Purpose The purpose of the paper is to illustrate how marketing intelligence might be improved when an organisation's learning capacity is integrated and incorporated in well-defined organisational subsystems in a not-for-profit context. Design/methodology/approach First, given that market orientation is primarily concerned with gathering and desseminating marketing intelligence, the paper discusses the theoretical contributions from the learning literature related to interpreting the environment. Second, while many good ideas exist in not-for-profit firms, ideas are seldom linked to competencies that must be tracked and developed in the workplace. A more systematic view towards competency creation will increase the unique skills of not-for-profits and most likely improve their performance. Third, communities of practice are introduced as a way for not-for-profit firms to maximise dramatically the complex relationships that exist between various stakeholders and possible institutional investors. A number of propositions are offered that support the need for communities of practice. Findings In relation to P1 and P2, the workplace of a not-for-profit firm needs to be transformed. Establishing a culture of learning is the first step in making this transformation. Improving and advancing a firm's individual and organisational competencies (P3) suggests that individual and team training – depending on the type of not-for-profit activities – is needed. In relation to P4, the authors suggest that a firm's market orientation will be significantly improved by incorporating learning systems that resemble communities of practice. Research limitations/implications The propositions for this paper now need to be developed into a number of research questions. This paper has not provided an empirical validation and is limited by the prepositions related to the model. Subsequent testing of the model will greatly enhance its generalised findings. Practical implications Actual work practices in not-for-profit firms will be substantially improved, if not radically transformed, through a learning organisation culture. Originality/value This paper is highly valuable with very little research completed to date on this topic.