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The Best Non-Profit Intel

Nonprofit Ideas on a Budget

Lately, I’ve had the opportunity to sit in on a few seminars where the presenters made consorted efforts to discuss successful yet low-budget (or shall we say “cost efficient”) marketing/communications initiatives for non-profit causes, reinforcing that it is possible to do a lot with a little.

At the bottom of this article, I’ve included screenshots and links to some of the campaigns that most resonated with me.

Fantastic right? Clever, impactful, poignant, completely on brand…

For the most part, I agree with the notion that you can have impact without blowing your budget… But this is what goes through my head as I listen to the dialogue about how you can do so much with nothing and what gives the double meaning to the title of this post: “Yes! Absolutely, the executional costs involved in producing those campaigns were low and in some cases non existent which makes it even the more powerful, but what no one really talks about is how much was involved not only to come up with that killer idea, but also to have rallied the organization around taking the risk to be edgy, put themselves out there and be vulnerable.

People who do things really well make hard things look easy. Think about professional dancers, athletes, speakers, comedians, artists, negotiators… Anyone or anything that seems to go off without a hitch has taken an immense amount of expertise, talent, thought, training… I think you see where I’m going.

I think that, for the most part, really smart, “low-budget” campaigns come from really smart ideas. And smart ideas are not always so easy to come by. Smart ideas stem from a design-thinking process, a very systematic and strategic approach to innovation/ideation.

Design thinking is based on the principle of the building up of ideas. Rather than seeking to eliminate a conceptual idea before it potentially even makes the whiteboard, one must seek to explore the full extent of an idea and any other ideas that surface as a result.

This begs the questions: are ideas being left on on the table at your organization? Do you have a process in place for ideation that channels creativity around specific strategic objectives? What might be the benefits of having a third party ideate on your behalf? If you are going to strategize and ideate internally, what are the guidelines or best practices that you can follow? Let’s leave answering those questions for another post.

The second part of my point is the buy-in part. In other words, beyond costs, what is it going to take to materialize this fantastic idea? Getting people behind your idea can be just as much of a hurdle as coming up with the idea itself—even if the implementation costs are low. Although low costs to implement should make your argument more convincing, taking risks is something businesses usually try to avoid. Especially not-for-profits, where you must deal with the repercussions of decisions in the face of your members, donors, and boards— not to mention any media. So I get that most want to play it safe.

Part of that ideation process, then, must include flushing out your position related to the campaign (or idea) if it works AND if it doesn’t. In other words be prepared to support your campaign either way.

But with all of that said, when I have the opportunity (which I often do) I like to encourage organizations to go for it. Vet the idea through your brand filters (more on brand filters in this article) and if there is alignment, just do it, especially if it’s low cost to produce. Take the risk and see what resonates. See what reactions you get!

Marketers live by metrics and measurements of success or failure. So measure it. Put something small out there and see what the reaction is. Do a few small, “inexpensive” tactics and gauge reaction. Scale your expectations accordingly (of course), but if you’re getting the reactions you expected, put more resources behind it and roll it out on a bigger scale.

For more inspiration and “ideas” about where to begin, also read my article on “viral campaigns”.