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Is marketing a dirty word?

Last week I launched a new marketing tool kit for the not-for-profit sector in partnership with the Australian Marketing Institute. I’ve spent the last two years working on it with a team of not-for-profit marketers, which has given me time to reflect on why so many not-for-profit organisations and social enterprises don’t appear to value marketing, when it offers such an important opportunity to increase social impact. Is it that they just haven’t had time to think about it? Or is marketing a dirty word?

Now granted my background is in marketing, so naturally I’m going to see marketing as a crucial component of any organisation, but I’ve been genuinely surprised at how many not-for-profits and social enterprises either don’t have a marketing plan, or don’t have any marketing staff at all.

In fact this has been proven. Research conducted into not-for-profit marketing across the US, the UK and Australia by the University of Woollongong in 2009 drew two interesting (and slightly alarming) conclusions. Firstly, only one fifth of the marketing professionals they interviewed had formal training in marketing (and that’s using the broadest possible definition of ‘training’ including on the job training). And secondly, not-for-profit marketers tended to take an ‘organisation-centred’ approach to marketing focussing on one-off promotions and tactics, rather than embracing the full marketing concept beginning with customer research followed by marketing strategy. Only 10% of the marketing professionals surveyed cited marketing strategy as a priority. That’s a scarily small number.

When I read that research, my first though was, yep that sounds about right. My second thought was, what are we going to do about it?

I started talking to the Australian Marketing Institute about a new project called Marketing for Good. We put a call out to all the not-for-profit organisations that were part of the Australian Marketing Institute, and very quickly around 30 not-for-profit marketers put their hands up to join the group. The most common comment at the time was – it’s about time someone setup something like this!

We ran four forums, each focussing on a particular topic, kicking off with a presentation from an industry expert in that particular area, followed by group brainstorming, discussion and a lot of sharing of challenges. Almost all members of the group expressed their frustration at the lack of respect for marketing in their organisations, and as a result the lack of resources they had to work with (compounded by the lack of representation of marketing at Executive level).

It would seem that for many not-for-profits and social enterprises, marketing is an afterthought, seen as something that the receptionist could probably do in their spare time (I have come across many marketers that started their careers as receptionists).

Our answer to this lack of understanding was the Marketing for Good Tool Kit, a practical guideline full of tips and advice for conducting a strategic marketing program in a not-for-profit context. The kit is designed primarily for those that are new to the marketing industry, but could also be useful for CEOs and Executive teams to help generate an understanding of the level of discipline and training required to run an effective marketing program. The kit covers four crucial areas: marketing strategy; market research; campaign implementation; and, marketing metrics.

I would strongly encourage all marketing professionals in the not-for-profit or social enterprise sector to read through the tool kit. And for the Directors of social enterprises that don’t have a marketing team to do the same.

Education is the first step to change. And a change in the level of importance placed on marketing is long overdue in the not-for-profit and social enterprise sector.

You can download the Marketing for Good Tool Kit in our publications section. It’s a free resource for the industry, so please share it with anyone who you think would gain value from it, and if you have any suggestions to enhance it or any general questions, please get in touch with me.

Let’s work together so that discussions around marketing in not-for-profits and social enterprises are no longer met with apprehension or ignorance from people who aren’t familiar with the area, and instead marketing conversations and activities are informed, strategic and generate real social impact.

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