All Pain, No Gain

There are times in all of our lives — sometimes all too often — when we invest so much up front that our ultimate gain doesn’t even come close to matching our pain. Whether trying to win and/or keep the affection of another, rolling the dice a few too many times in Vegas or pretending to be smarter than those stock-trading babies, we invest and have less to show for it in the end.

Much like relationships, Vegas and Wall Street; the investment in and expectations of marketing for many nonprofits are far too often misunderstood or misappropriated at best, and undervalued or even devalued at worst.

I’ll admit my original intent for this post was to trot out statistics about how nonprofits don’t spend enough on marketing, which is why they experience more pain than gain. They spend just enough to create a hole, but not enough to plant anything in it. The average marketing budget should be around 9-12% of an operational budget. Yet, most are a fraction of that and as a result their reach is a fraction of what it could be.



While it’s true that there’s a large learning curve and even larger investment curve, I also know that most nonprofits spend all they can (or know to spend) on marketing. Most nonprofits can stretch a dollar like it’s a rubber band. They do so much with so little far too often.

I understand. I’ve been there.

When my career trajectory began to shift from direct public service and policy work to building and rebuilding those same bridges through marketing and technology, I had a hard time explaining in tangible terms exactly what it is that I do. What is marketing? Pictures of products? Selling to the disinterested? Even less tangible is nonprofit marketing. How do you “picture” or “sell” an ideal, an ethic, a mission?

After a few years of faking it until making it, coupled with some deep unemployment-induced introspection, I knew had to do different to be different. I needed to market my new career trajectory, skills, passions and purpose in a way that made me stand up after being knocked down — and stand out in a new crowd. I finally and clearly stated my purpose as “doing old things in new ways in order to make wrong things right.” It speaks to my passion for both innovation and reconciliation.

This works for nonprofits, too.

Nonprofits get so busy doing that they lose all sense of being. They lose touch with their unique importance or in business terms — their value differentiation. We are all so good at talking about and marketing what we do and how we do it, but what matters is why we do it. Without that, marketing is all pain, no gain.

See what happens when you allocate as close to 9% of your operational budget to marketing as possible. See what happens when you use marketing less as a megaphone for what you do and how you do it. See what happens when you use marketing as a hearing aid to listen to those who you exist for and to those who help you exist.

If you want different, do different. See what happens. More gain, less pain.

3 comments about "All Pain, No Gain ".
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  1. Kevin Lee from Didit, November 28, 2011 at 9:49 a.m.

    Remember, causes are also judged by rating agencies (often unfairly) for over-spending on marketing if their ratio or marketing to mission fund deployment is high.
    One thing that is great is that with things like passive donation income marketing and fundraising can happen at the same time. For example, today, Cyber-Monday tens of thousands of dollars will be generated for no profit causes when shoppers shop using online malls or technologies such as, OneCause, iGive, GoodShop and others.

  2. Marylou Roberts from diy-marketing, November 28, 2011 at 10:25 a.m.

    The statement that "they get so busy doing" really strikes a chord. The doing part is (hopefully) always mission-related, so that does keep the mission front and center. However, they forget their target audiences and communicating with them in appropriate ways, especially in the struggle to determine how social media fits in.

  3. Doug Weinbrenner from Intouch Solutions, November 29, 2011 at 10:29 a.m.

    Great points!
    Marylou - Identifying, segmenting ,,,then keeping 'target audiences' is a never ending science and transparent one at that.

    Kevin - While the rating agencies still have some gravitas to how people judge and invest in NPO's, I do think their influence is waning and people are looking at impact or efficiency.Thanks for the list of other platforms, that was helpful.

    Thanks again for reading, I hope you join us every Monday!

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