Guest post by Colleen Powers, of jabber logic. jabber logic specializes in brand identity and full-service marketing programs for small businesses and nonprofits. 

For nonprofit communications staff, the transition to a new year is a time to set goals and create a plan for the next 12 months. But for most nonprofits, making time for strategy is easier said than done. If you’re wondering how it’s already mid-January and you’re still catching up with last year, you’re not alone.

“In too many nonprofits, the focus is simply on doing day after day, rather than on being thoughtful and strategic and working toward clearly defined goals,” writes Kivi Leroux Miller in her 2016 Nonprofit Communications Trends Report.

Kivi, who founded the Nonprofit Marketing Guide website and book series, creates the trends report each year by analyzing survey data. A key takeaway is that however you choose to focus your marketing — a monthly versus a quarterly newsletter, Instagram versus Pinterest — it’s most important to connect those tactics to clear goals.

For example, Kivi writes about direct mail newsletters, “Is there a specific goal that a print newsletter could help you reach that justifies the additional time and expense of printing and mailing?”

At jabber logic, we’ve worked with enough overextended nonprofit staff to understand that it’s hard to break out of that cycle of doing when you have no time to spare.

But taking the time to consider the goals and strategy behind your marketing can actually save you time. Think back to the note about newsletters: If you don’t have a strategic reason to send a print newsletter, you could shift your focus to email updates only — and not have to spend time working with a print vendor, laying out the newsletter, etc. Having a clear strategy lets you focus on the marketing tactics that are most effective for your organization.

Building a Marketing Plan in 7 Steps

We’ve worked with nonprofit clients to build marketing plans and have taught classes on strategic planning, and we’ve narrowed our process down to a series of key questions. Here are the planning steps we use to guide our clients:

  1. Reflection

Planning for the future starts with reflecting on the past, with questions like these:

  • What about your marketing worked last year?
  • What didn’t work? Which tactics were ineffective?
  • What is changing for your organization this year (operations, staffing, location, budget, programs — ANYTHING)?

Considering what has been effective in the past directly informs future goals, whether you’re trying to exceed last year’s benchmarks or correct past missteps.

  1. Audience

For us, audience drives everything: key goals, marketing channels, and specific tactics. We ask our clients the following questions to help them understand who they’re trying to communicate with and how that communication can happen effectively:

  • Who are your audiences (donors, volunteers, beneficiaries, etc.)?
  • What do you know about each audience? Be as specific as possible.
  • Which audience is most important, and why?

Audience is the common thread in every step of planning, and is important to keep in mind as you define your goals and continue to create your plan.

  1. Goals

Once our clients understand what has worked for them in the past and who their audiences are, we ask them to define their goals — what they want to accomplish:

  • What concrete goals do you want to achieve this year?
  • For each goal, how will you measure success (donations, number of donors, event attendance, etc.)?

Having a clear understanding of overarching goals for the year helps you break those goals down into specific tactics.

  1. Tactics

The concrete tactics that make up a marketing plan are based on decisions about audiences and goals. We ask our clients to consider:

  • How, specifically, will you pursue each goal?
  • Who is the audience each tactic is targeting?
  • What channel will each tactic use?
  • How will you measure the success of each tactic?

Here’s where your plan gets into the details. For example, your goal might be “Increase our membership,” and the tactic could be “Use Facebook ads to drive traffic to the membership page on our website.”

  1. Channels

As you can see in step 4, developing tactics means deciding when and how to use each channel — Facebook, Twitter, email, direct mail, etc. That means considering goals and audiences with questions like these:

  • What marketing channels are you currently using?
  • What new channels are you considering?
  • For each channel: Will this channel be effective to reach your desired audience?
  • Which of your goals can be accomplished by using this channel?

Choosing specific channels to carry out marketing tactics sets you up to craft the messaging for each tactic.

  1. Messaging

For each tactic to be successful, there must be a clear story that invites the audience to take action. We help our clients create messaging with these questions:

  • What language and angle will you use for each tactic?
  • What message will resonate with your audience?
  • What message makes sense for this channel?
  • What message will accomplish this goal?

It’s important to have a consistent message so the audience understands you, your mission, and what you want them to do.

  1. Campaigns

In a marketing campaign, one key message is shared across multiple channels. To help clients create campaigns, we ask these questions:

  • What specific, timely goals will you have this year — for example, getting people to an event or raising money for a seasonal need?
  • What tactics will you use to create the campaign?
  • What message will your campaign focus on?

When a marketing campaign is backed up by thoughtful messaging and a clear understanding of goals and audience, you can reap unexpected benefits.

How A Marketing Plan Succeeds

One of our favorite success stories from last year came from Grace Grinager, who attended our class on Give to the Max Day planning for the organization Comunidades Latinas Unidas en Servicio (CLUES). It was her first time planning a marketing campaign across multiple channels. During the two-hour class, we walked through the steps listed above — helping Grace consider what CLUES had done in the past, the audience and goals for the campaign, the channels and tactics to use, and the messaging to drive the campaign.

Grace decided to focus CLUES’ promotions around one major goal: buying a new bus for their Aging Well program, which serves Latino elders. To accomplish that goal, she set a specific target: raise $2,500 from 25 donors on Give to the Max Day.

Thanks to the campaign, CLUES exceeded the goal, raising $4,000. As the end of the year approached, however, the organization remained several thousand dollars short of the cost of the Aging Well bus.

But because CLUES’ messaging was supported by a clear goal and audience, the emotional story about the bus resonated beyond Give to the Max. One of the campaign emails found its way to the leader of a local family foundation, who was moved by the story and immediately contacted CLUES. She invited CLUES to submit a proposal to cover the remaining cost of the bus — and the funding was approved! Now, the organization can continue to provide transportation to the elders who rely on the Aging Well program.

CLUES’ Give to the Max Day campaign had power because it was built around a specific goal and a strong message. Even a quick, simple strategic process can help you identify your goals and consider how you can achieve them. You can move from “simply doing” to completing marketing tasks with confidence because there’s a strategic reason for each one.