Let’s play Board meeting bingo. Are you ready? We’re guessing it will take you about 7 minutes into your next meeting (23 if a meal is provided) before someone yells out BINGO! What’s going on here? Do we have a crystal ball? No. We just know nonprofits. And we know you desperately want Joe Public to know about the amazing work you’re doing. So you sit around each Board meeting in earnest, pitching out well-intentioned (but overused) phrases that do little more than frustrate your already over-tasked Development department. Welcome to Marketing, the most underfunded department in nonprofit.
So maybe you’ve gotten this far and you’re adamantly disagreeing. “No,” you say “we need more funding to expand our programming, build infrastructure and undergo strategic planning more than we need a glossy brochure or Facebook page.” But if you’re uttering these words, you’re missing the point. As harsh of a reality as that is, we’ve got even worse news for you: not properly investing in marketing is hurting your organization’s ability to grow.
So how do we change our attitudes on nonprofit marketing and shift focus in the right direction? Let’s start with our case on why not funding a marketing budget is hurting your organization:
1. You’re Telling Donors Your Mission Isn’t Worth Promoting.
What motivates donors to give to charity? At the core, it’s vision and mission. However, no matter what your mission is, if you’re not able to capture people’s attention, you’ll never be able to capture their hearts. Sure, the story of your organization saving the planet day by day is worth telling, but if your collateral falls flat, so will the results. If you aren’t willing to put continuous time and effort into conveying and refining your message, donors will notice. In fact, Google notices too, that’s why newer content pulls you higher in the search engine rankings. Don’t want to bother? Bigger priorities? Funny, that’s exactly what the last donor thought when they stumbled on your webpage.
2. You Aren’t Being Competitive.
In order to serve the population most affected by your mission, you need a refined message placed on marketing collateral, like your website, one-sheet and brochure. This message builds the tools constituents use for social sharing, and ultimately, discovery amongst people outside of your database. But when you do it in a vacuum, you aren’t being competitive.
Think of it this way – foundation program officers will visit your website for information, but it’s hard to take an organization seriously if your website isn’t professionally done. So let’s say they scroll over to another organization seeking the same funds - their optimized website inspires people, including foundation officers, to give money, attend events and continue supporting their cause - instead of yours.
3. No One Can Hear Your Message…At All
There is an inevitable increase in competition for funds among an expanding number of nonprofits. And not only are printed letters being drowned with grocery coupons and credit card solicitations, but inboxes are also being bombarded with Groupons and feeds. How can you expect to raise money for your cause if no one knows about the good work you’re doing? This is why establishing your social media presence and crafting your content marketing becomes vital.
4. You’re Not Tapping Into New Revenue Sources
Let’s be real. Your donor database is more than likely made up of people ages 40 and above and while you’re still bringing in dollars, the truth is that this population will eventually diminish. And so will your source for funding. Having a PayPal account isn’t your all in one answer either. Trends show that donation appeals tend to be more successful when the need is more immediate and impact can be shown in real time – is your donation platform able to create multiple campaign pages that can easily be tracked for progress and shareable?
Although a relatively new concept, crowdfunding, and the ability to solicit donations online, isn’t just a new trend. It’s how millennials donate. Digital donating is to millennials as direct mail is to baby boomers, and if you’re not engaging this young pool of donors now, you’ll miss the opportunity to cultivate them into long-term supporters. Also, it’s less wasteful and cheaper, initiatives that everybody, regardless of age, can get behind.
Organizations can no longer rely solely on phone calls, mailings, and event marketing to raise money and engage new donors. Today’s nonprofits need to be innovative in their efforts, and that’s why the smart ones are investing heavily in their websites and digital marketing. Marketing can create the awareness you need to continue funding programs and services and fulfill your mission.
5. You’ve Worn Out The Welcome Mat With Your Existing Donors.
We all have a favorite restaurant. But remember that one OTHER favorite restaurant we had? The one that we still have affection for, but remember that ONE time where things didn’t go great, or have gone steadily downhill? Yeah. That’s how the donors at your organization feel. Somewhere along the way we decided that on top of weekly emails and monthly newsletters, we needed to write a four-paragraph letter from the ED. No thanks. Savvy marketing isn’t bombarding your constituents, but it is becoming part of a bigger conversation. And if you can't be part of that conversation, you can’t expect your open rates to increase.
How can you get in front of those before your donor base withers away? You’re going to have to invest in strong marketing. That means investing actual dollars to build your messaging, strategize your delivery, and implement CONTINUOUSLY. With a strong investment in marketing, you can see long-term returns and help build sustainability.