I have a question about Non-Profit Marketing

My question is this, “How does Non-profit marketing differ from for-profit marketing?” Are there specific challenges, goals, or restrictions that non-profits face? Are there any ways in which non-profits have an advantage over for-profits when it comes to marketing? I want to know what you think. I will be talking about this topic in the next episode of the Marketing 4 Change podcast and would like to include your responses. Whether you have an idea, a theory, or a 1500 word rant, I want to hear it. Thanks!

11 comments so far

  1. Janetta Cravens on

    I think one of the big differences are the assumptions from society about who GETS to do marketing. Social rules give permission to profits, but often doesn’t to non-profits. Imagine a marketing “campaign” for Habitat for Humanity. Wha? A marketing class I once spoke to really balked at this idea. Your question delves into the roles we let and assume marketing to play. I do think that social marketing is changing those rules.

  2. Will Boyd on

    Thanks…I think a lot of people that are not in the marketing industry (and probably some that are in it) do have a negative view of marketing that they don’t want associated with non-profits. That would be a challenge that I haven’t considered when thinking about this topic. How do non-profits overcome this? I would think that embracing storytelling would go a long way to overcoming this negative.

  3. Meera on

    Marketing of non profits and for profits: the obvious answer is that the for profit will induce you to buy the product, and the non profit will energize you to support the cause, i.e. buy the social good/benefit that the non profit is set up to do. I run a non profit and I am so aware of the need to market my organization, to have images that are clear,crisp and compleeing; a message that reflects the culture and work we do; and in a style that is in keeping with the advances in technology and the visual culture we all live in….the $$ needed to generate all these are huge, and the budgets that non profits allocate to these are paltry. Smile Train is a non profit started by a marketing pro and the proof of its rapid rise from obscurity into the public eye is because of marketing savvy:very strong ads everywhere: online,on buses, on billboards, in magazines – their marketing budget must be massive. With a non profit the most urgent question is: people donate to our mission, and everyone wants their money to go directly to the programs. It is difficult to encourage donors to support efforts like marketing, or any expense clubbed under the umbrella ‘overhead’. But juts as all non profits need to be run professionally with the same structure and rigor as for profit businesses, I think we need to equally be aware of who we have to position ourselves in the public eye and educate them on how we change the landscape by our work.

  4. Andy on

    I think that how the marketing message makes you feel is key. The end result of both is the same: they all want your money. It’s what is done with your money after it’s given that motivates you to part with your money.

    If you are made to feel good about what a non-profit is doing with your potential donations, you’re more inclined to donate. If you like what a company is selling, you’re more inclined to buy. At the end of the day, the goal is the same, and how you are made to feel about parting with your money is the same (they all want you to willingly part with your money).

    This being the case, then why do we, as a society, look on non-profits differently?

    @Janetta I think that non-profits do have marketing campaigns currently in full effect. Let’s use your example of HfH. Do you think they would splash images of President & Mrs. Carter all over TV & print media if they didn’t have the end result of motivating more people to donate time and money? Sure, they call it PR to be nice, but it’s marketing when you really look at it.

  5. Will Boyd on

    Meera and Andy, I think you both hit on a real challenge that faces non-profits when it comes to marketing. When people support a non-profit, they want all of their money to go to the programs they are supporting.

    Andy, you say “If you are made to feel good about what a non-profit is doing with your potential donations, you’re more inclined to donate.” I think this is key. I would add that it is transparency and honesty within the organization and its marketing that will accomplish this.

    I think non-profit marketers have to treat their stakeholders differently than for-profits have to treat their customers. Non-profit stakeholders are naturally more “invested” in the organization than the average customer of a for-profit. When people give money to a cause, the utility they derive is in knowing that the money is supporting something they believe in. Non-profit marketers have to understand this and somehow build those assurances into their message.

  6. Stacey Monk on

    I think non-profit marketing should take more cues from our for-profit peers. Many of them tell great stories in compelling ways. Admittedly, these storytelling efforts are supported in large part by deep pockets, ad agencies and PR firms.

    First of all, I think many nonprofits have incredibly engaging stories to share – most more significant and authentic than our for-profit counterparts. That said, many causes, I believe, make a key mistake in their storytelling efforts. Instead of focusing on hope, potential and results, many campaigns are based on pity, fear and the status quo. Because we are so consistently inundated with these messages in the media, I believe nonprofits (like Kiva, Donors Choose, and, hopefully, Epic Change) that focus their messages on successful outcomes and hope may have the ability to stand out and inspire thoughtful activism. I know that I personally turn away from depressing stories and images, but am engaged by inspiring ones.

    (As an aside, I believe that nonprofits who focus their efforts on fear and pity not only cast themselves in an over-populated sea of desperation, but by reinforcing the status quo through their storytelling and imagery, I personally believe they implicitly perpetuate it.)

    I agree with Janetta that there are expectations about how much “marketing” is appropriate in the non-profit sector. However, I think campaigns like ONE, RED and others are eroding these barriers. That said, I think there are some serious ethical issues that surround spending vast amounts of money on marketing rather than programs.

    In the end, I’d propose that we must refocus our storytelling, and creatively minimize our spending. This can be done through pro bono partnerships and, very effectively, through the use of many free online tools that are now becoming available.

  7. maxgladwell on

    There are now a number of online models that enable donors to put money toward specific things nonprofits are doing e.g. a bed for a shelter. This gives them verification that was lacking in just sending money. These models can be very effective for smaller donors who want to know what they’re money is doing and don’t want it to go to overhead. It’s six to one/half-dozen to the other, of course. The NP will just use other funds that aren’t specifically earmarked to cover marketing. But there’s a difference when someone of little means wants to send $100 to a charity and a company that wants to make a large donation. NPs need to segment these different types of donors and cater to their specific needs.

  8. Will Boyd on

    Giving people the flexibility of earmarking their contributions is something I think a lot of NP’s could definitely benefit from. As you point out, the NP will just have to use funds for marketing that haven’t been earmarked. To me, this points to the emerging sphere of social media marketing as a great “investment” for NP’s. It seems more sustainable and responsible for a NP to invest time organizing in the social media sphere than to spend large amounts of money on media buys and traditional marketing techniques. To me, NP’s who view marketing as organizing will be better equipped to operate in the social media space than those NP’s concerned about “brand” and communicating a crafted message.

  9. Maryann Devine on

    In my opinion, nonprofits and for-profits that are doing successful marketing are doing the same thing: telling the story of the donor or customer or client in a way that hits him or her emotionally. You can do this with hundreds of dollars or millions, with traditional marketing or social media, or both. And you have to start with a product, a service, or a cause that people really care about.


  10. Jon Biel on

    With the rapid influx of interactive technologies into the equation, the standard ways of marketing are being challenged and re-visited – by both commercial businesses and nonprofits. Many nonprofits parrot the for-profit mantra of “creating and protecting their brands”. Ricardo Guimaraes (founder of Thymus Branding) argues “the value of a brand belongs to the market, and not to the company”. He’s essentially saying that no matter what we believe, the reality is your brand is whatever the customer, or supporters, say it is.

    Before the advent of what Social Computing and Web 2.0 author Charlene Li defines as “groundswell” – a social trend where people use technologies to get what they need from each other rather than from traditional institutions – nonprofits who applied more orthodox marketing approaches were generally successful.

    The New Media technologies (blogs, social networks, wikis, open source, forums, ratings, reveiws, etc.) are changing the the old equations and the balance of power. Today, anybody can put up a website and connect and communicate with anyone else.

    I believe the challenge is to encourage nonprofits to look at these changes and the advent of these technologies as a gift – a way to better listen to their supporters and constiuencies, interacting/talking/supporting them, and developing stronger relationships with them.

    Because of the availability of this ever-growing arsenal of tools and technology, Guimaraes’ world where “your brand is what your customers say it is” is not a prediction of the future, it is our current reality. It will be those organizations (for-profit and nonprofits) who learn to apply these emerging technologies and adapt to this new reality, in strategic ways, who will ultimately survive and thrive.

  11. Will Boyd on

    Thanks, Jon. You just summed up very nicely what I’ve been flailing around about in all of my papers. I totally agree that these technologies are a particular gift to non-profits.

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