Skip to main content
Philanthropy Journal Home

Philanthropy Journal News

More than communication

 | 

By Michelle Hunt

In working with nonprofits, I often find they operate under fallacies about marketing that seriously hamper their ability to grow their organizations.  The most prevalent and limiting fallacy is that “marketing is just communications.”

The truth is that many people in the nonprofit community associate marketing with communications – specifically advertising, publicity and public relations.

Marketing is much more than this. It encompasses decisions about:

* Positioning, or how the nonprofit is seen in the minds of its publics.

* Product strategy, or how the product, either services or programs, is designed to be most appealing to clients and customers.

* Pricing strategy, or how the product is priced. Note that many nonprofits think they do not charge for services, but they are neglecting the fact that obtaining the services can “cost” clients a great deal in terms of time or privacy or other costs.

* Place, or how and where the product is delivered so as to be most effective and most satisfying to customers.

* Promotion, or what messages are delivered about the organization and its programs and services, and how these are communicated.

Marketing also includes marketing research, which nonprofits know by other names, such as “program assessment” (customer-satisfaction research in the for-profit world); “needs assessment” (customer “wants-and-needs” research), and “donor research” (target marketing).

Believing that marketing is only about communications is dangerous because it leads to what I call “the outward push”: The nonprofit is only concerned with getting its message out.  It often engages in a monologue, instead of a dialogue that would allow it to learn about the needs and wants of its various publics.

Thinking not only about what message it wants to convey, but also what its constituencies need, will allow the nonprofit to design more effective and more satisfying programs and services, and more easily recruit volunteers, donors and board members.


Michelle Hunt is a teaching professor in the College of Management at N.C. State University and is affiliated with the NCSU Institute for Nonprofits.

Leave a Response

Your email address will not be published. All fields are required.