Marketing: Probably one of the more contentious words in the nonprofit world. Why? Because for every dollar you spend on marketing, that is one less dollar you spend on the amazing programs that fulfill your mission. Or is that really the case?
Every organization ultimately does two things:
1) What you do.
2) Getting the point across about what you do.
Explaining what you do happens all the time—through every email, through every interaction with volunteers, through the copy in your email newsletter, etc. This is what we call “marketing.” Marketing is not a department. As Jason Fried of Basecamp says in his book ReWork, “Just as you cannot not communicate, you cannot not market.” Yet for some reason, “marketing” is seen by many as a necessary evil of the nonprofit world and sometimes not even essential. Everyone in your organization communicates…and therefore everyone is a marketer.
Unfortunately, the world is full of noise that is drowning out your message. The people you need to interact with you are currently bombarded with a lot of noise every day, therefore, getting your point across by telling the stories of your impact in a simple, clear way is imperative, and it will actually enable you to better fulfill your mission. But how much of your resource engine should you be spending on it?
Some nonprofits spend around 2 to 3 percent of their budgets on marketing, while many others don’t even budget that much. As a result, the marketing is relegated to volunteers or added to the staff’s “to-do” list for when they run out of “more important” things to do. Perhaps surprisingly, I find many experts recommending nonprofits spend upwards of 10 to 20 percent of their budgets on marketing.
Does that seem big to you? Think about it this way…the more people understand clearly what you do, your impact, and how to engage with you, the more they will actually engage with you by using your service, volunteering, and donating. What if for every one dollar you spent on making it easier for your team to “market,” it brought you two dollars in return because the people that you and your employees interact with every day now better understand why they should give you money.
As you budget, instead of keeping it in one big independent “marketing” category, it may make more sense to spread that 10 to 20 percent into various areas (e.g., program budgets ). What you’re doing is helping put marketing costs into perspective so they don’t become this unwieldy bulk line item, but a cost that is tied directly to your mission every day.