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Strategic Social Marketing for Nonprofits

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If you run a nonprofit, you know that marketing is essential to your mission. To many nonprofit managers, marketing equals fundraising and nothing more. But your organization exists for more than just bringing in donations. By using social marketing methods, you can boost the effectiveness of programs and activities that are the reason your organization exists in the first place—to make a difference.

Social marketing uses the same tools and techniques of commercial marketing, but its purpose is to bring about positive health and social change. Rather than focusing on sales or funds raised as the ultimate outcome, social marketing's bottom line is behavior change. Did you increase the number of people getting screened for prostate cancer? Do people now put their soda cans and plastic bottles in the recycling bin rather than the garbage can? Have youth become more active and likely to exercise regularly?

Social marketing as described here is distinct from the more recent usage of the term by bloggers and social network marketers to label peer-to-peer or consumer-generated media. The field of social marketing has been around for over a quarter of a century, used to address issues around the world, including family planning, HIV/AIDS, obesity, pollution, breast cancer screening, cholesterol, tobacco prevention, civic involvement and much more.

When social marketers develop a program strategy, they have to consider the same elements of the marketing mix as commercial marketers. However, the social marketing mix has to be adjusted somewhat to take into account the unique nature of the types of products and environments with which they work.

What does the social marketing mix look like, and how is it different from the Four Ps that commercial marketers use?

1. Product

The social marketing product is not usually a tangible item, though it can be (e.g., condoms). Generally, social marketers are trying to sell a particular behavior. While you may be promoting a life-saving or life-improving practice, quite often social marketing behaviors are things that people don't particularly want to do—eat more fiber, conserve water, exercise, get a colonoscopy. To address this issue, use the same effective tools as commercial marketing to promote the product's benefits based on the target audience's core values to show them how using the product helps them become the person they want to be.

2. Price

While adopting the product may have a monetary cost, the more important price considerations are social and emotional costs. These might include the hassle factor of performing the behavior, time, embarrassment, deprivation of something they enjoy, fear of finding a medical problem, or social disapproval. The strategic issue here is to figure out how to reduce the price as much as possible and make it easy and stress-free to perform the behavior.

3. Place

How will you make the product available? In other words, how and where can people perform the behavior? The concept of aperture is relevant here; just like a camera's lens opens and shuts very quickly to let in the light when you take a picture, you have only a small window of opportunity to get your messages through to the target audience at a time and place they can act on it. Your potential participants will not go out of their way to look for your messages—you need to go to where they are and give them the opportunity to easily learn about the product and perform the behavior.

4. Promotion

Promotional approaches for social marketing do not differ much from those used by commercial marketers. However, one key difference may lie in the types of target audiences addressed by social marketing programs. Many are not the types of consumers that a for-profit business would even consider going after; they may be low-income, unable to speak English, difficult to find, and/or uninterested in making any changes in their lives. Social marketers may need to be very creative in the ways they promote their products to these hard-to-reach populations, such as those who are homeless, illegal immigrants, drug users, or sex workers.

And because of the inherent challenges faced by social marketing programs, I have added four more Ps to the social marketing mix

5. Publics

To be most effective when planning and managing a social marketing campaign, you must take into account all of the people who can affect the success of the program. This includes the external publics—the target audience, groups that influence the target audience, policymakers, the media, and others outside the organization. Just as importantly, nonprofit social marketers must involve their internal publics in the development and preparation for the program implementation. These are the people within your organization—everyone from your Board members and management staff who must approve your plans, down to the receptionist who answers the phones and needs to know what to do when someone calls in response to the campaign.

6. Partnership

Many social marketing issues are so big that one organization cannot address them alone. Potential partners include organizations (other nonprofits, government agencies and businesses) that have one or more of the following attributes: similar goals to yours, access to the target audience, credibility with the target audience, interest in sponsorship of your program, or resources that fill gaps in your organization's capabilities.

7. Policy

Governmental or organizational policies can act as a catalyst for social change on a large scale. When policies are put into place that provide an environment of support for a particular behavior, individuals are much more likely to sustain that behavior change. For example, workplace nonsmoking policies make it easier for smokers to quit by ensuring that they do not see others lighting up around them and removing those social cues to smoking.

8. Purse strings

Unlike businesses, many nonprofit organizations are not able to automatically set aside a certain percentage of their revenue for marketing activities. Social marketers must be creative and proactive in seeking funding for their campaigns from sources such as corporate partners, foundations, donations, and government agencies.

* * *

By using the social marketing mix to plan your strategy, you can go beyond fundraising, using marketing to make a meaningful impact on the lives of the people your organization exists to serve.

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Nedra Kline Weinreich is the president and founder of the social marketing firm Weinreich Communications ( and the author of Hands-On Social Marketing: A Step-by-Step Guide. Reach her at

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  • by Jmcp Wed Feb 27, 2008 via web

    Very interesting thank you

  • by Vignesh raja Fri Mar 14, 2008 via web

    The article is Good. I came to know many things after reading the article....

  • by symcats Mon May 19, 2008 via web

    excellent information for nonprofits

  • by Rushabh Gandhi Sun Aug 17, 2008 via web

    Thanks for sharing!

  • by Steve fair Fri Oct 24, 2008 via web

    very useful for research purposes as well as practical and positive outcomes

  • by mark waterfield Mon Jun 29, 2009 via web

    Well done for adding the 4 extra Ps .

    The article might have been helped by mentioning the product benefit or reason why. What do you think?

  • by Conceição Costa Sun Oct 18, 2009 via web

    thank you for sharing

  • by Erica Mills Fri Dec 18, 2009 via web

    What a wonderful article! I love your 8 Ps. Marketing is still considered a "dirty word" in some nonprofit circles so it's great to see an ever-growing body of info specific to nonprofit marketing.

    I would add two things:

    1) Your 8 Ps would be just as effective for not-just-for-profit companies, i.e. they seem equally salient for companies doing good as nonprofits.

    2) On the purse strings, although historically nonprofits have rarely had a "marketing" line item, the ones that do are much more effective as it forces them to be intentional about their marketing spend. To your excellent opening point, much marketing focuses exclusively on fundraising; if you pull the marketing budget out, you end up thinking more broadly and asking whether the effort you're putting into attracting and retaining donors could do double duty and, for instance, grow your volunteer pool. If it's in the fundraising budget it will, by definition, only be considered for that purpose. Since nonprofits have to be so careful with how they spend their scarce resources, having it as a separate line item ends up making their dollars go even further!

    Again, thanks for the great article.

  • by Kamrul Hasan Fri Jan 22, 2010 via web

    Excellent... Helps to get potential customers by applying social marketing insides. thx.

  • by Teri White Mon Aug 23, 2010 via web

    Wonderful. Thank you. This will help my superiors understand what I've been getting at.

  • by K C R Raja Wed Oct 27, 2010 via web

    I think Social marketing has been around as a separate area of study for more than thirty years. We had a special number of the journal of Marketing devoted entirely to the subject early 1970's.Kotler's Marketing for Non Profit Organizations was published around the same time.

    I entirely agree tthat Social Marketing needs to be distiguished from Social Media Marketing. In recent years, I find that SM has been effectively used in health care management. Several cases,exist that can be used by teachers of SM.

    Very happy to see an article of this kind

    K C R Raja

  • by Samson Kasasa Fri May 18, 2012 via mobile

    Greate article I only wish you included more examples

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