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Nonprofit organizations (NPOs) are well aware of common marketing challenges they face. Resources are scarce, staff members wear many hats, and leadership attention is spread thin across development, program, board, and management responsibilities. Marketing can be even more challenging without a solid plan. Lack of planning can lead to ad hoc marketing tactics, inconsistent messaging, brand confusion, and disjointed success metrics that often are useless in planning future programs.
Here are three of the biggest challenges we see nonprofits facing today in developing an effective NPO marketing plan.


“What did we spend last year?” vs. “What do we want to achieve?”

NPO marketing budgets are commonly defined using a standard 10% to 20% of organization revenue or the convenient “same as last year” method. The reasons for these “stock” approaches are understandable. With scarce time and resources, the marketing budget may be low on the priority list. Add to this an ingrained desire to keep overhead low and pour as much budget into programmatic areas as possible in order to look good for funders. We get it.

Planning to a preset budget is often a reality for many nonprofit marketers. A better method for creating the marketing budget is to start with a set of clearly defined marketing goals. Then, select the marketing activities that will most reliably and efficiently achieve each goal. Once the highest-value tactics are identified, a sufficient budget for success can be estimated. Like any budget, it will be up for negotiation and some tactics may get cut. That is why it’s prudent to proactively think through a smaller, but still impactful back-up budget, just in case.

Integrated Planning

Finding the right mix and avoiding toxic tactics

Similar to budgets, this year’s marketing tactics may be preset based on “what we did last year” or “what we always do.” Or worse, tactics are selected without regard to overall goals or how they will be measured. Resources may be so scarce that all of your eggs are put in the annual gala basket.

As someone responsible for marketing, how can you deliver better results? Effective marketing begins with a plan. Start with your organization’s mission and goals and distill them down into specific marketing goals. Map your goals to the key audiences that you need to reach in order to drive your desired outcomes. Then, plan strategies and activities that thoughtfully address each audience and outcome in cost-effective ways. Break the activities down over your time period and estimate the costs for execution, management, and measurement. Sounds easy, right? We wish. It is hard work but worth the investment!


Proactively communicating to get the Board on board
Tragically, many marketing plans die on the vine because the leadership team and/or staff don’t have a clear understanding of the marketing goals or marketing plan. A solid internal communication program is critical for success. Here are a few tips for achieving internal buy-in:

  • When presenting the marketing plan, use a tool like PowerPoint rather than Word. This allows you to use graphics to illustrate key tactics, and forces you to distill the plan down to critical talking points rather than long, un-engaging paragraphs.
  • Inspire pride and confidence in the marketing efforts. Each time you launch a program, send out an internal communication to the full team: program managers, development, executives and board members.
  • Conduct regular quarterly updates with leadership to review progress. Demonstrate how each element of the plan is performing to achieve goals and objectives. Proactively identify tactics or strategies that aren’t pulling their weight and recommend adjustments and alternatives.
    At FMG, we believe in integrated marketing planning. We consider a broad set of tactics and channels and choose the best tools for the job. Our planning process starts with a deep understanding of your organizations mission, brand, and impact. It considers your goals and organizational strengths and resources. And last but not least, we define the scorecard by which the success of the marketing plan and budget will be measured.