Marketing is a means to an end. Period.

what are your goals?I teach a graduate course in Nonprofit Marketing at the University of Washington and Seattle University. The third week of class, we spend our entire three hours together focused entirely, exclusively, fully on gaining clarity on the ways in which marketing is a means to an end.

You’d think this class would be a no-brainer. These are super smart graduate students in public affairs and nonprofit management. They are up to their eyeballs in strategic planning, logic models and whatnot. Plus, they are goal-oriented by nature.

And yet this class, more than any other class during the quarter, leaves my beloved students bedraggled and forlorn. Their eyebrows furrowed. Their morale drooping.

This mystified me until I finally realized that it’s one thing to be told you have to set goals and another to set them, prioritize them and figure out how you and your team are going to achieve them.

Far more fun to think theoretically about goals and then proceed, in reality, to obsess about how many new folks are following your organization on Twitter. Never mind that Twitter isn’t the best way to achieve your goals necessarily. It feels good to have hoards of adoring fans and followers. It feels concrete. You can point to it. Each month you can put a spunky little green arrow in your report the board, indicating the upward growth occurring on the social media front for all y’all. #HipHipHooray

Unless you can clearly show how more followers and fans will lead to you achieving your organizational goals–goals like attracting more volunteers, retaining more donors, serving more people–your social media stats don’t matter one wit.

Traffic to your website or your blog. Number of people attending your event. None of these matter unless they support a specific organizational goal. That’s because marketing is nothing more–nor less–than a means to an end.

Start by setting your organizational goals. Then identify the specific ways in which marketing can help you achieve them. Always and forever in that order.

If you feel as befuddled by all this goal setting as my students do, this might help.

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