Learn more about analytics and research best practices, as well as real world examples and solutions for nonprofits.


Nov 4, 2015

Marketing / Anti-Marketing


This blog is a little different. Sometimes, even among us, we don’t agree on things. Here’s one example.

Bill: If you ask 10 people to define marketing in the nonprofit space, chances are, you will get 10 different answers.

Here’s the one answer I like, paraphrased from my marketing professor Dr. Bob Colby at Northern Arizona University: Marketing is finding offers that donors want to give to.

In other words, offers should not be static. We should constantly be asking donors what they want to give to and adjust our programs to deliver what the donor wants.

Far too often when we are doing offer development research for clients, and the immediate response to any new offer is, “We can’t use that offer. We’d have to change our programs.”


That’s not a marketing attitude. That’s an anti-marketing attitude that will lead an organization down the path of irrelevancy.

Sumarie: Well, that’s very interesting and I don’t agree.

When I worked at CARE – through testing – we knew that donors responded best to simple, straight-forward “feed a child”-type appeals. While occasionally programs would require that children are given nutritious food, most often the best way to help a child was to provide the parents with training and agricultural tools to provide ongoing sustenance to their families, and hopefully to make a living, too.

A negative example of nonprofits changing their programs to meet a donor’s whim is when a major donor left a substantial bequest to a number of nonprofits. The donation was earmarked for programs that would change the core focus of the nonprofits away from social services for those most in need to instead providing activity centers for kids – something a lot of other organizations already do.

So they changed their programs to provide what the donor wanted to contribute to, but it hurt their brand, hurt the services they were providing in the community and hurt them financially in the long run.

Bill: Huh. Sumarie brings up an interesting point. Should nonprofit organizations be market driven or mission driven? For any organization, obviously there needs to be an intersection of marketing and mission. Otherwise the wheels fly off. And I guess there is always going to be tension between these two drivers. But when push comes to shove, I think marketing needs to lead.

Sumarie: There’s a question in any industry about how much marketing should drive products or services. But I believe it’s still wisest for organizations to focus on what they do best rather than letting donors drive the programs. Mission-driven, not market-driven.

What do you think?

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