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The Board Role in Marketing: The Plan and Its Execution

Nonprofit boards of directors can learn and become very helpful in applying principles of marketing to advance the mission of the nonprofit they pledge to support.
The concept of “marketing” is in transition as people gain comfort and experience employing social media (blogs, Twitter, Facebook LinkedIn, YouTube, and more). Fortunately, marketing is not rocket science: it’s built on some pretty common sense concepts.
When I write or talk or consult about marketing, I’m thinking about this:
A set of strategies designed to influence behavior of target audiences by preparing beneficial exchanges that will build a relationship between the individual and the organization (Alan Andreasen, Strategic Marketing).
I advise nonprofit organizations to formulate a marketing plan that coincides with the strategic plan. And I advise that the strategic plan be rooted in the primary customer(s) of the nonprofit: the people you serve whether you’re providing education, health care, or a direct human service; or, if you’re an arts organization running a community theater or any creative arts program. When your nonprofit organization is clear on whom you serve (primary customer) and the thing or service you deliver that has value to that customer, and you can measure the impact you’re having, your nonprofit has taken the basic steps in executing a marketing plan.
The Marketing Plan addresses components of the marketing mix and how your nonprofit will apply it. The marketing mix includes Product, Placement, Price, Promotion. If we’re lucky, we have a Marketing and Communication Committee among whose members are professionals who know how to apply the mix to bring maximum benefit to the primary customers, bring recognition and supporting customers (donors!) to the nonprofit, and advise the nonprofit on how to measure results in a low-cost way.
A tool I like to use when training boards in their governance role in marketing is Gary Stern’s booklet, Champions With a Cause: The Nonprofit Board Member’s Role in Marketing (First Nonprofit Education Foundation). Among other things, Gary points out that the board needs to

  • Root all marketing decisions in the mission
  • Develop Governance policies that guide marketing
  • Use care and diligence in developing the nonprofit brand
  • Develop clear marketing roles for board members, collectively and individually

Developing this Marketing Plan will help keep everyone strategically focused and mission focused.

Board members are not always fond of having to do this kind of work. If you have one or two members with professional marketing or communication experience, they can create and reinforce the kind of message you’re reading in this blog. Enlist these volunteers to help lead the effort and coax the kind of behavior out of the board that will put your nonprofit on the map in your community. It’s a challenge to get the energy together to move the board in this direction. Think of these words of Eleanor Roosevelt as you embark on this effort: Do what you feel in your heart is right, for you’ll be criticized anyway. Better to take the “damned if I do” approach. “Damned if I don’t” is the road to nowhere.

Steve Smith is Principal of It’s The Results, LLC, a consulting company focused on board development, strategic planning, fundraising. Learn more at Follow Steve on Twitter @STEVENETWORK. E-mail:

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