Marketing during a struggling economy

Stacy Jones
Stacy Jones

Stacy Jones

The truth is every organization is feeling a financial pinch. Between budget cuts, flat foundation funding and potential drops in donations, you are not alone. Many executive directors are struggling with the same tough choices.

When the economy struggles, marketing is often the first to go. But that decision will only hurt you in the long run.

“How can I even think about marketing when I have less money and more clients coming in for services?” That’s a question asked by one frustrated executive director, but echoed by many.

Here’s how to keep your organization viable for the long run.

Don’t Panic. The worst thing you can do right now is let your marketing staff go and stop marketing activities altogether. Although this is a typical first response, it’s important during times like this to keep in touch with your current donors, volunteers and other constituents. Your current donors may be giving less now than in previous years, so you must use low-cost marketing strategies to broaden and diversify your donor base. It’s important to remain visible to your constituency and your community.

Make your budget work for you. It’s time to become really efficient with the money you spend on marketing. While you may not be able to keep your entire marketing budget, it’s the perfect time to find out what’s working best. Are you really getting a return on your print advertising investment? How about your monthly newsletter? Is it worth the print and postage costs? Or are there more cost-effective ways to reach your audience?

Plan-it’s free. There’s no time like the present to either review the old marketing plan that’s collecting dust on the shelf, or to create your organization’s first marketing plan. You need new strategies to reach a broader audience with less money. Take the time to write down the audience you want to reach, and what it is you want from them. What’s the “call to action” and what message do they need to hear. Knowing your audience and learning to speak their language is worth much more than a large marketing budget.

Utilize low-cost strategies. Maybe you are finding that your print newsletter costs too much. You don’t have to scrap the idea entirely. This is a good time to reach out to your newsletter list, ask for their e-mail addresses and send the same newsletter in e-mail form. This could save hundreds of dollars. Another option is to connect with the media more by sending releases, writing articles and pitching interesting stories.

Finally, learn about the web and use it.  Most likely you’ve wanted to utilize your website and other web-based strategies more but have been putting it off. Now is the time. Use your website more effectively as a communication tool by adding a blog or podcast, or by uploading photos from events and creating a press room. Make your website a two-way conversation with your audience. Utilize social-networking sites to create another free presence on the web.

With a little innovation and creativity you can continue to engage in strategic communications to survive, and even thrive, in a struggling economy.

Stacy Jones is a nonprofit marketing consultant based in Troy, N.Y., and a Shoestring Creative Group Network Affiliate. Stacy can be reached at or 888.835.6236.

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