We have worked with a lot of charities over the years and during that time we have seen a few issues come up again and again, the willingness of a charity to market itself and to co-operate with people, groups, and businesses that want to help. Larger charities understand the need to co-operate with businesses and organizations in an effort to improve their exposure, raise awareness and funding. But what we have seen over the years is that the smaller a charity gets, the less likely they are to work with those that could help them.

Why are charities afraid to work with companies?

The number one reason we have heard over and over is that the charity does not want to be used to help someone else make a profit. In many cases this is an altruistic mental block where the operators of these charities do not want to appear to have “sold out” or do not want to be “used”. There is a feeling that people and companies should give, and give freely, without any strings attached. In an ideal situation this would be great, but it is not a realistic approach in today’s charity marketplace.

More Charities than ever

The non-profit sector is one of the fastest growing market segments in the United States. In 2005 there were nearly 800,000 IRS registered charities. That number exploded to 1.4 million in 2009. That works out to roughly one charity for 300 people all competing for very limited donation dollars. With more and more charities begin formed every day charitable contributions are getting smaller and smaller, if they can get any donations at all.

Why aren’t charities accepting help?

Empty pocketsAs mentioned before, many charities pass up opportunities to work with businesses out of a misplaced fear that they will be taken advantage of, or that they will some how been seen as selling out. But we have noticed another disturbing trend while running Animal Charms.

When we started Animal Charms we sent out more than 500 coupon codes to animal charities all across the United States. These coupon codes gave buyers a small discount and also generated a bonus donation for the charity associated with that coupon code. Of all those codes sent out, less than 10 were ever posted on a web site or newsletter. No obligation, no strings, just post a coupon code with a link and get free money. And the response was less than 2%, the same rate as bulk mail response.

We then tried sending a check for $100 with each coupon code offering to donate even more money based on the sales generated by their coupon codes. Total takers so far? Zero. They have been happy to take the money, but not one has followed through in an effort to gain even more donations.

The lack of response surprised us until we took what we have discovered over the years in to account. Many charities do not want partners, they want cash. They don’t “do marketing” they expect donations to magically find them.

What can charities do to grab more donations?

  1. Think like a marketer. With the competition for every donation dollar growing every day, charities need to start thinking about marketing. Without donations the charity fails.
  2. Stop treating for profit businesses as sources of revenue and start treating them like partners. By working together both groups profit.
  3. When someone offers to work with you, do not automatically assume that they are trying to take advantage of you. You need them just as much, if not more, than they need you, so listen with an open mind.

Running a charity is one of the most selfless things you can do. But you still have to treat it as a business if you wish to be successful at it.

Steve Gerencser

I've been a lot of things over the years, restauranteur, comic book store owner, architect, jeweler, graphic designer, software developer and more. Through them all marketing has been a large part of every step of the way. I built my first website in late '96 or early '97 and started marketing online shortly after that. Since then I've seen almost all of it and try to bring real world business needs to our search marketing and PPC campaigns always with ROI first and foremost in our goals.

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