Ten Ways to Market Your Non-Profit Like a Business

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Contents

INTRODUCTION

Is your non-profit group wilting on the vine? Has the term, “non-profit” taken on a new meaning as officers struggle to keep the treasury from drying up? Don’t give up, just change your focus. Look to successful businesses for ideas on how to rejuvenate your non-profit through a successful marketing strategy.

Businesses don’t grow by themselves. People who run them must carefully cultivate potential customers, growth opportunities, networks and public relations. When the business begins to blossom and grow, everybody benefits. But the seeds must first be planted.

Why run a non-profit like a business? Simple. There are bills to pay, volunteers to keep happy and productive, potential members to educate, other groups doing similar work, and a lot of people who could care less about your group. There are also limits to the amounts of time and money that people will spend on volunteer activities. Potential volunteers will shop around to see which group has opportunities to match their interests, which group could best benefit from their involvement, and which group will pay them the most (recognition, a warm fuzzy feeling, other perks like meals, travel, etc.) Your group is a product. Sell it!

You’ve already read how-to books on genealogy. Now it’s time to gather some howto advice on marketing. The following are ten basic marketing principles which can be applied to your not-for-profit society, library or museum.


Principle 1: BELIEVE IN YOUR PRODUCT

How can you convince people to join a group if you never attend a meeting, work on projects, get excited or encourage fresh ideas? Sometimes involving existing members in a common cause or a worth-while project is the shortest road to revitalization (see Principle 6 for suggestions on what might inspire even the most reserved member.)


Principle 2: CONDUCT A SURVEY/FOCUS GROUP

Are people interested in your cause? Do they know you exist, and what are you about? Ask people for their opinions. Are they happy with you, angry with you, or indifferent to you? Ask opinions of customers (members) and noncustomers. If lots of people have “no opinion” of your group, or have never heard of you, you’ve got some selling to do!


Principle 3: ANALYZE YOUR STRENGTHS; ASSESS YOUR WEAKNESSES

You cannot be everything to everybody. You will spread your resources too thin. But you should ask, what do you offer a member? How can you maximize the benefits? How does your “product” compare with that of another group? Build on your strengths and consider how difficult it would be to eliminate the weaknesses or lessen their importance. How can you turn a weakness into a strength?


Principle 4: DO SOME COMPARATIVE SHOPPING

Who is your competition? Does another group do what you do? Do they do it better, cheaper, or more successfully? Do their members receive more benefits? How can you implement changes to even the playing field?


Principle 5: BRAINSTORM STRATEGIES

Gather the troops and have a round table discussion on such matters as fundraising or member retention. No matter how bizarre or improbable the ideas, write them all down, and consider one. All members need to know that their input is appreciated. Don’t discard any ideas too quickly, but look for ways to incorporate elements of those ideas. Perhaps a combination of ideas will work best. An idea that is not appropriate now may be just the ticket in six months!


Principle 6: FIND A NICHE/NEED AND FILL IT

What can you offer that people will want to join or pay for? What do you do that nobody else does? Is there a community service project you can undertake, such as restoring a small cemetery or honoring “first families?” Do you hold classes, take field trips, or have a library? Do you collect data on a particular place or name? Have the primary records of your local area been published? Has the information on early pioneers been assembled?


Principle 7: TARGET YOUR CUSTOMERS

Who would use your services or belong to your group? Seniors, teachers, scout troops, 4-H, historic preservationists, librarians, community leaders, etc. should all be approached. An additional suggestion is that you check the national or state quarterlies for queries pertaining to the geographical area/surname your group features. Who submitted these queries and are they members of your group? Send them a letter and a membership brochure. Chances are they don’t know you exist, and will appreciate learning about your group.


Principle 8: PREPARE YOUR “SALES PITCH”

Different people will want to use your services or belong to your group for different reasons. Your “marketers” are those in your speakers bureau. If your group doesn’t have one, start one! Develop a list of topics your speakers bureau could talk about. If necessary, train your own speakers on what they need to know. Tailor presentations to pique the interest of your customers. (Seniors will not be interested in earning a merit badge. Scouts may not be old enough to appreciate a talk on writing their memoirs.) Your “sales pitch” is also your membership brochure and other group literature, such as newsletters or quarterlies. Liven them up with colored paper or an attractive logo. Such a “signature” readily identifies your group.


Principle 9: KNOW WHEN TO CLOSE

After you’ve delivered your pitch or talk, and kindled people’s curiosity, know when to stop. Don’t “data dump” all your benefits, programs, etc. at one sitting. Leave time to answer questions. If you think there won’t be any questions, you might want to “prepare” some questions in advance, then ask and answer them yourself. (“You might be wondering how we transcribe cemeteries. This is what we do…”)


Principle 10: ASK FOR THE SALE

Ask a member to volunteer. Ask a visitor to join. Ask a community group for funding. After communicating your message, tell people what you want them to do.


Conclusion

Businesses (and non-profits) fold every day. Only the strong survive. Your group can be one of the survivors if you apply sound business strategies to your non-profit society. You will help insure that it will not only survive, but flourish.

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