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Last updated October 12, 2018

It’s no secret that some causes or organisations are easier to market than others. They are the organisations that are full of warm-fuzzies and evoke feelings of sadness and hopefulness all at the same time. They are the organisations that make people go ‘Awwwwww’ rather than “Ewwwwww’

Typically these organisations work with groups of people (or animals) who need help through no fault of their own, and nobody questions that they deserve support. These are the organisations that people can happily discuss over dinner without fear of causing an argument or offending anyone at the table. They are the causes that people are happy to support, because ‘why wouldn’t you’ after all.

Then there are the other organisations. The ones that are more ‘cold and prickly’ than ‘warm and fuzzy’. They are the groups that deal with issues no-one wants to talk about – much less over the dinner table. These organisations tend to work in areas that polarise opinions. Some people will support the cause passionately, but not necessarily publically, where as others won’t even recognise the issue as a real or genuine concern. In some cases these organisations struggle for support, not because the issue isn’t real, but because people believe those affected should be doing more to help themselves.

Unfortunately marketing a ‘cold and prickly’ organisation takes a lot more time, and often resources, than marketing a ‘warm-fuzzy’ one, but it still needs to be done! For any organisation to survive in the long term, they need to market themselves to potential supporters, donors, sponsors and volunteers. If they can’t do this effectively, the organisation is destined to fail.

Top Tips for Marketing a ‘Cold and Prickly’ Organisation

1. Look for a Warm-Fuzzy Angle

While your organisation may work in some controversial areas, chances are you can find one warm-fuzzy angle in the work you do. Usually this angle has less to do with the immediate beneficiaries of your service, and more to do with the effect your services have further down the track.

One organisation I have worked with provided specific support to teenage parents. They were a great organisation that helped teenage mothers finish their education and learn basic life skills such as budgeting and cooking. While their programmes were absolutely necessary and were having an enormous effect in the lives of these young girls, public perception was skewed by the ‘cold and prickly’ side of teenage parenting.

While some people questioned whether or not the teenage parents deserved support, no-one could argue that their children were innocent parties in the situation. As such, the organisation started to share stories about how their programmes made life better for the children involved – not the teenage parents. Of course both parent and child were benefiting, but the shift of focus made their cause more widely accepted.

2. Collaborate with Less Prickly Organisations

No matter which way you look at it, some organisations simply don’t have a warm-fuzzy angle to take. Organisations that deal with sexual violence or abuse are prime examples of causes no-one wants to talk about, but there are other causes that fall into this category also. If this is the case for you, consider collaborating with other ‘less-prickly’ organisations so your stories can be told in a more palatable context.

For example, organisations that deal with sexual violence and abuse may like to collaborate with organisations that work in the area of family violence. While neither issue is warm and fuzzy, the latter has become more widely talked about in the community and as such, has become more acceptable to support.

3. Educate Through the Media

Public perception has a huge impact on the level of support an organisation receives, and unfortunately uninformed opinions are just as persuasive as those with real substance. For many organisations, any ‘warm-fuzzies’ are quickly over shadowed by misplaced assumptions.

Before you can highlight the warm-fuzzies you first need to clear up the misconceptions, and the media is a good tool to use. Send press releases about your programmes and projects, tell success stories, and always relate them to how your services are impacting the whole community. Investigate opportunities to tell your story on television news programmes, get in touch with national magazines, and make use of the internet to post movie clips and articles.

The key is to educate people about what is really happening, not what they think is happening.

4. Address the Stereotypes Head-On

Stereotypes are a dangerous thing when it comes to marketing a ‘cold and prickly’ organisation. Educating people through the media is one way to address the issue, but it is also important to address the stereotypes head-on.

One good example is of an organisation that offered advocacy and support for beneficiaries. When looking for financial support in the community, they were constantly met with comments like ‘Well if being on a benefit is so hard, why don’t they just get off it?’ or ‘Aren’t I already supporting them through my taxes?’

They decided to meet these objections head-on and developed a range of posters and brochures which highlighted real stories about real people they supported. The common theme in each piece of material was a statement explaining how the person ended up on a benefit, and why they remained there still. They also broke down how much of a persons tax was going to support that one person. A tiny fraction of a cent.

The material challenged their community to see the needs of a ‘person’, not a ‘beneficiary’. It also helped the organisation to realise that while being a beneficiary was the common denominator for their clients, there were also other issues that were common throughout. They were then able to focus their marketing on those warmer-fuzzier areas.

5. Find a Celebrity to Champion your Cause

Having a celebrity who is willing to talk about your cause publically, is a sure fire way to bring your ‘cold and prickly’ issues into the spotlight. While it may not make the issue ‘warm and fuzzy’, it does help to break the ice and enables you to challenge people’s perceptions about your cause. Like it or not, celebrities have influence – make the most of it if you can.

6. Know Your Market

While it would be nice to have wide reaching public appeal, for some organisations that is simply never going to happen. Accept it and concentrate your energy on the people who can already relate to your cause. Look to people who have had an experience with your organisation. Perhaps they are past clients or their families, maybe they are involved with similar or complementary organisations, or perhaps your projects or programmes have had a trickle down effect in benefiting them personally.

Create a mind-map of all the people who are touched by your organisation, and market your organisation to those people first.

Remember, the key to effective marketing is having a consistent message. Make sure everyone within your organisation knows what your key messages are and don’t stray. Repetition builds reputation, so it’s not enough to try once and give up. Marketing is an ongoing activity – especially for the cold and prickly among us.

Extract from Issue 10 of Tonic Magazine

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