Nonprofits needn't be caught up in hooks

In your August 22 issue, Mark Hand touches on some key considerations for nonprofits that seek greater market awareness in his "Branding Charity" article.

In your August 22 issue, Mark Hand touches on some key considerations for nonprofits that seek greater market awareness in his "Branding Charity" article.

And though a number of his sources emphasize that "hooks" like the pink ribbon and yellow wristband aren't for all, 1.2 million 501(c)3 organizations and the article's emphasis and illustrations support the idea that galas, identity tokens, or sponsorships are or can be a significant aspect of revenue.

As the managing partner of a national firm that has for more than 30 years provided marketing and communications services exclusively to a nonprofit clientele, I can tell your readers that - for most nonprofit organizations - this approach is more likely to be revenue-negative or neutral than it is to generate significant new dollars. A handful of observations:

  • Great marketing makes money. Classic service marketing strategies - adapted to mission-based organizations - have more to do with market segmentation, service quality, integrated communications, persistence, and ROI than they do with exceptional "one-off" media or publicity hits. Bringing increased visibility to an organization that doesn't know what to do with it, or that isn't prepared to ramp up its operations and still maintain quality, can be ruinous.
  • It's the relationship, stupid. Nonprofits are sustained by dedicated volunteers, committed donors, engaged communities, and hardworking staff. Tending relationships is job number one; pursuit of blockbuster public strategies, if they take significant time away from relationship management, can hurt the organization.
  • The majority of support comes from individuals, not from corporations. More than 85% of support for nonprofits comes from people in the form of visitor revenues and individual donations; the remainder comes from institutional (corporate and foundation) giving. Institutional giving is often more tempting because it comes in bigger chunks, and it doesn't require the Sisyphean heavy lifting that comes with developing an individual visitor and donor base.
  • Not all philanthropy is global. For the majority of nonprofit groups, local efforts are far more likely to raise awareness and actual dollars than are ambitious national or global campaigns. A realistic assessment of cause, impact, and reach for most nonprofits would conclude that having an impact on a 100-mile radius is far more likely than being successful in a national campaign. And local groups could easily waste scarce resources pursuing a chimerical national agenda or funder when more readily available resources are likely closer to hand.
  • A special event is the most expensive way to raise funds. While galas can be terrific in raising visibility, they are typically expensive to produce, often requiring 30% to 60% of the gross proceeds to pay for the event itself. That said, I'd never argue against a nonprofit engaging in ambitious marketing initiatives. It's just that those efforts need to be realistically aligned with the group's mission, capacity, and expectations to be successful.
  • Robert Moore Managing partner Lipman Hearne Chicago and Washington, DC

  • No excuse for PRWeek event's lack of diversity I was surprised and disappointed in reading your August 29 editorial in which you offered excuses for not having a more multiracial Bay Area roundtable (PRWeek, August 22). To suggest that others should assist PRWeek's staff in achieving representative diversity in its regional forums is a cover up for your own failure. There is an evolving credibility gap between PRWeek advocating diversity in PR and then conspicuously not practicing it in your major, high-visibility programs. It is inexplicable for PRWeek to offend those of us working hard for diversity in the industry by hiding behind excuses for not setting a better example. Your staff must be more resourceful before showcasing a forum unrepresentative of minority PR pros, especially in an area as multicultural as San Francisco. In my office, there is a framed quote by Oscar Wilde: "Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative." Bottom line: We need and deserve better leadership from PRWeek in this area of diversity.
  • Ofield Dukes Fellow, PRSA Washington, DC

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