What’s needed most is marketed least

The above graph comes from Merkle’s Customer Engagement Report: COVID-19 Special Edition.  It shows that every measured sector increased marketing spend in the second quarter during the pandemic… except nonprofits.

The increase in other sectors makes sense.  Health insurers were talking to people without insurance due to job loss.  Retail had to deal with how to get products to people without bricks and mortar stores (or with them as the distribution hubs for curbside pick-ups).  Financial had to reach people with messages on how to engage their bank with many branch offices closed.

But things changed for nonprofits too, no?

And we have been, are, and will be essential in the pandemic.  Nonprofits saved lives and livelihoods.  And when we get through, we will be the ones rebuilding and reminding what our culture is and can be.

It would seem I need to hear more about how I can help during a pandemic than I do, say, about rolling over a 401(k) or about the trips I’m not going to go on when trips start existing again.

And yet in every other industry, when things are in flux, it’s a reason to reach out to current customers and get new customers.  They know that we’re more likely to change our phone carrier or bank or insurance in changing times — that’s why the times are called changing times.

This is especially true for nonprofits.  An O’Brien Garrett | TNPA survey of donors found 38% of mid-level have added new nonprofits to their list of recipients during the crisis.  Another 18% have shifted giving to new nonprofits and 30% are increasing their spend in their communities.

When you decrease your marketing spend, you aren’t getting those donors.  You are losing those donors to those who increased their marketing spend.

Yet 70% of nonprofits play the frightened turtle.  This is not without some good reasons.  Some of the places we would have put that spend like events and F2F recruitment temporarily no longer exist.  And we don’t have the financial reserves of large corporations.  Independent Sector reports that two-thirds of nonprofits have furloughed staff and half have laid them off.  It’s difficult to justify the same marketing expenses or, goodness help you, increasing them.

But channels like DRTV, digital, and PSAs have all gotten cheaper and more effective.  Now would have been (and still is) the time to break open the piggy bank and make that investment in the future, especially given that others are making that same investment.

In this time we are needed most, we need to be marketed most to survive and thrive.

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