Marketing and Communications are Essential to Nonprofits’ Success

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By Polly Winograd Ikonen

When I read the opinion piece in the Chronicle of Philanthropy titled “Marketing Helps Nonprofits Reach People in Need. Why Do Grant Makers Refuse to Fund It?” last month, it rang many bells for me.

The author, Lisa David, is the head of a public health services organization in New York City. Her organization successfully landed numerous grants to support its core program during the pandemic. However, none of them included funding to get the word out about the availability of these essential services to a challenged community.

As Lisa argues, “This makes little sense. Like the proverbial tree falling in the forest, without communications and outreach to communities, no one — especially those who stand to benefit most — will hear about a nonprofit’s work and services.”

Exactly. I’ve spent 30+ years working in the nonprofit sector (with a couple of side trips into B2C and B2B companies). Marketing and communications are vital to every organization, but especially nonprofits whose mission-driven work typically fills an essential gap that others have left unaddressed. Without outbound communications, vaccines don’t go into arms; music is unheard; free meals are left uneaten; teen sex is unprotected.

Additionally, I have seen first-hand how a strategic communications campaign helps leverage programs supported by major grants to inspire individuals to donate money to extend those programs. LCI’s earned media work with clients Save the Redwoods League and Becoming Independent led directly to significant fundraising success for their campaigns.

Marketing and communications support does not have to cost millions, but it is not free. A strategic, targeted outreach campaign should include both paid and earned media, organic and boosted online content. A strategic communications campaign should be informed by data and refined by analytics. Most of all, marketing and communications professionals should craft and implement a strategic marketing and communications campaign, be they in-house or at an agency.

I applaud Lisa David for making the case so compellingly to change the misperceptions about marketing and communications in the philanthropic community. It is important that organizations have the capacity to undertake the outreach that carries their essential services and efforts to reach those who need them.

Related Links:

Nonprofit Megaphone: Marketing grants for nonprofits

PR News Guide to Best Practices in Nonprofit Communications