social media strategy

The Circles of Nonprofit Marketing

33 Comments 09 August 2012

A few weeks ago Seth Godin published “The Circles of Marketing,” in which he rightfully opined that marketing is not buzz or followers, but an entire ecosystem surrounding the product itself. Intrigued, I began to consider how The Circles of Marketing could be modified for nonprofit social media marketing. My version, the Circles of Nonprofit Marketing, is the nonprofit marketer’s iteration, beginning with The Cause.

The outer circle is what most nonprofit marketing consultants and team members are hired to do: create buzz, ads, word of mouth, “virality” using social media, increase the number of social media fans/followers/connections. This is just the tip of the iceberg in marketing. Unfortunately, most nonprofit marketing professionals are hired to primarily focus on the outer circle. What they usually aren’t aware of is that this is the final circle of work, not the first.

The second circle is where the real marketing time should be spent. This circle is focused on creating a community that cares most about your cause, and can help you to promote it. Included in this circle are the elements needed to create an engaged online community around your cause: defining what people really want to talk about (The Conversation,) crafting the story of the cause, developing an online community that cares passionately about your cause, and supporting all of this with excellent content (your organization’s content + crowd-contributed content). If I were to hire just one marketing staff person for an organization, and give him or her a job description, it would say “create the best second circle you can, spend as much time doing it as you need to, and continually evaluate your work there.”

The next circle just outside of  the center is the basis for its adjacent second circle. These are the factors that surround the cause itself, and affect the perception of interest in the cause. Timeliness of the issue, the need for a solution to the problem, and public interest in the cause all affect how The Cause is perceived. This is the circle that executive directors, program staff, fundraisers, and founders will want to continuously review and consider. If perception of a problem does not exist, then the you will need to revise your story. If the issue is no longer timely, that will affect interest, The Conversation, community involvement, etc.

The innermost circle is The Cause. Note that I do not write that it is The Organization. I whole-heartedly agree with Seth Godin’s description of the innermost circle (in his post, it was The Product): “When the thing you sell has communication built in, when it is remarkable and worth talking about, when it changes the game—marketing seems a lot easier.”




Debra Askanase is an experienced digital engagement strategist, non-profit executive, and community organizer. She works with mission-driven organizations to develop digital strategies and campaigns that engage, create trust, and move stakeholders to action. Debra speaks at conferences worldwide on the intersection of technology, social media, and nonprofit organizations.

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