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Should Nonprofit Organizations Market Themselves?

Marketing is the lifeblood of any corporation. Without it, a corporation would be forgotten, and a forgotten corporation is a failed corporation. Marketing brings in employment, customers, and money. All organizations need workers, consumers, and money. This includes nonprofits.

The public differs on whether nonprofits should be allowed to market themselves. On one side, there is the idea that if a nonprofit takes the initiative to market itself, then the donation money is used for that marketing method and not for the mission of the nonprofit. The other argument is that marketing cultivates opportunities for the nonprofit to grow and better serve the mission. Both sides have validity to them.

For example, the Three Cups of Tea scandal left Greg Mortenson paying a one-million-dollar settlement after using hundreds of thousands of dollars for personal expenses. These expenses included his publishing of his book Three Cups of Tea. This scandal made many skeptical of nonprofits’ relationship with money. The public has developed the idea that their money should be directly converted into a service. This is a fair expectation.

Conversely, money can be used to grow the effectiveness of nonprofits. According to Dan Pollata’s TED talk regarding nonprofits and marketing, the more funds a nonprofit has, the more money it can dedicate to its mission, regardless of the overhead. A company operating with $40,000 with $5,000 in overhead would have $35,000 to dedicate to its mission. While a nonprofit operating with $60,000,000 and $20,000,000 in overhead would have $40,000,000 to dedicate to its mission. Although the second nonprofit utilizes a larger percentage of its money on overhead, it still has more money to dedicate to the mission. This is also a fair expectation, but it contradicts the idea that every dollar should be shown in a specific service. Rather, it shows that every few dollars are converted into the growth of the service and organization.

How does one reconcile with donating to an organization without directly affecting the cause? How does one justify funding the cause and not the organization dealing with the cause? Good marketing shows that the organization is properly funded, and the cause is properly funded, as well. National Geographic shows how their funds are used to further their mission by presenting the wealth of knowledge gained from preserved historical data. In turn, the public donates understanding that they are paying a portion of wages for historians and advertisement. No one bats an eye. This is because everyone sees the results of their donations.

Marketing for nonprofits should include attractive elements of the organization as well as transparency of the organization. This addresses the skepticism of the public when an organization has high overhead. If an organization requires doctors, lawyers, or experts, then include their purpose and contributions in marketing strategies. Then, the public will know that they are funding knowledgeable people to address situations in a manner that is most beneficial for the users of the service. Through this transparency, one could see an increase in informed donations, and trust.