September 10, 2017; New York Times
Anyone concerned about the public standing and financial wellbeing of a nonprofit organization appreciates learning how others manage to achieve marketing success. Writing for the New York Times, Janet Morrissey offers readers an inside look at how the Colon Cancer Alliance, Easterseals, JDRF International (formerly the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation), and the Lupus Foundation of America improved their respective marketing communications. We are also introduced to some of the marketing firms hired to assist these large brand charities, such as Fosina Marketing Group, Siegelvision, and Modern Impact.
As Alisa Norris, JDRF’s Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, describes it, “It’s no longer business as usual like it was five or 10 years ago, where fundraisers handled marketing.”
In the past, charities and nonprofit groups relied heavily on savvy fund-raising experts and boldface names to promote their causes. But a number of groups, even those that are well known, are having a tough time competing—or even staying relevant—in the rough-and-tumble digital age, when potential donors are overwhelmed with requests for money on social media, crowdfunding sites and other digital platforms.
These branding and marketing experts are helping nonprofits more clearly explain their purpose in simple but powerful ways that connect emotionally with the public. It’s critical they use storytelling skills, involving personal stories about having the disease or being helped by a nonprofit, to inspire donors to get onboard.
As helpful as these insights are, the vast majority of nonprofit organizations, even those with nine-figure budgets and yet not a dollar of discretionary funding, cannot afford to hire marketing firms, let alone pay the bill to implement their data-driven strategies. Janet Morrissey raises this obvious issue, to which Michael Priem, chief executive of Modern Impact, easily replies, “They can’t afford not to.” It’s an appropriately pithy thing to say, but not very helpful to those living the realities of most causes.
Not to belittle their advice, which apparently made a significant difference for each client named above, but as of the date of this writing, Fosina Marketing Group has 213 Twitter followers despite their 4,403 tweets (137 Facebook followers). Siegelvision has 884 Twitter followers with 2,438 tweets (323 Facebook followers). Mr. Priem’s Modern Impact has just 64 Twitter followers with 194 tweets (35 people liked his company’s Facebook page). Social media is clearly here to stay as one of many powerful marketing outlets, but social media marketing advice other than simply to be persistent, authentic, and helpful is usually just a flat tire.
There is place for nonprofit marketing consultation. We know there are many effective strategies. Most of us could use help with analytics and testing and integrating the latest tools into our website and our social channels. We all want every good cause to succeed. Five years ago, the digital world was a novelty with unlimited promise. Today, everyone has already jumped in. No one can tell us today that there is some marketing magic that will change everything. We know better.
Can a smart Facebook advertising strategy be a game changer, for example? Lately, Facebook has been trying to explain how they reach 41 million Americans between the ages of 18 to 24, and 60 million 25- to 34-year-olds, when there are only 31 million 18- to 24-year-olds and 45 million 25- to 34-year-olds in America, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Here, we have one the world’s most powerful marketing platforms and one of the world’s most sophisticated providers of data for marketers using numbers that are patently ridiculous.
If a nonprofit has the money, spending it on “outbound” marketing is usually a worthy risk. But most nonprofits, and small businesses for that matter, live more by their wits than spending, and this is what we know about “inbound” marketing: There are no magic bullets. Marketing is too important to be assigned only to marketers, whether on staff or consultants. Fundraising and advocacy is entirely about relationships, and those are everyone’s job. Relationships, as opposed to links and likes, are built on trust. Trust drives most income for most nonprofits, whether from individual donations, foundation grants, or government contracts. Nonprofit marketing is an ongoing commitment, not a campaign delivered on PowerPoint slides. Marketing is making your donors the heroes of your stories.Marketing is making your donors the heroes of your stories.Click To Tweet
Most marketing takes a blog post to learn and a lifetime to master. It’s not about making the nonprofit look smart; it’s all about making the donor feel smart. And no matter how smart the pitch, if it is a pitch, then the nonprofit is speaking to no one because no one likes to receive a pitch. And no matter what the next horizon holds for nonprofit marketing, whether deep integration of the physical and interactive worlds or something yet to be imagined, the future of online when it comes to advocacy and fundraising will always ultimately be offline. Nonprofits are by design relational.
For those who do not have much of a nonprofit marketing budget, for those who cannot afford a marketing firm, let alone personnel singularly dedicated to this discipline, there are two voices of priceless and timeless advice worth remembering and trusting: “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication,” attributed to everyone from Leonardo da Vinci to Claire Booth Luce, and, in the words of Maya Angelou, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”—Jim Schaffer