What is marketing, anyway?

On the first day of my Nonprofit Marketing class at the Evans School, I ask my class of super-smart graduate students the following question: What is marketing?

Is it an art? Is it a science? Is it its own discipline? Or is it a sub-set of another discipline, e.g. sociology or behavioral economics or some such? I assign this piece to get their brains percolating.

To the best of my knowledge, there is no definitive answer. If you look up the definition of marketing, you get:


  1. the action or business of promoting and selling products or services, including market research and advertising.


  1. advertise or promote (something):
    “the product was marketed under the name “aspirin.””

    synonyms:sell · retail · vend · merchandise · trade · peddle · hawk ·

    • offer for sale:
      “sheep farmers are still unable to market their lambs”
    • US
      buy or sell provisions in a market:
      “some people liked to do their marketing very early in the morning”

Helpful? Meh. Only a tidge. Mainly it reinforces the perception among nonprofits that marketing is a yucky activity, slimy, not something values-based, mission-driven people would want to do. Buying, selling, advertising, promoting? #Yuck

I offer this as an alternative definition specific to marketing in the nonprofit sector. Marketing is:

Strategically using resources to make sure as many people as possible
have the opportunity to create good in the world.

If you love what you do, if you’re passionate about your mission, why wouldn’t you want as many people as possible to have the opportunity to join you, to help you, to work with you, and for you? To create as much good in the world as possible?

By the way, by “resources”, I mean time, talent, passion, volition, and, yes, money. The intangibles–passion, enthusiasm, values–are a massive asset for nonprofits. And one that–in our super-charged, always-on, gotta-get-on-the-social-media-bandwagon–is often overlooked.

Marketing is a means to an end. It is a vehicle to advance mission. To raise money, engage volunteers, attract board members, promote programs. Advertising, social media, websites, brochures, annual reports, events–all ways to create more good in the world. Nothing yucky about it, if you think of it that way, now is there?

Post Readability Stats: Reading Ease: 53.2, Grade Level: 8.6

The Claxon Method

I love teaching. No scratch that. I love seeing people learn.

That moment when a student “gets it”? When they realize, “Hey, I can do this marketing thing! I can use words to get lots and lots of people engaged in the awesome work my organization is doing. That rocks!”? Unlike any other.

And that’s why I never get tired of teaching the Claxon Method™. It is the cornerstone of everything I teach, in fact. It helps students (and by “students”, I mean my graduate students at the Evans school, yes, but also nonprofit professionals who come to my training, or attend Claxon University, or work with me one-on-one) avoid the dreaded Shiny Object Syndrome. (I’m sorry, did someone say “Instagram”?)

The Claxon Method™ is simple and straight-forward. Know why? Because simple works.

Before you start working on a fundraising appeal, a brochure, website copy, or talking points for your gala, stop and ask (and answer) these three questions in order:

  1. WHAT does success look like?
  2. WHO do we need to reach in order to be successful?
  3. HOW are we going to reach our ideal supporters?

You can totally do that, right? Simple.

The logic of the Claxon Method™ is as follows: You must always start with the end in mind. It might be increasing donor retention or growing your board or promoting a new program. The job of your marketing is to advance you toward whatever your goal may be.

With a goal clearly in mind, you can then figure out for whom you are optimizing. As alluring as it seems, “the general public” is not a target audience. Not everyone will care equally about your cause and/or be in a position to advance you toward your goal.

Audience identification allows you to select messaging and mechanisms that will resonate with a particular target audience. It will also prevent you from projecting, i.e. assuming, for instance, the words that resonate with them are the same ones that will resonate with their target audience. This is a costly, and all too frequent, mistake.

Once you have identified your goal and audience, you can figure out how to reach them. Which boils to: which words will you use and where will you put them?

Marketing can get unruly. There are so many options these days. Stick to this method and you’ll get results. Serious results. I promise.

Want to master the Claxon Method™? Check out our on-line class at Claxon University, where we offer a 30 day no-questions-asked money back guarantee. What do you have to lose?!

Post Readability Stats: Reading Ease: 71.9, Grade Level: 5.7

Raising Awareness isn’t a goal

Poll ResultsGearing up for Claxon’s webinar on October 12, I was reminded of the somewhat troubling poll results from the last webinar. I had asked what everyone’s top goal was for the year. Not surprisingly, fundraising topped the list with 60%. Nothing troubling or surprising about that.

The troubling part comes in with the Raising Awareness results. 22% said this was their top goal. (See pie chart for details.)

You might be saying, “What’s wrong with that, Erica? You have to raise awareness in order to raise money, recruit volunteers, attract amazing staff. That’s a legit goal.”

Raising awareness for the sake of it is a waste of time. Don’t get me wrong: I am all for raising awareness…so long as you are very clear on what, specifically, raising awareness is going to do for you. Think of raising awareness as a pre-cursor to other goals, i.e. you raise awareness so that you can achieve other goals.

You raise awareness so that:

  • You can increase year-end donations by 175%.
  • You can recruit 3 new absolutely awesome board members.
  • You can land a 5 year, $500,000 grant.

As you set out to set your goals, remember the Claxon Method:

  1. WHAT does success look like?
  2. WHO do you need to reach in order to be successful?
  3. HOW are you going to reach your ideal supporters?

If you don’t set a SMART goal in response to #1, you can’t identify your target audience (#2), and then it’s a crap shoot on what messaging and mechanisms will work for #3. Crap shoots may be fun, but they aren’t strategic.

Goal-setting may not be glamorous, but it’s suuuuuuuuper important. And that’s why we’re going to talk about how to apply SMART goal-setting to your year-end fundraising on the October 12 webinar. (We’ll also talk about fun stuff like calls-to-action and which stories will be the most powerful and whatnot. Didn’t want you thinking it was going to dull. Never!)

Be sure to sign up for your spot!
sign me up

Reading Ease: 67.8, Grade Level: 6.7

Webinars, Sumall, and bobby socks

It’s Sumall. That magical, fleeting time when Summer transitions to Fall. Personally, I have a total crush on Sumall–it’s still light out when I wake up, but the vibe is decidedly calmer. BBQs and shorts give way to soups and sweaters.

Leaves change. Light shifts. Love it.

That shifting of light and leaves doesn’t just mean swapping out your wardrobe, however. It means it’s time to put away your hula hoop and head back to school.

Confession: I have resisted doing webinars. I like seeing people learn. Watching someone’s face light up when they “get it”. But one of the things that is extremely, very, exceptionally important to me is that everyone who is on a mission to make the world a better place has access to info to help them do their job as efficiently and effectively as possible. And that means eeking out everything the internet has to offer when it comes to on-line learning and doing. That’s why we created the Wordifier. That’s why we launched Claxon University. And that’s why I had to get over my aversion to doing webinars.

And I’m really glad I did. Because in August, we offered our very first webinar. And, well, wow. 500+ people signed up. We covered a ton of tips and tricks about putting your words on a mission. And we had a good time, despite a few vexing tech glitches. (If you missed it, you can listen here.)

We had so much fun and got so much great feedback that guess what? We’re going to offer another webinar. This one will be about…drum roll please…

The Secret(s) to Successful Year-end Appeals

October 12 from 1-2 Pacific

Like the Wordifier, and Claxon U, you’ll be able to access this webinar wherever you are. And whenever you want. Will it be more fun to join the webinar live? Well, of course, silly. You get to make comments, and ask questions, and get answers. On the spot. But we all know you’re busy, so sometimes joining live won’t be possible. No problem whatsoever. The webinar will all be recorded. Ready and waiting for you to watch whenever it works for you. (See a theme here…?)

If this one goes well, we might just add webinars to our regular docket of offerings. We have lots of ideas for webinar topics: How to Write Killer Calls-to-Action, Gratitude as an Engagement Strategy, How to Test Your Messaging with a Shoestring Budget.

I’m curious: what webinar topics would you like me to see Claxon offer? Let me know in the comments.

You’ll be seeing more from me and the team about this webinar, but if I were you (because, yeah I admit it, I’m a planner), I’d sign up and get it on your calendar right this very minute. It’ll up the odds you can join me live. #Funsies

Happy Fall!

bobbyP.S. Curious about the bobby sock reference? Sign up for the webinar and I’ll tell you what that’s all about. It has to do with one of my favorite back-to-school outfits and a secret snatched from neuroscience that you’ll be able to use to great effect in your year-end appeal. Oh the suspense!

Post Readability Stats: Reading Ease: 77.3, Grade Level: 5.2

FREE WEBINAR: Put your Words on a Mission

Claxon University is hosting our first-ever FREE webinar on August 24 at 1pm PST. Will you join me? I’d love that.

If you’ll be on vacation that day, don’t sweat it. Enjoy it! Sign up today, and you can listen to the recording when you’re back…refreshed, reinvigorated, and ready to get your communications in tip-top shape.

Now, what will you learn in this webinar that you might not already know?

  • The biggest messaging mistakes I see nonprofits make again and again. And then I’m going to tell you how to avoid and/or fix them.
  • How to make simple tweaks to your writing that’ll make people go, “Woah, wait. What are you doing? I want in on that!”
  • How to get into the minds, and hearts, of your most important audiences. Think donors and staff and board members and volunteers. (And then think about donors again because, well, they’re important.)
  • Etc, etc, etc.

This won’t be an “oh let me just turn this on and listen in the background” webinar. This is going to be a “oh let me have both hands free so I can take copious notes” type of thing. There will be time for Q&A, so you will also be able to get your burning questions answered on the spot.

Whether you join me live on August 24 at 1pm PST, or via recording post-vacay, I really encourage you to sign up for this webinar. It’s free. So pretty much a no-risk proposition. And you’ll learn a ton. The Claxon Team has continued to do research, and find out new things, and by August 24, we’ll be ready to share all our newfound knowledge with YOU.