Small Business vs. Non-Profit Marketing

Ken CookNon-Profit, Small Business


Abstract:  Small Businesses primarily exist to sell a product and or service for a profit for the small businesses owner. Non-profit marketing exists primarily to advance a cause, create awareness for the nonprofit’s mission or to solicit donations to the non-profit. There are some exceptions (i.e., Goodwill) who primarily seeks to sell a product as a part of their mission.

Please Note: This is only an introduction post, and it doesn’t attempt to deal with the actual complexities within the non-profit or small business realms rather its goal is to provide examples for those unfamiliar with non-profit marketing.


The majority of my adult life I’ve worked in the field of marketing, simultaneously working for a non-profit and a small business marketing agency, then my marketing company. As I begin to examine the issue non-corporate of marketing, I believe that there are two distinct tracks when looking at how one engages in marketing be it for a non-profit or small business.  Both small businesses and non-profits should be using data metrics to track the effectiveness of their marketing, think key performance indicators (KPI’s). However, when looking at what amounts to a KPI, I believe there is a division between small business and nonprofit marketing. Again to belabor the point, these differences are not universal that are exceptions and when you come to an exception, you’ll know that you’re dealing with one. An example would be a non-profit summer camp and event center with whom we work; their primary goal is to bring children to camp and organizations to the event center, as such they operate less in the non-profit marketing sense because they primarily focus on selling a product, the camp experience.

For the nonprofit, the nature of KPI’s is definitionally different, and I’d like to give a few examples of this through some made up non-profits.

Let’s say that you run the Justice for Darfur non-profit. Your organizational goals are as follows:

  1. Raise awareness of the human rights violations in Darfur Africa, and the suffering of the Sudanese people
  2. Provide Financial and other relief assistance for those affected by the conflict in Darfur Africa

If I was given $10,000 to advertise or to accomplish my goals, I could buy a billboard on the highway with a message about Justice for Darfur with or without website URL and based upon goal one say that I’ve succeeded. We could use traffic data provided by most sellers of billboards to determine our reach, and therefore our cost per person reached, a meaningful KPI in this case.

If I did not raise a single dollar for support (goal 2), I could still say that my nonprofit is a success, because goal one has been accomplished. The nature of my goal is awareness. Especially in the religious nonprofits space, many organizations have the goal of awareness.

Do you know of any small business whose goal is simply awareness?

Me either. Although I know, a few small businesses who act like awareness is their sole purpose… but I digress.

You see for the small business the goal is always monetary in nature. More clients, better clients,  more profit. None of that is bad, but the simple reality is it’s different from non-profits. Non-profits and therefore their marketing seek to better the lives of others, not the life of the founder.