Marketing Nonprofits in a Crisis Economy

by Sharon Gefen

In today’s economic climate non-profit organizations are finding it more and more difficult to raise funds. Most are undergoing cutbacks and saving costs wherever they can As for marketing, it’s a great dilemma when budgets are tight. Unfortunately one of the first areas to be cut is marketing and communications. But if you are a non-profit and you are not reaching out and marketing your organization, you are going to be left behind, and this may have serious consequences as the economic climate improves.

Is it worthwhile to invest in marketing now? Can we achieve results? Yes We Can! Now is the time to do more and perhaps differently than before, in order to maintain your marketing achievements and improve upon them.

What do we want to market?

We need to start with the message. What do we want to say about our non-profit? Let’s start with the “heart”. The heart of non-profit marketing is to appeal to the donors’ hearts. It’s all about touching people’s hearts.

Every non-profit has a vision and mission, a reason to exist, a human or societal need that it meets. That if it weren’t for the work of the non-profit this need would not be met to the same degree.

For example, non-profit X provides meals and food packages to the hungry. Their message is a very powerful one: People in Israel are going hungry. We provide food to the hungry. We are taking care of the nutritional needs of Israel’s children, and are making sure that the elderly can complete their lives without hunger and despair.

True personal stories will make this message come alive. The child named Nir; the grandmother named Rivka – how has your non-profit improved their lives?

The key to marketing of non-profits is to find your organization’s message – find the stories that illustrate it and touch the heart – and communicate them! People, including donors, need to feel a sense of personal identification with those who are being helped.

Who do we want to reach?

Certainly we would like to reach potential donors in Israel and abroad. We seek to appeal to individuals, as well as to corporations and foundations. We want large donors and small donors alike. We want to create awareness amongst the general public, which will create a “buzz” about the organization. That will bring more and more people to be interested in the organization’s work. We cannot ignore the small donor – as seen by the success of the Obama campaign through the Internet. And we must not ignore the young generation, since they are the donors of the future.

Moreover, non-profits often want to get their message out to decision-makers in government and the political system, since many non-profits rely on government funding if only for part of their budgets. Certainly they will want to reach journalists – since positive coverage in the media is worth its weight in gold!

What do we want to achieve?

We want to create interest, to appeal to the heart. The non-profit may be seeking volunteers, as well as cooperation with other non-profits. We want to achieve goodwill. And most of course, we want to attract donations, which are the lifeblood of the organization.

How do we do this?

The non-profit needs to act on several levels – through the media, the Internet, volunteers, intimate gatherings to a focused audience as well as major events. We need to create a “mass” of exposure opportunities to bring the message of the non-profit to the public.

Certainly one of the most effective ways of achieving exposure is through public relations. That is, by hiring a PR professional to work with the media in Israel and abroad. A competent PR professional will create a strategic plan for the organization, set achievable goals and will work tirelessly to ensure that the plan is implemented.

The work of the PR professional must be supervised by someone in the organization who is dedicated to this area. The best PR professional can only be as effective as the organization itself. Finding the stories, locating the individuals to be interviewed, gathering data – this must be done in-house in order to give the PR professional the tools with which to work.

Here are some tips for those organizations that choose to handle PR in-house:

  • Try to connect the work of the organization to current events – that’s when the media is looking for additional information and interviewees.
  • Back up your news items with data and statistics. The media is always happy to publish items with real figures and numbers gleaned from professional research.
  • Connect your stories to local holidays. The media is always looking for holidays stories, but they often need to close their holiday editions weeks in advance so prepare in advance.
  • Offer interviews with specialists and professionals from within your organization, who can speak about current event (actualia). This is especially important for television and radio exposure.
  • Hometown publicity – use visits of foreign prominent personalities as a way to get exposure in their local media at home.

And what about the Internet?

Certainly the new wave in marketing must include an active Internet presence. A well designed and written website in both Hebrew and English are a must for any non-profit organization. The websites need to have content that is updated regularly in order for visitors to come back again. More and more are also publishing regular electronic newsletters, which have become more effective than printing and sending out by regular mail.

Today non-profits cannot ignore online philanthropy. Around the world, as well as in Israel, online philanthropy is becoming more and more prevalent. In Israel for example JGooders is the first online philanthropy platform for the Jewish world, where Israeli and other Jewish non-profits can post projects they are seeking donors and volunteers for.

This does not even touch upon the Web 2.0 phenomenon, social media marketing, and viral marketing. More and more non-profits are using Facebook, Twitter, You Tube and Linked In, to name a few of the popular social media. Many are also going online with blogs. Here again, it’s important to consult with a professional in this field, which is developing both rapidly and dramatically. Whether you choose to handle this in house or use an outside consultant – again, as in the case of public relations, you’ll need someone to spend a great deal of time on this in order for it to be effective.

Sharon Gefen is a marketing and communications consultant with rich experience in marketing non-profits, as well as large corporations, specifically in the financial world.