Over the years, you start to notice patterns when working with different types of organisations. You notice the similarities and differences between organisations in different markets, in varying sectors, and with different personalities.
The Australian not-for-profit sector (and in this I include charities, foundations, as well as public-sector hospitals) is a very strange beast indeed. A large number of organisations compete for both funding (private donations and government allocations) and attention in what is a very small marketplace. Additionally, a large number of organisations compete in the same general areas. Breast Cancer is a prime example of a cause that has a large number of organisations dedicated to it.
From a communications perspective, this is a challenge unlike that faced by most businesses. Businesses generally have a product or service to sell, and that product or service can be in some way market tested. People can work out which vendor is the best through purchase, or trial and error. They can talk to other buyers with good or bad experiences. They can find out about results. I’m not saying that communications in the corporate sector is an easy game – it isn’t – but at least marketers and communicators have something concrete to work with. The same cannot be said for much of the not-for-profit sector.
That means if you want to succeed –– I mean really succeed – in the not for profit sector, your communications need to be exceptional. In Australia, charities need to establish as quickly as possible why they are the best and only choice for money and attention in that particular sector. Charities need to focus a large part of their messaging to establishing both their raison d’etre and their (obvious) primacy in their niche.
The short way of putting this is simple: if you’re asking for money, you have to establish exactly why you’re worth it, and why you’re patently the best. If you don’t, someone more aggressive is going to do it. And there’s not enough money or attention to go around.