One the biggest challenges organizations face when trying to improve their nonprofit marketing programs is to stop thinking about themselves and to focus on their audience instead.

One analogy I use in my nonprofit training courses is gift giving. With the holidays still in our short-term memories, you’ll recognize some of the five types of “gifters” here but will you recognize your own organization? Think back to when you were a kid – whose gifts did you want to tear open and which ones were guaranteed to be lame?

Cranky Old Grandpa. He doesn’t care what you want, because you probably don’t deserve anything anyway. Kids have it so easy these days and they’re all spoiled brats who have no idea what the real world is like.

These are the nonprofit staff who are bitter that they have to ask for donations and help at all. If people don’t understand their issues and support their work, it’s not the nonprofit’s fault it’s because the audience is full of selfish idiots. In other words, nonprofit marketing is a waste of precious time they need to spend on real work, so why bother?

Cranky Old Grandma. Unlike Grandpa, she does think you deserve a gift, but like Grandpa, she really doesn’t care what you want, because she knows better. You are going to get an electric toothbrush if you are lucky, and a scarf she kitted if you aren’t. Either way, that present is going to be good for you, and you better like it.

“Cranky Old Grandma” nonprofits write newsletters that are full of articles about the organization, its activities, and its issues, with little regard for who actually reads the newsletter. In fact, they aren’t even sure who’s on the newsletter list, and it really doesn’t matter. They believe that they alone should decide the content of the newsletter, regardless of what the readers may be interested in, and that’s what they are going to provide.

Your Older Brother. He knows he is supposed to get you something, but he doesn’t want to put any thought or effort into it, so he is going to regift something he got for his birthday.

These are the nonprofit communicators who fill their publications with articles from other sources, with little original content, because it’s quick and easy and they want to check the newsletter off of the to-do list. Some of it may be helpful, but it’s a toss-up most of the time.

Mom and Dad. They know what you really want and also what you need. They give you a mix. You’ll get that hot new game you wanted, because they want you to be happy, but you’ll also get something you need, like socks and underwear.

“Mom and Dad” nonprofits are those who are sincerely interested in understanding their audience and try to speak to their interests and values in most of their communications, but they can’t quite let go of all of the organization-centered information the typical “message from the executive director” column, for example, is still at the front of the newsletter.

The Cool Aunt. She asks what’s on your wish list, or asks others what you are into these days, and she gets it right every time.

These nonprofits know who are they communicating with and are constantly checking in with their audience, whether by talking to them directly or staying on top of larger trends. They regularly adjust the content of their communications to be relevant to their audience and what those people are interested in or concerned about at any given time. Their donors and supporters can tell that the nonprofit cares what they think and is grateful for their participation. And the donors and supporters love the nonprofit in return.

So which kind of gifter is your organization? Are the print and online publications your produce as part of your nonprofit marketing strategy and communication plan a real gift to your donors and supporters, or are they simply what you think they need or what you want to give them for your own selfish reasons?

Start working your way down on the continuum from Cranky Old Grandpa to the Cool Aunt, and by the time we come back around to this year’s holiday season, you’ll be the favorite nonprofit on everyone’s list. Need some help making that transition? Check out my nonprofit marketing training schedule.

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