While the overall investment in marketing amid nonprofits has grown substantially over the years, the general comfort level with marketing among nonprofit executives has not yet caught up. Indeed, even next to its second cousin "public relations," marketing can still carry a dirty connotation, sometimes difficult to justify to spendthrift board members and constituents.
Conquering the Potato Chip
For many grassroots and cause-oriented nonprofits in particular, the term "marketing" can conjure up what I call the "potato chip syndrome"- people trying to sell me something I simply don't need just for the sake of making money. The discomfort arises because it puts a nonprofit leader's values in question: "I'm here to make a difference in the world, not to make money."
If you struggle obtaining buy-in for your marketing program budget, just sharing the cold hard facts about potential financial results may not be enough. It's time to a take a different approach by putting these five keys to action. Buy-in begins with a shift in perception - starting with the potato chip.
Key #1: Shift perception - Marketing is our friend
The first key to obtaining executive buy in is to help shift your board and administrators' perception of what "marketing is." The truth is this: Marketing is a nonprofit's friend. To help shift perception, continually share these key concepts about the benefits of nonprofit marketing:
- Marketing helps us make a bigger difference - A strategic, results-oriented, well-planned marketing program will position our organization to make a difference to a greater number of people with the least amount of expenditure possible.
- Strategic marketing helps us stand out from the crowd - Marketing gives us the tools and messages to tell the public and our customers what we do exceptionally well.
- Strategic marketing equals efficiency - The truth is, most nonprofits ARE marketing their organization, products or services, but many are doing so reactively - without a plan in place. Strategic, formal marketing brings efficiency, focus, accountability, and cost-effectiveness to your effort. It helps you ensure that every dollar spent renders positive results.
Key #2: Deliver efficiency
Nothing can turn a marketing-phobe off more than a stack of seemingly useless marketing collateral materials that scream "expensive." Yeah, they're beautiful, but what will our constituents think? The second key to obtaining - and maintaining - executive buy-in for your marketing expenditure is to deliver efficiency with everything you do.
Audit your publications and your program processes to see where you can streamline, eliminate waste, reduce printing or mailing costs, etc. Consider which publications will have more positive results by integrating budget-conscious designs (e.g. black and white or two color, recycled paper, etc.). Report your audit findings and the actions you take to executives to prove that you're making every dollar count.
Key #3: Start with needs
Your organization exists to serve basic human needs, right? That's where the passion to serve comes from, and that's where your organization can make a difference. Perhaps it's to educate at-risk youth, to provide essential resources for families affected by cancer, or to provide quality recreational spaces for the community. How will marketing help you maximize the number of people your organization is able to serve?
The third key to landing executive buy-in is to "start with needs." Work with your key leadership to identify measurable marketing objectives that are based on meeting the needs of your customers. In most cases, you will be able to set objectives that do double-duty - they meet the needs of your customers AND your financial needs (e.g., revenue) at the same time.
For instance, let's say that with little or no marketing you're parent training programs reach 500 people each year. Sounds great doesn't it? I mean that's 500 people whose lives and families were changed by your training. But what is the context for measuring the value of that number? How many people really need what you're offering? Is it 10,000 or 50,000? What is your potential market and what is your current share of that market?
Let's say your training programs are filling rooms each time, but so far you've only been successful reaching one of your two primary markets. In other words, you're making a difference, but there's another group out there that you haven't helped yet. Yes, in reaching that second group there is definite potential to increase your revenue and your market share, but it also means helping make a difference in more people's lives.
Instead of an objective that simply reads, "increase revenue by 20% in 2006" you state "increase market share by 20% among Hispanic clientele in the southwest Washington region," you not only have a very specific objective to work toward, but you'll have a much easier time getting buy-in to fund that initiative.
Key #4: Stay flexible, yet focused
When we sell the benefit of marketing by selling the potential impact of results, we often set our tactics up to be prematurely scrutinized by upper management. Take care to stay flexible but focused during your quarterly marketing plan evaluations. If some strategies simply aren't doing the job it may be time to pull the plug on them. But do so with caution. Avoid quickly replacing one strategy with another, particularly mid-year.
Before pulling the plug on a tactic, ask these questions: What is your evaluation telling you? Are you getting no response from your marketing tactic, or simply not the degree of response you'd like? Could your messaging be tweaked? Or is your messaging paying off, but your distribution simply isn't finding enough of your target market? In other words, instead of pulling the plug entirely (and potentially losing your focus on reaching a specific market), stay flexible.
When you facilitate a quarterly or semi-annual marketing report to your board, come prepared. Understand what your evaluation is telling you, and come with a game plan of recommendations. For instance, if your recommendation is to continue status quo with a tactic that hasn't achieved the desired results by waiting it out another six months, be prepared to justify this choice. (e.g., Perhaps you've read a case study or consulted a colleague who has advised that your tactic takes longer to render results than you'd originally anticipated).
Key #5: Communicate results as impact statements
Let's face it; we're not all numbers people. And reporting on marketing results can quite easily become a game of "fun with charts." If you want to maintain buy-in on your marketing initiatives, report your results each quarter but take care in how you report. Remember pathos and logos? Appeal to your executives "emotional" and "logical" appeals by partnering the numbers with the personal impact your marketing program is having on the customers you serve. In other words, growing market share typically means your organization is bringing in more revenue. But it also means you're making a bigger difference in the communities you serve. Period.
Tiffany Meyer is president of Numa Marketing, and the author of Writing a Results-Driven Marketing Plan. Find more information about her nonprofit marketing services, register for her affordable nonprofit marketing e-courses, or sign up for her monthly e-zine The Smart Nonprofit at www.numamarketing.com. ©2007 Tiffany Meyer