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Does Marketing Matter to your Program Staff?

Posted by on June 29th, 2011
Posted in Blog   

The executive director of a small, community-based nonprofit recently told us that she didn’t like marketing and that it didn’t really matter to the success of her organization. She went on to explain that she felt this way because she was a “program person” and that marketing doesn’t matter for people doing direct service.

We were pleased with her candor. It reminded us that while the nonprofit sector as a whole has more openly embraced the benefits of strategic marketing, branding and communications, not everyone within the sector has. And it makes sense that program staff — or those who rose to leadership positions via the program track — would be among the last to see its value.

There is no shortage of people who need the services nonprofits provide. So the folks who create and deliver the programs don’t have to think too hard about recruiting people who can benefit from the programs. They’re too busy running them.

And when it comes to recruiting volunteers, raising the money, and building public support, program staff are rarely the ones charged with those efforts. No wonder some don’t value marketing — they don’t need it in their day-to-day jobs and therefore may overlook its value to their organization as a whole.

But the people delivering the mission-driven programs and services of your organization are often the most visible and potentially strongest spokespeople about the importance and impact of your work.

Why? Your organization’s volunteers and donors are moved by stories that show the particular way your organization solves problems they care about — unemployment, poverty, global warming, the digital divide, lack of access to health care, endangered animals, etc. And there is no better way to demonstrate your value — and credibility — than by telling stories about the impact of your programs.

Note that impact, not output, is what stirs support for your work. Rather than boring people with the details about how you do your work, sharing stories about what happens as a result of you doing your work well is what motivates people to support that work.

Stories about real people, animals, or communities transformed make your donors’ hearts race and ignite your volunteer corps. And because program staff are on the front lines they may have the deepest sense of how your organization makes a difference. Far from compiled facts and statistics, program folks see every day what happens in real life when problems meet solutions. They are witness to the way your organization makes the world a better place.

Telling stories, and telling them well, is what will help ensure the sustainability of your organization. The best programs in the world can’t exist without donor dollars and other voluntary support. So in our minds, marketing starts and ends with the program staff. They are the people who see the results of your organization’s work. They are the source of the most important ingredient to successful fundraising and volunteer recruitment — the stories of how you make a difference.

With a little training, program people can learn to spot and report the stories that will allow everyone — from your board chair to your fundraising director to your receptionist — become more effective ambassadors.

Marketing = telling stories about how your programs change the world. How can it not matter to your program staff?


Jennie Winton is a Founding Partner of Mission Minded, a 25-year marketing veteran sought for her expertise in branding nonprofit organizations, and a one-on-one leadership coach.

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