I’ve recently had calls from several start-up Nonprofits wanting basic advise on what they need to do, whether it’s board development or how to incorporate as a Nonprofit or what kinds of grants they might pursue. I have a tool that I’ve developed to help me get to know them better and frankly, to help them focus. I call it a “marketing questionnaire” but it goes beyond simply “marketing” to drilling down on the who, what, and why of the organization.
I’ve found that people who start Nonprofits do so because they have identified a need in their community. Sometimes that need is to help the disadvantaged or to highlight a problem or even to provide peer professional networking. By and large, folks who start Nonprofits are highly altruistic, but that altruism doesn’t necessarily translate into framing a vision that is practical or sustainable. The marketing questionnaire can be daunting because it asks questions that may not have been asked previously. One Nonprofit entrepreneur exclaimed “You’re forcing me to come up with a business plan!”
“Yes,” I said “That’s the idea of the questionnaire.”
Every Nonprofit needs to step back from time to time and ask “Why do we matter?” If you and/or your board doesn’t know why the Nonprofit matters how can you convince anyone else that you matter? Maybe that’s the perfect way to start your next board meeting, spend fifteen minutes answering the question “Why do we matter?” Why you matter leads to being able to pitch media stories that will be picked up, it leads to creating relationships with media that will last over time, it leads to getting noticed.
Answering “Why do we matter?” also leads to finding out what is unique about your Nonprofit. As I said earlier, you are in competition with millions of Nonprofits and you are in heated competition with other Nonprofits who have similar missions. In order to get the 3 M’s (money, membership, media) your Nonprofit has got to stand out in the crowd. Take the case of two fictitious animal shelters:
Shelter One is fairly traditional. It receives stray animals, provides initial medical care, places them up for adoption and if not adopted in 120 days, euthanizes the animals.
Shelter Two not only receives stray animals, provides initial medical care and places them up for adoption; but it has an active foster parent membership, behavior rehabilitation services, web-cam capabilities so prospective animal owners can see the animals live and in real time, hosts adoption fairs at the local pet store, provides spay and neuter clinics to the public for a nominal fee and doesn’t euthanize but has a 100% placement rate (even for those hard to place animals).
Shelter Two is a marketing dream. There are about six stories that can be pitched for Shelter Two. And part of the Shelter Two pitch is how much better Shelter Two is than Shelter One.
Another question I ask is “Who is your target audience?” You can call it audience, constituency, membership, it doesn’t matter, what matters is the need to identify who you are trying to reach. I’ve seen Nonprofits mistakenly identify the entire world as their audience and unless your Nonprofit is the International Space Station, the “world” is not your audience. In identifying your audience you really need to apply some tough love. You may want to serve everyone, but can you? Think of it as “niche marketing.” If you can’t determine who your target audience is, maybe it’s time to pull out that mission statement and give it serious consideration. Figuring this out helps you narrow your pitch and narrow the field where you pitch and helps you be more successful because you are focused.
There’s more that needs to be explored but I’ll leave it for another time. If your Nonprofit doesn’t have a media marketing plan, now is the time to develop one. The competition for attention won’t get easier as time goes by it will only get tougher, especially in light of new media. This is an area that is woefully lacking for most Nonprofits and many simply do not include it as part of their regular programming activities and rarely give it a line item in their budgets. Your Nonprofit can stand out in the crowd if you include media marketing as an important component of your business plan.
Contact Bunnie at info at riedelcommunications dot com