As the most charitable country in the world, according to U.K.-based Charities Aid Foundation, the U.S. has nearly 1.5 million nonprofit organizations. Whether advocacy oriented or faith based, a foundation or a community concern, America's nonprofits compete with one another for financial support. Like their for-profit counterparts, not-for-profits turn to marketing to survive. Unlike the corporate world where marketing merits its own department, nonprofit organizations, particularly those focused on a local or regional market, assign marketing endeavors to a committee.


Nonprofit boards of directors divide the responsibilities of running their organizations with committees. If the nonprofit has a marketing staff, the marketing committee of the board provides direction on objectives, positioning, desired branding and available resources. The staff, in effect, becomes a working committee that presents recommendations on programs and activities that support the board's directions. It also handles public relations, communications, advancement and external affairs -- the many functions that promote the organization's mission. When the nonprofit has few or no employees, the board committee serves as the working marketing committee, often recruiting volunteer members for help.


Advisory or working nonprofit marketing committees face the challenge of adapting a more business-oriented marketing mind-set to reap the most from their limited budgets. They must temper their dedication to the organization's mission with the reality that the public may not share their passion or recognize the organization's existence. They must fight the tendency to address a broad audience with a hit-or-miss approach and instead concentrate on target market segments most likely to respond to their message. Yet their marketing techniques need to consider a variety of audiences within those target markets, each with its own perspective: potential board members, donors, volunteers, employees, government officials and clients.

Voice of the Organization

A not-for-profit marketing committee acts as the voice of the organization. The messages it sends influences the organization's most important asset: its reputation. Perceptions of its reputation affect the organization's ability to attract funding and enhance its influence. By cementing a solid reputation, the marketing committee gives the organization grounds to face and survive public relations crises that arise. It also lends the credibility needed to support the organization's stances on political issues that affect nonprofit operations, such as taxes. When cities approach a nonprofit for revenue through a program called PILOTS -- or payments in lieu of taxes -- the nonprofit must defend its exclusion from property taxes.


Nonprofits operate in an increasingly transparent environment as the general public and all levels of government scrutinize their purpose. That scrutiny adds pressure for them to fill service voids created by reductions in and eliminations of government programs. Their ever-present budget restrictions force them to make spending trade-offs that can reduce their ability to actively compete for attention and financial resources to meet these new expectations. At the same time, they must invest in a web presence and social media to remain visible. Business marketers understand such issues; not-for-profits have begun to rely on their marketing committees for developing strategies and initiatives to deal with them.