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Tuesday, March 03, 2015

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How a Russian Spy Strategy Can Strengthen Your Nonprofit Marketing Results
Nancy Schwartz

September, 2010

I’m fascinated by the Russian spy ring’s attempt to extract U.S. secrets. They counted on their ability to burrow deep into typical American life to develop their understanding of the U.S. government’s goals and strategies.

One of their primary strategies in doing so— knowing their “audience,” the neighbors and other folks who had to believe they were just “regular folks”— is the key to advancing your nonprofit’s marketing impact. In your case, it’s an absolute must for strengthening the relationships with your current and prospective donors, advocates, volunteers and more that are the foundation of effective nonprofit marketing.

The goal

To understand your audiences well, in order to find the intersection of their wants and needs and those of your organization. That intersection is where connection happens, followed by engagement.

The spies had their audience down cold

“A neighbor of the Murphy family described them as “suburbia personified”. Richard Murphy mowed the lawn; Cynthia Murphy came home from work…with daffodils and French bread in her hands.

“Relatives, friends, classmates, neighbors and co-workers of the three couples expressed shock at the arrests, and they searched their memories for signs that something was amiss, but mostly came up blank,” according to a story in today’s New York Times.

Clearly, the spies and their colleagues back at Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service had thoroughly studied these communities for the spies to embed themselves so successfully there.

Here’s how you can get to know your audience without putting espionage to work

  1. Define your primary target audience (those you need to engage to meet your marketing goals) and group it into no more than three or four distinct segments.Sample segments for an organization building support for a child-focused health care bill in Nebraska include: a) policymakers and their staff members at the congressional district and county levels, currently against the pending state health care reform bill; b) mothers of children 18 and under with chronic illnesses; c) health care providers for those children.
  2. Outline everything you know now about each one. Supplement those outlines with online research.
  3. Reach out to one or two representatives of each segment to learn more. A causal phone conversation is a great place to start—perhaps even to non-work related acquaintances, just to build your understanding of what’s important to that group.
  4. Concurrently, build a list of those you know within each segment (or whom your colleagues, friends, family or board know if you are reaching out to these segments for the first time). Numbers may be low if these are new segments for your organization to engage, but their qualitative feedback will be representative of the larger segment.
  5. Once you have baseline understanding of each segments’ habits, wants and needs —reach out more broadly via online surveys, informal focus groups and/or brief phone interviews. Focus on learning what’s important to each segment and how that overlaps with your organization’s agenda.
  6. Next craft personas—detailed profiles, including a photo—of imaginary representatives of each group you hope to engage.
  7. Shape your marketing messages and delivery to these personas, just as the spies shaped themselves to fit into their neighborhoods.

© 2002 - 2010 Nancy E. Schwartz. All rights reserved.

About the Author

Nancy E. Schwartz helps nonprofits succeed through effective marketing and communications. As President of Nancy Schwartz & Company, Nancy and her team provide marketing planning and implementation services to organizations as varied as the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Center for Asian American Media, and Wake County (NC) Health Services. Subscribe to her free Getting Attention e-update and read her blog at for more insights, ideas and great tips on attracting the attention your organization deserves.

NOTE: You’re welcome to “reprint” this article online as long as it remains complete and unaltered (including the copyright and “about the author” info at the end), and you send a copy of your reprint.

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