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By Monica E. Oss

Where does marketing usually “land” in an organization? Is it most effectively managed by the leader of a foundation/donor relations? Or by new business development that focuses on agency-wide strategy and new program/service development and customer service?

This was a great question I received last month following the publication of the December edition of The OPEN MINDS Management Newsletter focused on marketing. (See my cover story on the evolving role of marketing in health and human services—The “M” Word In Health & Human Services Strategy-Why Marketing Should Be Part Of The Everyday Conversation.) Over the years, I’ve found that the question about how to structure the “marketing” function is a bit more challenging for non-profit organizations—usually complicated by under-funding of marketing and the historical role of fundraising and charitable giving.

In an ideal world, I would have one “chief marketing officer” who is responsible for all marketing functions and all organizational revenue. This entails a broad scope of responsibilities—on the marketing functions side, there is branding, portfolio management and service line positioning, communications of all types, and sales. And for most health and human service organizations, the range of revenue sources is also broad—state/county grants, Medicaid, health plans, private pay, charitable contributions, and more. This demands a very senior (and expensive) executive. And, there can be structural issues if the organization has charitable contributions coming from a foundation that is a separate legal structure.

So, back to the question—if your organization has separate executives responsible for charitable donations and for service-related revenue, who “controls” marketing? My general recommendation is to have a set of marketing-related decisions made as part of the strategic planning process, and then have the executives responsible for each revenue stream have their own marketing plan/budget.

In this case, the executive team can use the strategic planning process to establish key goals for marketing efforts. For example, the strategic planning process can lay out the ground work for service lines; competitive market positioning and unique selling proposition; revenue targets/budget; and branding (see The Strategic Planning Edition: Going From Strategy To Success and Building & Executing Strategy In A Complex Market-A Three-Phase Best Practice Model For Success). After that, the marketing plan (or multiple marketing plans if each “revenue generating unit” has its own marketing lead) will have a singular goal—to achieve the revenue requirements in their specific budget. The marketing plans would have their own sales and communication tactics with their own budget, with the understanding that all activities would be within the organizational market positioning and branding rules established in the strategic planning process (see How To Develop A Successful Marketing Plan: The OPEN MINDS Guide To Marketing Strategy).

For more, check out these great pieces from our latest OPEN MINDS Management Newsletter and the OPEN MINDS Circle library, focused specifically on marketing:

  1. Is Your Online Marketing Plan Up to Speed? The OPEN MINDS Approach To Digital Marketing
  2. Health & Human Service Rebranding In 2018-New Positioning & Mergers Drive Change
  3. How To Build Value-Based Payer Partnerships: An OPEN MINDS Executive Seminar On Best Practices In Marketing, Negotiating & Contracting With Health Plans
  4. How To Develop A Successful Marketing Plan: The OPEN MINDS Seminar On Marketing Strategy
  5. New Contract Development: Marketing To Payers & Other Stakeholders
  6. Finding The Path To Online Marketing Success: An OPEN MINDS Executive Seminar On Best Practices In Website & Social Media Marketing
  7. Why Marketing Should Be A Part Of Everyone’s Role & Job Description (Coffee Break Case Study)
  8. 5 Keys For Optimizing Your Online Brand
  9. Transforming Your Brand: How One Behavioral Health Organization Successfully Rebranded
  10. Do Something Different, “Differently”—A Specialist Provider Organization Guide To Building A New Strategy For Service Line Sustainability

And don’t miss these upcoming seminars on strategy and marketing planning (all Elite OPEN MINDS Circle members can register at no charge):

P.S. I would like to learn more about how our non-profit provider organization members are structuring their marketing activities. If you would be willing to have a brief conversation on this topic, email me at

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