I'm  2/3rds of the way through a 6-month program where I'm mentoring a fantastic group of nine nonprofit marketing professionals. Their actual job titles run the gamut from executive director to program coordinator to director of marketing, but they are all responsible for marketing their organizations, and most have essential roles in fundraising for their nonprofits too.

In theory, they are supposed to be learning more from me than I from them, but that's not always the case. Here are five things I've learned from this group so far about some problems or gaps in our field. I'll share five wonderful and uplifting things I've learned from this group soon.

Too Many Options Create Paralysis

Good fundraisers know about the paradox of choice: Make donors pick from 10 different ways to give to your organization from a long list, and you are likely to overwhelm them. They'd rather not give at all then have to wade through all those options, when they just wanted to help save the whales. I see the same dynamic at work with nonprofit marketers. There are so many choices, so many tactics and tools, so many considerations that inertia takes over. Less is more, including in how many communications channels you use, how many different types of audiences you are trying to reach, and how many different programs you are trying to market at once. Nonprofit marketers are trying to do too much.

Forget Old School and New School - Where's NOW School?

Some many people in our field are obsessed with the old-school ways or the new-school ways of nonprofit marketing and fundraising. What about the NOW school? I'm learning so much by watching how these organizations are adapting and transitioning and responding to the rapid changes in the way we all communicate, while holding on to what they know works for them. We need more outstanding resources on doing the best that you can with what you've got RIGHT NOW. 

Marketing Failures are Just as Likely to Be Program Failures

You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. I've learned about numerous frustrating situations from participants who thought they were describing their marketing failures to me. But as we reviewed what happened, and I asked questions about why this or that was done, on several occasions, it became crystal clear that bad programmatic and executive decisions were to blame, not the marketing.  Marketing discussions need to happen within program discussions and decisions, not after the fact.

Creativity Isn't the Problem; Risk Aversion Is

I get so sick of hearing pundits talk about how the nonprofit sector needs to "think outside the box" and get more creative. While we may not actually see that much creativity come to fruition, it's not because the ideas aren't there. I've heard some incredibly creative ideas from this group. The problem is that the participants or the people they report to are wary of taking risks. They simply don't have the time or money or permission (or at least so they think) to try something that might not work. But as a result, they get nowhere fast. Nonprofit marketers need to embrace little bets.  

Nonprofit Marketing Can Be a Lonely Job

I've come across a bunch of articles lately that discuss the differences between being alone and being lonely. You can be surrounded by people and still be lonely.  Nonprofit marketers are often surrounded by other staff within their organizations, and yet most of those people don't understand what good marketing looks like and how you bring it to life. Thus nonprofit marketing can be a very lonely job. While a number of different membership organizations are trying to incorporate nonprofit marketers into their conferences, etc., we really don't have a group that speaks directly and exclusively to what we do. Nonprofit marketers need their own support group.  

I'm now accepting applications for the second session of the Nonprofit Marketing Guide Mentoring Program, which will run from July 1 - December 31, 2012.