Is your nonprofit marketing plan REALLY working?

6 min read

Now is the perfect time to ask yourself whether you have a truly effective nonprofit marketing plan in place for your organization. Sure, your plan might look good on paper, but is it really working? Is it helping you deliver on your big, audacious goals? Has it positioned you to track what tactics are performing best (and worst)? Is it structured in a way that makes it easy for you to plan ahead and see your objectives through to the finish line?

If not, it’s time to get real and hit “reset.” Ask yourself: how is your marketing plan going to need to change for the rest of the year to become more effective? Here are five modifications you can make to your plan today to put it in the best spot it can be for the rest of the year.

1. Set clear goals and objectives (yes, that means numbers) in order to create an effective nonprofit marketing plan

You can’t determine if your marketing plan is successful unless you  first set clear goals and objectives. Setting goals comes fairly easily to most people, but objectives can be more challenging for marketers at nonprofits and changemaking companies.

Yes, putting real numbers to the things you’re saying you hope to achieve is scary. But it’s absolutely necessary. Qualitative objectives are the very things that make it possible to evaluate a program’s success, which you’re going to need to do continually if you want to keep improving your marketing efforts. Think of your objectives not as items on a report card that tells others how well you do your job, but as benchmarks to test your hypotheses about what will drive results for your organization against. Use past performance paired with educated guesses about how new initiatives will change results to create monthly or quarterly benchmarks for things like site traffic, contact acquisition and donations or sales for the rest of the year. Take a deep breath and Just. Do. It.

2. Take the time to clearly define your target personas

In order to communicate with your target stakeholders in a meaningful, personal way, you need to put yourself in their shoes. Who are they? What do they care about? What does a typical day look like to them? Where do they get their information? Do as much market research as you can squeeze in, talking to real customers, donors, supporters or other stakeholders.

3. Create key messages as they relate to each one of your target stakeholders

Are all of your marketing efforts centered around a consistent set of key messages that explain what you do, for whom, and why it matters? If not, you’re missing opportunities to reach the right people and build lasting relationships that contribute to your bottom line. Using your brand values as a compass, develop key messages for each one of your target stakeholders. Keep in mind the way you communicate your brand values to one stakeholder may be different than the way you communicate those same values to another. Look back at your personas when you go to draft your messages. It may take some time to really solidify your messaging, but doing so will make a huge difference in how your marketing efforts are perceived for the rest of the year. You can’t hope to have an effective nonprofit marketing plan until you’re clear about who you’re aiming to reach and what you want to say to them.


Excuse the caps lock, but this is the area where I see most organizations go wrong, so I want to make sure you’re paying attention. Failure to prioritize marketing tasks is especially problematic for nonprofits and smaller changemaking companies that have only a couple people (at most) in marketing roles. You’ve been there before, or maybe you’re there right now.

You set out to build your marketing plan armed with dozens of ideas for the year ahead, and you threw them all down on paper. Why not?

But then the year started rolling along, and reality set in. You didn’t have the time, manpower or mental energy to achieve half of what you set out to accomplish. And because you couldn’t do all the things, you ended up choosing tactics basically at random, with no real sense of what matters most. You started operating “off plan,” which may be even worse than failing to create a marketing plan in the first place.

Luckily, this one has a pretty quick remedy, and an effective nonprofit marketing plan can still be yours if you take action now. If you’re finding that you can’t keep up with your laundry list of planned marketing activities, scrap them. Go back to your goals, and ask yourself: what are the top 3-5 actions my team needs to take this year to make this specific goal a reality? You should be operating with no more than 5-6 key goals and no more than 3-5 priority actions for each. This is a truly critical component of creating an effective nonprofit marketing plan.

5. Plan ahead and create a calendar

Now that you’ve revisited your goals and gotten real about which activities you actually need to engage in to see them through, it’s time to get serious about todos and timelines. Create a calendar for each month of the year, and on it, create “buckets” for each of your priority activities from step 4. Then, schedule and assign the sub-tasks associated with those priorities so you can see exactly who is doing what, when. Armed with a detailed calendar that outlines the rest of the year in that format, there’s no excuse for failing to see your year’s biggest priorities through to completion.

6. Measure it

Are you evaluating the success of your marketing efforts? I don’t just mean in a “gut feel” manner either. Are you truly digging into the key metrics that allow you to measure against your objectives and identifying gaps between where you want to be and where you are today? If not, create a reporting schedule for yourself. Even if you don’t have a CEO or someone else above you demanding monthly reports, it’s crucial to create some accountability for your efforts so that you’re forced to track them monthly. Inform someone on your team (or everyone on your team for that matter) of your intention to report marketing progress monthly or quarterly, and then stick to your commitment. You’ll be amazed at how it helps you see opportunities for improvement as you finish out the year.

Follow tips like these, and you cans still make this year your organization’s best yet from a marketing perspective.

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