Almost every day, it seems, newspaper headlines shout out the details of another corporate scandal. Those of us in the nonprofit sector are tempted to think that we are above such shenanigans—and the accompanying headlines. We are, after all, do-gooders who are uncorrupted by the desire for profit. Our motives are so noble, how could anyone question our actions?
Unfortunately, nonprofits are run by people with the same range of ethical standards as the rest of society, and we have our share of bad apples. In recent years, the Nature Conservancy, the Red Cross, a handful of United Way chapters, and local foundations in several communities have found themselves the target of negative headlines. Such ethical lapses—or perceived ethical lapses—undermine the trust the public holds in the entire sector.
When the topic of "marketing" arises in a conversation, it's always interesting to hear the numerous perceptions tied to this rather straightforward concept. The full spectrum of responses includes advertising, word-of-mouth, fluff, and my personal favorite—selling you something you don't need! I believe the problem with understanding marketing lies in the over-commercialization of the term, which ignores business acumen, strategy, and execution.
According to the American Marketing Association, "Marketing is the process of planning and executing the conception, pricing, promotion, and distribution of ideas, goods, and services to create exchanges that satisfy individual and organizational objectives." Sound simple enough?
Unfortunately, there is no marketing equivalent of accountants' Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) or manufacturing managers' First In, First Out (IFO) or Last In, First Out (LIFO) for inventory valuation. The following discussion is intended to help senior nonprofit managers evaluate and realign specific facets of their approach to marketing.
Every nonprofit has goals or objectives. In the process of reaching those goals, the organization needs financial supporters (donors) who hear its message and want to be part of its journey. Organizations then apply traditional marketing methods to reach those donors.
Federal efforts to prevent charitable donations from being diverted to terrorist groups have sparked controversy in the nonprofit sector lately.
This past July, the director of the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC), the equivalent of the United Way for federal and military employees, affirmed in the New York Times that nonprofits participating in the CFC must certify that they do not employ anyone named on government terrorist lists.
The American Civil Liberties Union immediately announced that it was withdrawing from the CFC. Other organizations soon followed its example. And on October 8, the National Council of Nonprofit Associations announced its opposition to the requirement. Nearly 10,000 nonprofits, however, are participating in the 2004 Combined Federal Campaign.
To get an idea of how people feel about the issue, the October Question of the Month asked Newsletter readers, "Do you believe that nonprofits should be required to check employees' names against government terror lists in order to receive grants and contributions?"