Survey: Showing Impact Is Key Nonprofit Challenge

Written by on December 10, 2012 in Nonprofit, Strategy - No comments


We recently conducted an online poll with 100 nonprofits to better understand their current view of marketing and how the discipline can help address key challenges they are facing. Here’s the blow by blow of what we found:


According to survey respondents, nonprofits are not fully convinced that marketing is, or should be, a priority for their organization. Nearly 40% said marketing doesn’t rate as a strategic imperative for their cause, while the overwhelming majority of respondents admitted they do not have a formal marketing plan. More than 90% of respondents reported spending less than 5% of their budget on marketing.


There are numerous explanations for these results. For some nonprofits, it may be that they hold an incomplete view of marketing and what it can accomplish. Read more about myopic marketing views.¬†For others, it’s that marketing has a negative connotation for charities and can be a very touchy subject for consumers and charity rating sites alike. Nearly 30% of survey respondents said they don’t feel comfortable using organizational funds for marketing purposes.

Another group is likely held back by a lack of resources, both from a budget and bandwidth perspective. Approximately half of respondents cited both an inability to find cost-effective marketing partners and a lack of internal time for marketing activities as realities preventing them from investing more heavily in marketing.


Respondents confirmed several key issues facing their organizations. More than half agreed that raising awareness and combatting donor/volunteer turnover were big problems. However, the top-rated issue, by a wide margin, was helping stakeholders understand the impact they were having. More than 80 percent of respondents cited this as a significant issue. Next in line was raising awareness. Interestingly, though, more respondents were concerned with awareness for the cause they supported (62%) versus their organization specifically (56%).


When asked to rate various marketing needs, branding and public relations scored high, as expected. Also not surprising was the fact that digital marketing and social media were viewed as must haves, with 85% of respondents rating both digital and social as important for their organization. Conversely, direct mail came in at a distant 39%. Overall, 3 out of every 4 respondents viewed all listed marketing tools and techniques as important (with the exception of direct mail.)


To be successful in the year ahead, nonprofits must find ways to solve the challenges cited above. Particularly since more than 70% of respondents reported that their fundraising goals for 2013 will increase from the previous year. Surveyed organizations are focused on a combination of individual donations, foundation grants and corporate sponsorships, with the vast majority of respondents highly ranking each of these avenues. Conversely, less than half of respondents expected federal funding to be an important revenue source for their causes, and only 30% cited capital campaigns as a focus for 2013.


According to these findings, many nonprofits are not investing in strategic marketing, despite seeing the value of individual marketing tactics. Meanwhile, respondents acknowledged several key issues facing their organizations that can be largely addressed through marketing strategy.

The realities of limited budgets, lack of internal bandwidth and extreme scrutiny on operational spending will continue to challenge nonprofits in their marketing execution. But forward-thinking causes should reconsider their stance on marketing strategy and the power of well-laid plans for two reasons. 1. The presence of a formal strategy leads to more effective execution in areas such as public relations, social media, volunteer communications and fundraising. 2. With increasing competition for costumer share of mind (and wallet), only those organizations who smartly communicate and position their mission + impact will grow.


Respondents were geographically diverse, although location was not specifically captured. Participating organizations came from a range of focus areas, with a heavy concentration in health and human services.

There was balanced representation in terms of organizational size, as measured by operating budgets.

This survey should only be considered a directional view and used for informational purposes only. It is not guaranteed to be scientifically valid.


How does your nonprofit measure up? Are these findings consistent with your cause?


Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.