Published: 19 February 2010

Please, no, not a marketing director

There's one job title that Joe Saxton, driver of ideas at nfpSynergy, thinks we need to rethink 

There are some job titles in the charity sector that make my heart sink.

Procurement officer is one of them – but purely because it means we can guarantee a torturous limbo-dancing set of tender obstacles. But the title that makes me shrug my shoulders with bewilderment is "marketing director". I have no idea what a marketing director is in a charity.

In some places, it means fundraising director – they are just too coy to use the term. But marketing director can also mean communications director. And then again, a marketing director can be somebody who is actually a sales director – there to sell services, training or the charity itself.

So why is the word marketing so confusing and meaningless in charities? One reason is that charities can never agree what it is they are marketing: they can be marketing making a donation, marketing the whole organisation or marketing a charity’s services.

Marketing what?

Another is that marketing is about understanding what stakeholders want and then delivering it to them. So marketing is always a constrained activity: charities can never actually deliver what their stakeholders want. Donors want to believe their gift will change the world, but without admin or fundraising costs. Smokers want to believe they can go on with impunity and let somebody else find the miracle drug that will stop them getting cancer. Charities can know what their stakeholders want, but can rarely give it to them simply and unambiguously.

So any time somebody uses the term marketing in a charity, the first question should be: "marketing what?". Simply building the word marketing into a job title is a recipe for ambiguity and tautology. It’s a little bit like creating a job called "director of meetings". Which meetings? Who is at them?

The double-barrelled title

My favourite extension of this mad mania for marketing muddle is the lovely double-barrelled job: director of marketing and communications, or director of marketing and fundraising. Take out the marketing and these are sensible job-titles; as they stand, they are like having a "director of personnel and human resources". The only sense it makes is nonsense.

Understanding and delivering to stakeholders is a key task for charities. But it makes far more sense to work out what we should be doing first with marketing in charities, implementing it and then creating the job titles. Starting with the job title is a recipe for complacency and confusion.


Joe Saxton, driver of ideas, nfpSynergy

Joe Saxton is driver of ideas at nfpSynergy, and is the founder and Chair of CharityComms. Joe works on a range of specific projects particularly those looking at impact, communications or trusteeship. He also works on the overall direction and development of nfpSynergy.