How to Use Our Essential Nonprofit Marketing Plan Template

The impact of marketing is undeniably growing in the nonprofit sector. Just take a look at this data from M+R’s 2017 Nonprofit Benchmarks Report to see what I mean. The data shows us that nonprofits are seeing larger audiences and increased volume:

  • Traffic to nonprofit websites grew by about 4% over 2015 totals — modest growth that nonetheless means millions of additional site visits.
  • Nonprofit email lists grew by 10% in 2016, building on 16% growth the previous year.
  • Email volume grew as well, with nonprofits sending 10% more messages per subscriber in 2016 than in 2015. On average, a subscriber could expect to receive 69 separate email messages from a single nonprofit in 2016.
  • Nonprofit social media audiences also increased. On Facebook, 23% growth. On Twitter, 50% growth. And on Instagram, a whopping 101% growth, with nonprofits doubling their audiences in a single year.
  • Nonprofits in our Study also invested more in digital ads, increasing ad spending (including paid search, display, and social media advertising) by 69%. See Digital Ad Spending In 2016 for more on that.

This demonstrates that nonprofits are truly working hard to make sure their audience is hearing their message. But the next section of data shows that where people are paying the most attention and actually taking action is changing:

  • Overall online revenue grew by 14% over 2015 totals, with monthly giving growing at a rate of 23%.
  • Web conversion rate — the percentage of website visitors who completed a gift — was up by about 8%.
  • Email accounted for 26% of all online revenue in 2016, but most individual email metrics went down. Open rates declined by 7% overall, for an average just under 15%.
  • Response rates for advocacy messages declined by 17%, to 1.6%.
  • For fundraising messages, the response rate was just 0.05% — a drop of 8% from 2015. That means that a nonprofit had to land 2,000 fundraising emails in inboxes in order to generate a single donation.
  • For every 1,000 fundraising email messages delivered, nonprofits raised $36.

The opportunity to advance your mission through marketing clearly exists, but can you harness it? Unless you have a comprehensive, strategic marketing plan in place, you won’t be able to reach the right people who will listen, engage and advance your mission.

Pursuing marketing without a plan might sustain your nonprofit for a short time, but ultimately, it will keep you from fulfilling your true potential for donations and impact.

That’s why we’ve created a new resource: The Essential Nonprofit Marketing Plan Template. This template is made up of a series of easy-to-use worksheets that when completed, will come together to form the backbone of a marketing plan for your social enterprise. You can complete the entire workbook in one afternoon, so not having time to create a marketing plan can no longer serve as an excuse.

Let’s take a look under the hood and discuss how to use each worksheet to develop your nonprofit marketing plan using our nonprofit marketing plan template.

Goals and Objectives

Goals and objectives are perhaps the most important part of your nonprofit marketing plan.

Think about the act of filling out the Goals and Objectives section of the marketing plan template as an exercise in determining a destination for the roadmap you’re about to create. If you don’t know where you’re going with your marketing plan, you aren’t going to get there.

So what is the difference between a goal and an objective? A goal is a general, qualitative statement about what you want to achieve, while an objective is a quantitative, time-sensitive measure of that goal. For example, one goal might be to build an online community of supporters for your nonprofit, while its corresponding objective would be to grow your social media following to 1,000 engaged members by March. Your marketing goals should be tied closely to the larger, strategic goals for your organization. You’ve heard it before, but it bears repeating: your goals and objectives should be S-M-A-R-T: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely. It’s cliché, but it works.

Using the Goals and Objectives worksheet in our template, you’ll work through the process of considering how your broader strategic goals translate into marketing goals, and then determining the objectives through which you can measure success.

Target Stakeholders

Whether you succeed or fail depends largely on how well you connect with people. This is especially true for nonprofits, where everything you do has the potential to make a meaningful impact. But, you can’t really connect with people in an effective, strategic way until you understand your target.

Whether you succeed or fail depends largely on how well you connect with people. Click To Tweet

Do you really know who your nonprofit’s target stakeholders are? The general public is not an acceptable answer, nor is a list of every single person your organization might come in contact with. Our template will force you to get specific. Using our worksheets, you’ll brainstorm a list of anyone you might consider a potential target for your marketing efforts, and then narrow that list down to the three most important groups through a ranking tool we use with all our clients. The more focus you have, the more powerful your efforts will become. Then, you’ll develop detailed stakeholder personas for each one that will help you understand and connect with your target stakeholders on a deep level.

Brand Values

Why do people choose to give to, volunteer with, work for or support your nonprofit? Why do they choose to use your programs and services? It comes down to their personal alignment with your brand values. As a nonprofit, your values must be authentic, deeply held and consistently exhibited.

Using our worksheets, you’ll brainstorm a list of both current and future (aspirational) brand values. Then, you’ll work to hone your list to a tight set of values that both communicate what you stand for today and can evolve with your organization into the future.

Key Messages

By the time you reach this section of the nonprofit marketing plan template, you’ll know where you’re trying to go as an organization and who your stakeholders are. The next step is packaging all the work you’ve done into a set of key messages that will help you make all of your marketing efforts consistent and effective.

Strong key messages are:

  • Original: Unique and specific to your social enterprise in order to differentiate it from others
  • Short: Longwinded and complicated messages are harder to remember. Keeping key messages short also makes them more adaptable
  • Limited: Only a few (3-4) per audience
  • Audience-centric: Focused on the specific needs, interests and preferences of each target stakeholder group
  • Linked to values/benefits: Focused on the values you deliver and the benefits your social enterprise offers to various stakeholders

In this section, you’ll use our key message grid to create a set of key messages segmented by brand value and stakeholder group. That means you’ll be writing a key message for each brand value and stakeholder group combination (i.e. how do we talk about our brand value “transparency” to our boomer donor stakeholder group?)


There are so many ways to bring your marketing goals and messages to life. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the myriad of marketing tactics that everyone is telling you to pursue. Should you be focused on search engine marketing or search engine optimization? Events or publicity? Direct mail or email?  It’s enough to make your head spin. All of these tactics can be valuable, but trying to do too much at once is a recipe for disaster.

We’ve worked with enough nonprofits to develop a strong opinion about the tactics that are most effective and most accessible for organizations that are just getting serious about marketing, and we’ve created a “menu” to help you pick the best ones for your organization using our nonprofit marketing plan template.

Of course, if you already have some of these things in place, or you’ve moved beyond the “beginner” phases of your marketing work, you should feel free to add in some other tactics of your own.

This section of the workbook will also give you a variety of ideas about how best to utilize each tactic, though your specific execution plans will depend on the nature of your social enterprise and audience.

Marketing Calendar

Most marketing efforts fall apart when it comes time to transition from planning to execution. The calendar section of our nonprofit marketing plan template is built to help you avoid that pitfall.

When you fill out the marketing calendar worksheets, you’ll go through the next 12 months and for each one determine:

  • Goals and Objectives
  • Target
  • Call-to-Action
  • Key Message
  • Events
  • Content to Create/Release
  • Tactics to Pursue
  • Responsibilities
  • Measurement Practices
  • Budget

It might sound like a lot to tackle, but our easy-to-use marketing calendar template makes it simple.


All of the work you put into planning will be wasted unless you have a strategy for determining what’s effective and what’s not. The final set of worksheets in our nonprofit marketing plan template will help you understand what strong marketing key performance indicators (KPIs) look like, and how to determine your own.

The key measure you choose to track will be closely tied to the objectives you set up at the beginning of the workbook. Once this worksheet is complete, you should check in at least every month, if not more, to see how you’re tracking against your objectives. Then, do more of the things that are working and eliminate the things that are not. Simple, but effective.

Is this really it?

While this workbook will form a great foundation for your nonprofit marketing plan, as you get more serious about marketing, you may find that you want or need to go into more detail in certain sections or add new ones. And that’s a good thing. Your nonprofit marketing plan should be a living, breathing document that grows and changes right along with your organization and your impact.

Ready to get to work?

Download the Essential Nonprofit Marketing Plan Template here and book off an afternoon. That’s truly all it takes to start building a solid foundation for marketing success.

If you have questions or need help along the way, don’t hesitate to contact us. We’ve built marketing plans and supported major campaigns for nonprofits across the country, and we’d be happy to collaborate with you, too!

The time is now to start building your foundation for marketing success.

nonprofit marketing plan workbookThe impact of marketing is undeniably growing in the nonprofit sector. This is your chance to bring your marketing goals and messages to life. Find more guidance, along with tools you can use to build your plan by downloading “The Essential Nonprofit Marketing Plan Template.”

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