Tony examines the cause and effect of marketing advocacy groups. Cause-based groups work much like small businesses in B.C. The goal of an association, society or not-for-profit might not have to do with making money, but its operational and marketing requirements are much the same.
Cause-based groups work much like small businesses in B.C. The goal of an association, society or not-for-profit might not have to do with making money, but its operational and marketing requirements are much the same. To accomplish their missions, advocacy groups and other cause-based organizations have to generate revenue and grow, which means they need to be noticed by a target group of “customers” who will buy into – literally – the advocated belief. Problem As with their private-sector counterparts, the most common method for these organizations of reaching new members used to be through advertising, public relations or websites. And just as with most small organizations, most funds are used for operations, not marketing, so there’s not much left to attract new “customers.” Addressing this problem are advocates such as Jason Mogus, CEO of the Vancouver communications company Communicopia, which has helped social and environmental groups put up websites since the mid-’90s and founded an annual think tank on Cortes Island called Web of Change. The idea was to invite people who were familiar with the Internet and the needs of advocacy groups to come together to discuss the “convergence of online strategy, technology, and social change.” For several years, Web of Change featured a lot of earnest discussion, but not much in the way of results. Social advocates, like small businesses, were becoming more savvy in their marketing, but it was still difficult for them to get their message out to prospects. Solution In recent years, the traditional media’s stranglehold on messaging, whether from business to customer, or from social organization to member, has been shattered. The rise of social-networking media – often called Web 2.0 – including blogs, MySpace, Facebook, YouTube and hundreds of other websites offering such things as on-demand software, has made life much easier for small organizations. Because these tools allow people to talk to each other about specific interests without first passing the information through a media filter, democracy has been brought to the Web. Social-networking media allow organizations, whether for-profit or not-for-profit, to have a much wider reach at a far lower cost. Like thousands of small businesses, social and member-based organizations have found a magic bullet that allows them to conquer their largest problem: engaging believers at a low cost. And in the process, they’ve increased their customer base, which in this case means more advocates for their various causes. The result has been a steady advancement by B.C. member-based groups into this new marketing space. For example, Communicopia, which has since morphed into a Web 2.0 communications company, became involved in the Nothing But Nets project. This UN-connected group uses viral marketing to raise funds for mosquito netting in Africa to prevent malaria, and has raised some US$8 million so far. Last June its website, created by Communicopia, earned a Webby, the Oscar of the Internet. New participative-Web techniques have also allowed groups such as the Wilderness Committee to better reach potential members who share its passion for protecting forests. Committee executive director Andrea Reimer, for example, recently formed a Wilderness Committee group on the networking site Facebook, which has some 30 million members. “We talk to about five million people a year through our website, newsletters and door-to-door,” she explains, sounding very much like any business marketer. “But the Facebook group allows us to build direct relationships with people who are most likely to want to get involved. It’s much more targeted.” Lessons • It’s about community. Every organization today, whether for-profit or not-for-profit, centres around a community of the interested. This is much easier to do with new Web-based community-building tools. • It’s about collaboration. The new participative Web has destroyed the traditional command-and-control or direct-distribution system. Learn how to talk with people instead of to them. • It’s about change. Like many small businesses, member-based organizations can be very nimble and quick to embrace change. In fact, because they’re usually fuelled by passion, they are often quicker. Check out Tony's past Game Plan articles here. Read Tony's blog here.