The notion that nonprofits should not expend resources on marketing and advertising is a common view held by the public. Its origin lies in the misguided notion that nonprofits are somehow not in business. As I point out in another Nonprofit … Not! blog nonprofits are indeed in business and furthermore operate in a very competitive business environment. Every business must promote its services if it wants to maintain and increase market share. Securing financial contributions and donations to support a nonprofit’s mission requires providing current and potential supporters with strategic, timely and interest-grabbing information. Nonprofit businesses must invest in marketing and advertising if they wish to maximize their impact.
Why does a nonprofit business need to market and advertise? Marketing and advertising informs donors, prospective supporters, and program beneficiaries about its products and services. Marketing and advertising attempts to convey to stakeholders that the product and services provided are the best in the market. Most significantly, advertising seeks to stimulate a desire to support the nonprofit’s product or service. As economist John Kenneth Galbraith noted almost a half a century ago challenging the conventional wisdom regarding the locus of consumer behavior, advertising stimulates demand. That is, it is not merely the wants and desires generated by the consumer that act as a primary operating element in the demand for goods and services. Advertising and marketing itself generates consumer demand for a product or service. All one needs to do is to take a look around the home or office at the multitude of unused, rarely used, or misfit purchased products to recognize this truth! It was not enough for Apple to developed the iPad. In order to get the iPad into the consumer’s hand Apple had to stimulate in the consumer’s mind the need for the iPad. Apple utilizes advertising and marketing to stimulate this desire and influence demand.
Any business, for-profit or nonprofit, limits its success if it offers a competitive product or service but fails to create a marketing campaign to inform and form the public’s need for their products. It’s like building a highly engineered, powerful race car and keeping it parked in the garage. Nonprofits must convey to the public the values behind their services and convince the public that supporting its mission will satisfy their interest and values. Developing a strategy to communicate a nonprofit’s value-match with potential donors via various marketing mediums will increase support and mission impact. This requirement is essential in the current information age where the public is inundated with messages. Indeed, in today’s information age competition for support is fierce and competition to get a businesses’ message to the public is more challenging than ever before.
Typically what holds nonprofits back from investing in advertising is not just the misperception that a nonprofit is not a business similar to a for-profit business. Additionally, lack of advertising investment is due to a reticence that dollars spent on advertising are unconnected to the delivery of service. This is a misguided notion along with the same thinking that views fundraising and administration overhead as unrelated to mission delivery. These views undermine a nonprofit’s ability to achieve maximum impact. If a nonprofit’s mission is about delivering important and fundamental human gain it must use every effective and responsible means possible to achieve this goal. This includes smart marketing and advertising campaigns to help secure support for its mission and impact. Anything less diminishes its mission and inhibits its capacity to increase and maintain its impact. Its leaving the race car in the garage!