A strategic, research-based marketing plan is a valuable asset for guiding a nonprofit’s marketing and communications. Research-driven strategies incorporate feedback from internal and external constituents, include quantifiable baseline data and set measurable benchmarks for evaluating success.
While strategic communication plans are not one size fits all, there are five key considerations all nonprofits should make when developing a framework to guide their marketing and communication campaigns:
Nonprofits are tasked with communicating to a broad range of audiences. Representative target audiences include legislators, key funders, volunteers, strategic partners, clients, staff and board members. While one audience may be more accessible than another, it is critically important for a nonprofit’s marketing plan to ensure consistent communication with all constituents.
The second aspect of balance is developing communications that are an appropriate mix of what each audience needs and wants to know vs. what you want them to know. Nonprofits do many great things for the community, which can lead to unintentional information overload for target audiences. Demonstrate your understanding of the organization’s various audiences by honing in on what is most important to them.
The third aspect of balance focuses on communication channels. A solid marketing communications plan will integrate a carefully crafted mix of in-person, online, social and traditional marketing activities. Just because your volunteers are active social media users doesn’t mean your donors prefer to be communicated with via social channels.
Complementary to balance is bandwidth. Many nonprofits have limited staff and, oftentimes, these folks wear multiple hats. If your development director is also your communications manager and your volunteer coordinator, it may not be realistic for this person to develop a tailored communication to each of your target audiences on a monthly basis.
When developing a nonprofit marketing plan, be mindful of:
- how much time internal staff have to allocate to implementation of the plan
- what external resources are available to support with plan implementation
- how best to leverage individuals’ skills and expertise in support of the plan
- the natural ebb and flow of activities within your organization
Oftentimes, nonprofits will tell us that their organizations have evolved since the time their mission statement was written. This may be the result of new programs and services or expanded geographic reach. While it is important to communicate this evolution, your nonprofit still has a brand to which it must remain true.
A nonprofit communications plan should include carefully crafted key message points that communicate these changes and enhancements to the organization while accurately reflecting the overall brand. With many audiences to serve, it is tempting to develop marketing and communications initiatives that try to be all things to all people. While a noble goal, this approach can result in mixed messaging, brand confusion and a lack of understanding as to what the nonprofit does and who it serves.
Boards of Directors play a critical role in guiding the strategic direction of nonprofits. Depending on a Board’s structure, they may also play an active role in development, communications and volunteer recruitment. When developing a nonprofit marketing plan, take the time to survey your Board and get their feedback on what is currently working well in the marketing and communications arena and where they feel the organization could improve. Developing a plan that reflects these insights and aligns with the organizational goals of the Board will lay a foundation for collaborative implementation of the plan while ensuring all parties are working towards achieving common goals.
When collaborating with nonprofits to develop a communications plan, we are often asked ‘How will we know if it worked?’ Enter benchmarks and success metrics.
Just as nonprofits have unique missions, they should have individualized metrics for evaluating the success of their marketing and communications campaigns. If your nonprofit is working towards increasing private donations by 10% over a 12-month period, the plan should include periodic evaluations to see how you are tracking towards that goal. Success should be evaluated by communication channel, associated marketing activity and time of year. This data can be used to refine the plan and provide valuable intelligence when developing marketing plans for subsequent years.
Strategic communication plans are vital to ensuring all stakeholders are well-informed and working towards a common goal. The stronger the plan, the clearer the roadmap to helping a nonprofit achieve its end goals.