Marketing and communications and your community group


Marketing is not the same thing as selling, and marketing yourself is not the same thing as selling out.  Marketing is not just about making the sale or getting that donation, it goes on to cover the whole range of activities involved in meeting the needs of your clients and stakeholders and donors. It needn't compromise your ethics, your services, or your mission while building your budget.

As a not-for-profit you will want to market your organisation, your mission, and your programs.  You may also want to market your services, your memberships, the need for donations, or the opportunities for volunteers. If your organisation is devoted to changing behaviour - either in the general public, as with, say, STD education, or in policymakers, as with environmental advocacy - then both your actual mission and your organizational promotion will centre on marketing and communication. 


For commercial organisations and not-for-profits alike, the summit of marketing is the brand.  If people recognize you and trust you, you have options.  You can afford to set aside the task of telling people what you are every time your name comes up and can go on to the next task --  to make them like you and want you and value you.  Not-for-profits with strong brands include the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, and Friends of the Earth, brands whose names (or even logos) are enough to trigger a readiness to donate, but it doesn't matter if you are a national organisation or a local tennis club, a brand can still help you to relate to the community you serve.  

Branding is a synthesis of market positioning, identity, image, and messaging that together has the power to influence people's decision to give to your organisation, participate in your programs, invest in your capital campaigns, buy your event tickets and read your newsletter. In summary, a strong brand means that anyone seeing it automatically associates your organisation with all the good work they've heard about already.
Brands represent a promise, a promise that is verified or broken each time your constituents have a contact with that brand. It is verified by your products/services, by your staff and volunteers, how you treat your consumers/clients/members and supporters, how you treat your suppliers, your ethical standards and corporate behaviour. If any of these fail to live up to the promises associated with your brand, the brand is weakened.

FIGJAM (Frankly I'm Good, Just Ask Me)

If you have a strong brand you can market your services simply by attaching them to your community-tested logo.  If you're not strongly branded, then your marketing needs to focus on your unique selling point, or USP.  Volunteers, donors, and prospects have choices, and you are asking them to choose you not only over indifference and uninvolvement but even over other good causes.  You must tell people not only what it is that you do, but what you do that nobody else can do, and why that is worth doing. Why do you exist?  Why are you needed?  Why are you yourself devoting your energies to this project, and why would you expect anyone else to want to join you?


Marketing involves good communications, but communications go further than just marketing. People and organizations communicate with each other to inform, to persuade, to prevent misunderstandings, or to present a point of view.  Communication involves a signal, a medium, and a receiver.  You send a message out in one or another medium, your audience receives it, and, you hope, they act on it (and, perhaps, reply to it).

Looking here at your fundraising communication with the general public, the signal is your message about why you deserve support, your media are the entire range of possibilities from a nationwide TV launch to a note sent back home with a kindergartener, you audience is the large (you hope) group with funds to spare, and the action you wish to encourage is the on-line transfer of funds to your account (see

All your communication should be clear, concise, unaffected, humanised, and appropriate to the message, the audience, and the medium.  A leaflet on your services, for example, should cover the following headings. Remember, the average person who picks up the page is going to read one paragraph, perhaps two. You must get your message into the first paragraph - even better, the first line - and then go into more detail later on. What do you do, and for whom? What is the community need you satisfy? Keep it short and simple. Try not to get technical. Include an example, if you can.
What you do
Give a brief description of the services you provide. Say who is eligible for your programs. The clearer you can be about this, the fewer people you'll have to turn away later.
Why you do it?
Explain why your services are a good thing. You need to sell your services, not just list them. Even people in your target audience need to be persuaded to go out of their way to take up what you have to offer and you have to show other people-potential funders, for example-that what you do is worthy and needed. Don't say you're wonderful -- make what you do sound wonderful.
What you need
If people have read this far, they have had your sales pitch and should be told how they can help you. If you want volunteers, donations, customers, or publicity, this is the place to say so.
Operating details
Check that you've covered the basics.
* Who can join the organisation? How do you join? What does it cost?
* How can you access the services (if any)? What do they cost?
* When is the office open? If you provide services, when are they open?
Contact details
Be sure to include your organisation's address, phone numbers, and fax numbers, e-mail address/es, and home page address. Have someone check them; a typing error here could waste all your work. Do you need a map? Give parking and public transport instructions and any special disability access you offer.

Your Marketing Plan

Marketing, like other aspects of running a not-for-profit office, should be planned and monitored.  Draw up a marketing plan.

As always, you begin with your mission.  Everything you say and do in marketing must be consistent with the mission and, if possible, push the mission forward.  Again, your marketing must grow out of your strategic plan.  You will probably find that each of your goals and objectives has a marketing-and-communications aspect -that somebody, whether staff, stakeholder, or passer-by, has to be told about something in a way that will make them want to be involved.  Your strategic plan must take into account who is to be responsible for this, and your marketing plan must pull out all these tasks and say they are to be done.  

Now that your future is broken down into specific action programs you must include in each program what will be done, when it will be done, who is responsible for doing it, how much it will cost, and what the quantifiable projected outcome will be. The action programs should show when the items would be started, reviewed and completed. At completion, this section will provide your organisation with a detailed plan to follow. In doing so, you will be on the road to meeting your goals.
Think about how you can ensure that all marketing activities are coordinated with other areas within the organisation.


Communication is a two-way process.  You need feedback from the audience.  If sufficient feedback doesn't come in by itself (and it almost never does; people who are satisfied tend not to say anything, and people who aren't satisfied simply tend to go away without a parting word) you need to go out and pursue it.  If you do this systematically, this is known as research.

You need to know
* What the (actual and potential) clients for your services need
* What the public thinks about you
Only the larger not-for-profits may be able to afford in-depth marketing research on these questions, but the rest of you may be able to get some approximation to the answers through conducting focus groups in the target population.  

Your research must be keyed to your willingness to change.  If your research shows that people are uninformed about your work or even hostile to your ideals then this is your problem, not theirs, and if you just exclaim "Well, what would they know!" and carry on as before then you have wasted your research spending as well as your communication spending.

Not-for-profits are often reluctant to blow their own trumpets, but remember - he who blows the trumpet calls the tune.