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February 3, 2023

The Cost of Lost Opportunities and Other Nonprofit Challenges

Jane Pfeiffer

It’s hard to think outside the box when your board of directors tells you that any money you put toward marketing or communications means less money for the mission, whether that’s fewer homes to build or fewer meals to serve. Friction increases when those closest to you don’t see the value in marketing.

You may spend as much money as possible toward the mission to appease them. Although it’s noble, there lies the lost opportunity. And it’s a big one. 

I discussed this with Stephen Halasnik during his “The Nonprofit MBA Podcast.” We all know the nonprofit landscape is filled with competition, but intelligent nonprofit leaders know that investing in marketing will help you avoid lost opportunities. Let’s dive further into this idea and demonstrate how to think about nonprofit marketing differently. 

Don’t Let Humility Hold You Back  

I’m going to tell you a secret: Being successful in nonprofit marketing has much to do with confidence, and not having enough confidence in your journey will hold you back from making as big of a difference as you’d like.

Let me explain.

Let’s say you’re a baseball player with a knack for hitting home runs, but you’re stuck in the outfield and aren’t getting at-bats. You have this fantastic skill — and are forced to wait for someone to notice rather than telling your coach you can hit home runs all day long and better than anyone. 

Humility holds us back. If you hear the words, “we are the best-kept secret, consider it a warning sign. You’re sitting on the bench with value going to waste. Even if you aren’t the MVP, you still have value to offer that makes the game better for everyone. 

Get a Fresh Perspective

I live in Kentucky, and it’s no secret that we like our bourbon. But you can’t design the label on the bottle when you’re living inside the bottle. A lack of fresh perspectives is a common nonprofit challenge because you’re too close to the issue. You must step outside or invite the outside world to add to your perspective. In other words, you need to take a field trip. Armed with fresh views or bringing in an expert with a unique perspective, you can tackle the big problems. 

Be Strategic With Your Messaging

I see a pivot in nonprofit marketing and advertising. Having one message for ten different audiences is efficient, but it’s not effective. It’s the last lost opportunity I’ll talk about here, but it costs nonprofits big. 

Start with small steps. Change the headline and opening paragraph and make it unique for partners, beneficiaries, and benefactors; that’s a considerable improvement. Creating a unique, comprehensive marketing program for 20 different audiences would be fantastic but unrealistic. 

Closing Thoughts

What can be a more noble cause than trying to change the world for the better? As a nonprofit leader, that’s precisely what you’re trying to do. But many nonprofit challenges, like not seeing marketing as a long-term investment strategy rather than an occasional operational expense, limits your impact. Here’s how one client describes her return on investment.

Oregon Child Abuse Solutions (OCAS) has doubled its nonprofit’s revenue to $820,000 and raised our visibility, equipping our team with the right messages to expand participation in our training by 700% and training registration income by 500%. We now offer 1,400 opportunities for training per year, up from 90, and have tripled the disciplines we serve. The cherry on top is that our brand was well-received by state legislators. I do not doubt that our unique look and clear, concise messages helped us secure $7 million for first-time direct state investment into child abuse response services

Being the best-kept secret is not a badge of honor. Staying hidden and humble is a strategy for stagnation. Prevent lost opportunities by marketing the mission and investing in your organization’s future.