6-Nonprofit-Budget-Stretching

6 Nonprofit Budget-Stretching Ideas

By Gretchen Johnson

InterCom will be sharing results of our recent nonprofit communication survey for the Kalamazoo region at a special 2nd Friday event April 14. As you might expect, one of the biggest challenges facing these philanthropic efforts is the need to do more good with fewer dollars.

There are lots of arguments for nonprofits to spend more on advertising and marketing. David Pallotta made this point with his famous TED talk. But let’s face it: Few nonprofits have the resources to communicate and promote their work to the extent they’d like. There’s still a perception that “overhead” is anathema in any social venture, and, unfortunately, marketing and public awareness efforts are still viewed as “fluff” by many philanthropists. But we all know that marketing and communication actually improve an organization’s reach and impact. So what’s to be done?

The right answer is that every organization is unique and should take a strategic look at goals and objectives to determine how best to spend communication dollars. But there are also some broad solutions for making tight dollars work harder. During my time on the client side of the desk, I once had a supplier describe me thus: Gretchen’s the only person I’ve every worked with who gets more out of her budget without making me feel like I’ve been used. (I’m paraphrasing — and cleaning that up a bit.) I’m not sure it was meant as a compliment, but it’s a badge I still wear with honor. So here are a few suggestions for making your marketing communication dollars work harder for your nonprofit (or small business, or any marcomm effort)…

1.  Plan ahead

One of the most effective ways to get more done with less is to plan as far ahead as is practical. If you know what print, radio, social media, etc., you need to complete in the next six months — or better yet for the year — you can save money by attacking multiple projects at once.

Let’s look at printed materials, for example. (In the order of importance, local nonprofits rank printed materials as a fourth priority, following websites, social media and event planning.)

Will you be doing an annual report? Newsletters? Point of service flyers or other service line handouts? An annual appeal brochure? Special mailings to donors? When you have at least a general list of what’s coming, you can plan both your content and your artwork ahead of time. You may even be able to print them on the same press.

2.  Invest in good photography and good art

Maybe you’re lucky, and you have creative folks on staff. If they’re not trained in design or photography, it’s worth hiring a professional to help you at least establish a framework from which to grow. Take photography, for example. Cameras today — even smartphones — make it possible to take high-resolution images. But the purpose of a photo is to communicate. If your image is soft and it’s poorly framed, a bad photo can actually detract from your purpose.

On the other hand, you can get a lot of mileage out of professional photography. When you reuse artwork, photography, videography or even content multiple times, it reinforces your message and your brand. (Just make sure you’re clear with your supplier about usage rights.)

We see our materials every day, but stakeholders don’t. As a rule, organizations tire of their materials seven times faster than their audience. When you can, take lots of alternative photos and video (b-roll) to use later.

3.  Tap your vendors’ expertise and ideas

I realized early on that the folks providing printing, photography, design and other support services knew a whole lot more than me about what they did. Printers could help me squeeze every inch from a press. Videographers often had stock content to supplement my budget — and they always knew how to organize the day to maximize the shooting schedule. I just had to ask.

4.  Team up with your supply chain or community partners

If you’re a human service organization, there are likely many providers who have contact with the people you serve. Look for creative ways to promote your work together. Consider a shared ad campaign or special event. It not only stretches the budget, but it can also spread the burden, enabling you to get more done with less effort.

5.  Learn from your peers

It may seem impossible to take time from an already hectic schedule to ask your colleagues from other organizations what’s worked for them, but this is an incredibly effective approach.

6.  Follow nonprofit marketing blogs and sites.

They’ll help you keep up with trends in everything from fundraising to social media to reporting results. Many of them offer free tip sheets, e-books and other resources. Here are a few to check out:

Both ONEplace and InterCom offer regular gatherings for networking and casual discussion. They’re usually free or charge a nominal fee only, and you can learn from the best practices of others. Like a campaign they’re running? Asking them what worked and what didn’t. Who’d they use? How long did it take? What might they do differently next time? Not only will you learn, you’ll help them think through the experience and be better prepared for their next project.

Gretchen Johnson is President of InterCom and President/CEO of WordPlay Marketing Communications. WordPlay specializes in helping individuals and organizations develop messages and tell powerful stories. A common thread among clients is their desire to reach higher — and connect with and engage their stakeholders — for the purpose of creating lasting and positive change.