Marketing and the third sector are not terms typically associated with each other. Marketing is generally seen as a means to increase profits in the business sector, while the third sector refers to organizations that operate without the intention of generating profit. However, those involved in associations, nonprofit organizations (NPOs), Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and volunteer organizations understand that marketing is crucial for success. Marketing in the third sector involves attracting donations and budgets, fostering interesting collaborations, recruiting volunteers, addressing public agendas, and attracting high-quality employees. 

Marketing in the third sector: Things to know (unpleasing as they may sound) 

Very few third sector organizations develop a clear marketing strategy and implement it effectively to achieve their goals. Most organizations view marketing as something insignificant, separate from their core activities, and do not allocate much attention to it. However, smart marketing can become a significant part of the operations of third sector organizations, and neglecting marketing can be a costly mistake. How can you ensure that your organization does not make significant marketing mistakes? Here are five fundamental principles to remember, even if they may not be pleasant to hear. 

1. You are one of a thousand 

 Yes, we believe that you are unique. But from the perspective of the public, you are just one organization among many operating in a field that is already filled with associations, organizations, and volunteers. Your basic assumption should be that there are a thousand others like you, or at least another two or three. Honestly, what does the public know about the differences between “Ezer Mizion” and “Yad Sarah”? Between “Latet” and “Hasadai Naomi”? And if the cedars fall in flames, what would the lesser-known organizations do? In order to differentiate yourselves from others, you need to precisely isolate what sets you apart, no matter how insignificant or obvious it may seem to you, and understand how it distinguishes you from others. Based on this differentiation, you can create a meaningful organizational narrative that serves as the foundation for your entire marketing plan. 

2. Your target audience is not the general public  

Yes, I know. You do want to reach out to the general public eventually. However, the path to reaching the general public is paved with smaller circles. Your starting point should be that people are not interested in being approached, they are not obligated to identify with your goals, and even if they do identify, they have very little time and energy to get up from their seats and take action.  

kids through trash

Start with the smaller circles that care the most. Engage with the people who are passionate about the issue you are addressing, those who hold it dear to their hearts and are willing to invest their efforts and time to address it. If you succeed in capturing the attention of these individuals first, you can then expand to a slightly broader circle – those who identify with the goals but have not yet engaged in any activities. Eventually, by persisting, you will reach the general public. 


3. Only a few understand what you do 

You know very well what you are doing, and you have not even noticed that you have your own jargon with a unique language and specific terms. However, most people who encounter your “About Us” page on your website or your vision documents and presentations are unfamiliar with the terms that are clear to you. For most people, even those connected to the third sector, concepts like “sustainable volunteer activity,” “deliberative debate on points of contention,” or “cross-sector collaboration for social impact” are not clearly understood. To begin connecting with audiences beyond your organization’s employees, you need to speak eye-to-eye and explain in accessible language what exactly you do and why it is relevant to others. Otherwise, the abstract vision will remain as such, and it will be very difficult to connect with your activities. 


4. Your posts do not really “spark a conversation”  

One of the most common declared goals of third sector organizations is to “spark a conversation”. However, this phrase has become so common that any post that receives sharp comments and several shares is considered proof of a “conversation”. In reality, sparking a conversation or influencing it are highly complex tasks that require long-term planning, a strategic content strategy, smart marketing, adequate resources, and precise and patient execution. Do not be impressed by distribution data, exposure, and engagement of a Facebook post. To spark a conversation, you need to create a content plan that combines written content, videos, interactive tools, and synchronization between your website and social networks, mailing lists, PR, and other distribution channels. 


5. Real-Time Marketing (RTM): No one is waiting to hear what you have to say  

Ironically, organizations and associations that do understand the importance of marketing sometimes get too caught up in real-time marketing (RTM). Sometimes the push towards RTM also comes from the advertising or digital agency accompanying the organization. If you become addicted to RTM, you risk losing many of your core marketing messages. If your marketing mindset is all about real-time responses, you will find yourself obligated to react to everything happening from your perspective. The result is forced at best and a crisis at worst. There are cases where you have something to say and cases where you really don’t. The measure is the level of connection you have to the topic or the knowledge you possess. You don’t have to react to everything: no one logs into social networks to hear what you have to say about the latest news. 

Conclusion: Without a smart strategy and precise execution, you won’t succeed in marketing within the third sector

Marketing in the third sector is a complex yet important matter. The conditions for success include a smart strategy, precise execution over time, setting measurable goals, and a lot of patience. 

If you do it right, not only will you be able to effectively communicate what you do and why it’s important, and successfully recruit people and resources, but your content will become an integral part of your organization’s ongoing activities. It will open up new possibilities within your organization and may even impact the fieldwork. The path is not easy, but it is definitely worthwhile.