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For Profit Marketing in a Nonprofit World

When you hear the moniker "nonprofit organization," what comes to mind?  For some people it conveys the altruistic sense of satisfaction that comes with helping those who cannot help themselves. For others such as those in corporate America, it conjures up thoughts of corporate citizenship and the best outlets where they can donate funds and services.

Regardless of your perspective, both donors and receivers need each other; donors have a limited amount of resources to spread around as part of their budget and tax strategy, and the list of non-profits is always growing so they must compete with one another for a share.  For non-profit organizations, being well positioned to maximize their fund-raising strategy comes down to a key question: what motivates some groups to give to one organization and not another? 

The answers vary, but most commonly, those who give do so because they have a personal interest in the subject matter represented by the non-profit organization — an affliction, disease, advocacy or educational program — that pulls on the heart strings of an individual and by default, helps to loosen their purse strings.
As a non-profit vying for corporate dollars, how do you tackle the challenge of all of your competitors when your competition has just as compelling a story as you do?  Astute organizations do so by not relying on "charity" and instead telling their story to donors who want to hear it, need to hear it, can afford to help, and understand your business model. That's right...your BUSINESS model. And the only way they will arrive at that is if you adequately define your market positioning and consistently present your brand touch points to those with whom they will resonate and respond to accordingly.

"Market Positioning" and "Branding" are often incorrectly labeled as corporate terms. If they do enter the vocabulary of a non-profit organization, they usually are coupled with the phrase "we can't afford it."  Everyone understands the realities of budget, but this is an unfortunate mindset because non-profit organizations can't afford NOT to consider positioning and branding.  If a target audience doesn't know you exist or is confused by the services you offer, how are you going to survive?

My team and I recently conducted interviews with a client's constituents and confirmed that the client is doing a phenomenal job.  Recognizing that it could reach many more people in need if they would make themselves more visible, the client approached the board of directors and requested extra funding for a marketing and public relations program.  Highlighting the importance of remaining a vital part of its community, and of competing with other non-profits, the client is positioning itself for the next three-to-five years of operations.  At the same time, the board is getting a solid return on its investment. 

Not everyone has such a generous Board, but there are other tactics you can pursue while you build up the resources or lay the groundwork for grant approval. Taking a page from the for-profit playbook, non-profits can increase visibility and credibility, as well as deliver production efficiencies that can save thousands of dollars each quarter.

How does this happen?  A changed mindset.  Instead of being perceived as being "in need," reposition your group as one that is known for the great services it provides.  This is the outcome of an effort to address your core positioning. Not to be confused with a mission statement, positioning focuses your organization and helps you achieve your annual goals without such dominant reliance on random acts of kindness.  

With positioning established, get your members and/or Board more involved beyond writing a check.  Work with them to promote the organization to the appropriate media and even serve as a spokesperson.  Get them to contribute to a Blog, and even see if they’ll underwrite the cost of a recruitment or solicitation effort through a sponsorship.  Board members are your best ambassadors, so as long as you are maintaining your integrity as a non-profit, there’s no reason to pass up the willing participation of the stakeholders around you, even if they are from the for-profit world. 

Don't let your organization's legacy read, "They meant well." Instead, set the wheels in motion to attract those who want to hear what you have to say. If your message is on point and targeted to the right audience, the organization will sustain and you will continue to "DO well."

Dina Wasmer is President of Incite Creative, Inc., a provider of strategic marketing and graphic design services. Contact her at dina@incitecreativeinc.com , or see www.incitecreativeinc.com.

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