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What is marketing?

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A definition of marketing, and some marketing tools used by non profits in their campaigns.

Marketing provides a set of tools which will help you run your services, campaigns and fund development/fundraising much better, whether you are a small or a large organisation. Marketing covers promotion, PR, advertising and selling, but it is much more than that – it helps you meet the real needs of all your 'customers' ie people you are trying to serve or influence or ask for money.

A practical definition of marketing which suits non profits is: 'meeting customer needs within the objectives of the organisation'.

Marketing in action

Here are four real-life examples where marketing helped groups to improve their effectiveness. The marketing tools they used to achieve the improvements are highlighted. The explanation of these tools will be given later in this and other sections.

Public service funding

A small Citizens Advice bureau is getting its local authority grant cut. It does some marketing research which shows that the advice it is giving is bringing in social security benefits to the borough in excess of the grant. It is hugely popular locally (positioning) especially in two of the ruling party marginal wards where the opposition party is taking up its cause (other player analysis). They re-do their Business Plan especially its pricing and by targeting the relevant LA manager and the influential marginal ward councillors reverse the cuts.


A campaign to stop airport expansion because of noise and safety impact on populations around the airport ( the product). Marketing research among the decision makers in government (target customers) the campaign is trying to influence reveals that it is not being taken seriously and seen simply as NIMBYS (not in my back yard). The group expands the product mix by allying with the climate change lobby to broaden the attraction of the 'ask' and increase the power of influence (through adding lobbying, PR, and direct action resource to the marketing mix).

Direct mail

A medium-sized organisation is experimenting with fundraising through letter writing (direct mail) featuring one of its most important services, but it is not working. By researching a sample of the target group they discover that they are featuring the wrong benefits to attract the target group. The benefits have insufficient physical evidence to convince the target donors and they have priced the 'ask' too low to be credible. Re-presenting the product, re-pricing it, using pictures and testimonials of real beneficiaries (with their permission) and strengthening their appreciation of loyal donors (relationship marketing) transforms their profitability.

Service delivery

A residential rehabilitation centre for newly disabled adults (the service product) is associated with a famous hospital but attendees are dropping in numbers. Market research among newly disabled people (target customers) reveals that many of them have lost so much confidence that they will not leave their families to attend the residential facility. They create a new rehabilitation service (new product development) delivered direct into people’s home (new distribution) aimed not only at the individual but also their family (Other Players). This increases competence and confidence and they become prepared to stay at the residential facility to acquire specialist skills that only this residential facility can provide. 

Types of marketing

Find out about product and relationship marketing.

Useful links

Page last edited Sep 10, 2020

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