Research | 15 marketing questions for mid-size nonprofits

publication date: Feb 7, 2019
author/source: Lelia MacDonald

Recently, MAS did a research project on marketing in mid-size charities. We did 10 full marketing audits pro bono. Each audit took us about 20 hours and total staff time of 30 hours to answer our questions. Clear patterns emerged.

One clear pattern is that mid-size nonprofits have the skills to self-audit. They have the desire to do better. They usually have a quiet period every year when they have the time to reflect. What they do not have is - the tools.

Based on the finding of the research, it all comes down to 15 questions.

The Art of Marketing

#1 Is your brand clear, concise and consistent?

#2 Does the time staff spend on activities reflect your non-profit’s priorities?

#3 Does the marketing department have a culture of creative experimentation?

#4 Do you have a range of acquisition and retention activities per donor type?

#5 Have you reviewed the risks to your brand?

The People of Marketing

#6 Do you have a combination of marketing generalist and specialist skills?

#7 How is marketing’s interaction with other departments?

#8 How do you offer professional development?

#9 How do you ensure your marketers thrive?

The Science of Marketing

#10 Do you track which are your most cost-effective revenue sources?

#11 Do you track how concentrated each revenue source is?

#12 Do you track the churn in your donor portfolio?

#13 Do you connect marketing results to your marketing activities?

#14 Have you customized your own nonprofit’s Rules of Thumb?

#15 Membership based nonprofits questions.

The 15 questions are split into 3 sections because different employees are involved. The Art questions apply to “marcom” staff. The questions for the People section need to be answered by the ED (or VP of marketing). Everyone gets involved in the Science questions Your donor database person collects the data, but once the reports are created, it takes everyone to think through how the results will change next year’s plans.

The research was so much fun to do. Initially we had 4 pages of questions, which we narrowed down to 15 questions. Typically, every participating nonprofit did well on the Art questions. The goal of that section is to measure the effectiveness of their brand.

Most did well on the People questions. The goal is to promote an internal culture where marketers thrive.

It was the Science questions that were the hardest. The goal is to improve cost efficiency. We supplied several templates for new reports. The most common response was “we have never looked at our data in this way before”. The database person was willing to produce the data for the templates, but they had to figure out new queries (and then ensure that the data was clean!). It took weeks. Since the reports need to be produced at every fiscal year end, hopefully next year will be faster.

Another interesting pattern from the Science questions is that not one participant was surprised by the results. They always “had a hunch”. But they never had a way to prove the hunch, so no one believed them. Surprisingly, some participants were happy to get a “poor” rating on some questions, because it confirmed what they had been saying all along.

MAS has published a free 21-page white paper and 5 videos to help mid-size charities assess themselves.

Lelia MacDonald is a Volunteer Consultant with MAS - a pro bono management consulting charity. For 25 years, the retired professionals at MAS have helped over 1,300 nonprofits and charities become better at governance, strategy, HR, marketing and fundraising. Contact MAS today.

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