Many people confuse a marketing strategy with a marketing plan. This comes as no surprise because our entire nonprofit worlds are guided by an oxymoron: strategic plans. As confusing as this is, there is a difference between a strategy and a plan. At Prosper, we define a nonprofit marketing strategy as a set of deliberate decisions made over time that support and advance an organization’s mission. Your nonprofit marketing plan, on the other hand, outlines the tactics you’ll use to drive your strategy forward, and in what timeframe. It’s critical to have your marketing strategy set before you engage in marketing planning. Why?
Your strategy will define what you’re going to communicate about why your work matters, who needs to hear about it and how you’re going to communicate it through compelling messaging. When you have these three elements clearly spelled out, your marketing activities can become a powerful force in advancing your mission.
What goes into a nonprofit marketing strategy?
Your point of view on why your work matters
What’s going to draw people to engage with your nonprofit over others? In a sea of sameness, what’s your organization’s unique advantage? What does your organization do that no other organization can claim and why does that matter so much? How do those outside your nonprofit view the value of what you do? Is there a gap between what people think today and what you want them to think about your nonprofit in the future?In a sea of sameness, what’s your organization’s unique advantage? What does your organization do that no other organization can claim? Click To Tweet
The answers to these questions get to the heart of your nonprofit’s positioning. Your positioning can be captured through a concise statement that communicates the big idea you want to own in the minds of your most important stakeholders. It summarizes the specific work you do and why it matters. This statement is about so much more than words on a page. It sheds light on your perspective and serves as the guidepost for all of your future marketing and communications, including your nonprofit’s key messages.
Your most important nonprofit marketing audiences
Next, your strategy needs to define who needs to know about your nonprofit organization and your perspective. To which audiences should your communications be focused? Ideally, your staff and board members are helping you define your positioning. Then, you’re building communications that are going to resonate with those outside your organization: the individuals, families and communities you serve, as well as your donors, funders, partners and volunteers.
But how can you ensure your communications compel people to activate? By developing a deep understanding of the unique beliefs, motivations and preferences of each one of your audiences in relation to your work.
For each stakeholder group, answer questions such as: What do they value about your work? What are they challenged by? Where do they get their information? What does their typical day look like? Then build stakeholder profiles, or personified definitions of those who your content needs to reach most, for inclusion in your strategy. You can reference these for all of your marketing and communications content creation moving forward.
Your nonprofit’s key messages
When you know what you’re going to communicate about why your work matters and who you need to communicate that to, then you can think about how you will bring your positioning to life for each one of your nonprofit’s audiences. This is the work of your key messages. The most powerful key messages amplify your point of view and are personalized for those who need to hear them most. Therefore, at Prosper we encourage organizations to develop a master set of key messages that guide your nonprofit’s overarching communications, and then to develop specific sets of key messages tailored for each audience.
Why is having a strategy important?
Your strategy articulates what you’re going to communicate about why your work is important, who you need to communicate it to and the messaging you’re going to use to communicate it. These elements lay the foundation for everything else you do from a marketing and communications perspective. Take any one of these pieces away, and your strategy not only becomes less effective, but anything you do tactically will be less powerful.
Without a strategy, your organization will be communicating the same things as others in your space because you won’t have keyed in on your unique point of view. You’ll be working based on assumptions about who your target audiences are and what they need to hear most about your organization.
However, when you create a marketing strategy that defines your positioning, your audiences and your key messages, it will become a centralizing force for your communications as well as your organization. People internally will understand how to clearly communicate why your work is valuable and to whom. You’ll have consistent messaging on your website, marketing materials, social media channels and in your day-to-day communications as an organization.
Consider this: when your strategy work is complete, creating your marketing plan will become so much easier because you’ll know what you need to say and who you need to say it to. Now all you’ll need to think about is how this is applied tactically to drive the goals in your strategic plan forward.
Access our Essential Nonprofit Marketing Plan template here to get started on your marketing strategy blueprint.