Dean Russell: Charities are poor at online marketing

But they have the skills to do it well, says Precedent Communication's head of digital marketing

I often wonder whether charities realise how poor their online marketing and communications are, or whether they do realise, but think they haven't got the skills to do anything about it. Unfortunately, I believe the latter is usually the case.

The reason many charities don't do anything is that they hold one of two misguided views about marketing.

The first is that marketing isn't a proper job. You know the types who think this - people stuck in the 1980s who make jokes about colleagues with media studies or marketing degrees; who think the marketing department is there only to create pretty brochures that have little impact on the bottom line.

The second is that online marketing is some complicated, buzz word-driven dark art. People who think this don't do anything about the problem because they worry that they couldn't possibly get it right - or they start, only to get struck down by analysis paralysis.

A competition I was involved with recently demonstrated perfectly why neither of these views is true.

The rules were simple: submit a three-minute video clip saying what you do and what difference the prize (a website and digital strategy) would make to your charity.

In almost every entry, the charities explained how they didn't have the right marketing skills and needed help. Yet what they had achieved in their clips, which were excellent examples of marketing, many had failed to achieve on their websites.

They put across clear arguments about who they were, why they existed, what they wanted and, most significantly, why their cause was the most important. There was no time for fluff or complicated rhetoric.

Without realising it, they had created some of the best marketing I had seen in a long time. And they had also done the most difficult part: they had defined a strategy.

A strategy is really just about making decisions - and, as with most things in life, the best strategies are the simplest to explain.

So whatever you do, remember that marketing is important, but don't over-complicate it. You already know the answers; you probably just don't know that yet.

- Dean Russell is head of digital marketing at Precedent Communications

FACT FILE - Online marketing

Research by fundraising website JustGiving in 2008 found that only 5 per cent of charities felt they were making the most of online marketing.

Fifty-four per cent of charities said they were excited about the potential of social media to reach donors, but 29 per cent did not feel confident in their understanding of online giving.

Only 20 per cent of small charities have a specific marketing team, according to the Media Trust's report The Marketing and Communications Needs of Charities, released in September last year.

The same report also revealed that only 29 per cent of small charities have annual marketing budgets.

Seventy-six per cent of charities fail to monitor the results of their marketing spend, according to the RSM Robson Rhodes UK Charities Marketing Survey 2006.

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