buy-in from every organizational member is critical. For any brand perception to be actuated, it can’t become the latest “fad”. It must reside in the hearts and minds of every individual that works with, and for the nonprofit Monthly, weekly and even daily meetings are needed to be certain that a consistent message is being delivered – and most importantly, acted upon.

Every brand should be re-evaluated continuously to be certain that the appropriate message and delivery of services are in sync. By analyzing present perceptions and projecting future brands, the planning process can follow naturally. Most importantly, integrating the organization in the process is critical to deliver on the brand promise.

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