Marketing Remains Essential

by Robert L. Kern

American Jewish and Israel aid/advocacy organizations have their pools of supporters who give annual gifts and often respond with increased or second line “special campaign” donations when solicited for urgent needs. However, demographics and the economy are taking its toll on these populations. Campaigns are down from previous years in agencies throughout the community and instead of employing creative, forward thinking, many boards of directors – usually populated by innovative and successful people who have built businesses or risen to the top of their professions – responding to these crises by slashing spending. Marketing is often the first thing that they cut.

Marketing cannot be immediately assessed by “return on investment” (ROI). Because it affects every aspect of an organization’s activities, marketing takes time to show results and there are few tangible ways to measure success in dollars and cents.

Direct mail and online campaigns are two areas where marketing can make an easily measurable impact. A few years back I had a board member who saw that direct mail (a combination of membership and acquisition mailings) and Internet giving were raising roughly $4.00 for every $1.00 spent as well as acquiring an average of over 11,000 new donors a year. Declaring that he would readily invest his money with anyone paying that rate of return and achieving that level of success, he advocated increasing the marketing budget and “riding the wave.”

His reasoning was sound and based on his expertise in sales. If new givers, drawn to your cause online and through acquisition mail, are retained the following year, the initial cost of acquiring those donations is amortized. Allocating money to acquire new customers, he argued, is money well spent. However, his board colleagues did not see things as clearly and cut spending as well as dropped the number of acquisition direct mailings to just one per year, and he eventually resigned his position. Additional budget cuts followed.

Cutting costs may seem prudent when faced with a diminished campaign, but it is shortsighted. You cannot raise funds in a vacuum. Your existing pool of contributors is a finite and shrinking group and the long range solution to increasing your campaign is not going to be found solely by appealing to them to raise the level of their gifts. To move forward, marketing needs to be embraced as an essential element of your program. Leaving aside for now what methodologies to employ, smart marketing creates awareness of the brand and establishes its corporate identity, raises funds online and through direct mail, attracts new supporters and future leaders to the organization, grows the donor base and ultimately drives the campaign.

Regrettably, marketing continues to be among the first things pared down by CEOs and boards. This is a reactive decision, rather than a strategy. If board members would only use the business sense that made them successful in their careers, they would increase their non- profit’s marketing budgets and invest in building their brand.

Robert L. Kern is the owner and director of Robert Kern & Associates, a marketing and communications agency specializing in Israel and Jewish community advocacy. Previously, he was Director of Marketing & Communications at American Friends of Magen David Adom, National Communications Director of American ORT and also held marketing, communications and public relations positions at the United Jewish Communities of MetroWest and UJA.