It's all about the STORY!

As a long-time professional in the nonprofit industry, specifically focusing on substance abuse and mental illness issues, this is a subject I know well–cause marketing. While it is a subject I know well, it’s interesting that I am witness to the fact that few grassroots organizations participate in cause marketing at all. In fact, most of the experience I have acquired in this particular realm of nonprofits was due in great part to my instance that perhaps the organization just try it out. Just consider that it might possibly be helpful to market and that no harm could come of it. Strange, you may think, as all businesses know that marketing is critical to building and sustaining a brand and loyal followers/customers, right? Well, nonprofits are a rare breed of business.

Many nonprofits have become so accustomed to receiving direct referrals from institutions such as courts, jails, prisons, shelters and hospitals that marketing only consisted of maintaining those long-term relationships with a select few funding entities and referral sources. Keeping staff salaries and program expenses covered was a job for grant writers and development and managed care officers. Well, if anyone has been paying attention, there’s not so much money going around in grant land these days, and philanthropy is a dark, dry, empty place. That’s not to say that these resources don’t still exist, but the landscape and substance is changing, making these funding options less lucrative and far more restrictive when the money does arrive. For instance, you might have luck getting your program funded, but good luck repairing that leaky roof or paying for all of the unfunded mandates the grant requires such as tracking and reporting complex outcomes and participant statistics, etc.

Enter the solution of cause marketing! Here’s what marketers for centuries have known:

  1. Develop a quality product and/or service
  2. Wrap around solid and reliable development and delivery methods–make sure your customers can get what they want within reasonable time frames consistently
  3. Make certain there is a method of quality customer service provided to address customer needs and concerns
  4. Ensure that the products and/or services available are of high quality and competitively priced
  5. …and we the marketers will make sure that specific target audiences know the product and/or service is here, that it is valuable to the market and that it solves or changes something for the better–marketers help solidify the branding among target markets and build a culture for customers to walk in the door and keep walking in the door.This str

This formula is no different for nonprofits. Go ahead and market. Pay attention to the unique needs of your target markets and develop services to answer those needs. They will pay for it. That’s how supply and demand works. Go out on a limb and be daring, and go all the way. Don’t hold back, because reservation is the house of failure. It’s okay that you’ve never done it this way before–dream big and charter new grounds. Be the innovators and leaders in your field. Let the public and your target markets know you are here, listening to them,  responsive to them and are committed to answering their needs.

If you’re a nonprofit who serves populations experiencing poverty, then give your philanthropic pleas a face-lift. Remember Twain’s story of  “Tom Sawyer and the White Washed Fence.” Make giving to your cause something special, an honor for philanthropists to be a part of. Stop begging and instead be exactly what they want to support. Find out what your target philanthropists value most, and ensure that you organization mirrors those values. And all the while seek out cues from for-profit businesses to assist in generating income. Create jobs and help develop skills within your service population by developing a business venture. Market the whole package to venture capitalists and to the community, soliciting cash contributions for seed money. Do NOT think outside of the box, whatever that means. Throw the box away and create a real solution, and market that.

Cause marketing should be the new development trend within nonprofits to help them reinvent themselves and transform their services to better meet the needs and changes of the culture here and now.


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