Elaine Fogel

urgent-rubber-stampI recently received an “Urgent: Your support is needed” email. It came from a charity whose annual municipal grant was reduced by 10% for the next fiscal year. How bad was it?

In the second paragraph, the CEO states that the organization has experienced a 30% cut in municipal funding over the past eight years! He asks me for help - to contact city officials and advocate on the charity’s behalf, and to show up at a city budget meeting to voice my opposition to the budget cut. As I read his plea, my instinct told me that something was wrong with this picture.

So, I did some research and uncovered a very disturbing fact. 

In the organization’s 2010 through 2012 Form 990 tax reports, there are no expenditures for “advertising and promotion.” Nope, not a penny shows up in that expense line.

It is possible that some marketing expenses, like the website, were charged to fundraising expenses. But, sadly, the advertising/promotion omission demonstrates that marketing is not a priority and the organization does not have a market orientation.

Of its senior leaders, there is only one with any marketing background or experience, but it is not part of his current job description. He is in charge of finances. The others have backgrounds in accounting, public administration, education, counseling, psychology, and political science.

In my experience, this isn’t atypical in the nonprofit world, although it has been slowly changing. In their original 1975 book (and subsequent editions), Strategic Marketing for Nonprofit Organizations, Philip Kotler and Alan. R. Andreasen state:

One can be a successful marketer only if one has adopted the proper marketing mind-set. This means having a clear appreciation for what marketing comprises and what it can do for the organization.”

Without this mindset, and especially without investing in marketing and branding, this type of urgent appeal is a bandage on a very big boo-boo. If you work or volunteer for a charitable organization, please share this post with your colleagues. Don’t wait until its situation becomes urgent and it cannot fulfill its mission because of funding cutbacks.

Every charity needs a marketing and branding strategy. Every employee and volunteer needs a marketing mindset, no matter their job descriptions. They are ultimately the organization’s brand champions, and as such, must thoroughly understand their responsibilities to the brand and the organization’s customers.

Have you ever received an urgent request like this? How did you respond? Do you agree that every charity needs a marketing mindset?

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