Friday, March 23, 2012

Marketing could be your salvation

There's trouble brewing.

That's what I took away from a presentation by one of Canada's best economists, Don Drummond. A former banker and ex-civil servant, Drummond was the leader of the recent omnibus review of government finances in the Province of Ontario. The Drummond Report, like many others in many other jurisdictions in Canada, the US and the UK, tells pretty much the same story. Governments are awash in red ink. Economic growth is slowing. The answer is to cut spending. A lot of spending. Drummond says that when it comes to making the world a better place governments will increasingly only do the minimum. The rest of it is pretty much up to communities to figure out for themselves. And things will not get a heck of a lot better for some time.

In short, we’re on our own.

This is not new. We’ve seen this message play out in the UK with the Big Society. In the US, many state governments have said the same. Government is becoming less and less of a player in our work. More precise, government funding will be an uneven and challenging way to pay the bills for many non-profits in the foreseeable future.

The knee-jerk answer for many non-profits is to simply slash and burn. The first target is usually marketing and communications. Hold spending and cut jobs, many non-profit leaders will say. But this is exactly the wrong thing to do.

In this new environment one thing will separate winners from losers – results.

The non-profit that can show it does the best job will win. But there’s a catch. How do you show success?

Here’s where marketing and communications comes in. Success has to be public. If your non-profit tells its success story to three government mandarins than you will surely fail. You need the politicians to know. And your stakeholders. And the entire community. The one who is the tells the most people how successful they are will survive. To do that they will need the best communications possible. And you can’t do that if you just laid off your communications people.

There’s more. Most non-profits I know have poor communications to start with. They don’t connect well with their stakeholders and they rarely connect with the community. So, keeping the status quo for them isn’t an option. More of this kind of communicating won’t save them.

So, what needs to happen is an investment in new communications. Don’t blow the budget on ads or fancy new logos. Just get a plan together that tells your story and then figure out a way to go and tell everybody as cheaply and effectively as you can.

In these troubled times, non-profits have to communicate more, not less.

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