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Attention not-for-profits: marketing is not a dirty word


Attention not-for-profits: marketing is not a dirty word


Far from being a dirty word – too sales focused and money-fuelled – marketing, says Sara Berry, is how not-for-profits will survive in the new competitive, consumer-focused landscape.

‘Not for Profits will need to adapt to the changing funding environment and the new world of consumer-directed care in order to flourish and survive’ – Senator Mitch Fifield, the federal assistant minister for social services, 2014.


Marketing your not-for-profit

When I first started to write this blog, over two years ago, I wanted to find out how not-for-profits (NFPs), that are currently responsible for delivering community programs, disability and aged care services, are managing with the changes in funding environments.

Specifically, significant changes to the ways governments fund social services – particularly in the aged care and disability sector – heralds a new era for the NFPs that work in these sectors. I also wanted to know how the sector was faring with the (dare I use the words) paradigm shift.

Having worked in this sector in business development and marketing for several years, I have been acutely aware that the sector would need to adapt to the changing environment.


What do these changes actually mean for not for profits?

The challenge for the sector, is in the need to redefine its target audience from government to the end-user of its services, forcing monumental changes in how this sector and the organisations within it communicate.

Essentially the shift is a change in focus from pitching for government tenders to winning over the consumer in the new ‘user-chooses’ environment.


What does ‘user chooses’ actually mean?

Essentially ‘user-chooses’ is about the customer having an individual choice about what services they want to use. The individual is now at the centre and in control. The individual can now decide what care or help they need to achieve their goals, to live their life, as they choose.

They can choose not only what services they want but also which organisation will provide the service.

The consumer is now firmly in the driving seat, which means that not for profits need to embrace new ways of thinking in terms of their relationship with their client and the services they provide.

It’s all about what your customer wants

So, it’s all about moving to a model of customer-centricity. The client wants to know what you can do to help them achieve their goals in life.


What are you doing to adapt to this shift?

I approached many people working in this sector across all positions and roles to find out about their plans for the future. The responses that I received were, as would expect, wide and varied.

They ranged from no response, to absolute fear and trepidation of the workload ahead, to acknowledgment that work was taking place at the top level but uncertainty regarding how the changes would be implemented at the coal face, to being offended that I dare to suggest that their organisation lacked customer focus.

This latter point particularly intrigued me as those that took offence did so because they felt that they really looked after their client. In the case of one interviewee, she told me that each of their clients got the best care and the best treatment and more than that absolute personal service.

It turned out in the end that we agreed, they did indeed offer incredible customer service but the organisation itself was not necessarily customer focused.

Yes, in a competitive marketplace, to ‘survive’ the aged care and disability sector changes requires an incredible customer service; the same carer on each occasion, consistency of care and a personalised service. But, the entire organisation also needs to be competitive, which requires a customer focus and understanding of:

  • The services you have an established reputation in delivering that are profitable,
  • your niche service,
  • how the entire organisation contributes to continued success – when to refer, when not to refer, referral agreements,
  • your competition,
  • your service mix – is it right for your marketplace?
  • is your pricing strategy correct for your organisation and your client? And,
  • do people know you? Do you have brand awareness and for which services?


Knowing the answers to the above is a start.

By developing a marketing planning process, your organisation will begin the journey to becoming customer-focused.

And last but not least, whatever your strategy – whether you go big (merge) or go deep (provide a niche service) – you will need to use marketing to compete in the new competitive order.

Marketing. Is it a dirty word?

It seems some disquiet, during my research, came from my use of the word ‘marketing.’ I am told, that for some in the NFP sector that marketing is a dirty word, too sales focused and fuelled by money.

Whereas, in fact, as those of you who know me and have worked with me (over 15 not for profits to date), would know it is quite the opposite.

Marketing is about getter closer to your client and developing the services that they really need to help them to engage with those services easily.

So how can marketing help?

At Marketing Sense we partner with not for profits to help them to evolve, build capacity and marketing capability, and develop innovative strategies to ensure sustainability into the future.

In our cases, we partner with NFPs to:

  • Create better customer value,
  • create and develop products and services that customers want and need,
  • build brands and customer value propositions that customers find relevant and appealing, and
  • strengthen the discipline and practice of marketing within the organisation.


I would love to know your thoughts. Do you think marketing is a dirty word? What are you doing to develop your NFP to negotiate the changes? Do you have a marketing strategy in place?



Image copyright: maxximmm / 123RF Stock Photo

Sara Berry

Sara Berry, MD at Marketing Sense, is an internationally experienced strategic marketing professional who helps organisations to gain clarity about their company in the mind of their customer. Her clients range from national recruitment, to not for profits, to the Office of Environment and Heritage. Sara works with organisations to develop marketing assets that create enduring profitable growth, using deep insight and intelligence, to focus everyone in the business, from the CEO to the Receptionist, on creating a culture of service that delivers not just for clients but CFO’s too. Link in with Sara

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