Nonprofits see challenge in getting message out

The biggest hurdle facing nonprofits is building awareness, a new study says.

The study, by Lipman Hearne and the American Marketing Association, says the top marketing priorities among nonprofits, regardless of size, are gaining visibility, generating revenue, branding, and acquiring and retaining members and customers.

“Being mentioned in the media is priceless, because it gains nonprofit organizations attention as well as third-party endorsement of their work,” says Rodney Ferguson, managing director and principal of Lipman Hearne, a national marketing firm serving nonprofits.

“In a world of literally millions of commercial marketing messages,” he says, “getting in the news is where nonprofits can prevail.”

For the study, marketing and organizational leaders were asked what they consider top marketing priorities, successful marketing tools and challenges ahead.

Responses were received from more than 1,000 organizations, including universities, museums, associations, health-care organizations and social-service agencies.

“The survey shows us [nonprofits] marketing with creativity and focus, but always juggling to identify what marketing strategies and tools can make them even more effective with the limited budgets they have,” says Tom Abrahamson, managing director and principal of Lipman Hearne.

Marketing departments for nearly half of the nonprofits that responded are small, reflecting the size of most nonprofit organizations.

Fifty-six percent had less than $100,000 to spend and were overseen by one person.

And they say they aren’t sure they are spending money wisely.

While marketing staffs track event participation, overall revenue, and member recruitment results, they are less satisfied with their ability to measure the impact of advertising, search engine optimization, earned media, and web traffic.

Even though they feel challenged to raise money, marketers say they usually lack responsibility over areas where funds are generated — development, membership,
sponsorships and product innovation.

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