December 22, 2014


Help - I have no marketing budget!

One of the most common questions I receive is, "Is marketing really possible with practically no marketing budget?" The answer is yes - if you do it right.

A lack of funds should force us to be creative, not to complain.

Most of us are never going to have fat marketing budgets. But we don't need a glossy brochure to succeed. Don't believe me? Then I will tell you my favorite story.

A few months back, a creative leader at a small nonprofit told me he wanted to get heavy coverage in the press and on TV, start an online donation program and just generally make a big marketing splash with almost no money.

His name was David Levinger, and his organization was Feet First in Seattle, a local group advocating for a more livable, walkable community.

A classic nonprofit mission: worthwhile, ambitious and very hard to talk about in catchy, relevant terms - until David started talking about chickens.

"It's like we're in this town where the chicken can't cross the road," he said.

In fact, that simile was so apt that he'd bought a chicken suit. For about $125, if I recall correctly. That chicken then went around Seattle trying to cross the road.

Guess what happened. Coverage. In all media. For all of $125.

I loved the story and told David a chicken suit was the best non-brochure I could imagine.

But it got better with a few brainstorms - plastic eggs with a chick and message inside asking for donations, a Network for Good recurring giving program where you "click the chicken."

The moral(s) of the story? If you are dangling by a marketing shoestring - or even if you have a healthy budget, remember:

1. When everyone is doing wristbands, brochures or whatever, don't try to compete. You don't have enough money to stand out in a herd. Do something entirely different, far away from the herd. Chicken eggs are different.

2. Make yourself a story that gets covered instead of buying ads. Chicken + rush hour = visual story for media.

3. Invest your marketing energy in "open-minded moment," when your audience is most likely to be thinking of your issue - like when they are about to cross the road and can't.

4. Get a recurring online giving program going and give people a compelling reason to participate. Regular, automatic gifts mean you don't have to spend money asking those donors for money over and over. All you have to do is thank them.

Katya Andresen is vice president of marketing for Network for Good.


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