In order for a non-profit organization to be effective, it needs to know its niche: who constitutes its target market and how it is served. This is true whether it’s a new group or one bursting at the seams with too many clients.
Why? With the number of non-profit organizations climbing yearly, there is less and less funding to go around. It becomes imperative that you know whom you are serving and the benefits that you provide to them. If you cannot define your core constituencies, you will be squandering your limited resources and, I believe, your ability to fulfill your mission will be adversely affected.
This article uses concepts and terms that are very common to the for-profit community. I believe their use has great relevance to non-profits. After all, non-profits really are businesses and, as such, they need to operate and perform in ways that make them most effective and competitive.
Non-profits typically work from a Mission Statement that makes sweeping claims. But when it comes to actually serving, entertaining or educating people, or seeking volunteers and donor prospects, it is considered good business practice to know specifically which people you have in mind. If you can answer that question, then you have the basis for how to position your organization.
I’m referring to having a concise marketing plan, part of the larger business or strategic plan. Not everyone has a formal working business plan, yet all organizations are operating within business and marketing assumptions about who their group serves and for what reasons. Even if your services are offered for free or at very low cost, you still need to know who will use them and how to reach those people. Donors, too, need to be targeted and will only be responsive when you reach them on their terms.
“All nonprofits answer to many stakeholder groups: the beneficiaries of the services, board members, volunteers, foundations, corporate sponsors, individual donors, government, media and the community in which the operate. . . It is critical to build a brand [or identity] that is clear in its mandate, relevance and differentiation. Each nonprofit must have a strong, own-able proposition that is made relevant to each one of the stakeholder groups. The message must be consistent, yet tailored.” [Wise Moves: How to Successfully Refocus and Leverage Your Organization’s Brand, by Jacklyn P. Boice, Page 15, “Advancing Philanthropy,” November/December 2005]
What are the steps you should go through to achieve your objective, to reach your market's fullest potential? You need to ask the following questions:
What is your business now or, if you want to expand, what is the business you want to be in? The answer to this question is not as obvious as it seems. Consider:
- How do you really know if there is a market for your service and
- If you're currently in business, how did you define your strongest customers?
- How did you decide how to package and price your service?
There are specific steps to take in building a formal marketing plan. Start by putting your organization in its place in the broad or macro sphere, which means asking:
- Which factors in the overall economy and industry will affect the marketing of your service in the next year? Every business is affected by the economy in some way, particularly businesses that are cyclical in nature.
- Who or what kinds of people could conceivably be considered prospects for this service? Here, your ideal clients are described in detail.
- What is the potential market for your service in numbers? Provide specific numbers for each target group.
- What is the trend analysis or what is the history of who has used the service or product in the past? Review actual use.
- Who are your competitors for this service and how do you stand competitively? A clear description of who the competition is and what they’re doing in terms of sales and what they’ll likely do in the near future.
- What are the problems and opportunities, both internally and externally, that may inhibit the marketing of the service? This is a description of what’s gotten in the way of success in the past and what opportunities have been missed. What is now possible?
- What do you want to achieve with this service in terms of short and long-term goals? Stated in both qualitative and quantitative terms, this is where plans are described, justified and targets made.
- >Given all these issues, what must we do next to reach the goals we’ve set? What are the specific things we are going to do to achieve these goals, which is a description of our marketing mix?
Now, on the micro level, your organization should develop a core marketing message that you can use almost daily in your interactions with prospects of all kinds.
This is often referred to as branding, which from a non-profit perspective is an authentic expression of your organization – its unique vision, goals, voice and personality. Simply put, it’s what you stand for in the mind of your audience, whoever that is.
In real life, it’s the art of creating and delivering a consistent message, image and experience that brings your organization’s unique difference to life in the minds of your current customers, stakeholders such as volunteers and donors, and those who you wish to become such.
Most of us are very familiar with one piece of the branding process – the slogans – of several highly successful non-profits.
- “Be prepared.” (The Boy Scouts)
- “We Bring the Caring Home. (The Visiting Nurse Service)
- “The Best Cancer Care. Anywhere.” (Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center)
Branding is the creation of a corporate image that helps distinguish it from all others. When successful, branding:
- Helps the intended audience know the product has them in mind
- Speaks to a certain level of quality that can be expected
- Differentiates the product (or service) from others in the marketplace
- Builds value and trust
- Reduces vulnerability to competition and marketing crises
- Makes it easier to introduce new services
- Increases marketing effectiveness and cost efficiencies
- Facilitates creating partnerships and collaborations
“At the Audubon Society, branding has had numerous benefits across the three areas of the society’s activities – education, public policy, and science. . . One of the key messages we developed during our branding process was ‘Protecting our Great National Heritage.’ It was meant to help people understand the core of our public policy mission. About a month after we started using that phrase, the White House began to pick it up in official press communications. [What’s In a Name? Branding Comes to the Nonprofit World, by David Vinjamuri, Page 3, “Journal For NonProfit Management,” 2004]
For branding to be effective, it has to include, even feature, the concept of WIFM or “What’s In It For Me?” for the people you are trying to reach. This is even more important now with competing interests creating “noise” that interferes with your message. Successful non-profits carefully position themselves within multiple markets to manage public perception of their purpose and quality. In some ways, your Mission Statement is the starting point in that it should describe what the organization does, who it serves and what makes it special or unique.
In the next installment, I’ll go through the five important aspects of getting to the WIFM and provide useful follow-up questions.
Alan Siege, MBA, CFRE, has 20 years’ experience in the nonprofit sector with direct hands-on familiarity in producing successful grants for human service, cultural and faith-based organizations. In addition, he provides business consulting services to small businesses. He can be reached at 718-768-1672,alan.siege@SBMC.biz, or visit his web site, www.SBMC.biz
Custom Development Solutions, Inc. (CDS) is one of the most sought after fundraising consulting firms specializing in the strategic planning and tactical execution of capital campaigns for non-profits throughout the United States and Canada. If you have a fundraising question, please call CDS at 800-761-3833 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.