A Network approach to offset the power of marketing in the not for profit sector

Full Text Sharing

When you come up with an idea to bring a positive change in society and when you find the time and more important the guts to start implementation, you always start with a “learning by doing” attitude trying to figure out how your idea works in practice.

Borrowing from designing thinking jargon, you start small, you prototype and then step by step you adjust your idea to reality till you reach a proven model that brings a change.

If the idea comes out to be a “novel, brilliant one and if by any chance, it works, then you have a compelling case to raise money. If it does not work, you better think something anew, fresh again after a good analysis and reflection.

In this “creative testing” process, what is the role of marketing? Do marketing and overall communication play a decisive role in making or breaking your idea?

What’s if marketing tools are offering an unfair edge only to those organizations with the skills and resources to afford them?

Imagine your idea, now a small project: it can really work and has a positive impact but is it essential to create a “narrative”. If you are good at marketing, and have the resources, you will easily build a compelling story that will attract donors. But what if you do not have the resources to power these kinds of messages? Even worse, what if your narrative is flawed and actually you are not really good at your job but your marketing skills offset theseshortfalls?

Because oftentimes it is not enough having an approach that is working; you also need to be able to have the skills of selling your case to potential donors. If you are able to convince them about the rationale, about the cause of your initiative than you have a very high probability your project will be highly considered for potential donations.

The point for me is that marketing and communication sometimes plays a very important role, probably too dominant, in turning your idea into a success.

What about if you have a good idea, you have the passion, commitment and the skills to implement this successfully in small scale but you are not good at creating a narrative? What if you do not have the marketing skills that are needed to make a “sell”? Often marketing and communication are overplayed only and exclusively for a fundraising purpose. An idea can be oversimplified and sold as the ABSOLUTE CHANGE MAKER while it is not!!!

I feel that sometimes leaders of not for profit organizations are pushing a bit too much in over claiming their organizational achievements. Ultimately the competition is quite extreme in the not for profit sector and therefore there is a compelling need to communicate, to explain and reach out to potential donors.

Ultimately there are plenty of good ideas, there are programs which are really doing good but are struggling to raise money and therefore are unable to scale up because their marketing strategy is not good or compelling enough.

If you are working in the education sector, you come up with a good methodology, a novel approach to make the learning experience more effective and inclusive; can you really claim that you have the “keys” to drastically overhaul the entire educational system?

One thing is to claim you are doing your good part to reduce the educational gaps but it is totally different thing if you are selling a total change of the learning experiences for millions of school children. Of course the later is a possibility but there are really few organizations able to bring such level of systematic change, becoming real game changers.

Moreover also the best ideas even if implemented in the best way possible can rarely offer “standing alone” solutions. Look at Teach for America: it is a great idea, a real revolution with a proven impact but as attractive as it can, it is based on a model that has certain strengths but also weakness like sending young graduate, though very brilliant, to teach in deserving and needy schools. The Teach for America Fellows, that’s the name of the recruits, can do a great deal of good things at school level, including encouraging and fostering a new culture of teaching. This is great but is it enough to change the entire education system in the USA or in any country where the Teach for America model is applied? Surely this approach has a positive impact, contributing to improving learning experiences of many kids but how to claim that entire education system can change only because of it?

Here I believe that marketing and communication tools helped shaping the best narrative around Teach for America, making into an indispensible model. Said this, at least there is no doubts positive changes are happening because of it.

The problem arises when some not for profits are actually not doing that good in terms of positive changes at the ground level but they have the resources and the power to market themselves as the savior of the planet earth. They often end up being considered “cool” but actually they are not.

At the end of the day the not for profit sector should not be seen as a zero sum game, an extreme competition among rival organizations. The power of marketing and overall communication should not be overplayed but also channeled to foster cooperation and synergies among peers rather than just “selling” more. The real true is that systematic change can only happen through synergies and a “network approach” to solve specific problems faced by societies around the world.

Position: Co -Founder of ENGAGE,a new social venture for the promotion of volunteerism and service and Ideator of Sharing4Good

Add new comment

Filtered HTML

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.