Build a Better Nonprofit Marketing Plan: Here’s How
Do you wish you had a roadmap that showed you exactly what you need to do to achieve your nonprofit’s biggest goals through marketing? An effective nonprofit marketing plan can do just that. While many nonprofit marketing plans simply sit on a shelf gathering dust, there IS a way to build a better plan you’ll actually use – one that maps your marketing goals to your organization’s goals and strategic plans, helps you prioritize and make time for what matters and identifies the best strategies and tactics for moving your mission forward.
We create dozens of plans that check all of those boxes every year for our nonprofit clients. Now, we’re pulling back the curtain and showing you how we do it with our Essential Nonprofit Marketing Plan Template. The template is one part example, so you can see what a successful nonprofit marketing plan looks like, and part workbook, so you can begin building your best marketing plan and advancing your mission through marketing.
Here’s a look at what’s inside, and the elements you’ll need to consider when building a nonprofit marketing plan for your organization:
Mission and Vision
Every part of your marketing plan must stem from your mission and vision. A mission and vision are so much more than just statements. They’re the grounding principles that define the future your nonprofit is working to create and the work you’re doing every day to get closer to that reality. They determine the strategic priorities your organization sets, and those strategic priorities guide where you should direct your marketing and communications efforts. It’s all inextricably tied. We suggest you open your nonprofit marketing plan by stating your organization’s mission statement and vision statement. This will ground everyone who interacts with your plan in what matters most.
The Essential Nonprofit Marketing Plan Template assumes you already have an effective mission and vision in place, but many organizations don’t. Many of our clients come to us with mission and vision statements that are outdated, ineffective, or misaligned with their current strategic direction. When that happens, we facilitate mission and vision workshops that help our clients discover truly powerful mission and vision statements they’ll use for many years to come. This is more than just messaging work. It’s strategic planning and organizational development work that will guide the direction of your entire organization.
Learn more about mission and vision development here.
Nonprofit Marketing Audit
Before you begin to determine where you’re going from a marketing perspective, it’s essential to evaluate where you’ve been. Whether your nonprofit’s marketing function is robust and sophisticated or small and nascent, you surely have access to at least some marketing data and insights that will inform your plans moving forward. In our Essential Nonprofit Marketing Plan Template, we’ve made space for you to fill in information about your web traffic, social media engagement, email engagement, and overall marketing activities. These are some of the things most nonprofits are able to audit, even if they’ve never had a formal marketing plan. We suggest auditing these areas with a consistent set of dates in mind (typically the most recent full calendar year). When working with the template, feel free to skip (and delete) any pages you’re unable to fill in, and add additional pages for other areas you’d like to assess, such as PR, events and community outreach. For each area of assessment, we suggest highlighting a key observation based on the data you’re sharing. Doing so will make this section of your marketing plan easier for others to digest. We’ve also included a page for a SWOT Assessment, where we encourage you to take a high-level look at your nonprofit’s marketing strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats so you can determine the areas that most need your focus in the year ahead.
Learn more about auditing your existing marketing efforts here.
Nonprofit Marketing Goals & Priorities
Through our work with hundreds of nonprofits, we’ve noticed a common mistake when it comes to setting marketing goals; most organizations set their marketing goals in a vacuum. They do not begin with their strategic plan and mission in mind and then set aligned marketing goals that will drive both forward. As a result, they end up with goals that sound good on paper, but do not make a strategic and thoughtful use of the organization’s time, budget and brainpower. The Goals & Priorities section of the Essential Nonprofit Marketing Plan Template is designed to change that. First, it will help you come up with marketing goals that align with your strategic plan. Then, it will help you prioritize between those goals based on the size of your team and marketing budget.
In the Template, you’ll learn to come up with a set of marketing activities that could support each of your organization’s strategic goals or priorities, as laid out in your organizaiton-wide strategic plan. Then, you’ll learn how to narrow those activities down to the most essential and combine them into goal-oriented statements.
Let’s take a look at an example:
The Marin Humane Society is a No-Kill Shelter in California. They have an organization-wide strategic plan that lays out the following five high-level goals:
Here’s a look at a brainstormed list of ways marketing can address Marin Humane’s first organizational goal. You can also see what was eliminated due to budget and team constraints or due to the fact that, after brainstorming, an item was identified as “non-essential.” Finally, you can see how the items that remained were summarized into two marketing goals.
And here’s another example for organizational goal 4. As you can see, in this example, Marin Humane eliminated “nice to haves” and ideas they couldn’t realistically pursue with their current budget. Then, they summarized what remained into two key goals. Many of their desired activities related to online donor communication and marketing, but they did not have anyone on their staff with the necessary bandwidth or skills, so they identified making a hire focused on donor relations as one of their possible marketing goals.
After you’ve narrowed down to a few possible marketing goals for each organizational goal, our Essential Nonprofit Marketing Plan Template will help you rank what remains in order of priority and eliminate anything that doesn’t fit within the bandwidth of your current resources.
Following a goal and priority-setting process like this one will help you set more realistic and achievable nonprofit marketing goals and prioritize them so you don’t overwhelm your team or set yourself up for failure. However, even with the right tools, it can sometimes be difficult to set your own, unbiased goals and accurately rank your priorities, especially when you’re intimately involved in the work that will result from them. That’s why at Prosper Strategies, we go deeper than simply working through the worksheets in our Essential Nonprofit Marketing Plan Template with our clients. We scrutinize every goal they propose and help them determine if it’s actually the right one, and the most important one, for their organization’s overall strategic goals, mission and vision. We also challenge false beliefs about what can be accomplished within the current constraints of our clients’ teams and budgets. Sometimes, this results in scaling back and getting more focused. Other times, it results in thinking bigger and pushing the boundaries.
Learn more about setting nonprofit marketing goals here.
With your goals and priorities set, it’s time to move on to defining your key stakeholders. Who are the people that influence your nonprofit and its mission most? Are they your program participants? Individual donors? Board members? Volunteers? Your local community members? The general public is NOT a sufficient answer to this question. Getting a sense of your target stakeholders, and then working to develop a deep understanding of how they think, feel and act, is a critical part of building an effective nonprofit marketing plan. Inside our Essential Nonprofit Marketing Plan Template, we’ve included a set of key stakeholder persona profile worksheets you can use to develop profiles of your most important stakeholders. These profiles can be used to help your staff put themselves in the shoes of your target stakeholders before interacting with them or developing marketing materials that are intended to reach them. There are many ways to gather insights to inform your personas. You might start by thinking about 2-3 people already in your community who represent your ideal or typical stakeholder from a certain group, and then blend their attributes together to develop a fictional persona. Another popular technique involves joining Facebook or LinkedIn groups that your personas are active on and observing their interests and concerns.
Developing a deep understanding of your key stakeholders is a critical step in your marketing plan development. As you’ll see when we get deeper into the components of the marketing plan, doing so will allow you to develop segmented key messages that resonate with each group your nonprofit needs to influence in order to achieve its goals.
You probably already know a fair amount about your target stakeholders from your direct experience with them. However, if you’d like to go deeper and conduct primary research about your stakeholders, there are several methods you can explore, including:
- Stakeholder surveys
- Stakeholder focus groups
- Stakeholder interviews
- Market segmentation analysis studies
- Stakeholder journey mapping
We employ a mix of these research techniques with our clients to inform their stakeholder profiles with deep data and insights.
Learn more about stakeholder profiles here.
Key messages are the main points you need your stakeholders to hear, understand and remember about your nonprofit. They create meaning behind the work you do, the issues you want to discuss, and the actions you want people to take as you work to advance your mission.
Many people at your organization likely have their own personal version of key messages they use in their day-to-day work, whether they realize it or not. They refer to these “de facto” key messages when meeting new prospective donors, welcoming a visitors and clients to your facilities, training new team members and chatting with friends at cocktail parties. But there is a problem with these personal, informal key messages your staff and volunteers are using. They’re often inaccurate and they’re always inconsistent. Your team members bring their own personal experiences into the way they talk about your organization, but it’s not always easy for them to discuss the bigger picture behind what you do and why. That’s why we always suggest our clients develop a set of organization-wide key messages as part of their marketing plans. As you might expect, these messages inform marketing elements like your website and marketing activities like media interviews. But they do much more than that. They also give everyone on your team guidance that helps them portray your organization accurately and consistently. Inside the Essential Nonprofit Marketing Plan Template, we’ll guide you through the process of creating a set of key messages segmented by stakeholder group. You can refer to these messages and loosely weave them into future marketing efforts. You can also distribute your final messaging matrix to all your staff and ask them to refer to it in their daily interactions.
Let’s take a look at another example. Here, you can study how Marin Humane wrote their key messages and segmented them by stakeholder group.
While key messages are the most essential brand messaging element we develop for the nonprofits we work with, they’re definitely not the only one. Other brand messaging elements we work with our clients on include:
- A positioning statement: a statement that clearly defines why your nonprofit exists, the problems you are addressing and the impact you are aiming to make
- Core values: ways of being that define what your organization stands for and highlight an expected set of internal behaviors and attitudes.
Together with your mission, vision and key messages, these brand messaging elements serve as the foundation for every story you tell about your nonprofit and every marketing touchpoint you create.
Ah, the fan favorite among marketing planners: tactical selection. Most of our clients want to jump right into this part of the marketing planning process. However, it is absolutely essential to do the work detailed in the earlier parts of the Essential Nonprofit Marketing Plan Template before you can successfully tackle tactical selection. Now that you know what you’re trying to achieve (your goals), who you’re trying to achieve it with (your key stakeholders), and what you need to say to them (your key messages), you can choose the vehicles to make it happen (your tactics). Inside the template, you’ll find our tactical selection funnel. This funnel illustrates the four phases most nonprofit stakeholders move through when deciding to take a desired action like volunteering, donating, or signing up for one of your programs or services. Within each phase, we’ve given you a menu of tactics to choose from. While this list is not comprehensive, it represents the tactics we’ve found to be most successful for most nonprofits. You can feel free to add to the list based on your own experiences. Study the funnel, and think about which tactics are most likely to help you achieve the goals you established previously. Then, choose a few tactics to focus on in each phase.
As you work through this step, you might notice that most (if not all) of the tactics you’re currently using fall into the “awareness” phase of the funnel. That’s pretty common, and it’s part of why this exercise is so important. It will help you ensure that you’re selecting the right mix of tactics to move your stakeholders all the way through to a desired action.
Now that you know what tactics you’re going to use to achieve your goals, it’s time to decide exactly what you’ll do with each one. We ask our clients to get as strategic and detailed as possible in this phase. For example, if you choose social media as your tactic, we’d ask you to do more than detail how many times a day you are going to post and on which channels. We’d ask you to identify private Facebook and LinkedIn groups you could interact with, to define the balance of paid and organic content you plan to strike, to figure out who would be responsible for interacting with others on social media each day and more. Inside the Essential Nonprofit Marketing Plan Template, you’ll find tactical planning worksheets that ask six important questions about each of the tactics you’ve selected:
- What will you do with this tactic?
- When will those activities take place?
- Why is this important?
- Who will be responsible?
- Budget; how much do we plan to spend?
- How does this tie to our organization’s marketing goals?
Here’s another example from Marin Humane:
While the Essential Nonprofit Marketing Plan Template outlines some of the tactics we’ve found to be most successful for nonprofits, you may have noticed that it doesn’t give you instructions about what each tactic entails or what you should do with it. That is intentional. There are two reasons we kept extensive tactical instructions from this resource. First, marketing changes quickly. The things we’d recommend today for tactics like content marketing or SEO might be drastically different than what we’d recommend next year or even next quarter. Second, tactical planning is a highly creative and strategic exercise that can’t be effectively taught within the format of a template. It requires brainstorming, exploration and iterative development. In our work with our clients, tactical planning typically takes several weeks and involves much more than simply filling out the worksheets in our Template. It also involves the development of campaign concepts, stakeholder journey maps and more. If you want to go deeper, you can learn more about our strategic planning process here.
Marketing Action Calendar
This is the part of the marketing planning process where most nonprofits stop short. They make it through goal setting, messaging development and tactical planning, but they fail to put the tools and systems in place to ensure their plans will actually be seen through. That’s where our Marketing Action Calendar comes in. It gives you a space to plan out your marketing activities in fine detail, month-by-month. It also gives you a space to define who is accountable for what. Inside the Essential Nonprofit Marketing Plan Template, you’ll find a four-quarter marketing calendar that you can fill in with your own plans. Don’t feel that you have to take action on each tactic each month. Rather, stagger your activities in a way that is manageable for your team and aligned with your goals. You’ll notice the marketing calendar also has a spot to define messaging themes on a quarterly or monthly basis. These themes might relate to your key messages, or they might relate to something more timely like an upcoming event or current news item. The focus you choose should align with your goals, and you should then weave it loosely through all your activities, from your blog posts to your email campaigns. Finally, be sure to fill in the final row (how will we know if we’re successful this month?) with details on the measurables you need to hit or the things you need to achieve each month to keep moving your goals forward.
For most nonprofits, the Marketing Action Calendar is only one piece of a bigger puzzle that must be completed to ensure that marketing goals become a reality. We also regularly help our clients with the following:
- Setting up a project management system, where items on the calendar get broken down into clear tasks and to-dos with owners and due dates;
- Implementing an accountability meeting system to keep their team on track with marketing priorities and ensure everyone is held accountable to what they say they’ll do;
- Tactical implementation, where we serve as an extension of our clients’ marketing teams and execute on some or even most of the tactics in their marketing plan on an ongoing, long-term basis. This can be a great option for organizations with significant skill and capacity gaps, as well as those that simply want to take their marketing efforts to the next level.
Nonprofit Marketing Measurement
The measurement section of your nonprofit marketing plan is where the rubber meets the road and you determine if all the tactics you’re pursuing and activities you’re engaging in are actually helping you achieve your goals. But don’t worry, this section of the plan doesn’t exist to pressure you to perform. It exists so that you can learn what’s not working quickly, and stop doing it before it becomes a problem. It also exists to help you identify successes and quickly reallocate your budget and attention to the things that are working best. Inside the Essential Nonprofit Marketing Plan Template, you’ll define your approach to marketing measurement. Some of the goals you set earlier in the planning process might have had clear, measurable targets associated with them. Others probably did not. In this section, you’ll define a measurable target performance indicator for each goal that you can track on either a weekly or monthly basis. Our most successful clients track their measurable target performance indicators weekly and discuss whether they’re on or off target during their weekly accountability meetings.
Let’s get real for a moment here: choosing the right measurable performance indicators is not an easy task. It requires historical data or data from other, similar organizations. It also requires a certain degree of foresight. You need to be able to see how the numbers that indicate your success will shift and change throughout the year as your efforts in different areas expand and contract. Our clients often ask us to set their measurable target performance indicators, and thanks to our deep sector expertise, it’s something we’re quite skilled at. We also recommend that you develop a dashboard to track your measurable target performance indicators. Google Sheets and Geckoboard can both be helpful for this. We also design custom dashboards that get updated in real time for many of our clients using tools like HubSpot, DonorPerfect and Salesforce. We can even go a step further and help you tie your marketing efforts to mission outcomes.
Remember, your nonprofit marketing plan should be a living, breathing document.
As your organization changes, it’s only natural for your marketing needs to change with it.
Ready to get started? Find more guidance, along more examples and tools you can use to build your plan, by downloading The Essential Nonprofit Marketing Plan Template. And if you need more help with your brand strategy and marketing planning efforts reach out.
This post was originally published on June 21, 2017 and last updated on April 14, 2018.