How marketing can help your organisation thrive in the changing community sector

The community sector is changing – NDIS, funding fluctuations, new players and donor fatigue are all having an impact.
When you combine this new competitive, consumer-focused landscape with the rapid growth of online technology, it becomes clear not-for-profits need to find new ways to connect with their clients and communities using the platforms they prefer.
Many not-for-profit organisations are wary of investing in marketing, particularly digital marketing, due to the perceived risk or the idea of marketing frivolous or simply “too salesy”.
However, the truth is well-planned marketing and communication activity is anything but extravagant. 
In fact, it’s an essential piece of strategy that can make the difference between thriving and creating amazing outcomes for your clients, or barely surviving in an increasingly cut-throat sector.
So, let’s look at the challenges stopping not-for-profits from embracing marketing and how your organisation can tackle these obstacles to get your message out into the community with confidence.

Not-for-profit marketing is hard

It’s safe to say community sector has its share of challenges when it comes to marketing, including:
  • Sensitive messages 
  • Tight budgets 
  • Small teams; untrained marketing staff 
  • Standing out in a competitive landscape 
  • New technology 
  • Health literacy
But one of the biggest challenges is fear. 

Fear is holding your not-for-profit back

As a general rule, not-for-profits are more hesitant to embrace marketing, they often fear new technologies, are less likely to invest in staff training and lack confidence in their team’s skills. 
They’re also naturally risk-adverse; so it’s not surprising the idea of opening the organisation to the public for the comments, questions and scrutiny that digital marketing can bring spells risk for people who grew up with traditional media.
However, as the sector becomes more consumer-focused and new agencies enter the market, it becomes a much more significant risk not to engage. 
If you don’t actively try to understand and connect with your clients and communities, your competitors will. And if you’re not part of the conversation, you’re not part of the consideration.

Marketing is not a dirty word – even if you’re a not-for-profit

For a lot of people working in the community sector, the term marketing has been considered a dirty word - too business-like, too pushy and too mercenary.
The mere mention conjures up images of Gordon Gekko proclaiming “greed is good”, causing some to block their ears and discount ideas before considering their merits.
The truth is marketing isn’t evil, it’s merely about getter closer to your client, connecting with them, letting them know about services they really need and helping them to engage with those services quickly and without hassles.
Good not-for-profit marketing should be a win-win situation. Your client has a problem they need help solving, and you have a service that can answer it. Marketing can help bring you together, so you both benefit.

It’s not all doom and gloom; now’s your organisation’s chance to shine

Along with the distinct challenges, a changing third sector landscape brings opportunity.
Smart not-for-profits are anticipating an industry shake-up and are already investing in improved marketing – mainly websites, search engine optimisation, online advertising and social media – to take advantage of the shift. 
Here’s how your organisation can start planning for the future, and start implementing strategies to thrive in the new competitive climate.

Set a clear vision for your not-for-profit marketing

All organisations need a strategy to help them make evidence-based decisions about how they operate. 
Strategic marketing plans aren’t much different. In their most straightforward form marketing plans define who you need to communicate with when you should do it, what communication channels you plan to use and how you’ll measure the outcomes.
Your vision shouldn’t be ambiguous – it should be a clear statement tied to your strategic plan and operational plan that everyone in your organisation can understand and relate to and plan their work around.

Connect with your clients in a way they prefer

It’s easy to say your organisation is consumer centric but ask yourself is it really?
Are you talking with your clients as equals, with respect and in language they can understand through the communication channels they use every day? 
If not, then you need to.
In Australia, 60 per cent of people do not understand the information being given to them by the health and community services they use, which means they don’t have all the facts to make genuinely informed decisions about their health and life.
In the industry, this is referred to as Health Literacy. In marketing, it’s called a common sense approach to connecting with your target audience.
Marketing is about sharing simple messages in readily accessible and influential ways and encouraging people to act on the information for the benefit of the organisation and/or the customer. Simple, right?
Take a leaf out of the marketing handbook. Make it easy for your client to understand what you do, why they need it and how they can get it.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

If safe to say you can’t do everything yourself all of the time. If marketing and communications make you nervous, it might be a sign you need some professional help.
Engaging a marketing agency to help you take advantage of the digital age is an excellent idea if you want to set up a communication strategy, create complex marketing materials, such as websites, apps and publications, or need access to specialist skills such as graphic design, website maintenance or copywriting you can supply in-house.
There’s a perception that working with an agency is expensive, but in many cases engaging a professional is actually more economical. 
Firstly, instead of asking untrained staff and volunteers to step out of their comfort zone, which takes time and may have varied results, you can ask a professional to do it right in half the time. Plus, you don’t have to take your staff away from their day jobs to work on something they aren’t confident doing.
Secondly, you only pay for what you need. Just need a booklet; great an agency can do that as a one-off. Require monthly social media planning; cool pay for the monthly package that suits you. Need something more significant in the lead up to an event? Up the spend for a select period and drop it again after. Agencies offer the flexibility in-house staff just can’t.
Last but not least, the more professional your marketing and communication the more likely you are to attract new clients. The more clients you have, the more profit your services make or, the more funding you can draw. If you’re better off financially, you can invest more in staff and facilities to create even better outcomes for your community.

Upskill your staff to do your own marketing

If you don’t have the budget to outsource your marketing and communications completely, it’s a good idea to invest in staff training.
Practical training can be used to up-skill or multi-skill your employees, improving the quality of the marketing materials you produce in-house and the success of your campaigns. 
Another benefit is employees with diverse skill sets can perform a variety of tasks and transition more smoothly into other roles within the organisation.

Professional development opportunity: Digital Communications for Not-For-Profits

Learn how to use digital communication to:
  • Promote your services, cause and mission
  • Educate your community
  • Share news and events
  • Build brand recognition
  • Raise funds and attract donors
  • Recruit and reward volunteers
  • Make your donors feel special
  • Find and keep great staff
Walk away with practical strategies for your website, social media, online advertising, annual reports, apps and publications that you can implement straightaway with excellent results.
This workshop is presented by a panel of industry experts including Community Sector Banking Operations Manager; Monash School of Rural Health marketing & engagement manager Ashley Bennallack; Bendigo Community Health Services director of communications Rod Case and Creative Revolution owner and founder Che Stevenson.