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Updated: September 23, 2019 How To

Create a marketing communications plan for your nonprofit

Nancy Marshall
Nancy Marshall

Many nonprofits struggle with overwhelming challenges: lack of money, lack of employees, lack of volunteers, lack of name recognition and lack of direction. What most nonprofits don’t realize is that a strategic marketing communications plan can help them overcome these challenges.

I recommend a process that involves gathering a group of eight to 10 stakeholders for three meetings, including the executive director, several board members, several key employees and perhaps a client or other community member.

At the first meeting, the group of stakeholders conducts an in-depth discovery session where they talk about overall marketing and communication goals. This should include the nuts and bolts of how the organization currently communicates and examples of situations when communications were either dramatically effective or disastrously ineffective. A SWOT analysis should be conducted to analyze the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of and to the organization. It should be an open exchange of ideas. It could take some time, so provide refreshments or even breakfast or lunch.

Someone with marketing communications expertise should be asked to record everything that is said, and then take all the information and write up a report of the meeting. That person should then choose several other organizations that compete with the nonprofit either from the point of view of donations, employees, volunteers or even media coverage. A competitive analysis of the other organizations should be conducted. Another research project includes selecting other similar nonprofits across the country or around the world and analyzing the way they communicate and market themselves from a “best practices” perspective.

A month later, a second meeting should be held, with the marketing communications expert providing a replay of the findings from the discovery meeting and all the competitive and best practices research that has been conducted in the interim. The group should then discuss exactly what their strategy and tactics should be to market, communicate and promote themselves.

The following elements should be included in the plan:

  • SWOT analysis: Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats
  • Tagline: The thoughtful development of a short statement that encompasses your brand in one powerful phrase, akin to Nike’s “Just Do It”
  • Core story: The crafting of your brand story to make a lasting impression on target audiences
  • Sound bite: a 30-second elevator speech about the organization
  • Message map: A breakdown of your key brand messages
  • One- to 3-year action plan: Detailed marketing tactics based on your goals, resources and budget. The plan can include PR, marketing, social media, advertising, special event suggestions, community outreach, fundraising
  • Media lists: Contact info for all the top media outlets followed by your target audiences.
  • Additional marketing tools: Consider a new logo, media relations templates, a new website or other components.

With content marketing, the key is knowing your audience and keeping them engaged through articles, photos, videos, events, and other content that you create or that you curate for them, so they can solve their most pressing problems. If you can position your nonprofit as the “white knight” that is there to help them, they will remain loyal to you, stay engaged and ultimately donate money to help you remain sustainable.

By the end of the second meeting, the group should have a blueprint of a detailed plan that includes their strategic goals and specific tactics as outlined above.

Four to six weeks later, the group should meet again to review the plan and divide up the responsibility. Budget amounts, timelines, and who is responsible for each aspect of the plan should be agreed upon. Now the group is ready to hit the ground running with their new marketing strategy.

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