Key concerns in marketing not-for-profit organisations

Just because a concept is charitable doesn’t mean people will automaticall buy into it. In this piece, Ailsa Page discusses the key concerns surrounding the marketing of not-for-profit organisations.

If you do business for a good cause then surely that makes marketing the business easy, right?

Not really. In fact, sometimes marketing a not for profit can be a little more challenging than a business. The main reason is that it is more complicated than businesses.

There’s a balancing act between selling and educating, and a diverse customer base with different motivations for purchasing. This can make it a lot of hard work.

The good news is that there are also lots of things that work in the favour of a not-for-profit organisation when it comes to marketing. The number one advantage is that your profits go to a good cause, so customers get an instant feel-good reward for their spend.


Multiple messages


Most businesses primary marketing is about their products and services.

Identifying who needs them and how their products and services meet the needs of the potential customers.

Not-for-profits are selling more than just their products or services they are also needing to communicate about their organisation’s work and the issue or cause they are working towards. The challenge is knowing when and how to communicate about products and services, versus the cause, and your organisation overall.


Products and services


When organisations are passionately working to save the world or solve a problem, the passion can take over in the promotion and the fundamentals including the basic features and benefits of a product can be missed.

It’s important that the products can stand alone in their promotion.

To sell coffee, it needs to taste good even if the proceeds go to a great cause; coffee lovers don’t want to drink bad coffee. If you have good coffee it will sell because it tastes good.

Communicating the important features that help it taste good such as freshly roasted, organic single origin beans and a very talented barista needs to be front-and-centre, not lost in the information about the cause and the organisation.

Helping a good cause is a nice benefit of sale, but not always the primary reason for purchase.


Your organisation


Many people don’t understand what not-for-profit is.

Sometimes this can be a challenge when it’s being used as a point of difference.

Sharing the marketing real estate with all the different messages can be a juggling act, as not all the messages can be communicated at every touchpoint or on every social media ad, nor is it relevant for every customer. For example, some customers do understand what a not-for-profit or social enterprise is and don’t need that information.


Your cause


If your cause is easily understood or identified by the public, that can make a positive difference to your marketing.

Educating people about something new can put pressure on precious marketing resources.

There’s also the extra challenge if people find the issues distressing and turn away rather than towards your cause. For example, some people find animal cruelty, starving children, human rights abuses just too much to bear and, while empathetic, prefer to avoid the topic.


Diverse audiences


Some customers just love your product or service, others love your organisation or are just passionate about your cause.

Each customer requires tailored communication to meet their needs. For example, a customer who’s passionate about the cause will want to know more about the actions taken, money raised and so on, rather than the new products you’re launching.

Where there’s a lot to communicate to different audiences, it’s important to have lots of methods for communication. Having an informative and well-structured website for search is important along with multiple social media channels, email marketing and, if appropriate, in-store signage and stories.


Small budgets


With all of these extra things to communicate, a bigger marketing budget would be handy, but is not always available. So not for profits have to be even more savvy with their marketing strategy and spend to achieve business. They do have some great resources on their side though.

Here are some of the natural advantages that not for profit organisations have over businesses.

1. Passionate advocates

Customers can be pretty passionate about brands however nothing like the supporters of a worthy cause. Not for profit customers and supporters and happy to share social media posts with their friends, write testimonials, do repeat business with you and encourage others to as well. Not for Profit organisations are ahead of the game in word-of-mouth marketing.

2. Sale justification

Probably best of all, buying from a not-for-profit organisation enables the consumer to justify their purchase (particularly if it was a nice-to -have rather than a have-to-have purchase). They can claim that it was “for a good cause” and it was.

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