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NON-PROFITS MARKETING – a lesson from for-profit

Marketing and communication strategy is gradually entering in the non-profit culture, mostly nowadays, where non-profits operate in progressively complex contexts, wider environments, being in contact with increasing numbers of different stakeholders.

However, there is still confusion and mistrust about the concrete application of marketing in this sector. Additionally, some organisations do not approve the use of marketing as tool, believing that social causes should be supported on the solely basis of solidarity principles. Let’s say that in some cases, there is a kind of reluctance in the use of communications techniques and tools developed in areas for profit, following the logic of competition.

Lately, I had the opportunity to speak and discuss with several professionals within the non-profit and public sectors, being confronted with many different sometimes unexpected opinions and quite fair objections. That made me willing to share some discussion points with you.

Objection 1ProfitThe concept of profit does not apply to non-profits: -profit business and non-profit differ in too many ways and the logic of competition does not find ground in the non-profit sector.

There is a marked misconception in how people intend “non-profit organisations”. Both for-profit and non-profit organisations strongly need to generate profit. The difference is that in non-profits, the income is destined to cover the costs and the eventual profits are re-invested back into the non-profit mission and activities. It is not allowed to distribute profits to anyone: 100% of profits is re-invested in the non-profits activities. Non-profits organisations must make sure that revenues exceed costs, in the same exact way as for-profit businesses do. They both have an income and need a profit to survive and to become a reference point.

Objection 2TargetFor-profits have customers, non-profits have members, publics, audiences. For-profits take, non-profits give. Companies encourage people to buy (i.e. “give money in exchange of something”), non-profit organisations encourage people to give (i.e. “give something in exchange of another something”).

It is the exact same thing, said with different words. There is an exchange, in both. In buying, the exchanging action is surely more evident. However, that is the exact same that happens to non-profits. An individual gives money (such as donations or funds) or access to premises, time, goods, services, to the organisation in exchange for contributing to a specific cause and be part of a bigger trend.

Objection 3Marketing conceptsMarketing has nothing to do with non-profit, as marketing concepts do not find any application in the non-profits sectors.

Perhaps, there is a little cloud about what marketing really is: analysing the situation, identifying audiences, understanding how to talk with people, via which channels, using which tools. Marketing is planning, reaching, engaging, inspiring and influencing people to do something. Marketing is communicating, advocating. It could be about buying a bottle of water. It could be about signing up for a gym course. It could be about donating some money for a charity event, assigning funds for a project and so on.

Objection 4Marketing and innovation. – Businesses focus on developing new markets or new product lines, and boost these with marketing tools. This is not an option for non-profits.

It would be more than great if an NGO advocating on children rights will develop partnerships with an NGO protecting the rights of minorities. It would be even greater if an NGO protecting homeless would collaborate with an architecture firm to make shelters or innovative homes for them. This is the non-profits translation of the business “focus on developing new markets or new product lines”.

The advantages of non-profits marketing

Sure, marketing concepts needs to be adapted, but the way to reach people, the way you support your cause or your interest, the way you bring people together and influence them is not changing.

The meaning of non-profits marketing

Here’s what an in-house marketing professional or an external communication consultant can do for your non-profit organisation.

  • MISSION DEFINITION – a marketing expert can help you better structuring your organisation’s core purpose and focus in a properly crafted mission statements, that will serve as filters to separate what is important from what is not, clearly stating which cause will be advocated, which need will be served and how.

  • MARKET RESEARCH – you can carry on a macro and micro segmentation to deeply understand your targeted audiences. It could be about your potential members, MEPs, or other associations or companies you want to get involved. You will know who you are really talking to and how to communicate with them with a message that is readable, understandable and valuable to them.

  • VALUE PROPOSITION – a communication professional shapes your value proposition in a way, that it is unique, convincing, addressing a specific need, and perceived as a value in the eyes of your audience. This is what a marketer knows how to do best: to articulate the reason why someone would donate to or join your organisation. This is crucial in non-profits, even more than in business, as most of the times this value is intangible.

  • SHORT TIME OFFER – what is the immediate and convincing offer today that would make your audience donate or chose your side? A marketer will provide you with all the necessary communication support and collateral to address this. There is no difference in influencing someone to contribute and become a member or supporter of the “ABC organisation” and influencing someone to buy and become a member of the “XWZ gym”.

  • COMMUNICATION – it is always a question of the most appropriate marketing mix and your communication expert will tailor an effective integrated marketing strategy. So, in case you are helping homeless people, there will be a campaign online, dedicated to seek corporate sponsors, and offline to speak directly to the homeless.

  • REVENUES – any type of organisation needs revenue, being it from sales of a product/service or donations or funds. These revenues come from what we called “qualified leads”, identified, contacted and convinced by using marketing tools that fit your organisation, aiming at being cost-effective and at keeping a funnel full of real potential prospects.

Then, the beauty is in the result: a stronger communication and few more chances for your cause to be considered! The use of these instruments should therefore be considered in view of contact with the public, for dialogue and transmission of information, and not as an abandonment of the values of the organisation.

What do you think about it? Do you have any doubts or objections? Please share with us and let’s discuss!

by Chiara Lamacchia



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