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Shoestring Budgets: Marketing Lessons from Non-Profits

Shoestring Budgets: Marketing Lessons from Non-Profits

I had the privilege to visit and meet with several non-profit organizations this past week to offer some marketing advice and counsel. I left each conversation with more insight, inspirations, and ideas from the remarkable work that they create on a shoestring budget.

I frequently say that in my career, I have had $30 and $30 million-dollar marketing budgets to spend.  And the best marketing was often with the most constraints and limited dollars.

When my wife and I ran our wholesale bakery business, we didn’t have a marketing budget. Our frame of reference was to ask how we could best serve the people in our tribe or community. What do they expect of us, how are we helping them and how can we make sure we keep our promises?

On a Shoestring

In speaking with these charities, there are several critical reminders I received as gifts:

  • LIVING YOUR WHY: When an organization is marketing a program, and it is powered by a clear understanding of why they exist and who they serve, the ideas just flow. When the vision is clear, the ability to harness and attract help is extraordinary.
  • CLEAR TARGETS: When your target audience is distinct and specific, you understand the emotional needs that clients/customers have, and you can easily slip into their shoes and sense the stories they have inside.
  • REFRAMING PROBLEMS: There are opportunities to reframe problems and to find partners who have resources they can share, donate or contribute. You just need to paint a picture for them of what they will get from the work you do.

Non-profits aren’t in business to make money and transact business. They exist to serve a community in need. A for-profit business is trying to make money, but when making money is a by-product of serving a community, understanding the story that a tribe wants to tell, is critical to success.

When a for-profit business thinks like a non-profit, they know that they must help their customers by providing them with products and services to solve problems in their everyday life. Marketing involves listening, empathy and compassion for a customer or client’s needs. Without it, you are making commodity-type transactions that are purely temporal.

Helping children in need or families with difficulties pulls on your emotional heartstrings.

But for-profit businesses can learn some powerful lessons about serving a community, listening with curiosity and compassion and with a drive to persist through difficult time.

Non-profits have lofty visions and goals like ending world hunger or making an educational system the best in the nation.

Recommendation: If you aren’t actively involved with a non-profit, go volunteer. Consider it an opportunity to improve your marketing skills while doing something wonderful for a community in need.  In Durham, NC, the Ronald McDonald House has a conference room you can use. After a team meeting, your team can cook a meal for families who stay at the facilities while their children are at Duke Hospital. For more information, go to this link. Dorcas Ministries serves low-income families in Western Wake County, NC through their thrift shop and many other crisis services, check out how you can volunteer some time here. Rise Against Hunger’s mission is to end world hunger. Learn how you can help them reach their 2030 goal. More information is available here.

Go volunteer and get inspired.

Is your budget limited but your appetite for business growth voracious? Let’s talk about how to focus your resources on getting the most from your marketing efforts. I can help you grow your business.

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Photo credit: Cheryl Holt:





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