In 2000, I had the opportunity to go through Leadership Orlando. Of particular interest to me were the days in which traditional nonprofit issues were covered. I’ll confess much of the information was review for me – low graduation rates, high rates of students on free and reduced lunch programs, teen pregnancy. As I started getting settled in for a day of review, I noticed that the business leaders around me were looking shocked.
Prior to that experience I had often gotten upset (and somewhat angry too) that business leaders in our community weren’t doing more about social issues. As I learned that day, it wasn’t that they didn’t care – they just didn’t know there was a problem. Based on their new knowledge, a group from our class adopted a public school in a low-income area and collected school supplies and financial donations, volunteered in the classrooms, and put together a celebration for the families in the neighborhood.
In a difficult economic time, it’s more important than ever to raise awareness and introduce more people to your cause. The primary reason: If people don’t know about the need of the community and your organization, they won’t become involved (or give). As Dan Pallota said in the Harvard Business Review (http://blogs.hbr.org/pallotta/2009/05/why-nonprofits-should-spend-mo.html), “spending money to build demand for the great causes of our time is as central to those causes as direct service — maybe more central, as it is the only way nonprofits have any hope of reaching the scale of the problems they confront”.
The traditional marketing funnel aims to move people from Awareness through Consideration and Preference to Action and Loyalty. Nonprofit communication also aims for action and loyalty. If someone is aware that there is a need, they can consider various ways to address that need (whether through existing organizations or on their own). They select their preference and then take action (volunteering, donating or engaging in some other work). Ideally, they will become advocates for the organization and increase their involvement (perhaps by encouraging others to become involved with the organization or through a planned gift).
When marketing about a nonprofit organization there are two different messages that need to be communicated. First, educate the community about the need (to increase awareness). If potential advocates do not know that there is a problem, they won’t become engaged in it. Next, build credibility of the organization (to increase the possibility of your organization being selected as the way to address the community need). You’ll want to make the case that your organization is the best one suited to address those challenges.
There are ways to invest in marketing and communications without spending a lot of money. Creativity can go a long way in gaining attention from the media. Katya Andresen shares in her blog about a nonprofit in Seattle that adopted a chicken (trying to cross the road) as a way to build awareness of the need to be a more ‘walkable’ community (http://www.nonprofitmarketingblog.com/comments/help_i_have_no_marketing_budget/).
A Story of Two Nonprofits
I encourage you to visit the following two websites. Both address issues related to water in third world countries. Both are engaged in meaningful work. A t the risk of oversimplifying their differences, one chose to invest heavily in public relations and development and the other did not.
In 2006 (their first year of operation), Charity: Water (www.charitywater.org) spent $105,234 (or 30.3%) of their total budget on development and public relations. Their second year they raised just over $1.6 million and spent 15% on development and public relations. It was an investment that paid off. Their 2008 Annual Report shows that their total revenues were $6,642,022.
Global Water (http://globalwater.org/) is a similar organization that was founded in 1981. Their total revenue in 2008 (per their IRS Form 990) was $56,943.
A Note of Encouragement
We live in a very generous society and people want to support those causes they are engaged in and passionate about. By raising awareness and inviting people to engage in the organization (whether through giving, volunteering or advocating for your cause in another way), you will be one step closer to fulfilling your mission.