Non-profit organizations play a critical role in in America. The dynamics of their growth are unique and different than commercial, for-profit ventures. But they become more alike once the non-profit organization grows to a certain level.
As few as ten years ago, branding, marketing and paid advertising was rarely discussed, let alone used. But the larger non-profits learned long ago that they cannot rely on PSAs (public service announcements) and word-of-mouth to get their message out, and attract volunteers and donations.
Non-profits tend to grow in an organic manner. The founder usually recognizes a need. Perhaps they were helped through a physical, emotional or financial problem themselves. Or they overcame their problem on their own.
Founders may begin looking for ways to help others with same need they or a loved one experienced. Usually, the founder begins by directly helping the people with this need. This may evolve into the non-profit venture and a formal organization.
If the founder has correctly identified a need, the demand probably exceeds their capability to supply the service. So they begin the second phase of growth ― seeking help and donations.
Growth picks up again until they once again can no longer keep up with demand. They need more donations and more help. At a certain point, they realize they should consider marketing efforts.
The big difference between non-profit and for-profit marketing is usually the audience and the goal of the message. For most commercial organizations, the target of the marketing is the customer. If you sell a widget, you seek people who need widgets and try to convince them your widget is better. The goal is to sell more widgets.
But non-profits usually have no problem selling out all their inventory or services. Most times they are giving it away and the demand far exceeds the supply.
But non-profits must get their story and message out to the community, to donors, to potential employees, partners, referral sources and future board members. CEOs of non-profits want to be invited to meetings that affect their organization and cause.
Founders want to get the phone answered when they make a call. And when someone answers their call, they don’t want to person they called to say, “Hmm, I never heard of that organization.”
Three Key Building Blocks
There are really three key building blocks for non-profit growth. The most successful non-profits are excellent in all three.
Building Block #1 ― Operations. Non-profit executives must not settle for anything less that the best practices. Even if the people they serve are getting the product or service at no-cost, high standards must be set and met. Just like the commercial firms, they must seek customer feed back. They must constantly monitor service quality and their staff. And continuous improvement must be the goal.
Building Block #2 ― Marketing. Non-profits must get past the second-hand, amateur approach and study, embrace a professional approach. Hand made flyers and Facebook is not enough. The organization must stand out, connect and engage with their audience. They need to make believers of more people by convincing them of the need and then demonstrating results.
Building Block #3 ― Development. Some people call this “advancement” or simply fundraising. No matter what you call it, most non-profits cannot grow to the level of sustainability without a dedicated effort to get long-term financial support. Like operations and marketing this is an ongoing effort.
If your non-profit organization is ready to go the next level, use these building blocks to get there.