Charities Shouldn't Be Afraid of Marketing





“We need to make money so we can impact peoples lives, so sales & marketing have to be talked about”

Simon Blake, CEO of Mental Health First Aid (England)


And yet at too many charities, these are seen as subjects that shouldn’t be talked about. It’s considered a commercial approach to things, but in reality, all the great leaders we talked to understood the importance of marketing and why it needed to be integral to their charity.



Marketing Shouldn’t Be A Dirty Word


Great marketing comes from people that truly believe in what they are promoting and nobody believes in their message more than charities, they have a duty to promote the charity and ensure people know about it. This quote from Debra Allcock Tyler, CEO of the Directory For Social Change, perfectly sums this point up.


“What you are offering is important and can change the world. It's important to share it, you should never hold back. Just remember, that child keeps starving unless you are prepared to move past being worried about marketing. Never be ashamed or embarrassed to do marketing and sell what you do”

As she goes on to say, marketing is about timing and the only way you get the timing right is to constantly remind them!


We also noticed a pattern that those leaders that have a background in private companies were more comfortable in using sales & marketing, having seen the impact it can have and want to put that to use for a more important cause.


One point raised by Anthony Impey, CEO of Be The Business, surrounds how to talk about those you help.


“In the Non-For-Profit world, the concept of customers makes them uncomfortable. They think describing the beneficiaries as customers is wrong”

But if you are going to optimise your sales pipeline then you need to start thinking and talking like salespeople do because this is how you will improve the exposure of the charity and generate more funds. Sarah Mortiboys, former MD of Dallaglio Rugby Works, actually describes herself as a saleswoman because she feels it’s such an important part of her role.


I will leave the last word to Anthony in this section. Ultimately you are competing for funding and gifts with other charities and as so many don’t do a great job in this area, it’s a way to stand out.


“There is a real benefit to having professional sales & marketing in a Not-For-Profit. You will stand out because very few are doing it well. Professionalising your sales & marketing - it’s a relatively easy route to stand out”

It Has To Be A More Considered Decision


As Simon Blake puts it


“Decisions are more nuanced for a charity - spend money to grow on marketing or give it to people that you can help”

His point is clear and a decision that all charity leaders have to make at some point, probably quite often in fact, which is deciding between investing in marketing to grow awareness and increase longer-term funds vs. the ability you have to give money directly to people in the short term.


Or to put it in even more stark terms, as Mike Ward, CEO of KM Charity, does


“Every pound you spend on marketing is not going on funding”

This is where good leadership comes in. The instinct for most is to not spend, to focus on giving back immediately, but strong leadership focuses on the long term and the people you are ultimately helping are not going to be helped quickly, you need to invest so you can support them for years to come.





Can You Be Ethical, Authentic And Do Marketing?

"You can actively market and still be ethical and authentic"

So says Barry Fletcher and he should know, as the leader of Career Connect, he has managed to successfully market a brand new service whilst maintaining the core values of the charity, helping young people and adults make the most of themselves.


He talks about how they question every campaign against the values of the charity. He believes if you do this and you genuinely believe in what you are doing, then you’ll never stray from your course and continue to be both authentic and ethical in all your marketing.


He also talked a lot about delivering on the marketing message and believing that if as a team you know you’ll follow through on what you promise, then you really can be authentic.


In fact, for Sarah Mortiboys, it is the authenticity charities bring to marketing that helps them stand out


“Authenticity gets the cut through. It tells the right story”

This is a great way of thinking about it, you know that by focusing on your core values and being true to yourself, then you’ll not only remain authentic but steal a march on most commercial companies.


This quote from Debra Allcock Tyler perfectly sums up the charity approach to marketing and how you are able to raise awareness of the charity without ever slipping into the commercial profit at all costs approach.


“Marketing is in line with the values. The brand links to the values. Empathy is key to the brand. We are in this together. That's adopted into the marketing. Excellence and Empathy are the values”


Let’s Talk Tactics


Sarah Mortiboys spent much of her conversation with us telling stories - in a good way! She believes in the power of stories in sales and marketing (she is right) and that charities just happen to have some of the best stories you could imagine.


“The most important marketing tactic is being able to show donors what their investment has achieved. Again, this is telling stories”

I love this specific example she shared, people do want to see what’s happening with anything they donate, it is why charities don’t always focus on the problem but shed a light on the successes, the outcomes of the donations.


For Mike Ward, the key is trying new ideas and channels, his focus is avoiding becoming white noise, so by appearing in different arena’s and trying a mixture of messages, you keep standing out. He is also a massive advocate for measurement.


“It is even more important to measure the success and ROI of marketing in charities. Use the data to focus, one targeted ad is worth ten times the scatter gun approach. It is worth the time to focus and find your niche”

And I will leave the last word with Mike because he highlighted a tactic that really does only apply to charities - the freebie approach. His view is that you need to lean into your status as a charity and when looking to procure software, advertising, events etc… you should be aiming to get as much of this for free as possible - who doesn’t want to help a charity!



This blog was written using conversations with some of the best charity leaders in the country. To listen to them, please go to the Charity Leaders Podcast and download an episode.

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