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March 14, 2023

Mission Multiplier: Nonprofit Marketing is a Four Letter Word: Part 2

Jane Pfeiffer

Hi, I’m Jane Pfeiffer, founder and president of Fieldtrip. Fieldtrip is a marketing and branding firm dedicated to helping purpose-driven organizations multiply their missions. Today, we’re going to talk about how to do that through marketing. Marketing is often seen as a four letter word, and I often mean words like zero, as in there’s zero budget to do it or it’s a want. That is, it’s something we want to do but can’t get the backing financial or board of directors support to really invest in it. Or, it could be positive words like need. You view marketing is an absolute necessity to your organization or even better, as the hero. You view marketing as something that’s all-encompassing. That isn’t just down the trail from the business and organizational strategy, but it’s actually part of that organizational strategy.

So which is it? Is marketing a zero? Is it a want? Is it a need? And I say D—none of the above. Marketing is really an investment, and that doesn’t fit my four letter word rule. But your board of directors or your donors or other stakeholders may not take your word for it or even mine. So let’s break that down. When should marketing be at zero? Well, I have encountered this situation, and when you’re an organization that operates in the background, you don’t have direct beneficiaries,  you have private, secure and significant donors, and a stable source of funding. The example that I know of is a statewide organization that’s dedicated to helping fund several individual charities across the state, specifically with community outreach, with things like voter registration and getting people out to the polls on important topics. They have a small but powerful list of private donors, and they prefer to operate in the background. They support their members, these other nonprofits, very well but they’re not looking for attention, even in terms of other organizations applying for their help. They’re going out and finding the organizations that they want to help. They want to stay hidden. So that’s when marketing can be at a zero. Although, I will give it at least a percentage point because they still have to be able to communicate the value of what they’re providing. But for today, we’re going to say that’s zero.

When should marketing remain a want? Well, when you see– this is probably the role that we see most often– when you believe that there’s a role marketing can play and that has potential value, but you don’t have the conviction of the entire organization to really commit to continual and ongoing and unwavering investment. Then it’s likely a want. An example of this is projects; things like getting a grant or a short term investment or dedicated investment towards rebranding, an outreach campaign or building a new website. You know, marketing is a lot like being physically fit. We all want the mental and physical benefits, but it’s often hard to put in the work that it takes to get those benefits. We know what’s good for us, but we have a lot of excuses and obstacles. Once we commit, it becomes an unbreakable habit and then we feel the benefit. That’s what marketing should be like, but it’s just not possible in all situations. So to keep in mind this exercise example, you don’t wake up and then become a fitness guru, right? The effort begins small and you might seek professional help. You might buy a new pair of shoes to start the journey. You don’t have to be an expert, but you have to be committed to the practice and the investment and then believe in the gains you will have.

When is marketing a need? Well, if you want to connect with others, then you need marketing. If you want to grow and change the structure of the world around you and your community, then you need marketing. If you’re seriously invested in making change and you believe in what your organization does, then you need marketing. Nonprofit leaders are dedicated to changing the organization and doing things differently, but they often believe that marketing is not an occasional operational expense that can sometimes get approved. And it’s for a special event and a limited time only. They believe that it’s a proactive, leading investment that lifts everything that they do. Your nonprofit name and logo reach more people than your work. So it does matter how you’re seen and how you’re heard and how you show up. It connects you to the outside world, and communications from your organization offer influence to their decision and their decision to move closer to you. So again, that’s the need. You really have to invest in it. And if it’s not, then you might be at a want and you can make good progress, and a sound investment if it’s only an occasional investment. But it’s much better to raise marketing to an issue of a need and the hero of your organization. So marketing, branding, advertising and communication all wrapped up together can be a hero for almost any nonprofit. As long as you’re willing to commit to the investment and commit to defending it, you don’t have to start as an expert. You just have to start and look for help along the way. Thanks for watching and watch more mission multiplier videos at