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January 30, 2024

Nonprofit Marketing as an Operation Edge and Strategic Investment

Jane Pfeiffer

Hello and welcome to Mission Multiplier. I’m Jane Pfeiffer, founder and president of Fieldtrip. Fieldtrip is a marketing agency dedicated to helping purpose-driven organizations such as nonprofits multiply their mission by reducing their largest expense. It’s the cost of lost opportunities because people aren’t coming to you for help. People aren’t coming to help you because they don’t know that you exist. They don’t understand your mission or why it’s important, and they don’t know if it can truly help them lead a better life. So for the past couple of weeks, we’ve been talking about change agents. Today, we’re going to talk about the third of the change agents, which is how to maximize gains.

As a reminder, we’ve looked at the importance of unlocking success. When we put one audience first because others will follow. This comes from a pain point when nonprofit leaders are really frustrated because their mission has never been more relevant, but the friction around time and resources is increasing, and it’s requiring more effort for less return. One of the ways that we can create efficiencies is instead of focusing on all the different audiences, we have put one as a priority. Typically the beneficiaries and the others will follow because they see and believe in the work that you do. Another pain point is that leaders are disappointed because they have to constantly explain what they do and why it’s important. Here, the antidote is to inspire with the impact of your work, not describing what you do every day.

Today, we’re talking about how leaders are often confused because what used to work is producing less impact and lower revenue. We’re going to talk about how to shift marketing and communications– if you have such a thing– forward as a strategic investment, because it is an investment. And we need to change the nonprofit mindset to think like that, because the more that we do upfront leading into the organization, the better the returns and gains. So marketing is a four-letter word. That’s not really true, obviously, but it feels like that. There’s a common belief that marketing takes away from the mission and it adds to the overhead. Unfortunately, not only leaders think like that, but the public has been conditioned to look at nonprofits and evaluate them based on the percentage of overhead as to what they receive. Yet one of the ways that we can invest in our organizations is focusing on outreach and engagement. Those are the more preferred terms for marketing, but that’s really what it is. The private sector knows that without either advertising or a large direct sales team, the business will fail. They would not open the business and then just hope that others find out about them, need their services and think they’re better than other options in the category.

So we’ve got to think of it differently, and I’m not telling you to think of it as a for-profit business, but to learn from certain beliefs and habits of a for-profit organization. Let’s think of marketing and redefine it as a proactive investment strategy. I think the best way to look at that is to redefine it as both a megaphone that shares the word of what we do as well as a magnet. I’ll walk you through both of those, because the key is that when we shift marketing away from the occasional operational expense that we get because we have a grant or a windfall year, that it’s a constant in our organization, we have to shift all of communications and marketing because it’s a proactive investment in every aspect of the organization.

Here’s what I mean by that. So here’s a typical nonprofit organization. We’ve got leadership, administration, finance programs and services. Marketing sometimes getting mixed in with development, or maybe it’s more of a communications department, team or effort. And then operations. The list could go on. The internal workings vary by organization, and we tend to think of communications first. When we communicate, we are this megaphone, right? We’re taking what we do and we’re explaining to others why we do it, how it works, the impact of our work. That’s experienced through development, marketing, communications, as well as community engagement. You’ll even notice that part of this megaphone or angle lies within the organization, and that’s the internal communications.

The internal communication is the work that you do to share the mission with your staff, with volunteers, the board of directors, those people that know you best. We tend to focus on pushing information out. So that’s our output marketing as a megaphone. But when done correctly, and this is what is so often missed, is that marketing is actually a magnet. There should be a full circle process where marketing, again more commonly referred to as outreach, is at the other end of the organization. Listening and learning and understanding what the beneficiaries of the mission need to succeed. Not sharing and saying and spreading, telling, advocating, but truly listening from either being on the front lines, from asking, from bringing those beneficiaries to the table for discussions and for decision making, but really working on inclusion, representation and engagement to bring those findings into the organization in a way that lifts every aspect. It will change programs and services that will optimize those things if there are hurdles that people have to overcome in order to take advantage of your mission. You can either recognize that and partner with another organization, or find out how to eliminate those hurdles and make it easier to receive your services and support. That is marketing.

If we were to think of this and put a commercial product in the middle, let’s say laundry detergent, we understand that research and development, that consumer groups or focus groups are so important to the development of the product that is created. Does the chemical composition of the water make a difference? The temperature of the water, the lifestyle of the population? What are those things that might be unique that needs to change the product? In our laundry detergent, it just happens. And that’s kind of normal in the marketing world, but it’s often lost in many nonprofit organizations that magnet role is what needs to be created in order to make this full circle loop. Because then when your message comes out the other end as output, you’re speaking not only to those who can support you, but also to those who need you. And it sounds like you know them because you do. That creates authenticity, which leads to belief, which leads to advocacy. And you’ve got mission ambassadors. So that’s the third change agent today is to maximize your impact by really leaning into the true model of marketing as both a megaphone and a magnet in your organization. Thanks for watching. For more Mission Multiplier videos, visit