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Nonprofit Marketing: Less Seth, more Tim Calkins

We’re on a marketing kick at Community Media Workshop in between the waves of calls we’re getting from all size nonprofits seeking to adjust to changing circumstances in how we tell our stories (e.g. doing more of the work ourselves, but still relying on journalists when we can get ’em).

The challenge of nonprofit marketing, I’ve been finding, is to uncover authoritative and accessible sources for learning how to market our nonprofit services better. Of course we’re kind of guided by what’s most available … and what’s most available at the moment is Seth Godin.

Godins books inspire, entertain, and dont take you long to read

Godin's books inspire, entertain

It’s good, it’s good! (more specifics on Seth in a moment) The problem is, even a “meatball sundae” is still just dessert. From Seth I get conceptual thinking and a grounding in living my work on the Web. But Seth alone won’t teach me to incorporate effective marketing principles into my efforts to spread the good word about how Community Media Workshop is helping ‘save the world.’

Enter Tim Calkins, a Northwestern University marketing professor, and author of my favorite new-to-me book,  (it came out in 2008) Breakthrough Marketing Plans. An acquaintance introduced me to the book.

“The goal of this book is to be very practical and effective, and to help people write plans that are clear and supported and get great results in the market,” Calkins says in a 2008 Northwestern University article on the book. Calkins crystallizes some basic concepts.

For example, in Calkins’ marketing speak, goals can include either expanding your category or expanding your share. In the former case, roughly speaking for us in nonprofits: are we reaching out to new audiences by expanding the category of individuals who donate to our organization, and/or the universe or “market” of prospective donors to organizations like ours? Or, as in the latter case, are we expanding our share, deepening our relationships with the universe or market of people who already give to the organization?

Breakthrough Marketing Plans has some hands-on practical marketing insights

Calkins offers hands-on, practical marketing insights

Think about that: if you had to pick just one of those to focus on this year, which would you pick? Would you expand to a new audience (i.e. a geographical community or a community of folks with one particular interest relevent to your work or group) or deepen relationship with an existing group? For me at least, just asking the question generates some insights about who we should work with in terms of our mission and our business.

Calkins is also helpful on strategy. As he points out, you can’t do more than a few things at a time well. In fact, ironically for most of us in nonprofit land, his main argument is that companies spend way too much time on crafting hundreds-of-pages-long marketing plans and strategies (a la the traditional nonprofit 5-year strategic planning process) that fail. Another useful portion of this slim (187 pages) book is that  he offers suggestions on what the titles and sections of a marketing plan ought to be: Goals and Objectives, Strategic Initiatives, and Tactics. It’s a little bit more complicated than that, but not much!

Since lately my most-popular powerpoint slide is “the dog ate my communications plan,” that definitely sounds good to me.

Marketing for nonprofits?

At the Midwest Association of Fundraising Professionals conference a couple of months ago, I was struck by how the language of marketing–acquiring, building loyalty among, and segmenting your donors, for example–has come to permeate the field (In fact, the keynote speaker at the event, a professor of philanthropy with a great sense of humor, had a PhD in  marketing–he’s also author of a book on nonprofit marketing —  save your pennies up, it’s $70).

That’s a good thing, says me… if we’re honest about what we’re doing, spreading the good word about our good work is a pretty significant component of the work for most of us. Why not use the latest and greatest methods wherever they come from (that are ethical, yes, yes), to spread that good word, right?

Anyway, this is waxing on, but if you like me are new to this idea of nonprofit marketing, here are a few quick links to get you started on the marketing ideas of Seth Godin and Tim Calkins:

Seth Godin

  • Seth’s blog (he says it is currently ranked by Technorati as the #1 blog in the world written by a single individual)
  • His own list of his top posts and free e-books including What Matters Now on managing in the economic crisis
  • A wrapup of a recent controversy in which he made some blanket generalizations about the nonprofit sector and some strong responses

Lots of what we read is dictated by our pocketbook and what’s at the library. I get 39 hits at my library when I search for him.

Prof. Tim Calkins

My library has no books by Tim Calkins, unfortunately.

Did I make this point here? I’m not really comparing these two guys–they’re just both really useful teachers on marketing. Of course, we have some home grown experts in the sector–a lot of them are on the blogroll at the right. But am I missing something? Who or what nonprofit marketing gurus, books, sites or other resources or do you swear by?

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Category: Tips, Useful Books

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2 Responses

  1. I’m hoping my book will help fill some of the void. Watch for “The Nonprofit Marketing Guide: High-Impact, Low-Cost Ways to Build Support for Your Good Cause” in June 2010!

    P.S. We need to catch up!


  2. Gordon says:

    Absolutely–it’s much needed!

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