If Your Nonprofit Fails in the Forest, Will Anyone Hear It?
Being “the best kept secret in Charlotte” might sound cool, but it’s rarely a recipe for success. And, that gets us to the question: Should nonprofits be encouraged to spend money on marketing their missions?
In this week’s installment of “Breaking Good,” we reflect on a topic that pits what we know about the way the world works with how we think “charities” should function.
Okay, analogy time. You’re a rising chef in the culinary world of Charlotte. You’ve studied at quality institutions and have done the hard work to earn the respect of those in the foodie scene. With the backing of a few people who really believe in your gastronomic vision, you open a modest restaurant in a highly competitive part of town, surrounded by successful, established eateries that have built a high degree of trust with customers.
But here’s the twist. Strangely, the financial backers and stakeholders who most believe in your vision refuse to let you invest in advertising to generate increased interest in your restaurant. They think, if you make enough good dishes, folks will just find you.
After allowing you a modest salary for yourself, they tell you that you should pour all of the profits back into the ingredients and making your dishes world class, leaving nothing for promotion. The diners who find you absolutely adore your cooking, but just keeping the doors open is a near constant struggle. And, that holds you back from being a smash hit. More likely, it’s just unsustainable.
Doesn’t make a lot of sense, right?
And yet, this is what many expect of the nonprofit organizations that are tackling some of the most challenging issues facing our region.
Marketing Can Make or Break a Nonprofit
Amy Jacobs, Executive Director of SHARE Charlotte, believes marketing (or the lack thereof) can make or break a nonprofit organization. To be competitive, organizations must invest in their digital platforms, engage in social media and produce compelling video content.
“A nonprofit can spend all their time, energy and resources making a strong impact with their mission, but if no one knows about the great work being done or has been invited to be a part of it in a meaningful way, fundraising and friend-raising is going to be challenging,” Jacobs said. “’If I build it, they will come’ is not a realistic mentality.”
According to the American Marketing Association, nonprofits spend between two and three percent of their operating budgets on marketing while private sector companies spend three times as much.
Why the discrepancy? There remains an expectation for many that a donor’s gift will be used to provide direct services and that marketing and overhead is a less impactful way to allocate charitable dollars. This idea persists despite a joint effort in 2013 by GuideStar, BBB Wise Giving Alliance, and Charity Navigator to walk back the “overhead myth” they had perpetuated for years.
19 Minutes That Will Change the Way You Think About Charity
If you haven’t watched it already, I greatly recommend taking the next 19 minutes and watching Dan Pallotta’s outstanding TED Talk entitled “The Way We Think About Charity is Dead Wrong.” Much of the Breaking Good series is based on concepts he brought forward in this seminal talk. Go ahead and watch it – I’ll wait.
So, are you convinced that we are working against our own self interests in limiting the ability of nonprofits to market themselves? If so, welcome to the team. We’re glad to have you. But what are we going to do about it?
SHARE Charlotte Shares Stories (and Best Practices)
Enter SHARE Charlotte. Through partnerships with more than 400 Mecklenburg County social good organizations, this nonprofit organization is in the unique position to be able to amplify hundreds of stories of need and impact throughout our region.
“We believe telling stories is the key to marketing, especially in the social sector,” Jacobs said. “Grabbing someone’s attention through visually interesting content, then their heartstrings through a personal story of impact, often leads to activation in the form of donations, social media engagement, and responses to volunteer.”
Fittingly, SHARE Charlotte has a staff role entitled Chief Storyteller (Nicole Copsis) whose job it is to share stories of good. At a time when “content is king,” this organization is allocating resources to grow its audience to increase awareness and engagement. You can see some of SHARE’s storytelling content on their #52Tuesdays blog.
I mean, duh right? As consumer brands invest millions in creating social good campaign strategies to make their fizzy waters and fashionable undergarments seem earnest and meaningful, nonprofits have a wellspring of warm fuzzies to share … if we only encourage them (and give them the financial freedom) to do it.