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Marketing EDGE To Close, Distribute Assets To NPOs
Direct Response NPO Marketing EDGE To Close

The changing world of nonprofit marketing associations has claimed another victim. The 56-year-old Marketing EDGE will cease operation on March 18, transferring assets to other marketing-related organizations and educational systems.

“We will expand both scope (our activities) and scale (the number of people we serve) through strategic partnerships with organizations that align with our mission and vision,” said Terri L. Bartlett, CEO and President of Marketing EDGE. “After a careful vetting and selection process guided by our core principles – Mission | Vision, Financial Stewardship, Impact and Ethics – we have identified six nonprofit organizations that will be launching Marketing EDGE-sponsored initiatives in the months and years ahead.”

The organizations receiving the bulk of assets or other support include: The Nonprofit Alliance Foundation (TNPAF), the American Advertising Federation, the American Marketing Association (AMA), Big Brothers Big Sisters of New York City, the Brierley Institute for Customer Engagement at Southern Methodist University’s Cox School of Business, and, the Medill Spiegel Research Center at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications.

Also receiving some support will be the Direct Marketing Club of New York, DMAW Educational Foundation, Duke University Libraries and the Fashion Institute of Technology. The AMA will shoulder a lot of the educational load going forward with 300 marketing clubs on college campuses nationwide, Bartlett said.

Support and sponsorship of associations during the COVID-19 pandemic was a tough sell. “It was either put resources toward running the organization or supporting the mission,” said Bartlett. She explained that the board members decided the educational mission was more important than the overall organization.

“It was stay true to mission of the organization, not the survival of it. It was survival of the mission. That was the north star for us since day one,” Bartlett said. “NPOs don’t exist to keep themselves alive. It is to support mission and some lose sight of that.”

Marketing EDGE’s federal Form 990 showed that from July 1, 2018 to June 30, 2019 the organization had a $1.01 million deficit in revenue less expenses, while between July 1, 2019 and June 30, 2020 the decline was another $674,000. While total income was up year-over-year, the majority of the gains were $192,000 from investment income offsetting a $163,000 decline in contributions and grants.

Total net assets dropped by $1 million from $5.5 million to $4.5 million during that period, when the pandemic’s stranglehold hit. The organization is on extension for the year ended June 30, 2021 but tentative numbers show total net assets down to $4.01 million. The endowment declined from $4 million to $1.9 million within three years, ending with the most recent Form 990.

Marketing EDGE’s mission has been marketing education, with the organization having helped to train an estimated 110,000 students during the past 55 years, Bartlett said. The idea for the organization started in 1966 when the Direct Mail Marketing Association created the Direct Mail Education Foundation. As the industry evolved to be more than direct mail, the organization was renamed the Direct Marketing Educational Foundation (DMEF) and then, in 2013, became Marketing EDGE.

TNPAF will use the Marketing EDGE assets to accelerate the launch of Leading EDGE, a new internship program in partnership with nonprofit organizations, firms that work with nonprofits, and colleges and universities, after being selected to receive a multi-year grant. Leading EDGE follows the acronym “Elevating Diversity & Guiding Employment” to encourage and support college students exploring nonprofit sector career paths, with particular attention to students with diverse and non-traditional backgrounds.

“College students are not always aware of the myriad career options to make a difference in the world, beyond direct service,” states TNPAF CEO Shannon McCracken. “Through Leading EDGE, we are introducing pathways for students to leverage varied skillsets and interests and build their career paths in the nonprofit sector. Our selection by Marketing EDGE as a program partner means that we can move faster and deeper than we originally anticipated. With the challenges in today’s workforce, this could not be more timely.”

Leading EDGE will provide students with practical, paid experience and an early-career network of sector professionals to support their post-graduation entry into the workforce. Participating employers will benefit through their access to bright and talented soon-to-be college graduates, many of whom come from racially underrepresented or other marginalized populations that are too often missing from traditional candidate search efforts. Building a bridge between students and the nonprofit sector’s leading organizations and corporations will continue to close the knowledge gap between academic learning and the business world. Program planning is underway with three initial priorities: Outreach to schools with nonprofit programs and marketing, finance, policy, and other management and operations related majors; Establish an advisory board consisting of members and constituents; and, Launch a pilot in Washington D.C. with plans to expand to other areas.

One of the challenges for Marketing Edge was the changing nature of marketing associations, where professional networking became more important than educating the next generation of marketers, explained Bartlett. The organization relied on sponsorships and memberships from the marketing community and a large potential sponsor pulled out just as the pandemic was hitting.

The closing of brand name nonprofit marketing organizations is not new. In 2003, the well-known DM Days New York was sold to the competing Direct Marketing Association (DMA) and shut down a few years later. The DMA was acquired by the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) in 2018. While the ANA operates the DMA as a seemingly standalone division, for all intents and purposes it has been melded into the ANA. DMA largely became today’s ANA Data and Analytics community, with the Nonprofit Federation, the International ECHO Awards, and the Email Experience Council also continuing as ANA entities.