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June 25, 2022
It’s Not If Nonprofits Should Engage in Marketing, but How
Nonprofit marketing is about winning the hearts and minds of supporters, because everything—money, advisors, volunteers, advocates—flows from that, and a good place to start is by reading The Nonprofit Marketing Guide: High-Impact, Low-Cost Ways to Build Support for Your Good Cause.

This recently published book, by Kivi Leroux Miller, a communications consultant and trainer, starts by setting the record straight on what marketing is. More than about communicating, marketing is all the things nonprofits do to create and deliver programs and services. Most importantly, marketing is not a dirty word. When done right, it helps nonprofits achieve their core mission.

Though it may sound simple, and even a bit cliché'd, marketing is as much about listening as it is about talking. Leroux Miller writes: “Your nonprofit doesn’t operate in a bubble, so pretending that it does will only hurt your organization and make it impossible to successfully market your cause.”

Linking proven theory to everyday practice, Leroux Miller suggests ways nonprofits can tune in to their markets, including, first and foremost, talking with people, convening informal focus groups, conducting surveys, assessing website and email usage, and following regional and national trends.

The web offers a tremendous resource to all nonprofits, regardless of organizational size or budget, in that it lets them monitor issues of interest via keyword searches. Bottom line: effective marketing is not so much a matter of money as it is of time. Figuring out how to best deploy their people to monitor the market and gather feedback is among the most important actions nonprofits can take in developing an effective marketing program.

Monitoring the market isn’t enough; nonprofits need to put that knowledge to work. Leroux Miller suggests they use what they learn to:
  • Better understand the people who matter most.
  • Start conversations with potential supporters.
  • Answer questions and provide suggestions.
  • Correct misconceptions.
  • Find new partners.
  • Measure the success of their communications.
  • Keep tabs on critics.
  • Spot emerging trends.
  • Provide good customer service.
A key success factor—perhaps the key factor—for a marketing program is developing a marketing plan, and then executing it. Creating that plan, like many aspects of organizational management, is not rocket science. Instead, it’s a matter of discipline. Leroux Miller outlines an approach that will work for most organizations. It starts with defining the audiences you need to reach, followed by creating a powerful message which is then package for delivery through appropriate communication channels.

Leroux Miller properly emphasizes the need for nonprofits to tell powerful stories. She suggests that many nonprofits fall down in this area because their people don’t view themselves as storytellers. The truth is every nonprofit has a goldmine of stories, which their supporters are anxious to hear. The press will also help tell those stories, but nonprofits need to take care that the stories they provide to the press illustrate the nonprofit’s mission, as opposed to satisfying an internal political agenda.

Marketing is an ongoing, vital part of any nonprofit’s organizational structure. Unfortunately, because it frequently is supported through unrestricted funding, it's often one of the first programs to be cut in tight times. Although Leroux Miller recognizes that few funders explicitly fund communications and marketing, she suggests nonprofits include a line item for communications when seeking capacity building funding.

The Nonprofit Marketing Guide is available by clicking here.

Reviewed by Peter Lowy

August 2010
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