nonprofit Businesses and Nonprofits Alike Struggle to Engage Communities

The other day I was reading the Five Challenges Facing Marketing, a Harvard Business Review blog post by David Aaker who’s an author and brand marketing expert.  I’m always curious about what the business world is doing, and the challenges they face to engage communities, partly because it helps me grow my own small enterprise, but also because I often find something I can re-purpose for nonprofits.  This time was no different.

As I read his prophetic insider’s view on what’s troubling marketers, I had a surprising revelation — businesses are struggling with some of the very same issues nonprofits grapple with in terms of reaching and engaging communities.  My assumptions were blown away.  I assumed that because the private industry has resources, talent, and Madison Avenue to boost their advertising, they must have found the silver bullet.  Apparently not.  

Below is my take on Aakers’ five challenges for businesses and my thoughts for nonprofits.  See if they resonate.

Five Struggles to Engage Communities and the Implications for Nonprofits

1) For Business: Companies need to lead with big ideas and transformations that enhance the product or service with customers “must-haves.” “My brand is better than your brand” strategies don’t work anymore.

  • For Nonprofits: In order to differentiate themselves and remain relevant, nonprofits need to have the guts to take bold and innovative steps in redesigning service delivery models that are lagging.  Being free isn’t good enough anymore.

2) For Business: Marketing needs to be strategic rather than tactical, making smart use of consumer feedback, a well-developed value proposition, and a brand that informs how they do business.

  • For Nonprofits: A “To Do” list is not an outreach and marketing plan.  Nonprofits need to invest the time to strategically identify who they are trying to reach, what their organization stands, what they can offer of value, and how they will take proactive steps to communicate their identity through their materials, their services, and their day-to-day actions.

3) For Business: Marketers need to dismantle silos that promote competition and isolation and replace them with a more integrated approach. 

  • For Nonprofits: Nonprofits need to work to destroy silos both within organizations, which serve to isolate teams and departments, and without, which pit organizations and sectors against each other to no end.  The sheer volume of work that needs to be done cannot be accomplished without strong community collaborations.

4) For Business: Marketing needs to revitalize their brands through community involvement.

  • For Nonprofits: Businesses are looking to charitable causes to inject energy and authenticity into their brands.  If you can find the right corporate partner, why not capitalize on the opportunity?  Nonprofits also need to “walk the talk” of community involvement by engaging and involving volunteers in authentic, linchpin roles in their organizations versus merely giving lip service to volunteerism.

5) For Business: Marketers need to bring their “A” game to a broad range of communications channels and tactics.  This means working with people who are willing to innovate and create something exceptional.

  • For Nonprofits: “Good enough” just isn’t good enough anymore.  We need to take proactive steps to attract the kinds of talent we need to our organizations — both paid and volunteer.  Since we rarely have the resources to pay high salaries, we need to rely on our own wits to foster an intellectually-engaged team culture that strives for excellence, is willing to take risks, demands accountability from everyone, and provides the support necessary to fail and yet keep on innovating.

If nonprofits can meet these challenges head-on, they’ll have a better chance at not only surviving but thriving.  

What do you think?  Are there challenges I’ve missed?  What would you add to the list?

And, more importantly, which twin in the photo above do you think best represents nonprofits and which the business community?