Nonprofit Marketing Strategy: Achieving Your Goals

April 27, 2015

This article is the second article of a three-part feature on nonprofit marketing tips, tools and resources. Click here to read the first article about getting started on your non-profit marketing strategy. 

Launching a marketing or communications campaign takes more than inspiration and creativity.

Most organisations do not give marketing the same attention as it would other areas, like fundraising, strategic planning or governance, because it does not require the same processes, strategies or structures. Instead, it requires a different type of planning and supports that are quite different from the ones we might be familiar with – a lesson that many nonprofit organisations and social enterprises learn the hard way.

The main indicator of success in marketing is regular, consistent attention and engagement with your target audiences. Similar to most aspects of your organisation, marketing benefits from good, solid planning. In my experience, I’ve learned that different types of marketing plans (e.g. digital marketing) can be implemented relatively quickly and without high costs for smaller organisations.

The goal of this article is to explain different models to develop a coherent plan for your nonprofit organsiation or social enterprise. The purpose of any marketing plan is to force you through a process of research and clarity about your objectives. Do you know what you want to achieve with marketing? What are your metrics for success? Can you describe your target audiences? Do you know the best way of communicating?

By the end of this post, you should be able to start working on developing your marketing plan and know what tools, resources and templates are available to help you through this process.

Step 4: Get clear on your objectives

The more you understand about what you want to accomplish with marketing, the more detailed and precise your marketing plan will be. Here’s some general advice and conceptual questions that can help you achieve a clear, precise objective:

  1. Start with the change you would like to create for your clients / participants / customers. Build your objective about the action or change in behaviour you would like to see in your clients, and try to connect this to what you can do to create this change.
  2. Keep your objectives simple, realistic and flexible. When starting with marketing, it is better to come up with objectives that are practical and can be achieved over the next 90-days. Also, it pays to work on making sure your objective is free of any jargon or language that will communicate your colleagues.
  3. Think about where you organisation is before asking where you want to go. Before taking on more work than you can complete, it’s a good idea to think those areas where your organisation is struggling or the amount of time and resources available to marketing work. Generally, smaller organisations can only afford between one to five hours. That’s why I recommend keeping to a “90-days” rule for your marketing objectives.

Avoid complication. Marketing goals should be precise and take into consideration the state of your organisation today.

Step 5: Get familiar with your own situation

Some of the traps that are challenging for organisations starting a marketing plan relate to being aware of the possible opportunities and risks. For other organisations, innovative thinking and how to creatively achieve your goals with limited resources is rooted in your way of working.

The success implementation of your marketing plan depends on the resources, skills and opportunities available to your organisation, as well as mitigating any weaknesses, risks or threats. There is a number of topics to consider when thinking strategically about achieving your marketing objectives.

  • What are your organisation’s strengths and weaknesses related to marketing?
  • What is your organisation’s value proposition or unique selling points (e.g. USPs)?
  • What interests your clients and target audiences about your work?
  • What are you doing already to market and promote your organisation and work (e.g. blog, social media)?
  • What is our annual budget for print advertising or digital marketing?
  • What internal capabilities, skills or hidden talents related to marketing is found on your staff team?
  • What keywords can someone use to search for your organisation on the Internet?
  • What research or resources are available to help your marketing work?
  • What events, holidays or offline marketing activity is scheduled this year?

As you read through the eight common innovation traps below, ask yourself whether your organization has faced one or more of these problems, and consider sharing your experience in the comments.

Each of the three planning process tools below can help your organisation create an actionable marketing plan. It is recommended that you use these tool in combination to understand the different dimensions of your work.

  1. RACE is a planning framework the covers the different ways clients / customers engage with our organisation. It stands for Reach, Act, Covert and Engage and it was originally development Smart Insights.

    This model focusses clarifying the action you want from your audience and developing clear indicators for success.

  2. SOSTAC is a planning process framework to help structure and manage implementation of plans. It stands for Situation, Objectives and Strategy, Tactics, Action and Control originally developed by PR Smith for marketing communications planning.

    This six-step approach is a popular model for business planning in marketing.

  3. SWOT is a structured planning method to evaluate the internal and external conditions needed to achieve success. It stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. This model is sometimes credited to Albert Humphrey, a business and management consultant.

    This is a valuable instrument for defining the internal and external conditions needed to achieve your goals.


Step 6: Articulate your audience

Audience segmentation is an overlooked approach to marketing that is often ignored or overlooked in the non-profit, charity and voluntary sectors. A possible explanation is that organisation might define their work in relation to a specific group of individuals (e.g. client group, special interest groups, etc.).

A successful marketing plan involves understanding the groups of individuals (e.g. target audiences / audience segments) that you are trying to engage with. For non-profit organisation and social enterprise, these groups can include:

  •  Client / Participants / Customers
  • Professionals and Colleagues
  • Volunteers
  • Donors
  • Partner agencies and organisations
  • Funders (both government and philanthropy)
  • Government agencies or departments

As you read through the five common approaches to audience segmentation, ask yourself what model make the most sense for our clients or customers, and if any of these models would help any problems you’ve experience with better understanding your audience’s interest or needs.

Basic Demographics. Try breaking down your audience by age, gender, income, profession, etc.

Behavior or Stage of Thinking. What are the behaviors or attitudes of your audience in relation to your organization or the change your are trying to create. The Transtheoretical Model is a concept widely used in behavioural psychology to describe the state of change or thinking of an individuals. In marketing, this framework can help us understand the readiness of our target audience to make an action or change their thinking or attitudes.

Use the Transtheroretical Model to define the stage of thinking your audience is at present.

State of Change. A helpful way of breaking down behavior change into a series of stages, and contemplating the actions or marketing messages required towards making decisions for each stage. A useful framework is the Change Curve that was first introduced by Swiss Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross.

The Kubler-Ross (a.k.a. the Change Curve) is a popular method of understanding the conditions need to motivate emotional change.

Profiles or Personas. Each persona use personal name and descriptions that would be assigned to a single individual to describe a larger group of individuals. Build profiles of smaller groups by describing the key characteristics, interests, activities, and demographics. This approach is helpful when personas are used for target audience to help keep staff on-point when developing messages and choosing tactics.

Creating profiles or personas for different target audiences can be an effective tool when working with many, larger groups.

Product Adoption. Different people sign up for new ideas at different rates. A useful tool can be articulating which individuals will change quickly, as opposed individuals that will wait years to make the same change. The Technology Adoption Cycle approach was developed by Everett M. Rogers to describe how new ideas and technologies spread.

The Product Adoption Lifecycle (a.k.a. the Roger’s Bell Curve) is a framework for understanding what people are ready to make a change.

Each target audience requires its own series of methods and tactics in order to effectively have your message heard. For example, each group might receive the same message, but would have heard the message in different ways or channels.

Finding Barriers? How to avoid traps in your planning

Some traps and barriers are challenges related to implementation, while others can be conceptual issues that relate to the way your organisation thinks or approaches issues. If you’re having difficulty moving ahead or getting started with your marketing plan, chances are it might be one of these reasons:

  • “There are too many objectives, I don’t know where to start”
  • “Marketing planning is too big and complex for our work”
  • “I don’t know enough about what makes a good objective”
  • “I don’t have enough time to think about this work”

Barrier 1: “There are too many objectives, I don’t know where to start”

Start with an objective linked to an area of knowledge or topic that your organisation knows a lot. These basic objectives will be the easiest areas for your staff to discuss and collaborate on, and will make the most sense for developing a marketing plan, if you have no experience in this area.

For example, your marketing objective might be to improve your marketing for a particular target audience because your communication has lacked a coherent strategy and you need to assess the level of engagement.

 Barrier 2: “Our objectives are too big and complex”

Some people think being forced to commit to a marketing plan is a waste of time or not worth using for smaller organisations. Try choosing a marketing objective that makes the most practical sense for your organisation, and can be credibly explained to your colleagues, management or board members.

For example, it might be more relevant for your organisation to improve traffic to your website, improve awareness and profile about your work, or collect testimony about your services.

 Barrier 3: “I don’t know enough about what makes a good objective” or “I don’t have enough time to think about this work”

Think about the largest or most challenging objectives related to marketing for your organisation? Now think about how much you would pay a consultant or freelancer to deliver this work. Marketing is a critical area for any organisation, particularly non-profit and social enterprises, and where organisations can save money and time by developing a marketing plan.

Try downloading our one-pager on the best social media and digital marketing tools and the best resources, toolkits and videos.

 Next Time

Creating effective messages. Choose methods and tactics tailored for each target audience. Selecting metrics and performance indicators for marketing. Measuring what’s working and not working.


About the author

Philip Isard is a Project Specialist at Quality Matters. Philip’s main interests are research, communications, social media and design.

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