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Associations: 8 Myths of Marketing Large Nonprofits

Written by Joshua Paul | on February 14, 2011 at 8:30 AM

What can association leaders learn from the American Marketing Association Foundation's report, Nonprofit CMOs Call for a Transformation of Marketing?

The whitepaper pulls together 18 top marketers from some of the largest nonprofits in the world to discuss how a sluggish economy, governmental policy, and the dynamic technology landscape lay the foundation for significant change in the way nonprofits market.

Although the myths, risks and solutions outlined in the report were compiled by large, mostly donor and grant-based nonprofits, much of the guidance applies to large associations and membership organizations as well.

Marketing Large Nonprofits and Associations

Myth #1: Marketing is Just Tactical

In the day-to-day of planning events, upcoming renewals, and legislative sessions, associations cannot afford to solely execute a marketing plan developed at the beginning of the year.

Membership organizations must put processes in place to monitor audience needs, member feedback, and industry trends to recognize patterns that call for a shift in marketing strategy. By staying close to their market and thinking strategically, association marketers will gain a respected seat at the senior leadership table.

Myth #2: Good Fundraisers Don't Need Marketing

In the same way fundraising is built on trust and relationships, membership marketers must understand their constituents and use authentic, personalized communication to nurture their organization's relationship with each member. Many larger associations are turning to online member engagement software to efficiently set up interactive experiences for their members through their website.

Myth #3: Good Marketing Can Fix Everything

The most successful associations recognize that their marketing department performs best when they are focused on strategic activities that align with the success metrics for that organization, rather than a catchall for special projects from the board, customer service issues, and unplanned initiatives.

Myth #4: You Can't Measure Marketing

This can be one of the most costly marketing myths for membership organizations. Marketing analytics is the backbone to any association's ability make informed market-based decisions. If an organization does not know how each action is performing against their goals, how can they know if their budget isn't better utilized in another area of their member engagement strategy?

It is the responsibility of the board, executive team, and marketers in the trenches to demand marketing metrics where possible before launching a campaign.

Tip: If your organization is overwhelmed by marketing analytics, begin by tracking 2-3 key metrics for a month (examples: which communications resulted in an event registration?, or what percentage of your online community members renewed their membership?). Add more metrics over time.

Myth #5: Marketing Segmentation is Not Practical for Most Nonprofits

Segmentation is certainly possible and affordable in today's associations. Member engagement systems that connect to back-end member databases allow organizations to run different programs for specific groups in their membership community. However, membership organizations must look beyond demographic information and segment the behavior and goals of their members.

  • What type of events do they attend?
  • What type of communication to the respond to and interact with?
  • Why did they join the organization and what do they want to get out of their membership?

These are just three examples of business intelligence data points that top associations use to segment their audience. Keep in mind that there are hundreds of ways to segment a member database. Each organization's goals and segmentation needs are different.

Myth #6: Competition Doesn't Apply to Charities

Just because you are the American Association of X, that does not mean you own your members or an industry where professionals could someday be members. Though associations don't usually compete with other associations, membership organizations do go up against the many options members have for share of their mind and wallet. Here are some of the areas where nonprofit membership organizations find competition:

  • Membership dues
  • Fundraising dollars
  • Attention and mind-share
  • Action
  • Connection and engagement

Associations must make it easy and compelling for member to join, get information, interact with the organization, and connect with other members.

Myth #7: If the Board Likes the Advertising, It Must be Good Marketing

The answers to membership growth and member satisfaction are not going to come from your board, they are going to come from your community. Listen, engage, and provide value (be helpful).

Myth #8: Good Marketing Takes Money....and Lots of It

Membership marketing is about identifying how you would like your organization's relationship to change with a certain segment and then executing on the tactics, messages, and engagement plan that target group will respond to. This does not have to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars each year.

Member engagement is grounded in being helpful, providing value, and building connections to valuable content, the organization, important issues, and other members.

Let's Hear From You

What other marketing myths are common with associations and other membership organizations?

The full PDF report is available from the American Marketing Association Foundation website.

Photo credit: VividImageInc

Topics: Associations, Nonprofits and Charities

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