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

Back to School with the 1,2,3 Marketing Tree

It’s the first day of school in our neck of the woods. Time to get back to the basics. Claxon’s 1,2,3, Marketing Tree gives you the basic steps for your organization to inspire action and engagement (i.e. market itself) in a way that’s simple, effective and fun. Yep, yep! Find out how in this quick video.


1, 2, 3 Marketing Tree from Claxon Marketing on Vimeo.

Do you have a MAP (Marketing Action Plan)?

humor, map, road map, focus, strategySay what?! You don’t have a MAP? You’re playing with fire, my friend. Fire.

Resources are too tight and your vision too big and awesome to not know how you will use marketing to specifically and strategically help you out.

That’s why I created a Marketing Action Plan (MAP) for do-gooders–people who work at nonprofits, foundations, associations and other institutions of good repute.

The MAP has specific questions, explanations and a checklist to keep you on track. It is simple, straight-forward and requires very little time to make very big progress.

Download it and see for yourself. It’s free. What’ve you got to lose? (Aside from your way, of course.)

A tip from Bruce Lee

If you haven’t ever seen a Bruce Lee movie, stop reading this post and go watch one. (I’m a big fan of Enter the Dragon.)

Aside from being highly entertained, you’ll see the benefits of being at once fierce and fluid.

Bruce (we’re totally on a first name basis) encouraged people to “be like water”. Water can take on almost any form, but it always remains true to its essence. Whether it’s a crashing wave, a small pond, or a tiny droplet, it’s always water.

In the fast-paced world of mission-driven marketing, you want to be like water. You want to be crystal clear on who you are and what you stand for, while being able to fluidly adapt to new opportunities as they come along.

Be like water, my friends.



Don’t train for a marathon by biking

goals, strategy, tactics, marketing, messaging, leadership

Make your training support your goals.

At the risk of stating the obvious: when you’re training for a marathon, you run. You run a lot. You run so you’re ready for the marathon. So you’ll achieve your goal.

You don’t bike. (Aside from a little cross-training perhaps.)

If your goal is to retain donors, pick tactics that will help you connect with current donors. Don’t get distracted by engaging new ones.

Ditto for volunteer engagement.
Public awareness.
And any other goal you have.

Don’t do the equivalent of training for a marathon by riding your bike.

You’ll never get to the finish line.