Learn to Effectively Target Your Constituency

Throughout the years, we’ve consulted with many organization who were not effectively targeting the constituencies they wished to reach. For example, a community action agency in Arizona was well known to the poor people, but possible corporate funders offered a blank stare when they were asked about the organization.   A children’s home in Colorado was very well known to the state agencies, but the faith-based community barely had them on their radar screen. A large independent living center in California was well known as a strong advocacy organization with the state politicians, but the private foundations had never heard of them.

We live in a competitive world, and while nonprofits are driven by missions to do good they must also compete for funding, clients, constituents, staff, and board members.  Until recently, funding sources didn’t give to organizations that appeared to “duplicate services,” keeping competition a for-profit dynamic. But the government has opened up the nonprofit sector in order to allow it to serve a more diverse group of individuals at lower costs and with better more targeted services. The downside to this for organizations of course is that the competition for funds has increased dramatically. They need to “position” themselves in the community and in the marketplace but remain mission-driven. It may sound tricky, but the principles that apply to the for-profit world of marketing, also apply to the nonprofit world – the nonprofit organization just has to be more conscious of the ethical nuances involved (not that for-profits shouldn’t be!).

Below we have listed some practical guidelines on how to competitively position your organization:

  1. Understand the difference between marketing and public relations . Marketing activities are all those associated with identifying the particular wants and needs of a target market of customers, and then going about satisfying those customers better than the competitors. Public relations is many times co-mingled with marketing but is actually its very own beast, involving communication with various sectors of the public to influence their attitudes and opinions in the interest of promoting a person, product, or idea – in essence its a free way for you to get your accomplishments and news stories to the public.
  2. Before you develop a marketing strategy… It is important to have a strategy in place before venturing down marketing path. But before you develop the strategy, you must develop a summary of how your organization pursues its objectives by first defining your mission, the direction of your services, your knowledge of your “competition,” your advantages, your marketing and fundraising budget, and the level of commitment from your board and staff.
  3. Target your audience. It is not very effective to play Johnny Appleseed in public relations or marketing. It is better to be clear about who your audience is and to target them directly rather than sending your message to the general public.   For example, if you want to reach the business community, try to give a presentation to the Rotary Club, or join the Chamber of Commerce, or write an article for the Wells Fargo internal newspaper.   If you are trying to form a partnership with the faith-based community to raise funds or to recruit future volunteers, write an article and send it to the largest five church bulletins in your community, or even send it to the free Diocese publication. The point here is to be selective, and to focus your energies so that your desired constituency hears about you multiple times in either the same or similar venues within the same market .
  4. Media Moments. Many years ago, when I was director of the Community Resource Center in Denver, we were organizing around homeless issues, and we formed the Homeless Assistance Fund to support families over the holiday season. I wrote an editorial in the Denver Post and we raised over $15,000 in contributions. Always read the newspapers and when you see a national story that has a local angle, email (better than a telephone call in most cases) the editorial editor or a reporter that covered the story, and ask if you could be interviewed or if you could write an op ed piece on the issue. This is a great way to get on the paper’s rolodex.
  5. Recruit a board member who has a marketing or PR background. If you cannot set up a formal marketing program within your organization because the budget is tight, recruit a board member who has these skills or owns his/her own marketing or PR firm.
  6. Develop a professional web site. If you don’t have the time to put up a professional looking web site, don’t put one up at all. For less than $1,000 a web design firm will work with you to develop a polished web site honed to your mission, which you can then update with your content. Included in the price they should provide a message board where members can virtually visit with one another, an opt-in newsletter sign up, counters, behind the scenes tracking mechanisms, news feeds, etc. Remember, you can also recruit a board member or volunteer who owns or works for a web design firm to design the web site for free or for a reduced cost.
  7. Use technology to produce better marketing materials. Today’s technology has made it much easier for nonprofits to cost-effectively produce their own marketing materials right from their offices. Train one or two of your staff members in some of the desktop publishing software programs hitting the shelves every day. Our favorite: In Design by Adobe. Another less expensive favorite: Microsoft Publisher (a novice level desktop publishing program which can be played with to create decent brochures and flyers). These staff members can also handle simple updates to the web site with Macromedia Contribute (purchase it for $100 or less) at Amazon.com .
  8. Incorporate email into your marketing efforts. Make it easy for donors, potential donors, constituents and others to contact you. E-mail has changed the face of communication. If you don’t have e-mail, you should. Make sure you post your email address on your home page (the very first page you see on a web site). Email can also be used as a marketing channel to promote your good works and get your name in front of constituents and donors. Many organizations use opt-in subscription forms on their web sites, then send the subscribers a weekly e-newsletter with helpful information about their programs, recent research, surveys, news items, etc.
  9. The Seven Times Theory. Remember the popular marketing theory that people need to hear about you seven times in five different venues before they have integrated the information and think of you automatically.
  10. Write your marketing plan. While the basics stay in place for both for profit and nonprofit marketing plans, wording needs to be changed around. A nonprofit marketing plan should ideally address the following areas:
    1. Identity of the organization (mission statement, positioning statement)
    2. Procedures for managing media and a list of preferred media contacts
    3. List of programs or services. For each program or service complete each of the following:
      • Program or service description
      • Target markets
      • Competitive analysis
      • Collaborative analysis (very important!)
      • Pricing
      • Promotion (advertising, etc.)
    4. Responsibilities and timelines
    5. Budget for marketing and promotions
  11. Weave marketing/PR and fundraising together. Take a recipient of your services with you on funding appointments and when doing media calls. They represent the ‘heart and soul’ of your organization and people will remember and respond to them. One of the best national funding appointments I ever had was when I took a senior citizen from Ballantine, Montana with me to the Ford Foundation in New York City. I became totally irrelevant to the interview because my senior citizen friend and the program officer at Ford spent over 90 minutes (the appointment was only scheduled for 30 minutes)   talking about the land, the history, and impact of the organization.