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Observations from the for-profit world

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John Klein

John Klein

John Klein

More professionals are “bridging” into the nonprofit world from the for-profit sector, bringing with them valuable experience and best practices.

These come under general headings like competition, markets, results, accountability, financial oversight and the like. Applications of these principles will help create stronger and more resilient nonprofits as we emerge from our current economic situation.

As a marketing professional who straddles both industries, it’s heartening to see where some of these principles are taking root. However, it is important to consider these as first steps, and build on them to begin a new era in nonprofit growth.

Consider the following:

Nonprofits are wisely embracing social media. Read any website dedicated to nonprofits and you will find a wealth of articles on the value and use of digital technology to build social communities.

Even the simplest application of the discipline – a clean and well-crafted website, timely and relevant contributions to blogs and networking sites like Facebook – can yield dividends to build a powerful community.

In fact, these applications can be the most cost-efficient element in your marketing mix. But your community exists in a larger context.

Nonprofits need to surround their community. Nonprofits need to create awareness of their mission through effective promotional activities, which serve as the invitation to join their community.

Once community members have joined, they must act on your behalf to give, to visit, to attend, to act as ambassadors – through consistent and relevant messages, or content.

These marketing elements surround your community, making it active and more powerful. Just having an online community is not enough.

Our current president won the election last year by doing this very thing: He created awareness of his vision, differentiated himself from the other candidates, invited people to join his campaign (his community) and then act – vote for him.

Said differently, Obama developed his brand image and put the elements together in an effective plan to support it, by surrounding his community.

Nonprofits need to build their brands to support their business. In the for-profit sector, brands are managed through disciplined and complex methods that challenge even seasoned professionals.

But a simplified and focused approach to the basics – researching your markets and your audiences, creating a market positioning that reflects your unique qualities, effectively communicating them, measuring the results – can strengthen your business.

That’s important because, fundamentally, a nonprofit is a business – one without profits, but a business nonetheless.


John Klein is president of Trilithon Partners, a marketing consulting agency based in Cary, N.C.

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