I never see my brother who lives in Paradise, at least that’s what his wife calls it. They live in Naples, Florida and rarely come to North Carolina because, well, why should they? But Baby Brother was here for a quick visit this week and we talked about marketing, of all things.
He has built a small but growing business in a resort area with its high and low seasons. He’s in the midst of changing the legal status of his company and knows that he soon could create greater capacity for his business. He knows the key is to invest in marketing but together we wrestled with the question, which comes first: the marketing or the hiring of additional staff?
I began to think that this question applies just as easily in the nonprofit world. We’re all, whether non- or for-, emerging from The Great Recession and are tentative about growing or expanding too quickly. Given how scarce unrestricted dollars are and how many marketing choices exist, it makes sense to be prepared before you pick up the phone or send an email to begin soliciting marketing bids.
I started my career in nonprofit marketing and I think some of the basic questions are the same today as they were in the Dark Ages, including:.
- Who are you? What is your core mission? What do you want the world to think you are focused on accomplishing? Are you feeding the hungry or trying to eliminate the structural causes of hunger? Be clear and direct. This will help whatever expert you bring in to distill and refine your message.
- How do you operate? What are your core values? Are you young, dynamic and cutting edge? Are you research-based? Are you compassionate and service-oriented? Many nonprofits address the same issue, using vastly different approaches. Be honest about your own and be confident that that is what is right for you. Communicating how you work and what you value is key to letting current and potential stakeholders understand and engage with you.
- What’s new? Why are you marketing now? Has something changed? Have you launched a new initiative, created new solutions to old problems, leading the way in promising collaborations?
- Know your niche. Maybe it’s only that the environment in which you operate has changed, but that’s change nonetheless. Is there competition in your field where none existed a few years ago? Without bashing collegial organizations, are there ways to talk about your own that makes you stand out? What is it you do that no one else does or what do you do better? Make that part of the story. Potential board members, volunteers and donors have many choices about where to put their time and treasure. What differentiates you? Are you older and wiser with a great reputation for accountability and transparency or are you young and hungry with new ideas about how best to delivering services?
- Most importantly, are you ready for growth? A new marketing campaign will likely drive business to your organization. Are you prepared to respond? Are there resources in place to take full advantage of increased attention and excitement about your work?
Once you’ve done the necessary soul-searching, it will be much easier to see the best set of messages and their appropriate delivery tools.
So back to the original question: which comes first, marketing or growth? I’m working with a client now who is extremely concerned about this issue because the quality of the care they deliver to their clients is highly personalized and labor-intensive. They do not want to violate number 2 (their values) by overloading their capacity to deliver quality service.
And ultimately, that’s what divides us from our for-profit colleagues. Our driving force is not growth and profit, but achieving a mission, delivering services and, ultimately, making an impact on the lives of those we serve. So, ask those important questions and, by all means, get the word out!