Marketing for Not For Profits


I’m concluding my second round of teaching a Masters level course in Public Administration at Hilbert College – a private, catholic college in western New York. It is a wonderful college with a tremendous focus on giving their students real skills, learning and avenues for creativity to better equip them for the ever-changing work world. I thoroughly enjoy the students. All of them are working full time and taking a full load to earn their MPA. My course is titled, Marketing and Public Relations for Not for Profits.

The course requires the students to develop a marketing plan for an area not for profit. As the professor, my task is to offer a true variety of NFP organizations. So, I write a few NFP names on a folded piece of paper and a team representative picks from the hat. It is a teacher’s dream to see the bewilderment on their faces as they read the selection’s name. They are befuddled. Some seem to have heard of the organization, but know very little. Others say things like, “is this a health NFP?” – as if they believe most NFPs are healthcare agencies doing work with people with HIV/AIDS, Alzheimer’s Disease, or mental illness.

Once they settle for a very brief moment, they look up at me as if to say, “what do you expect us to do with this?” or “I’m lost because I never even heard of these people.” As their tour guide for the next several weeks, I’m ready to begin their journey with some rules, reassurance, and describe where the ride will take them. At the Masters level, they must struggle, scratch, imagine, research, ask, discover and explore on their own. They must test their survival skills as they enter the NFP jungle like the cable TV show, Naked and Afraid. They are naked because they no longer have the comfort provided by having blankets of security called, “things I know.” They are afraid because this project is a team project, an oral presentation and a written marketing plan accounting for 80% of their final grade. Oh, by the way, I’m their last class before thesis defense and graduation. A poor grade in this class and they are devastated.

They begin as expected. Some try to negotiate by requesting another NFP. Others tell me they are not from western New York so they are at a terrible disadvantage. Finally, a few ask for a NFP in their field of work. Sorry, not today. Let’s move on.

After some interesting classes about the birth and evolution of NFPs of all types, sizes, fields of work, populations served and geography, we take a very serious look at the differences between NFPs and for profit organizations. By using examples, for the purpose of comparison, we talk about NIKE, Apple, American Red Cross, UNICEF, Catholic Health, American Cancer Society, NASCAR, Macy’s, BryLin Hospitals and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The Business First’s Million Dollar Not For Profit issue comes out about a week before classes start. They are profoundly astonished at the salaries of NFP executives. Many students believed NFP work was a path to a low paying, long hours lifestyle. Several asked why managed care and hospital salaries were not posted, but they took some pretty good guesses at salary ranges. Most did not realize that managed care companies could be NFP. So, we continued to talk, learn and explore. Their assignment was to get engrossed in their chosen NFP as if they worked there. My dear friend, Aimee Gomlak, Vice President of Women Care at Catholic Health visits to talk about building a brand within a brand of a billion dollar operation.

At the appropriate time, I introduced them to the McNulty Model (yes, I created it based on 35+ years in marketing, management, NFP, media and consulting). It is intended to guide the marketing plan development process and I continue to tweek it as our world changes.

Here’s what they received:

McNulty Model

-NFP Marketing Plan Template-


1.) Introduction: What is Your Organization? What Does It Do?

 This is the initial exploration and discovery process. You cannot market what you do not know or fully understand. Get to know your organization from every angle. When they started? Why they were formed? How were they formed? What do they do today? What is their organizational structure? Once you have this information, write your Organizational Introduction.

2.) Plan’s Purpose

Your marketing plan must have a very defined purpose. Your intended focus is revealed and you take on 3-5 things you want to impact, grow, improve and more. This is the section you demonstrate your understanding of the organization’s best opportunities for success. You prove that by documenting in this section where they are now in real measureable terms. Example: 2010 # of physician referrals was 200 from 12 physicians. This plan will grow the referral base to 20 physicians yielding 350 referrals – 175 by June. Example: The number of media stories about our organization was limited to one television station. This plan will increase our electronic/print/Internet media reach to 15 outlets producing one story each.

Know where you are and where your marketing plan wants to take the organization.

 3.) Situation Audit: Your Inside World and The World You Cannot Control… But Must Monitor

 Simply put, what is your organization’s current operating situation? Focus on your attributes and your vulnerabilities. Look at things such as resources, geography, competitive edge, years of market position and anything that can impact your plan – positively or negatively. In this role, you are clearly an internal investigator and you must be boldly honest even if it stings. The truth must be known to plan.

External forces are things such as trends you could not have forecasted (sudden market drop, competitor merges with larger organization, etc.). Your audit highlights what’s going on now with strong reference to your immediate ability to course-correct your plan. In your industry, what are the climate forces that could alter your marketing action steps?

4.) Targets: All of Them You Wish to Reach

 In this section, the more specific you are the better your plan will be written and perform as a true tool for success. Avoid words such as, “the community, our region, schools, employees” and other catch-all categories. Instead, think about targets such as: couples with incomes above $100K within Buffalo city limits, male high school athletes in Catholic schools in Erie County, donors with a history of supporting violence reduction campaigns, corporations with a history of supporting outside events, etc. It is completely acceptable to have multiple targets or segments as long as you zero in on who they are in very measureable terms. In a healthcare NFP, instead of saying your target group is physicians, you might name the specialty likely to yield the best impact (pediatricians vs. rheumatologists).

 5.) Ready for Action: What Are You Planning to Do To Move The Marketplace? Your Targets?

 With each of the 3-5 things you want to achieve you can formulate 1-5 action steps that support each other. For instance, you could have a public relations action step that supports a sales campaign. A reporter interviews your CEO about what physicians should know about underage drinking rates in Erie County because your delivering a new screening tool to be used during annual physicals, sports physicals, etc. One plan can have multiple action steps. The steps must be in measureable terms so you know if it worked, should be adjusted or abandoned before any further resources are allocated.

All too often, action steps are not crafted with other staff input and this is a colossal mistake. To improve success, you must have staff buy-in, awareness and readiness. Your plan will fail if you build business you are not ready to manage. This is the McNulty Madness Factor – everyone is mad because your plan is working better than expected!

A good rule for Action is – make your plan measureable, doable and flexible.

 6.) Communication Integration

 Internal first. Never launch a message, press release, brochure, radio spot or billboard until all your employees, board members and volunteers know about it. In doing so, no one is caught off guard. Instead, you now have an army of marketing ambassadors. Sadly, this is often overlooked and McNulty Madness surfaces.

External. Do something every week to maintain consistency, fluidity, continuity and you will build your brand and tie it to your messaging. Keep in mind, what do your target audiences want to hear and where are they likely to hear it? Write newsworthy press releases and remember TV and Internet are visual media. Photography boosts a print story. Social media is a delicate, but effective channel. You can’t put a recipe on a billboard!

Integration: Make communication messages that integrate with headline news, trends, budget cuts, job market, economy, and family dynamics – Be Creative!

 7.) Strategies Steps

How will you unveil the plan to get it going? Who is helping? Have you planned out the year? Use of resources? Creative stretching of the dollar? Cross promotion with a partner? Corporate adoption of your event, cause, building, billboard and more. Use of consumers, graduates, artists…Be Creative!

8.) Tactics to Foster Buy-In Leading to a Relationship Development and Sustainability

 How will you connect your idea to the greater good? Your target audience? How will you create new relationships? Volunteer succession planning? Generational loyalty?

Example: Donor birthday cards, discounts from merchants, sticker on the car, lapel pin or building generational loyalty from birth.

9.) Resources: If You Got Them, Great! If Not, What Now?

 Resources are more than money in a budget. Volunteers, supplies, barter, board members, extended committee members, tie-in promotions, building space, free parking, Internet/social media, apps, etc. Use them all in creative, cost-effective, measurable ways and keep good records. Example: How many volunteers did we use for…?

Budget building is similar to shopping. How much do you have vs. how much things cost? The critical issue in building your budget is to build your “resource checklist” or line items. Typical costs in marketing budgets could include staff (but check to see if staffing is in another organizational budget), printing, equipment, advertising (by type: billboard, newspaper, etc.), promotions, mileage, event fees,  rentals, speaker fees, postage, entertainment (taking a reporter to lunch), designer, and other unique items. When putting a budget together, use bids, quotes and more from potential vendors. “How much would 1,000 12 oz, two-color coffee mugs cost?” “If I buy 4 quarter page ads for the year, what rate discount does my NFP get?” “If I put your logo on my brochure, what discount might you give me for 5,000 #10-size, double-sided, four-color brochures?”

10.) Begin, Check-In, Adjust, Keep Going

 Once you’ve started, you are on the go. Use your staff/board/volunteer/CEO meetings to “check-in” to see if you are on schedule. Is it working? Impediments? External factors requiring adjustment? Got more money or got cut mid-year. Who is a real champion and who is a disappointment? Will training come in to play? Did a new competitor come to town? Weather?

 11.) Celebrate Your Successes – With Everyone!

This is very important because it involves pride in ownership. Just as you’ll be held accountable when things go wrong, you must celebrate accomplishments. It is vital to your efforts and future plans that you spread the “well-done” and “thank you” messages around generously. No doubt, those same folks will be ready to help you again.

McNulty Model is a Success Stories, Inc. Copyright 2011 All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission of the author at

 While the classes continued, I could see their growth because they were embracing the concepts and their explorations led to discoveries that led to opportunities and a plan for impact. As you might imagine, as they did their research their information started plugging in to the McNulty Model rather smoothly. As anxiety shifted to enthusiasm, their creative energies emerged and their boundary restrictions were broken.

As a professor, it is very rewarding to see the transformation from admitted ignorance and stress move to self-fulfillment and pride in one’s accomplishment. Several students stated that struggling and being challenged to dig deeper to get what they needed facilitated a more engrained learning. They felt they had a tool box to be able to make their own marketing plan one day. My non-marketing students know how critical marketing is in NFPs and they understand how marketing integrates very well in to an organizational strategy. For me, that was success!

I’m available to teach your NFP staff on site if you are interested in creating a stronger marketing-driven organization. In today’s economy and strain for limited dollars, a solid marketing plan is an agency survival plan, too!

Thomas P. McNulty, President


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