How to Set Smarter Nonprofit Marketing Goals

6 min read
In last week’s post, we called out the lack of specific, achievable goals as the number one sign that it’s time to rethink your nonprofit marketing plan. And that’s not an overstatement. Nonprofit marketing goals are both the most essential and the most overlooked component of a successful nonprofit marketing program.

Goals are the most essential but most overlooked part of a nonprofit marketing program. Click To Tweet

It’s easy to get caught up in a big idea and jump right into execution, but that’s a huge mistake. If you want marketing to drive your organization’s mission (and what nonprofit marketer doesn’t?), it’s essential to define what you aim to achieve, what success looks like, and how you’ll measure it before you get to work. Ideally, high-level marketing goals should be set annually and then re-assessed and broken into manageable micro-goals quarterly or even monthly.

It takes a fair amount of time and strategic discussion to set effective nonprofit marketing goals, but it’s worth the effort. Here’s the process we suggest:

Gather your planning team

Nonprofit marketing goal setting should never be the work of a single person. Even if you’re a marketing team of one, consider the other team members who are impacted most directly by marketing (often development and program leadership staff) and bring them together for a marketing goal-setting session. The makeup of your planning team will depend on the size and structure of your organization. We’ve seen successful marketing goal-setting sessions take place with a small subset of a marketing team, a mixed group that included an executive director, development director and marketing director, and everything in between. All that matters is that you assemble an engaged team.

Begin with your organization’s mission and strategic plan

Before you even begin to think about marketing, take a step back and assess your organization’s mission and strategic plan.

Do you have a strategic plan that outlines your organization’s theory of change and high-level goals for the next year?

If so, write those goals down and discuss what they mean to each member of your planning team. If not, your organization may benefit from doing some higher level strategic planning work before you turn your efforts to marketing goal setting.

Establish how marketing can address each of your organizational goals

Next, as a planning team, go through each of your organizational goals and discuss how marketing can address that goal within a finite time period (usually a year).

For example, one of your organizational goals for the next year may be to reduce reliance on government funding by developing more revenue generating programs. How can marketing address this goal? That depends where your organization stands today on that strategic goal. If you’ve already determined what those revenue generating programs are going to be and have launched them, marketing should play the role of promoting the new programs and driving participation. But if you’re still in the early phases of addressing that organizational goal, marketing should play a more exploratory role. In that case, marketing can address the organizational goal by conducting research and determining the market opportunity and competitive landscape for a variety of different revenue generating programs your organization is considering.

Narrow down your list to the highest priorities

After you’ve gone through each organizational goal, you’ll have a long list of possible areas marketing can focus on. But just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Every marketing team requires focus, no matter how large. Narrow your list of possible marketing priorities down to the five to seven highest, which should be directly aligned with your highest strategic priorities.

For each priority, establish a goal

A priority and a goal are not one and the same. Let’s revisit that example from earlier.

Our fictional organization had a strategic goal to reduce reliance on government funding by developing more revenue-generating programs. Let’s imagine they don’t have any idea what those revenue-generating programs should be yet, so marketing can address that goal by conducting research and determining the market opportunity and competitive landscape for a variety of different options. The fictional organization has seen a 10-15 percent year-over-year decrease in government funding, so launching those new revenue generating programs is an extremely high priority in order to keep the organization financially sustainable. That means marketing’s role in the process should also be a marketing priority. But what’s the corresponding goal? I bet you saw this coming: the goal should be a S-M-A-R-T articulation of the priority; it should be specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, and time-bound. With that in mind, we may suggest something like this for the example above:

  • In Q1 and Q2, prepare a 5-10 page market research report on each of the three new revenue generating programs we’re considering launching that outlines the competitive landscape and financial opportunity
  • In Q3, present those reports to the leadership team and work with them to select one new revenue generating opportunity to pursue in the following year
  • In Q4, collaborate with the leadership team to incorporate findings from the market research report into the strategic plan for the new revenue generating offering

As you can see, this goal fits the S-M-A-R-T requirements perfectly. It’s also broken down into manageable, time-bound parts that can be tackled step-by-step.

Establish ownership

Each goal needs a champion to drive it forward and take accountability for seeing it through. Once you have your complete list of priority nonprofit marketing goals, establish an owner for each one, and task them with regularly reporting on progress. Ideally, you should schedule a recurring meeting at least monthly in which each owner reports on where the goal stands and can solicit help overcoming roadblocks and problems from others. Some organizations even go as far as establishing a marketing scorecard where each owner records progress on their designated goal weekly.

Share, share, share

Nothing drives accountability more than sharing your goals with others at your organization who care about its success. If your executive director, president or CEO wasn’t part of your planning team, schedule a meeting with them to share your nonprofit marketing goals and get their buy-in. If they were, a meeting or even a document shared with other members of the leadership team or department directors (or, gasp!, your entire organization) should do the trick. The more you talk about your marketing goals, the more you and the other owners will hold yourselves to seeing them through.

Stick to your nonprofit marketing goals

One of the missteps we see most frequently among our nonprofit clients is a failure to adhere to the marketing goals they so diligently set. Yes, your organization changes throughout the year, and your nonprofit marketing goals need to remain somewhat flexible. But aim to stick to them, at least on a high level, through the entire time period for which they were set. If you’ve set your goals properly in the first place, they should be both broad enough and important enough to evolve as your organization does, at least until it’s time for your next planning session. 

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