Even (especially) if you lead a small charity –you need to invest in marketing


            Almost a decade ago our organization was facing a situation that would either transform us, or destroy us. At the time the board had the foresight to find a skilled Marketing professional who had led Marketing departments for national companies. This director managed to convince the board that it was prudent and necessary to invest in marketing, we didn’t us the “M” word in those days, and instead we called it “communications”. She would have agreed with Grounds (2014) who describes “The most forward-looking charities have marketing and communications represented at board level and see these activities as fully integrated into business planning and achievement of business targets.” It was hard for our board to accept that we needed to spend donated funds to generate the funds we would need  for what was to become a much larger operation. She did however in the first year convince the board it would be a good investment to hire a student as our first part time communications coordinator and invest a little money into our website. I don’t remember what we paid Jill on an hourly basis but I do remember she could have made more working for Domino’s or some local retailer.

             A board and the organization’s management do need to accept that investing in marketing is really necessary. Brinckerhoff (2010, p3) informs that:” Good marketing in a nonprofit is good stewardship, because good marketing enables more effective mission provision.” We do invest a good deal more in our marketing than we did in the early years, but seeing the benefits of our communications and marketing made it much easier in later years to view these expenditures as an investment.  As a small charity we had realized we needed to think and behave more like a large charity. Of course there are obvious differences in the size of our budget compared to the communications/marketing budget of a large charity, but we did start to think of spending as investing in the future.

John Grounds (2014)  reminds us“…no charity, of any size or sector, can raise money, engage stakeholders and the wider public or indeed achieve lasting change without well planned, well executed communication. This applies to very small, wholly volunteer-run local charities and multinational charity brands alike.” If you are fortunate to work for a charity whose board and leadership understand this, your next learning will be that in addition to on-going investment in your marketing- you will need on-going learning in this area. Be prepared that what you are doing today will need to change tomorrow.  Brinckerhoff (2010, p.194) says:” New ideas, applications, trends, fads and great tools will be coming along at a rapid pace. It will be your job to sort out what fits with your mission and your goals in marketing.” 

           Our supporters and potential supporters have continuously evolving expectations on how organizations communicate with them. For example Grounds (2014) suggests:” Communicating with stakeholders or potential supporters will need to become ever more personalized and specific not only to individual needs and interests but to location, time of day, and day of week. People will expect the communications they receive to take account of their lifestyle to a much greater degree. Can I respond to this contact by doing something now, on the way to work, on my way back from the school run, in the supermarket, on holiday and so on? Does the communication take account of the way I live my life as well as the things my network of friends and I are interested in?”

            By the time you are really satisfied with how you are marketing and promoting your organization- well in reality probably before that time- you will need to be thinking of how you are going to change it. Grounds (2014) summarizes: “ Innovation will need to be at the heart of every charity’s thinking and we will all need to move more quickly in responding to people’s changing expectations. Today’s effective communication might be tomorrow’s old hat.”



Brinckerhoff, P.C (2010) Mission-Based marketing: Positioning your not –for –profit: New   

          Jersey: John Wiley &Sons Inc.

Grounds.J  (2014) ‘Today’s communication might be tomorrow’s old hat’; Voluntary Sector Network

          Blog, February 3 2014 as retrieved from: http://www.theguardian.com/voluntary-sector-network/2014/feb/03/10-years-time-role-of-marketing-and-charity-comms


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