Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Is marketing for non-profit different than regular marketing?

Show your heart in all promotions - connect with emotion.
The tax rules are different for non-profits than for regular businesses, so should advertising rules be different?

Yes and no.

I have written ads and event invitations and info sheets for both for-profit and non-profit organizations. Both groups think they are special and distinct. both think they don't want to be in the same category as the other. But it turns out that the element that is most critical for successful messaging tells me the messages should be more similar.

--> Yes, marketing a non-profit is very different:

  • Your media options are more affordable.

    Most, if not all, media outlets want to be seen in a positive light and have non-profit rates. Some are more generous than others. Typically, non-profits can expect to get 20-50% off the rate card. My radio group offers 100% matching so half-off, basically.

    Media outlets and donors, as well as sponsoring partners, may be very happy to share mentions in their social media feeds, which will go directly to an audience who is open and interested in the message.

  • You're more likely to have your evangelists participate.

    Most for-profit businesses need to hire talent to complete their ads or write their newsletters.

    Most non-profits are benefiting people who WANT to talk about the organization and share their experience. They are eager to talk. Sometimes you can't shut them up!

    You rarely have to pay for that 'talent'. More importantly, the evangelist is usually very sincere, even if they don't have perfect, well-trained delivery. This authenticity resonates with the audience. It touches the hearts of every listener and viewer and gets through the "b-s" filters so many consumers have developed around businesses.

    For-profit businesses would do well to court more of their evangelists, and many do. Non-profits who aren't using their evangelists should ask around among beneficiaries of the mission, providers, and volunteers.

--> No, marketing businesses should be more like marketing a non-profit:
All good advertising connects with the readers' emotions. Non-profits are especially skilled at this and those copywriters who write ads filled with lists of product features could learn a lot from non-profits.

Too often businesses are 'strictly business' in their messaging and talk about features and widgets or millimeters of clearance or pounds per inch, hours of operation, friendly service, 'for all of your blank needs.'

It's boring to the listener because the offer lacks emotion.

You could sell haircuts with the benefits of 'long cuts' or 'short hair cuts' or promise a 'quality cut'. We all want quality in our haircuts. But we can expect to get this anywhere. I'm not emotionally draw to this business based on this offer.

Instead, if you offered haircuts that will help someone who has been unemployed get a new job to fulfill her potential and feed her family, you've really elevated the haircut. You've brought emotion to the message. Almost all listeners can appreciate the benefit she got and are warmed by her experience. By showing the positive consequences of the mission, the audience is transported just a little closer to the one who gave that important haircut. There is a little piece of the subconscious that relates to the beneficiary and thinks "maybe if I go there, they can make me better, too."

Non-profits understand this innately. The good ones put the emotional connection at the forefront of the story. Who do they help? How does this impact their lives? How does it improve the lives of people around them? The details fade to the background, the last few frames.

The emotion activates the listener. It makes them lean forward. Makes them imagine themselves in that situation. Makes them set down the burdens of their day for just a moment and listen.

But it is easy to abuse the listeners' emotions. Using sappy music or hitting too hard on the pain and suffering before the problem is resolved or the help is delivered is seen (rightly) as manipulative.

Here is a guideline for either sort of organization to use emotion in messaging:

  • Check the script against the listener. Is the listener involved or just being milked for money?  
  • Is there a means for the audience to participate and experience helping someone? This has to be more than a phone number. Show the hairdressers in the example above offering to help if you're recruiting hairdressers. Or show regular people knitting or collecting blankets if you are doing a blanket drive.
  • Is the mission being presented positively in an uplifting manner? Shoot images from below. Show people happy because they are part of the mission. Are there more images of suffering than other images? Focus on the positive for more than half of any ad or message. If you are dealing with an ugly issue, where you can, let the reader imagine the images rather than showing the images. 

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