Marketing in the not for profit sector

Marketing in the not for profit sector

 June 2017

A few years ago I set up my marketing and fundraising business Markethub Marketing Services.  I developed my business plan, marketing plan, and brand. I was all set to make my millions. And then I decided that my preferred clients were not-for-profit organisations. There went my dream of retiring young, and living the life of luxury.

So, why did I decide the not-for-profit sector was for me?  A number of reasons, but the core ones being; I want to see greater equality in New Zealand (and across the world); I want to live in a country where people care for each other, and the most vulnerable are supported;  and I want to actively be involved in working for organisations that make great change happen.

So, the not for profit, or charitable sector was calling. I was ready to walk the walk and achieve important things.

But it hasn’t been all sunshine and roses. Budgets are very low, and sometimes frustration with the time it takes to bring about change is very high. People in the sector are so busy delivering their service, marketing sometimes seems like an afterthought. Marketing in the not-for profit sector is very different to the corporate sector.  I had things to learn. Mostly, how to achieve marketing success on shoestring budgets. Luckily, I was keen to develop, and  skills I learnt in previous marketing roles were transferrable.

So what’s the biggest difference between a not for profit organisation, and a corporate organisation? The biggest one for me is what drives the organisation. A corporate organisations ultimate aim is to make profit – they need to achieve this in order to exist.  A not for profit organisation on the other hand is driven by values and a cause. I find the vision of a not for profit organisation quite ironic. Most of us have a vision, that if achieved, would mean there is no longer a need for our organisation to exist.  Our own success would see us out of a job, and strangely I find myself in a position wishing that my job wasn’t needed. The not-for-profit aims to be sustainable, but not to produce a profit. So money raised is put toward achieving the cause – whether it is to feed the homeless, or provide care for the elderly –whatever that cause may be.

So as a marketing professional for a not for profit organisation, my role isn’t to ultimately result in sales. Rather, it is to build awareness of the organisation I work for, and our cause. It is to develop a case for support – why stakeholders should care about our cause and help us to achieve it. My role is to use communication channels to inform, educate, inspire, and connect people to our cause. And it is to nurture relationships with a myriad of stakeholders.

Working as a marketing professional in the not for profit sector has its challenges, but can be very rewarding. One of the best outcomes from being involved in this sector is one I hadn’t really considered when entering the sector. I am surrounded by like minded people who care about others and the world. We don’t always agree on the best path to achieve our goals, but we often have the same goals.

I have always felt the wrongness of people who judge others without walking a mile in their shoes. I am done with allowing people their ignorance. When I hear statements about  vulnerable people somehow deserving their lot in life, I ask them for proof of their opinion.  I feel more educated, empowered, and knowledgeable being part of this sector. I get angry when people choose ignorance over opening their minds.

So, is working in the not for profit sector worthwhile?  Absolutely.  As a consultant I have determined that I will only work for organisations or people whose values align with my own values. This means working largely with not-for profits, but also other sectors where I can feel passionate about what they are trying to achieve. I feel job satisfaction, and a sense of purpose with my work – that I am making my contribution toward a better society.

My dream for wealth and riches has changed.  I could always win Lotto – so I’m still holding on to that dream a little bit, but I am definitely aware that my life is rich in so many other ways. And, as cliche as it sounds, there is much more to life than money. A friend recently told me that you have more chance of being kicked to death by mules, than winning Lotto. I briefly considered hanging out in a paddock full of donkeys to increase my chances of a Lotto win, but have decided not to…life is rewarding enough as it is.