Market don’t fundraise!

Those social enterprises and non-profit organizations that market themselves well have a distinct advantage over those that don’t. Marketing and public relations (PR) helps to amplify an organization’s brand – something I’ve recently written about in “brand as an opportunity magnet”.

It helps them to command an adequate “share of voice” and stand out amidst all the other organizations that are competing for our attention.

I believe that fundraising needs to align with marketing and PR, and form part of a concerted strategy. This will make it much easier for a social enterprise or non-profit organization to raise funds or win customers.

This article will explore some of my thoughts about the importance of marketing and PR, and tactics that organizations should consider in each of these areas. It will also touch on how these organizations should navigate the online world.

What is marketing and PR?

Marketing involves communicating the nature and benefits of an organization’s goods and services to its customers (which may include its beneficiaries and/or donors).

In contrast, PR is about raising awareness about the organization and what makes it special.

Both activities make it much easier to fundraise and pursue strategic opportunities, and its creates a foundation of brand awareness to build upon.

For example, I’ve spoken with corporate social investment managers who’ve said that even though they strive to be objective, their decisions of who to fund are subtly influenced by the marketing efforts of those organizations.

Another example is how Sizwe Nzima from Iyezo Health benefited from the promotion of brands such as Bertha Centre, Raymond Ackerman Foundation and SAB Foundation, which even led to him being listed on Forbes Africa’s list of promising entrepreneurs. This exposure opened up relationships for his medicine delivery service with the Department of Health, logistics companies and other sources of support.

I believe that non-profit organizations and social enterprises should subscribe to a higher moral standard, and its marketing and PR efforts should also reflect this. For example, I believe that any claims or promises of success should be honest and backed by evidence. I also believe that organizations should be congruent with their brands.

Tools versus behaviours

I’ve found it useful to differentiate between marketing and PR tools versus behaviours.

Your tools may include: websites; newsletters; social media platforms, brochures; social impact reports; proposal and report templates etc.

In contrast, marketing and PR behaviours refers to things such as: engaging people on social media; writing articles to be published; securing sponsorship; being interviewed on media; hosting networking events; speaking at conferences; hosting workshops; writing a newsletter etc.

A marketing and PR strategy

Much as with business strategy, I believe that organizations need to write down their marketing and PR strategy. It does not need to be long. A few pages should suffice. But it should be written down, implemented and revised or updated where necessary. Furthermore, this strategy should align with the organization’s vision and mission, and be congruent with its values and culture.

This strategy will describe the target audiences and guidelines for engaging with each audience. It should also describe the tools that are required and how they will be used.

The opportunity presented by the online world

In previous decades, marketing and PR focused on offline activities such as events, networking, print media etc. Some of these activities required huge budgets so the richer organizations tended to have an advantage.

However, nowadays, technology has made it so much easier for smaller organizations to promote themselves and sell their goods and services. The secret is to develop an online platform (a home base on the internet) and stand out amidst the noise of social media. Here are some of my thoughts on how to do this.

Develop an online platform

Nowadays every social enterprise and non-profit organization must have an online platform where people can go to find them.

This could be a dynamic website (e.g. WordPress) and ideally one social media platform. I think its unwise to try and succeed at too many online platforms. I’ve seen how some organizations try to do everything and spread their efforts too thinly to have an impact online.

I’ve also noticed how some social entrepreneurs have used only a Facebook page in the beginning, until they’ve been able to test a business idea and raise the funds to setup a webpage.

The trick is to be selective and drive relevant content through that limited range of channels.

Standing out in the noise of social media

I easily get overwhelmed by the abundance of babble on social media. I don’t want to see another photo of an event, quote or comment, or catchy headline for an article that has no substance.

Instead I believe that social enterprises and non-profits should use their websites, newsletters and social media to:

  1. Share specific opportunities that will benefit your followers.
  2. Share useful content (e.g. guides, articles, videos) which will either lift peoples thinking, teach people something, make something easier for them, or help them to overcome a problem they’re struggling with. These types of content take time and effort to produce.
  3. Provide a “call to action” around a cause – a social or environmental problem that must be alleviated. This call must clearly outline the campaign objectives and “next step” that its audience must take to be involved.
  4. Communicate the nature of an organization, and the features and benefits of its goods and services.

Everything that does not fit one of these categories, is most likely to be noise. This may diminish the credibility of the organization, frustrate legitimate followers, and attract unwanted attention.

Produce more than you consume

We live in a world of rampant consumption. The same applies to how we engage in online media.

Social enterprises and non-profits should make useful content in order to stand out – things that answer the above questions. Spending 9 hours creating content and 1 hour consuming other people’s social media content, will be much better for your organization that spending 5 hours doing each.

It’s too easy for social entrepreneurs to get trapped into the media consumption cycle. This can be deceptive as it gives both them and others a false impression of progress.

There is no doubt that it is much harder to produce useful content than to consume. You need to allocate sufficient time for deep work, and this is very difficult with the pressures and distractions of the average work day.

Funding your marketing activities

I’m often asked where organizations should get the funds to market themselves properly. I’ve noticed that the organizations that do this well tend to get this money from four areas:

  1. They apply a costing method that enables them to earn a surplus on their projects or provides them with freedom on how to spend their funds. I’ve written about consultancy costing, unit costing and outcomes-based costing here.
  2. They are fortunate to receive donations that are unrestricted – in other words they can decide how best to spend them.
  3. They earn dividend income from investments and have discretion on how to spend them.
  4. They earn revenue from their social enterprise activities (i.e. selling goods and services to customers). Even if an organization only earns 10% of their income in this manner, it is still sufficient to contribute significantly to its marketing and PR activities, provided it can make efficient use of these resources.

Conclusion

Social enterprises and non-profit organizations will benefit from actively promoting themselves and marketing their goods and services. This will amplify their brands and cultivate opportunities.

While the online world is a source of distraction, it also presents a great opportunity for organizations that know how to use it properly.

Thanks for Andy Simpson and Jaco Slabbert from Imani Development, and Philip Anastasiadis for useful feedback on this article.

Cultivating strategic clarity.

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