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Beyond need

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To the editor,

In the recent opinion article, “More than communication” [Philanthropy Journal, 01.04.05], Michelle Hunt makes the point that effective nonprofit marketing should be more than outbound communication messages from the nonprofit to the intended consumer.

She goes on to indicate that positioning, market assessment, product delivery, pricing and product promotions are all key components of a successful nonprofit marketing strategy.

I agree that these are essential components to consider. Marketing plans have to incorporate inputs by consumers about needs, desires and effectiveness in order to be useful.

However, what is created by those inputs, especially in service-oriented nonprofits, is often a strategy of marketing to consumer need.

“Need” is familiar language in the nonprofit arena. We convince our funding sources, our supporters, our advocates and our regulators about the needs of those we serve. Our continued existence depends on it.

But need can become a smokescreen, clouding our vision and leading us to make unintended missteps.

How many times have we offered our services or our assistance to someone in need and found ourselves puzzled by inexplicable rejection? It’s much like nutrition. Most of us know we need to eat healthy meals. Fast-food restaurants periodically flirt with us by offering healthy alternatives to fried and heavily sauced entrees.

But, how often is the need for healthy eating pushed aside by our desire for the satisfying, tasty convenience of a burger and fries? Fast-food advertisers understand well the concept of marketing to “want”.

Nonprofit marketing strategies become more effective with the recognition of consumer wants and desires.

Marketing to need works only if the intended target recognizes himself or herself as being in need and accepts that message. Need is straightforward and simple — a problem and a proffered resolution.

Desire, on the other hand, is more elusive and much harder to define. It challenges us to dig deeper into the psychology of how and why our product or service has appeal.

We have to step outside of our role as experts on “need” and begin to craft strategies that will convince customers that we can provide what they want.


Mary K. Warren, aging program administrator, Triangle J Council of Governments, Area Agency on Aging, Durham, N.C.

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