In a crowded marketplace of ideas, it is important for non-profit organizations to establish a well-defined niche. While most non-profits are not selling products, they are selling their organization’s mission, their ideas, their programs, and their services. In a world where everyone is inundated with information, a strong image is the key to community awareness. Developing and maintaining a visible and credible identity through marketing will increase local support for your organization.
Many non-profit organizations believe their programs will sell themselves based on their inherent worth. They operate with the assumption that support and recognition will automatically come to a good cause. Unfortunately, this is a false premise. Even the best of programs will fade into obscurity unless non-profit management intentionally makes other groups, associations, businesses, and individuals aware of their mission and continuously maintains that level of awareness.
Communication builds understanding and initiates action. It is essential that non-profit management define their intended audiences, target their messages to these groups, and outline strategic plans that will best use limited resources to meet organizational goals and objectives. Leaders must also take steps to ensure that marketing strategies are carried out consistently and persistently, constantly in alignment with the organization’s mission.
How many people in your community are alert to the good work of your organization? Effective communication and a consistent image also enhance the ability of non-profit organizations to raise money. If local community members do not have an awareness of the good work that a non-profit does, it is unlikely that they will contribute to a fund raising campaign. In turn, if private foundations do not see financial support at the local level, they may be less inclined to award grants. Foundations also look at grant proposals to see how an organization plans to communicate the results of their program. Marketing is an on-going, cumulative strategy that can build financial partnerships.
Regardless of an organization’s size or mission, here are some essential elements of successful marketing that will work to build community awareness and support:
1. Identify your target audiences: Define the groups that your organization wants to reach. A target audience is NOT everyone in your community! Begin to characterize the demographics of your donors, community leaders and other supporters, and your volunteer base. Focus on methods to reach these groups.
2. Maintain consistent communication: Plan your communications strategy for the next year. Develop a timeline for press releases, newsletters, special events, and other marketing efforts. Develop tangible goals and assign responsibilities to staff, board members, and volunteers.
3. Create a visual identity: Communicate visually as well as verbally. Always display your organization’s name and logo on newsletters, reports, signs, and brochures. A memorable, well-designed visual image will strengthen awareness of your organization. Don’t be afraid to invest money to make your materials look professional. Your supporters want to see materials that show your organization is responsible, trustworthy, and credible.
4. Use message repetition and variation: An audience is more likely to remember a message if is reiterated in different types of communication. For example, print your mission statement in a brochure, write it in a PSA, and tell it to a news reporter. Slogans are a way to effectively capture the essence of a message in brief and memorable form.
5. Employ multiple communications tactics: Nonprofit organizations often target several audiences, which may respond to different approaches. Various communications campaigns can help establish and maintain a more widespread positive image.
6. Select and use appropriate media: Plan to use a combination of approaches best suited to reaching your targeted audiences and that make best use of your financial resources. Include a variety of methods including phone calls, letters, e-mail, newsletters, PSAs, press releases, and editorials.
7. Develop a strong, well-known identity over time: Building visibility and awareness is a gradual process. Be patient, persistent, and consistent. Reinforce your mission in a variety of ways.
8. Tell the story of your mission: In your communications, let your supporters, donors, and community members know about your good works. In newsletters, press releases, and on your website, tell about who you have helped or what action you have made happen. Spell out the ways in which donations have directly supported your mission. This will reinforce your message and help forge a stronger relationship between your target audiences and your efforts.