Vocabularies vary from culture to culture. A word that is perfectly acceptable in one area may be absolutely taboo in another. Maybe that's why when I ask a nonprofit to explain their marketing strategy, I get comments like "Well, we aren't selling anything, so we don't have a marketing strategy".
OK, OK I get it. "Marketing" brings up all sorts of negative "business" connotations. But dismissing the underlying concept is like saying "We don't care about client or donor participation."
No matter what word you use to describe it, you have to have a strategy that lets people know that you exist and explain why they should care if you do. You are "selling" your organization and its mission.
One example is the lady that contacted me to ask if I would write a grant for her small animal rescue. On paper she had all the things she needed. The determination letter, a pretty good-looking audited set of financial statements, a fantastic facility, etc. But she didn't have a lot of outcomes to report on, because she really hadn't rescued many animals.
When I commented on that she said "Well, we have trouble finding the animals soon enough to have good outcomes". She had capacity for over 100 animals on site, was rescuing less than 50 a year and re-homing only a handful.
A little investigative work revealed that she had done virtually nothing to let the community know she existed, so I asked her if receiving some funding for management or marketing mentoring would help her. She was initially quite miffed that I would suggest such a thing. She wanted funding for a second van so they could cruise the streets looking for strays.
To make a long story short, she eventually realized that she didn't need to go find the strays. There were hundreds of concerned citizens who were more than happy to either bring animals to her or at least tell her specifically where to find the animals.
After showing her how to make the community aware of her presence and mission and outlining a donor development program for her, she has all the animals and more that she could wish to help, a great adoption program and is placing over 100 animals a year. She recently received a substantial grant that will pay for food for 50 animals for a full year. Her new blog on animal health and training has over 1500 page views a month, donations have substantially increased, and she now has great outcome reports to add to grant proposals.
Whether you call it outreach, development, public relations, marketing or branding, the goal is the same. Connecting to people that need your services and people willing to invest in and use those services is a necessity.
If you need a hand with outreach give me a shout at email@example.com. I can review your existing plan or help you with a new one.