10 Things Nonprofit Marketers can Learn from Packaged Goods Marketers – AMA Houston Panel Recap

AMA Houston NPO Marketing Event

Our team spent yesterday morning with the American Marketing Association of Houston (AMA Houston) as part of their Nonprofit Special Interest Group on the topic 10 Things Nonprofit Marketers Can Learn from Packaged Goods Marketers.

The panel was comprised of Suzy LaForge (Principal, La Forge Consulting), Michael Hagan (Consultant & Coach, Marketing and More), and Lynda Sanders (Marketing/Communications Director, Boy Scouts of America Sam Houston Area Council) sharing lessons and case studies of nonprofit marketing inspired by the for profit packaged goods industry.

Why Packaged Goods as an Example?

As Suzy put it – “Packaged goods is the grand daddy of marketing.” Many case studies in business schools and MBA programs revolve around these highly targeted, high budget, high volume campaigns.

Crowd - Houston AMA NPO Nonprofit Marketing Panel

Ten Things Nonprofit Marketers can Learn from Packaged Goods Marketers

1. Have a Plan

Suzy recommended NPOs use the same framework that for profit companies use when running a campaign. Know your:

  • Objectives
  • Target Audiences
  • Strategies (product, price, place, promotion)
  • Tactics – message, media, promotion

Be sure to think both external and internal (don’t forget internal!).

2. Know Your Audiences

In packaged goods, your audience is made up of buyers, your salesforce, and the store. For nonprofits, your audience may be your board, donors, community, etc.

Focus not only on the question “Who are they?” – but also “What’s important to them?” Dig into their motivations of  why they donate, volunteer, purchase, join, etc.

Spend time to determine how they perceive you – this may be something you think you know, but you really can’t without an objective survey or focus group.

3. Know Your Competition

For non-profits, your competition may not just be other non-profits. Your competition includes other people competing for your audience’s attention and time.

4. Identify Your Brand

Who are you? What makes you distinctive?

5. Develop Your Message – the “Elevator Pitch”

Your elevator pitch should be:

  • Short, scripted
  • Put the “Why” before the “What”
  • Tell a story
  • Include an ask

6. Build Relationships

In packaged goods marketing, loyalty programs make people feel valued and invested in your product. Think of how you can build relationships with your audience by providing more value for them.

7. Recognize the Value of Word of Mouth

Create content that people will want to share. The example Suzy used here is a video Dove made as part of their “Real Beauty” campaign called Dove Real Beauty Sketches.

The video shows a woman behind a curtain describing herself to a forensic scientist who draws a picture of her based on her description, and then cuts to him drawing her based on a stranger’s description. In every case, the image the stranger described was more beautiful. The video and drawings got buzz in the media and has been viewed over 35 million times!

8. Use “Free” Samples and Promotions

Free samples in packaged goods marketing serve to engage people with your product with almost no effort from them. Think of ways you can engage people with your organization to “get them hooked” – for example, Houston’s Neighborhood Centers allows anyone on their board to invite friends or new supporters for tours of the facility to engage them with the organization.

9. Learn from Traditional Advertising

Things Traditional Advertising does that can inspire NPOs:

  • Use Testimonials
  • Show, don’t tell
  • Offer a benefit
  • Grab attention quickly
  • Use emotion
  • Consider non-conventional media

10. Never Underestimate the Power of PR

Find the story people can relate to and tell it!

11. (Bonus!) Keep Track of How You’re Doing

Be sure you are measuring your success!

Case Study :  Lynda Sanders of the Boy Scouts of America

Three Channels to Serve

In packaged goods marketing, there are three channels to serve. These also apply to NPOs:

  1. The consumer
  2. The sales force
  3. The store

But First, Start with “The Product”

Ask yourself: Does it meet the consumer’s needs?

Example of a Tangible Product: Coupon Pack for the Boy Scout Fair

Lynda discussed a Boy Scouts Coupon pack that scouts were selling to their 16 counties as a “ticket to the Boy Scout Fair + coupons.” Many of the coupons were focused in Houston-only locations and the ticket was positioned as the main benefit (even though a ticket to the Scout show is free).

Lynda’s team refocused the product to position it as a coupon book (because that is what her target audience really cares about) and cover coupons from all 16 counties to attract more interest.

They also changed salesforce incentives to give each year’s book a theme and got the prizes for each year donated from corporate sponsors around that theme.

Example of an Intangible Product: Boy Scout Membership Recruitment

Sometimes it’s more challenging to sell an intangible product like membership. Lynda also discussed the Boy Scouts partnership with the Houston Grand Prix to drive membership.

The Grand Prix has a partnership with BSA National and has an official BSA car. This national partnership does not include much for the local chapters, so the BSA of Houston worked to create their own partnership with the Houston Grand Prix. They positioned scouts as the salesforce to help launch the Houston Grand Prix and to recruit BSA members.

What’s in it for the BSA?

  • A “Scout Day” at the races, including a booth, PSA playing on the big screen, and a flag ceremony featuring local scouts (enhance the brand with a cool event)
  • An Automotive Merit Badge sponsored by the Houston Grand Prix
  • Donated tickets for new BSA members (“Gift with purchase” for joining the Boy Scouts)

What’s in it for the Houston Grand Prix?

  • Information about the event given to kids and their parents area-wide from the Boy Scouts
  • Partnering with a strong brand
  • Increased awareness and attendance at the event

Advice on Forming Partnerships

  • Don’t wait to ask them what they would like out of a partnership – be prepared and tell them what you can provide them
  • When forming a partnership – ask your partner to do what they are really great at, don’t try to force them to do things they don’t usually do

Case Study: Mike Hagan on YMCA Houston Cool Days

The Situation

Summer is a big time for Houston families, and it is also a big time for the YMCA Houston programs.

This summer was different, gas prices had increased dramatically and many families were option to spend more “vacation” time in town.

As far as brand recognition, most everyone has heard of the YMCA. But people tend to think of the one piece of the YMCA that they are involved with (i.e. the gym, childcare, etc.) The YMCA wanted to be more than a “gym and swim.” The YMCA team set out to bring the brand alive by institutionalizing the brand into the community’s everyday plans and actions.

Introducing Cool Days

The YMCA began the program Cool Days – a value added program for YMCA Houston member families of fun, free things to do during the summer. The program included great things to do at the Y including special family events, and provided free things at other partner organizations (the Houston Zoo, Children’s Museum, etc.) with a YMCA membership card.

Getting the Word Out

Partner Participation was Key

The Y partnered with other brands to expand usage occasions for more interaction with YMCA members. They began by looking at companies who had value-added campaigns or programs like museums and venues. Almost every partner organization was also a nonprofit.

Other Ways they Got the Word Out

  • Billboards (PSA)
  • Magazines
  • Spanish language ads
  • Got internal staff involved – printed Cool Days tshirts and buttons that said “Ask me about Cool Days” for staff to wear
  • Posters in their YMCA locations
  • Banners
  • Microsite website

Measuring Success

When it comes to measuring success, Mike recommends starting with your membership because you can have the most impact over that group. The YMCA sends out surveys to their members before and after a campaign. They focus on what their membership might not know about the YMCA and educating them on those things.

Panel - Houston AMA NPO Nonprofit Marketing Panel


The top takeaways of the panel for me were:

  1. Nonprofits need a strategic plan in the same way product companies do – start with Objectives, Target Audiences, Strategies, and Tactics
  2. Look for strategic partnerships that are mutually beneficial
  3. Take inspiration from packaged good advertising and distribution

Thank you again to AMA Houston for a great program!

Want more? Check out our photos from the panel!