The word is out. In the UK, in the US and, likely, here in Canada, governments are thinking about cutting their support for the non-profit sector. Already, in the UK, the Big Society initiative is downloading government services to the Third Sector. As a result, many non-profits are under stress, some are laying off people and others are closing. In the US, many state governments are also cutting back. And at home, speakers at this week's Ontario Nonprofit Network "Unconference" predicted provincial governments will begin to do the same here. For those non-profits that rely on government funding (which is the majority of the sector), times are about to get a lot tougher.
Where does this leave non-profit marketing and communications?
Many will be quick to write-off marketing because of this. Non-profit marketing has always been underfunded. Worse, as I wrote in a previous blog about marketing budgets, cutting marketing programs to balance the books has been a consistent theme for non-profits in the last several decades. If the sector follows its traditional pattern then non-profit marketing is about to get a close hair cut.
However, before sector leaders begin to sharpen their axes, let me make a plea for more marketing, not less.
Cuts in government funding will mean more competition than ever for most non-profits. More organizations will be fighting for fewer dollars. Those with a poor profile will be left behind. At the same time, managing how the government makes cuts will be a key issue -- lobbying politicians, rallying the sector, engaging stakeholders and the public to lobby for fairness. That requires communications power and the ability to project it. It also assumes a certain level of continued engagement with staff and key stakeholder leaders. That requires marketing muscle, too. When budgets are cut, non-profits will need to look to other sources of funding. In some cases, that will mean fundraising. And that requires good marketing as well. Finally, whatever happens when the cuts come down communicating change will be a critical factor to success. Having an efficient communications program will be essential.
So, should your non-profit spend more on marketing and communications to deal with government budget cuts? Perhaps the answer is that it should be smart about it spending.
Most non-profit communications shops arre already badly funded and have a host of skills and infrastructure gaps. Going into the cuts, these will have to be fixed. It might mean spending more, or even spending less. But now is the time to make marketing and communications the best they can be. If not, when the cuts come, you won't be able to respond.