Gatekeepers – The Forgotten Nonprofit Target Market

By Dr. Eric Lankin

As the senior educator of a major Zionist organization, I remember how proud I was that hundreds of Jewish schools across the United States used our educational materials. Tu Bishvat was “our” holiday, but our department also wrote, published and distributed curricula, games, newsletters and other Israel and environmental content to schools on a regular basis.

But at many conferences of Jewish educators that I attended, I had conversations with some classroom teachers that generally went like this: “Oh, I’ve know your group. You do trees in Israel, right?” “Yes,” I responded, “but we also publish and distribute Israel classroom materials like these.” The teacher would then respond, “I’ve never seen them. They look interesting.”


Considering we spent thousands of dollars yearly – writing, printing and distributing engaging Israel and environmental content, I was disappointed to learn that some classroom teachers never saw or used the materials. Their schools probably received the content but it probably sat on a desk or were placed in the trash can.

What distressed me the most was not only these teachers never saw the materials but the educational content also never reached the students and their families.

We would have been glad to distribute the newsletters directly to teachers and families but no school would give us the names and contact information. In logic model terms, we never had access to anything beyond the “outputs,” i.e., how many schools received the materials, or how many students were in the schools that received our materials. We never asked about “outcomes,” the transformational impact on the students of the educational materials we created and distributed.

However, as challenging and important it is to determine the impact or outcomes of the programming on the ultimate customer, in this case, the students; there was a foundational marketing problem that should have been addressed.

The reason we had no information about the impact on the students was that we neglected to successfully address the principal and individual faculty members asgatekeepers.”

The principal and faculty held the “keys to the gate” that separated us from the students and their families “behind the gates.”

Addressing the gatekeepers within a school, in marketing terms, would have meant understanding the needs and desires of the school principal and separately, the needs and desires of the faculty. We should have considered them each a separate target market, and we should have regularly surveyed principals about their needs and the use of our materials (since we had their addresses). We could have requested that they distribute surveys to faculty. These events occurred some time ago, but using today’s terms and social media access things could have been different. Teacher engagement could now additionally occur on Facebook in Jewish teacher groups with appropriate incentives given to faculty who participate in surveys.

The issue of gatekeepers needs to be addressed in all segments of nonprofit marketing. However, in our day, there are options to do an “end-run,” (in football terms) around the gatekeepers using social media.

But Beware: gatekeepers have feelings, too, and often do not appreciate being avoided and losing their control of their share of the marketplace!

In that case, I suggest that if you continue to nurture and facilitate the relationship with the gatekeepers, and meet their needs, you will be able to successfully connect with all the populations you are looking to serve.

Dr. Eric Lankin is President of Lankin Consulting, a firm focused on the needs of the nonprofit community and an (Adjunct) Professor in the M.A. Program in Nonprofit Management and Leadership at the Rothberg International School of Hebrew University of Jerusalem.