Marketing: “Working with markets to bring about exchanges for the purpose of satisfying human needs and wants.”

– Kotler and Armstrong, Principles of Marketing


If it were only that simple. But nonprofits, unlike the private sector, often struggle more during down economies.

While both types of organizations share similarities, including laying out a vision, a mission, objectives, strategies, an operation plan, a management plan, a control system, a financial plan and a way to monitor progress, the big difference has, and likely always will be, marketing.

While entrepreneurs, armed with life experiences, a few courses in management or accounting and start-up credit lines can stake claims in the business world, a nonprofit does not incorporate the same commercial “acumen or sensitivity” into its mission, said Leo Lingman, an international management and business consultant for

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Charitable organizations aren’t focused on making money, he said, rather their missions are designed to benefit society in some way.

But marketing those missions isn’t easy – especially when the private sector is looking to cut costs whenever possible.

That’s where programs like the Pikes Peak Library District’s “Mission Marketing: Public Relations for Nonprofits” workshop comes in.

The class revolves around three elements: media and publicity strategies designed for friend-raising of volunteers and prospective board members who advocate for the organization; fundraising and donor relations; and community buy-in or support for the nonprofit’s ability to provide benefits and services.

The best of both worlds

So how can nonprofits and business learn from – and hopefully help – each other? The answer lies in teaming up, according to some volunteers and nonprofit staffers.

Joe Michaels joined Pikes Peak Behavioral Health Group as vice president of marketing and communications last year and said his first goal was to simplify the organization’s message to more effectively market its brand and services.

“Relevance, funding and leadership – those are the basis for our marketing plan,” he said, adding that PPBH has a multi-tiered mission, making it complex to explain. “Our Web site and even our name don’t tell the whole story. Before we could market ourselves effectively to our clients, government and community stakeholders, we had to look at simplifying our brand. We had 71 different phone numbers we were using in various programs.”

The nonprofit has incorporated some for-profit ventures with more traditional nonprofit programs.

During the late 1980s, for example, the organization’s board agreed to purchase the Alta Mira apartments, which feature some lower-cost units for at-risk families along with market-rent units. As a result of profits generated by the complex, PPBH is able to provide more indigent care.

“We also realized years ago, that we weren’t a candidate for traditional fundraising – and have instead focused our marketing on winning government grants and developing programs such as work force training for those who’ve overcome behavioral health problems,” Michaels said. “It’s a win-win for us and for the community.”

And if a program proves impossible to market, unlike the private sector, a nonprofit can’t simply say, “We’re not going to provide this service anymore.”

“Take the detox center,” he said. “It’s not a widget. If there’s no money, you still have to find a way to address the problem. We are beginning to work more closely with churches and the military – and together we think we’ll be better able to market our mission to the community.”


Court Appointed Special Advocates board chairman Josh Waymire spends his business day as vice president of investments for Colorado Wealth Management.

He said there needs to be a “bridge of collaboration” between the business community and the nonprofit world – the “third sector.”

“Nonprofit marketing efforts will become more effective when businesses within our community see how working with their third-sector partners will be of benefit to them,” he said. “Business partners – like my company – must believe there is more to working with nonprofits than simply making a financial commitment. At the same time, it’s imperative that the third sector help businesses recognize the opportunities and areas from which they can benefit.”

Even though he’s an advocate for the group’s mission, Waymire stops short of idealizing mission-based marketing.

“Believing that funding sources are limited, it appears to me that our third sector has become much too silo’d,” he said. “Marketing efforts could become much more efficient and effective if rather than working independently, nonprofits were willing – and aware – of opportunities to strategize together and share best practices.”


His opinion is shared by Bettina Swigger, executive director for the Cultural Office of the Pikes Peak Region, or COPPeR.

“That’s our reason to exist – our mission is to serve as an information and publicity center for all arts and culture organizations,” she said. “In this economy, to survive, our 200 member organizations and individuals have to pull together.

She added that while nonprofits are more mission driven than a business, they still take risks.

“The difference is that we take fewer risks with capital and more risks designed to effect social change,” Swigger said, adding that arts-related community investment pays back more than $94 million annually in community benefits, jobs and education, based on a study commissioned by COPPeR in conjunction with Americans for the Arts during 2007.

As the economy has contracted, the arts have competed for fewer donor dollars – as well as for board members and volunteers – with health and human services, and educational nonprofits. But, Swigger said, arts jobs are real jobs – and business benefits from working in tandem with smart arts-and-culture partners.

Angela White of LaPlata Communities has worked with COPPeR’s members to create events and experiences for the company’s Cordera residents. The partnership has included a series performances at the new community center.

Playing to win

Some nonprofits are doing better than others in the face of current economic challenges. And in the future, technology might play an important role in separating the winners from the losers.

Sites such as, and provide direction to nonprofit staffers about how to maximize technology to market theirs missions.

Lynne Telford, COO of Pikes Peak United Way and executive director of the Center for Nonprofit Excellence, said the area’s estimated 1,800 nonprofit organizations – of which about half are considered non-faith based – are becoming increasingly innovative and tech savvy.

“The center sponsors brown bag lunches with programs, including marketing, but that’s not our only focus,” she said. “We’ve recently offered one on social media and how to incorporate electronics, e-newsletters and various Web sites to better market ourselves.”

One of those sites is Facebook.

“We advertised Nonprofit Day on it – and did a qualified blast to those in the Facebook database with college degrees, almost 6,000 people. We ended up actually having two volunteers show up that came strictly because they heard about us through Facebook. It takes a little staff time – and you do pay per click – but overall, it’s an inexpensive way to broaden you reach.”

Arts organization, likewise, are finding that social media plays a strong role in event and contributor marketing.

“Our site not only provides one central location to find out what’s going on, but it’s providing more than a calendar – it’s a real marketplace for individual artists, musicians and studios too,” Swigger said, adding that by using COPPeR’s Facebook page she was able to add 120 new “fans” following a single e-mail to her 650 friends who forwarded the message.

“It’s viral – I’m a ‘fan’ on at least 100 different (Web pages) – two-thirds of which are nonprofits,” she said. “Social media will be a growing tool, especially for ‘the little guys’ with no marketing plan and no budget.”


  1. After reading your article about marketing at non-profits, I wanted to call your attention to something Comcast is doing to help non-profits market their organization. Each month we provide a chance for non-profits (non-religious based) to interview with a professional host that airs on CNN Headlines News. We have had a variety of non-profits in the community from the chamber of commerce (Pueblo, Tri-Lakes and the Springs) to Care and Share, Cheyenne Village and Griffith Center to name a few…

    Here is more information. There is no cost. It is our investment in the community and provides great PR for the non-profits in these tough economic times.

    Comcast in Southern Colorado has opened up a brand new studio for the hosting of Comcast Newsmakers!! The studio is located at the Pikes Peak Building – 213 N. Union Blvd – a block from the United States Olympic Committee. This will is an on-going monthly production.
    Comcast Newsmakers is a 5 minute interview segments taped with business and community leaders, local elected officials and non-profit organizations throughout the state of Colorado. Comcast provides this information as a public service to our viewers to better inform them on what is going on in their community.
    Comcast Newsmakers is taped one day per month at our new studio in Colorado Springs. The segments air on CNN Headline News at :55 past the hour on Comcast systems on a rotating basis the month following taping. Depending on the content, the segments can be inserted into specific communities or statewide. The segments are available on Video On Demand for one month after they air. Guests are provided with a DVD copy of their interview.

    Guests spend approximately ½ hour at the studio, which includes time in makeup and then a few minutes going over the interview questions with our host. Comcast has hired a veteran broadcast journalist to conduct the interview.

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