The Overhead is Worth It: Marketing in the Nonprofit Sector

Nonprofit marketing is no easy task. There is often no clean and clear measurable goal for which to entice donors and if there is, the results are seldom instantaneous. To combat these obvious drawbacks it is important to consider the power of good marketing efforts. Mina Zivkovic serves on Forge 54′s board as a our nonprofit chair and has worked professionally in the nonprofit sector for many years. Hear her take on why nonprofits should factor marketing into their annual budgets.

By Mina Zivkovic

If you are have ever been asked to justify what percentage of your budget goes to overhead, you might work for a non-profit… and you are not alone. With the constant scrutiny of budgets and expenses, it is a sheer wonder that non-profit organizations have managed to stay afloat, let alone grow. 

As you can imagine, marketing is often the first to get cut in smaller nonprofits. More than once, I’ve reviewed annual budgets for organizations and seen a big, fat ZERO in the line item for marketing. For a minute, it almost makes sense. Why would you increase your overhead for a fancy website when you haven’t gotten a raise in years?  The answer is: Because it’s worth it. 

For the last four decades, charitable contributions have only ever accounted for around 2% of the GDP in US. There has been no real growth, only marginal fluctuations. And how could it? The nonprofit sector has the unique disadvantage of playing by a different set of rules than for-profit organizations, particularly when it comes to marketing. In effect, big companies get to pour their resources into competing for the American dollar in a far more aggressive way than nonprofits can. So I say, why not play by some of their rules?  Why not invest in our own growth?  

Effective marketing can improve the exposure of your organization. The world becomes your audience. You can communicate the severity of the need and why your nonprofit has the solution. You can enlist volunteers by proving to them that your mission is worth their time. You can engage the community and cultivate their support as you implement your programs. You can convince the average individual that contributing to your cause is substantially better than buying that frappucino. Communication is the key to unlocking potential revenue streams that you may have never even known you had. 

Think about it. More exposure means more funding. More funding means more people served. More people served mean more impact. 

I’ll leave you with this quote from Dan Pallotta, “Our generation does not want its epitaph to read, ‘We kept charity overhead low.’ We want it to read that we changed the world.”