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smart marketing

Marketing takes on an increasing importance for voluntary sector organisations as demand for services as well as competition for money continues to go up.  What  can we learn about marketing from businesses?


Marketing is sometimes mistakenly narrowed down to advertising or selling but it is more than that.  The Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) offers the following definition: “Marketing is the management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably.”  The key phrase in this definition is “customer requirements” and all organisations ignore this at their peril.


With this in mind, let’s look at the CIM’s 7 Ps of marketing for businesses and see how they can be applied to charities.


The first P is for PRODUCT

Business: “There’s no point in developing a product or service that no-one wants to buy”

Charity: You should have evidence of the need for your service.


Business: “Have a system in place to regularly check what your customers think of your product/service, what their needs are now and whether they see them changing.”

Charity: Ditto


Next is PRICE

Business: “A product is only worth what customers are prepared to pay for it.”

Charity: If your organisation has to charge for services, don’t apologise for it.  


Business: “Price positions you in the marketplace – the more you charge, the more value or quality your customers will expect.”

Charity: Work out your unit costs to price your services at a level that yields a profit. Research your competitors’ pricing if possible.


The third P is PLACE

Business: “The place where customers buy a product or receive a service must be appropriate and convenient for the customer”

Charity: Ditto. Place nowadays including websites, of course.



Business: “Promotion is the way a company communicates what it does and what it can offer customers.  It includes branding, advertising, PR, corporate identity, special offers and exhibitions.”

Charity: This is the area where most voluntary sector marketing activity takes place but, despite what a lot of charities seem to think, a leaflet does not a marketing strategy make.  Also, far too many organisations try and have one leaflet, brochure, website to target “everyone” and inevitably end up reaching no-one.  Think about what different audiences would want to know and create your material with them in mind.  Are you speaking to professionals from other services whom you want to make referrals, or clients and their families whom you want to inform about the service?  


Business: “Good promotion is not one-way communication – it paves the way for a dialogue with customers”

Charity: Social media offers a cheaper and effective alternative to marketing through traditional channels and can result in much richer engagement.


Business: “It is just as important to ensure your internal stakeholders are aware of the value and attributes of your products.  This means communicating effectively to staff so that they can be knowledgeable and share expertise with customers.”

Charity: Internal communication about the value and attributes of your services, especially with part-time staff and occasional volunteers, can be a real challenge but is just as important as external communication.


The fifth P is PEOPLE

Business: “Anyone who comes into contact with your customers will make an impression – positive or negative – on customer satisfaction.  The reputation of your brand rests in your people’s hands.  They must, therefore, be appropriately trained, well-motivated and have the right attitude.”

Charity: Ditto, but for customers read “all stakeholders”.



Business: “Customers are not interested in the detail of how your business runs.  What matters to them is that the system works.”

Charity:  A need to inform and reassure funders and/or donors can drive a charity to include over-long explanations about their structure or history, thereby favouring the organisation itself over what it offers. Always, but always think about your marketing material from your intended audience’s point of view.



Business: “Choosing to use a new service can be perceived as a risk but uncertainty can be reduced by helping potential customers ‘see’ what they are buying.  Case studies and testimonials can help provide evidence that an organisation keeps its promises.  Facilities such as a clean and tidy reception area can also help to reassure.”

Charity: Many charities rely heavily and successfully on physical evidence both to reassure and attract stakeholders. Physical evidence is most effective as a marketing element when it runs consistently through the organisation, starting with first point of contact which could be your website or the person who answers the phone.