In the second edition of The Nonprofit Marketing Guide, I wrote

“Many nonprofit leaders, especially those who come to their organizations because of a passionate commitment to a specific cause, mistakenly believe that nonprofit marketing is about nothing more than creating newsletters and social media updates about the good work the nonprofit is doing. Those with corporate experience sometimes narrowly define nonprofit marketing as brand management, public relations, and advertising. Still others, especially those responsible for fundraising, believe that all nonprofit marketing should direct people to donate money. While their numbers have certainly dwindled since the first edition of this book, some people still believe that marketing is nothing more than self-interested selling that has no place in the nonprofit sector. (Those people are, of course, wrong.)

In fact, marketing in the nonprofit sector is much, much more than any of these incomplete assumptions.”

Exactly how you define nonprofit marketing and how you define your job as a nonprofit communicator depends a lot on your specific situation — but it’s essential that you do so.

I encourage you to define the “Why” behind your job and then to use that to set boundaries around what you will take responsibility for (and what you won’t) and how you will interact with others in your organization to get that job done.

If you need a little encouragement to understand the power of starting with Why, you can check out the now-classic “Start with Why” by Simon Sinek.  It’s the purpose, cause, or belief at the center of the work. It’s what drives your work. When you are working with your Why in mind, your work will be full of clarity and meaning.

Here are some things that are NOT the why (or purpose) behind your nonprofit communications job:

  • to make things look pretty
  • to make something go viral
  • to follow through on every good idea that other staff member’s have
  • to clean up after other people’s sloppy writing or design
  • to make other people, like your boss, look good
  • to control the public narrative around your organization

Instead of these and similar bullets, think about your organization’s mission and how communications and marketing help achieve that mission.

Simon Sinek recommends that you complete this sentence: My Why is to _______________ (fill in your contribution to the lives of others) so that _______________ (fill in your impact).

Then you add the Hows, which are your strengths and actions to implement the Why.  The Hows are where you really start to describe your actual job. But again, WHY are you doing those things? What’s the point of the work? You have to start with the Why.

Still not sure what the Why of your work is? You might start with one of the most common purposes for nonprofit communicators: engagement.  You can break down engagement further into the concepts of awareness, interaction, and participation.

So maybe your sentence is something akin to “My purpose as a communications director is to connect people with our prevention services so that they can live happier, healthier lives.” In this example, “connect people” is slightly less wonky than “engaging,” but is still short-hand for making them aware of the services, encouraging them to interact with your staff, and then getting them to participate in prevention activities. You can elaborate (and set boundaries) by defining the hows — what you do in your communications and marketing work to connect people to those services.

Look back at that bulleted list of things that are not your Why as a communication director. If you think your coworkers or even your boss might suggest these are in fact the purpose of your job, I strongly encourage you to step away right now and give this task some serious thought.