Using Research to Inform Your Nonprofit Marketing Plan

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Don’t build your nonprofit’s marketing plan in a vacuum. Use research to help make it as effective as possible.

As you work to pull together a marketing plan that will help you achieve your organizational goals and overall mission, you should take a look at what other organizations in your space, or your ecosystem, are doing. You should also pay close attention to what your stakeholders – including donors, staff, board members, volunteers, clients and your community at large – expect and hope to hear from your marketing and communications.

Here, we explore the key questions you should seek to answer with research as you prepare to build your nonprofit marketing plan.

Don’t build your nonprofit’s marketing plan in a vacuum. Use research to help make it as effective as possible. Click To Tweet

Ecosystem research

When conducting ecosystem research in preparation for your own marketing plan, you should answer these questions:

What marketing tactics are other organizations in your space using?

The marketing tactics that most similar organizations leverage are likely best practices, and should be strongly considered for your own marketing plan. You can conduct an audit of these tactics by signing up for similar organization’s email newsletters, visiting their social media pages and using free tools like SpyFu to see whether they’re using search advertising.

Other external sources can provide useful information in this area as well. A Blackbaud study found that generally, nonprofits rank in-person events, social media, articles and e-newsletters to be the most effective marketing tactics. But it’s important to take a look at your own ecosystem specifically because the most effective tactics and best practices can vary by organizational focus area.

Once you understand the tactical best practices for organizations like yours, you’ll have a clear understanding of what tactics you should use to communicate with your own stakeholders.

What are the marketing benchmarks your organization should try to reach?

After you’ve identified the tactical marketing best practices in your space, you should also identify the benchmarks for measuring each of these tactics. These metrics will include things like average email open and click rates, social media followers, and engagement metrics and response rates to direct mailings.

Not all nonprofit marketing benchmarks may be exactly in line with what you can expect for your own organization, but this data can help you create realistic expectations for your marketing metrics.

How are other related organizations positioning themselves in the landscape?

Take a look at how other organizations in your nonprofit’s ecosystem are messaging their services and their benefits on their websites, on social media, in their annual reports and any other channels they leverage. Look deeper at the calls to action they use and how they describe what support for their organization can accomplish.

Once you’ve identified how others in the space are talking about their own services and benefits, you can identify the gaps that your own organization can fill to differentiate yourself. This messaging research can help ensure your own marketing plan is as effective and engaging as possible for your audiences.

Stakeholder research

The most important questions to answer when conducting stakeholder research are:

How do your stakeholders like to receive information?

Surveys, interviews and stakeholder journey mapping for each of your different stakeholder groups are all helpful ways to gather specific information on how your audiences prefer to hear from your organization, or organizations like yours.

Will donors be more likely to respond to a direct mail letter or an email? Are your volunteers actively seeking you out via Google search, or do you need to attract them through other channels? How active is each stakeholder group on social media, and how do they engage with other nonprofits online? These are all questions you should seek to answer prior to developing your nonprofit marketing plan, because it will help you ensure you’re devoting your time and energy to the tactics that are most likely to reach your desired audiences.

What messages resonate with your stakeholders?

To assess potential messaging for your organization, we’ve found that focus groups tend to be the most effective method. In focus groups, you can hear directly from your stakeholders about what they do and don’t like about specific messaging approaches. Often, focus group participants also offer on-the-fly statements and compelling suggestions that can work their way into your marketing messages, helping your organization communicate most effectively to those stakeholders.

If a focus group is not possible, surveys and market segmentation analysis studies are also good ways to get to the heart of what messages will be most resonant with your stakeholders on which platforms. You can also always pick up the phone and talk to people. Those who truly care about your organization will often be willing to speak with you about the types of communication methods and messages they prefer.

To learn more about how research can inform your nonprofit marketing plan, access our Essential Nonprofit Marketing Plan template here. We discuss further how you can conduct stakeholder and ecosystem research on pages 47 and 54.

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