One of the biggest misperceptions about marketing is that it has to be expensive to be effective. Simply not true. Even the smallest of nonprofit organizations - and even those that are entirely volunteer-run - can create and manage a results-driven marketing plan that uses a variety of low- or no-cost tactics.
As you move forward on developing your marketing plan, consider some of the following ideas to keep costs in check:
Leverage Your Volunteers
Many nonprofits recruit volunteers to provide core marketing support, such as fundraising, managing their marketing program, graphic design, Web site development and more. This strategy can be very cost-effective in the short term. However, remember the challenges of relying on volunteers to handle these core areas, such as potential burnout, possible lack of availability, or simply a lack of professional skill. Consider going into the volunteer arrangement aware of these potential challenges, and try to be pro-active in exploring ideas with the volunteer to avoid them.
Leverage Your Board Members
If you haven't already done so, consider creating a marketing or communications committee represented by 3-6 board members (depending on the size of your board and your organization). While it's not necessary that all committee members have professional background in marketing or communications, such a background can certainly help you stay efficient and effective.
Determine the purpose and function of the marketing committee up front. Typically, the committee's job is to provide feedback and approval for any major marketing-related decisions (such as a new logo design, collateral materials, your marketing plan, or an overall theme or strategy for an upcoming event). When items require board approval, their job is take specific recommendations to the larger board.
This type of committee functionality keeps projects moving along without getting stopped up in the board approval cycle. Equally important, it ensures administrator buy-in; a critical yet often overlooked step. In addition, you're able to capitalize on the strengths of your marketing committee members and the power of creative collaboration.
Depending on your board governance structure, you can also consider making certain marketing or fundraising tasks a mandatory component of your board member's responsibilities. For instance, some nonprofits require all board members to generate a minimum amount of donations or sponsorships over the course of the year. If you take this route, be sure your board members have the tools they need to be effective, such as key messages, talking points, a description of your target donor markets, and fundraising collateral materials.
Find Pro-bono Support
Every year, for-profit companies and marketing associations (such as the American Marketing Association's local chapters) donate millions of dollars in donated time and in-kind support to nonprofit organizations.
Check in with your local chapter of the American Marketing Association or Public Relations Society of America. Ask if they have an application process for awarding pro-bono support to local nonprofits. Typically the association helps recruit pro-bono professionals from their membership pool to take on your project. Since these associations usually award support only once or twice each year, try to contact them well in advance of when you need your project completed.
Remember, competition for such awards can be stiff - your proposal should aim to intrigue the professionals as much as possible. What makes the project creatively or intellectually attractive to the pros? What kind of exposure can this project give them?
You may also consider soliciting proposals directly from qualified marketing firms, or even for-profit companies with an established marketing department, to provide pro-bono support for larger projects like branding, identity design, a large campaign or event, or a web site redesign. Your request could be for fully or partially donated time - meaning, if you're able to pay the pros something, be sure to specify such in your recruitment. Be sure your Request for Proposals (RFP) clearly outlines all of the support you need and identifies methods you can offer to acknowledge the organization or individual's donated time.
Another option is to recruit a student volunteer from your area university's public relations or marketing department to manage a short-term communications project. If you're not prepared to manage an actual internship for a student or recent grad, this option may be a better fit for you. Be sure to recruit in a similar manner as the above examples - with an RFP that clearly describes the scope of the project, the specific support you need, what qualifications are important to you, and what benefits the project can offer to the student volunteer. As students are often eager to gain real-world support, a short-term project is likely to be very attractive to them.
Request In-Kind Donations
For some nonprofits, one of the most costly expenses is printing of their collateral materials. In fact, if you're distributing materials in mass (such as for promotion of a large national event), printing and postage expenses can become a significant hindrance.
Consider soliciting printing donations from local printers to offset these expenses, while also offering the print shop a great advertising opportunity (such as the inclusion of their logo and donation acknowledgment on all printed pieces). If the printer cannot provide in-kind support for the entire print job, ask them to match your contribution. For instance, if you can afford to print 50 outreach posters, but you really could use 100, ask the printer to match your payment.
In-kind donations are really some of the easiest, low-risk methods for-profit organizations have to contribute to your organization financially. Solicit in-kind donations using a formal solicitation letter printed on letterhead. Include the following in your letter:
- Identify your specific request
- State how the donation will be used in your broader campaign (e.g., the 100 posters will be placed in high-traffic businesses throughout the city)
- Highlight the contribution your organization makes to the community
- Highlight how the company's donation will help you serve the community better (or make a more significant impact than you could have alone)
- Identify how you will acknowledge their donation (e.g. placement of a logo, verbal announcements, name on press releases, etc.)
When considering what to ask for, think beyond printing donations. What other materials or giveaways do you need for your marketing, event, or fundraiser to be successful? Ideas might include:
- Fundraising door prizes or auction items
- Outreach campaign giveaways
- Space or facility use for an event or training
- Use of audio-visual equipment for an event, or actual video taping of your event
Remember, acknowledgment of in-kind donations is critical component of effective fundraising, particularly if you hope to receive the support again in the future. Be sure to fulfill on any agreements you've made with the donor to acknowledge their gift. And, be sure to submit a personalized thank you letter or card after the donation has been received.
Use Collaborative Resources from Nonprofit Networks
Many states have a nonprofit association or regional nonprofit network (or both) that gives access to a wealth of collaborative services at low- or no-cost to their members. From technology and computer support, and from software donations to fundraising and inexpensive Web site design, your state association may help you offset some major marketing-related expenses.
To find out if your state has a nonprofit association, visit the National Council of Nonprofit Associations (NCNA) website at http://www.ncna.org
Share Donations and In-Kind Support in Your Marketing Budget
If your administrators or board members are weary about investing in marketing, consider making a cost comparison between the tactics you are recommending and the tactics used by your top competitors. With a little marketing savvy, you can make an educated guess about the top 3-4 tactics the competition employs. Leverage this information to help your board understand how your investment ranks against the competition.
Be sure to integrate the estimated value of in-kind gifts like printing expenses or pro-bono consultant support into your marketing budget to give administrators and board members a clear sense of their investment compared to the actual cost of your program.
Even with all of these great ideas to run with, the best way to keep costs down is keep your marketing program efficient and focused. Creating a results-driven marketing plan is the best step you can take to keep costs in check. It will help you simplify your tactics to only those you can successfully manage and track, while eliminating those tactics that simply are not working.
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