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How NFPs can succeed in marketing and communications

4 min read

With the advent of digital and content marketing and the decline in donations across Australia, the fundraising and not-for-profit sector has changed dramatically.

In turn, the roles and responsibilities of marketing and communications managers within this area have also changed.

Gone are the days when a marketing and communications manager within this sector had a different set of skills to their counterparts in the corporate sector. Traditionally the two sectors rarely crossed over, but today it is not a matter of where you have worked before, but of how you can help an organisation break through the noise and be heard.

As someone who has been recruiting in this field for several years, I have had many clients asking that I look outside the usual talent pool of candidates who traditionally work within this field. The brief is now simple: find me someone who thinks commercially, is digitally savvy and won’t roll out the same programs as our competitors.

Corporate style

Anglicare’s marketing and fundraising director Heidi Monsour, who has worked in the industry for many years, says skills and practices from the corporate world are needed in the NFP sector.

“I like to say we need to be more ‘not-for-pocket’ as opposed to ‘not-for-profit’,” says Monsour. “Our corporate supporters want, and need, us to think and act like corporate managers who are trying to make a profit because that is what funds our missional and social work. Becoming and acting more corporate means we become more sustainable, transparent and innovative, and will have a bigger impact on the causes we champion. This is good for the industry as a whole.”

So why the change of thinking? Many people in the industry tell me it’s because the face of fundraising has fundamentally changed.

“Fundraising is now about working with donors differently, as we need to distinguish between the act of philanthropy and making a donation,” Monsour says. “For example, instead of trying to have people give money, we need to attach it to a cause. See how they are spending their money and make it as easy as possible for them to give.

“Someone doing this well is the Pink Ribbon Breast Cancer campaign, where they partner with businesses and household products. People are more than willing to buy a product if it is the same cost or even just slightly more if they think they are contributing to a good cause.

Hard work needed

“From a company perspective, the profits can outweigh the donations and sometimes it is a tax write-off, so it is easy for them to see ‘what’s in it for me?’.”

While wages have risen in the past few years, our charitable giving has dropped. About a third of Australians donate to tax-deductible organisations, giving an average of 0.37 per cent of their income.

“If you look at giving as a percentage of a person’s income, it hasn’t replicated in growth. As an industry, we have to work even harder to connect with people.”

Cancer Council Queensland marketing manager Kristy Ellery says that anyone in marketing, regardless of sector, needs to work harder when it comes to competing for attention and getting in front of the end consumer or client.

So what does a marketing and communications manager in this sector need to do to become a desirable employee?

  • Strategy and wisdom “There is a saying that knowledge is about knowing that a tomato is a fruit and wisdom is knowing not to put it in a fruit salad,” says Monsour. “I always ask my team, ‘How would you do this if it had never been done before?’ Sometimes we need reminding that we don’t always have to do things the same way they have always been done.”
  • Keep learning Ellery says the key is to be ahead of new information, and secondly to continue to engage and take your team along with your strategy. “My recommendations would be liaise with your peers, attend conferences, learn about trends and continually update your skills. Form good relationships with the IT team and study the effects automation will have in your department. Research, read, ask questions, be knowledgeable. Then you have to get buy-in from the organisation and your team so people engage and understand your strategy. Engagement and stakeholder management is the key to success.”
  • Change the mind-set This is fundamental to the industry, but also to tomorrow’s workforce. The days of just getting a social photographer and the city’s A-listers to an event is not going to cut it for a manager in this role. “Tomorrow’s workforce needs to think of how we can get more people involved in philanthropy, rather than just asking for a donation,” says Monsour. “Innovative people from a franchise or corporate background are continually asked to justify and report on their time and the results of campaigns and so on – it’s all about ROI and wallet space.”
  • Become digitally savvy Don’t just leave this to the social media experts. As a manager, you need awareness and understanding of how it works and also what you should expect from your team. Ellery says digital marketing has revolutionised how marketers work and engage with the client or donor. “It has also opened up the market for smaller charities and NFPs to become equal playing partners. In the past, this was dominated by the bigger players who had the budget to buy lists or dominate media channels. Over the past five years, we’ve seen budget and spend increase across the digital space. It is quick, measurable and allows us to see data in real time. Then, of course, you can change the message and re-target it if it doesn’t work.”
  • Don’t forget to tell a story Ellery says the most powerful campaigns in NFP are always around telling a story and providing real-life case studies. “Digital lets us convey this story more effectively through interactive mediums,” she says. “The key is becoming more efficient in asking the right questions to capture stories. Putting data and stories together helps with  engagement and conversion.”
  • Be a jack of all trades Finally, the days of having a graphic designer, marketing manager, communications manager, fundraising manager and a social media expert are long gone. At times, just two people or even one person at times are needed to be across all of this. The dotted lines between each field have been erased.

This article originally appeared in the March edition of Third Sector magazine- to subscribe click here.

Prudence Hayes is a practice leader with Davidson Corporate.

Website | + posts

Prudence Hayes is a recruitment professional with a strong background in recruiting a variety of technical skillsets, specialising in HR, TALENT & WHS. throughout Qld.


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