Creating a Nonprofit Marketing Plan in 2023: A Step-By-Step Strategy Guide

Courtney Runn
Written By Courtney Runn
Posted On August 23, 2023
creating a nonprofit marketing plan in 2023

Nonprofits have the unique challenge of raising donations to advance their mission with limited funds, staff, time, and marketing expertise. Without a robust marketing plan, it’s difficult to secure the donations, volunteers, community partnerships, and support you need to grow. 

But if you’re like many of the nonprofit founders we work with, you’re passionate about changing people’s lives…not creating marketing strategies. 

That’s where we come in. With a heart for nonprofits and extensive digital marketing experience, our mission is to help you achieve yours. That’s why we created this comprehensive guide to everything you need to know about creating a nonprofit marketing strategy that will help you advance your mission. Whether you have a seasoned marketing team in place or you’re flying solo, you can use this to attract new supporters, recruit more volunteers and increase your impact on the world.

This guide will cover the following topics:

The Importance of Marketing Strategy for Nonprofits

If you’re constantly analyzing your strategy, you’ll never take action. 

But if you take action without considering strategy, you’ll quickly veer off course. 

A marketing plan offers two key stabilizing factors for any nonprofit that is ready to grow: alignment and accountability. 

Individually, a marketing plan helps you actually commit to what you want to do, be intentional with your work, and stay proactive. It also helps your entire team stay on track. Now, each member can clearly measure success in their role and know what specific steps to take to advance the mission. 

Zooming out even further, a defined marketing plan is an invaluable tool to cast vision, get buy-in for your plans, and involve leadership in your work. 

To effectively provide alignment and accountability, your nonprofit marketing plan should answer the following questions: 

  1. What goals do we hope to accomplish this year? 
  2. What actions will we take to accomplish them? 
  3. How will we measure progress/success? 

We’ll break down exactly how to create and execute a marketing plan, but these three questions will be your guiding compass.

6 Benefits of an Effective Nonprofit Marketing Plan

As digital marketing experts who specialize in working with nonprofits, we work with organizations like yours every day to plan, build, and execute effective marketing strategies. 

We know how discouraging it is to feel like you’re stuck on a hamster wheel—constantly trying new tactics but not seeing any results. 

That’s why we’re passionate about helping nonprofits get the results they deserve! But before we share how to start marketing better, here are six reasons why it’s worth the investment. 

1. Increase awareness

Do you ever feel like you’re shouting into the void? According to Ad Week, the average person views anywhere from 6,000 to 10,000 ads a day. No wonder it can feel impossible to cut through the noise to get someone’s attention. 

As a nonprofit, you’re doing amazing work that has the potential to truly transform lives. The work you’re doing deserves to be seen and supported! But before you can connect with your audience, they have to know you exist. 

That’s where a strategic marketing plan comes into play. The right strategy will put your work in front of the right people.

2. Build credibility and reputation

Someone lands on your website or social media page. They see no testimonials, no stats, no information on the origin of your nonprofit. They love your mission, but they’re skeptical of investing their time or money.

Gaining the trust of a potential supporter can take time, but relational strategic marketing can boost your credibility and reputation. Compelling messaging can turn skeptics into devoted supporters.

3. Expand your ability to reach new donors and increase recurring donations

Doing incredible, world-changing work is the fun part of running a nonprofit. Endlessly searching for new donors to fuel that crucial work? Not so much. 

Your next best donor is out there, but they might not know you exist or that you need their support. They care about the work you’re doing. And they have the means to support you. They just need to be asked. 

An effective marketing plan not only targets the right audience but it also nurtures those relationships over time. With the right strategy, you can gain something even more valuable than a one-time donation: a committed supporter who’s going to invest in your work for years to come. 

4. Build stronger community relationships

No man is an island and neither is a nonprofit. If you’re serving the community, you need to build relationships in the community. Not only do these relationships inform how you can better serve your audience but they also can lead to needed donations, partnerships, volunteers, and resources. 

A strong marketing plan can increase awareness in the community, lend you more credibility, and give you the right language to clearly share your mission—all crucial elements in developing better community relationships.

5. Allocate resources efficiently

Are you throwing money at social ads and not seeing the results you’re looking for? Or investing your quarterly budget in a snazzy new logo that no one has noticed? 

As a nonprofit, you likely don’t have much margin for budget errors. You need to spend the limited funds you do have wisely to remain on good terms with your board and existing donors. When you know what marketing tactics actually work, you can allocate your budget accordingly and invest confidently.

6. Recruit volunteers

When you’re down a volunteer, it can impact your entire organization. Scrambling to find steady volunteers means less time actually doing the work you love. 

People have the time and desire to volunteer. You just need the right strategy to find them! As you nurture your relationships with potential supporters and donors over time, you’ll build a loyal base of volunteers who are excited to contribute to your mission.

5 Pillars of Digital Marketing for Nonprofits

Think about marketing like dating.

You wouldn’t ask someone to marry you on the first date. That would be a big ask in your brand-new relationship!

You would want to nurture the relationship over time as you get to know each other before popping the big question. The same is true for your approach to marketing.

Marketing is about building relationships, not transactions. It’s about connecting people with your cause, not just funding a project or meeting a budget.

And just like other relationships, marketing relationships take time, effort, and intentionality. You need the right marketing activities at each stage to help move your audience along their journey with your organization.

Care > Connect > Convert

In their research on philanthropy, the authors of The Generosity Crisis found that nonprofits often rely on a “person’s wealth as the key metric for predicting someone’s willingness to give.” 

But according to their research, fundraising outcomes are determined by affinity, not wealth. When someone feels relationally connected to a nonprofit, they are more likely to donate or volunteer.  

If you don’t switch your mindset from transactional to relational, you’re actually missing out on the support you need to do good in the world. 

Simply put, when your mission is on the line, marketing well matters.

The good news is you don’t need a degree in marketing to start building better relationships. Here are the five foundational marketing assets you should develop to nurture your relationships and reach your goals.


Have you ever posted every day on Instagram for a week, seen no results, and not posted again for weeks? Or tried pushing out an email campaign asking for donations when you hadn’t communicated with your supporters for months? 

Without a strategy, you’re throwing things against the wall and seeing what sticks. A thoughtful strategy helps your actions be intentional and consistent. 

Your audience goes through four stages in their relationship with your organization and all of your actions should be designed to move them from one stage to the next: 

Stranger > Subscriber > Supporter > Brand Evangelist

Ultimately, strategy comes down to understanding who you are, who you serve, and how you communicate. To answer those questions, consider these seven components of a successful strategy:

Brand Pillars: Before you can identify your audience and nurture a relationship with them, you need to get clear on who you are. What is your mission, vision, and values as an organization? These are your brand pillars that will provide a sturdy foundation for all of your messaging. 

Visual Identity Guidelines: Once you know who you are, you can build your visual identity through an engaging logo, consistent fonts, and a palette of colors. 

Brand Messaging Strategy: How do you talk about your organization? Do you focus your messaging on how great you are or do you center your audience? To nurture a relationship with your audience, your messaging should center your audience, be consistent across all communication channels, and focus on the transformation arc your work enables. 

Relational Marketing Framework: To move someone from a stranger to a brand evangelist, you need to authentically connect with them. That starts with awareness (paid ads, organic engagement) then moves into engagement (opportunities to read, watch, subscribe, download, register, attend, or contact). After there’s a conversion (buy, donate, volunteer), the audience needs to be retained through continued engagement before they would consider themselves a brand evangelist who will share, refer, and invite others to support your work. 

Annual Marketing Campaign Calendar: To avoid saturating your audience with asks, space out your annual campaigns throughout the year. Whether you focus all your fundraising efforts around Giving Tuesday or certain seasons that make sense for your organization, put the dates on your calendar and work backwards to determine when you need to start planning and building each campaign. 

Goals: The last (and possibly most important) step is setting goals so you don’t stay stuck in the strategy phase. Marketing is often slower than you want it to be, so think of goals you’d like to accomplish in 18 to 24 months and set quarterly measurable steps to get there. If you accomplish steps quickly, you can always move onto the next. But if you overestimate your ability to check off your to-do list, the whole project can grind to a halt. Play the long game.


You know who your target audience is. Now, how do you reach them? There’s not one guaranteed way to reach every single potential supporter. That’s why a toolbox of methods you can rotate through is the best approach. Here’s how to reach more of the right people online using a healthy mix of traffic types: 

Paid Traffic: Paid ads include search advertising (right now that’s mostly Google) and social advertising (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, TikTok). They can be a powerful way to directly reach people who are searching for the kinds of solutions you provide. 

Owned/Organic Traffic: Unlike your email list where you engage with already existing supporters, this form of traffic comes from accounts that allow you to reach new people. Your website and social media accounts can be leveraged to pop up in other people’s searches and newsfeeds organically.  

Earned Traffic: This form of traffic comes from other people’s accounts. You can access this traffic by speaking at events, leading workshops, operating a booth at a conference, participating in a webinar or writing a guest blog post. 

Intentional Word-of-Mouth: Hopefully, your work speaks for itself and people naturally share, right? While that would be great, it’s not predictable or scaleable. The more reliable plan is intentional word-of-mouth. Explicitly ask people to share about your organization and make it as easy as possible for them to do so with links, graphics, and ready-to-share text. 

So which of these sources do you use and when? Not all traffic sources are equal in value; each has its own pros and cons. Here are four factors to consider when choosing a traffic source that will best achieve your goals: 

Value – What’s the value of the audience you’re speaking to? Are you speaking to big donors or smaller-scale donors? 

Trust – How much does the audience trust you? An Instagram ad in the wild might not generate a lot of trust from a potential donor. But a close friend enthusiastically posting about you on Instagram will. 

Volume – How many people will this reach? An Instagram campaign might be low trust but high volume, reaching thousands more people than a word-of-mouth post. 

Speed – How quickly do you need to reach people? Investing in SEO will organically build up your audience over time but paid Google ads will quickly boost your traffic. 

Once you decide which factors are the most important for your purpose, you can pick the right traffic source to invest in. And what’s right for one campaign might change for the next one!


After you’ve created a strategic plan, which includes intentional traffic sources, it’s time to convert! Most conversions will happen through the digital “front door” of your organization: your homepage. 

Generally, there are two broad categories of conversion: campaign and evergreen. At this stage, the goal is to move subscribers to supporters and that will mostly happen through targeted campaigns and a steady stream of supporters opting in organically. 

Here are seven primary ways to increase conversions, including four core conversion pages and three campaigns:  

Conversion-Focused Homepage – Your homepage is the first impression many people will have of your organization. And first impressions matter. That means your homepage needs to accurately reflect your brand, engage your audience, and drive results. To find out if your website is high converting, check out our guide to the 10 essential elements of a successful nonprofit homepage

Email Opt-in Page – An email opt-in page is an easy, evergreen way to steadily increase conversions. Once someone is on your website, make it easy for them to become a subscriber by joining your mailing list. 

Core Conversion Page – The goal of conversion is always to move people to the next step in their journey. Once they’ve opted in, give them an opportunity to become a supporter. For nonprofits, this often looks like a dedicated page on your website for donating or volunteering. This page should include audience-centric language that speaks to the transformation that will happen if they support your mission. 

Ascension Page – Once people are supporters, how do they ascend to the next level of becoming brand evangelists? If they’ve donated once, is there an incentive to become a monthly donor? 

Standalone Opt-in Campaigns – Your evergreen campaign will attract new leads throughout the year, but strategically built campaigns targeting new audiences a few times per year will help boost your subscribers.  

Standalone Conversion Campaigns – Similarly, consider what value-forward content you could produce seasonally that would continue to move your audience forward in their relational journey with you. 
Standalone Ascension Campaigns – Finally, don’t forget the final stage of the relational journey: ascension to brand evangelist. Once your subscribers become supporters, continue to nurture them and target them with ascension-focused campaigns that will lead to your evergreen ascension page.


If we continue with the metaphor that marketing is like a romantic relationship, this is the point where many nonprofit marketers would ghost their significant other. Have you ever experienced this with a nonprofit? You donated and then never heard from them again. At least, until they were fundraising again. 

As we learned above, this approach will cost you in the long run. Relationships are the number one factor in giving, so why would you ignore your greatest asset? 

To keep the relationship going, you need to provide consistent content throughout the year that genuinely provides value to your audience. When it’s time for your big fundraising appeal, they’ll immediately recognize your name in their inbox and feel more affinity for your mission after reading impactful stories of transformation all year long. 

Here are five ways you can start nurturing your existing relationships: 

Retargeting Ads – Someone might visit your page, but not donate. That doesn’t mean they’re a lost cause! No doesn’t always mean no; it might just mean not right now. That’s why retargeting ads are a powerful tool to nudge people toward taking the next step. 

New Subscriber Email Series – This series usually contains three to five automatically triggered emails that are spaced out over the course of a week. They welcome a new subscriber to your organization, delivering value then building trust, affinity, and excitement. For a simple three-email series, start with an email that includes welcoming language (“You’re in!” “Welcome to the family!”) and clearly tells the transformation story of the people you’re serving. The second email should highlight compelling testimonials with the third final email focusing on your own origin story. After these three emails, your new subscriber knows your values, your mission, and how they can get involved. 

New Supporter Email Series – Once someone on your email list moves from subscriber to supporter by donating or volunteering, you want to acknowledge their generosity. Continue to nurture that relationship by welcoming them into your community of supporters with an email series uniquely designed for them. 

Ongoing Subscriber Content Schedule – After an initial welcome series, continue to nurture your subscribers by sending monthly emails. These emails should be consistent with your overall organization’s messaging and values. Often, they will include testimonials and stories of impact, reminding readers of your mission and giving them clear ways to get involved. These emails should never start with an ask; the goal is to nurture with a secondary goal of getting your audience to take action, whether that’s donating or volunteering or reading a blog post.  

Ongoing Supporter Content Schedule – For supporters, this will look very similar to ongoing subscriber emails. Monthly nurture emails with exclusive stories and insider news just for supporters will go a long way in nurturing your relationship.

Reporting and Analysis

So, how do you know if any of this is actually working? Tracking metrics will help you identify which of your strategies are on the right track and which might need tweaking. While there are countless methods to do this, here are three you should pay attention to: 

Google Analytics – Google Analytics is one of your best tools to get real-time data. After you familiarize yourself with the Google Analytics dashboard, consider three metrics: conversion events, engagement for high-value pages, and user acquisition. Every website should have specific goals in mind and each page of your website should have a unique purpose. Tracking conversion will help you determine if each page is fulfilling its goal. To track engagement on high-value pages, pay attention to the time spent on the page as well as a metric called “user engagement” to track if someone is scrolling, clicking, etc. Finally, knowing where your users are coming from will give you an idea of how effective each traffic source is. 

Tracking Pixels + Events – A tracking pixel is a piece of code on your website that can track the behavior of your visitors, so you can see how people interact with your site and what actions they take. 

Weekly Marketing Scorecard – Whether you have a running Google Doc or a fancy Excel sheet, the design isn’t as important as the consistency. Here are six categories to track each week: north star metrics (total leads, total supporters, total new online donations), content (organic sessions, unique visitors, content mail click rate), paid traffic (unique visitors, cost per click, cost per lead, cost per acquisition), social (social shares, social traffic, social interactions), search (total rankings, domain authority, average page speed in seconds), and email (list size, open rate, click-through rate).

7 Essential Components of a Nonprofit Marketing Plan

Are you ready to go deeper? With the Five Pillars of Digital Marketing as your foundation, you can now get specific on your goals and the best methods to achieve them. Here are eight essential elements to take your new marketing plan from an idea to a game-changing reality.

1. Goals and Objectives

12 months from now, you’re looking back on the year and assessing your nonprofit. It’s been a good year—not the best year you’ve ever had, but far from the worst—and you’re happy with where you and your team are headed in the new year. 

From a marketing standpoint, what has changed in those 12 months? What markers of success let you know it’s been a good year? Maybe it’s an increased mailing list of leads. Or an updated website with more compelling, audience-focused messaging. 

It’s great to dream about the future but if you don’t have a plan to get there, your dreams might never become a reality. Your goals don’t need to be complicated, but they do need to be thoughtful and highly specific. 

For accountability and clarity, it’s a helpful practice to write down your goals and get clear on what exactly you want to achieve. Use actionable language with specific metrics of success and methods to get there—so throughout the year you know if you’re on track to have a good year.

Example: Increase our list of leads for potential volunteersIncrease mailing list from X amount of followers to Y by specific date.Leverage online advertising, SEO, webinars, and interview opportunities to promote lead funnels.

You can also use key performance indicators (KPIs) to identify specific measurable results. Example KPIs could include:

  • Donation or Fundraising Metrics:
    • Total donation amount: Measures the overall financial support received by the organization.
    • Donation conversion rate: Tracks the percentage of visitors or leads who actually donate.
    • Average donation size: Indicates the average amount contributed by individual donors.
    • Retention rate: Measures the percentage of donors who continue to contribute over time.
  • Awareness and Reach Metrics:
    • Website traffic: Measures the number of visitors to the organization’s website.
    • Social media reach: Tracks the number of followers, likes, shares, and comments on social media platforms.
    • Media mentions: Measures the number of times the organization is mentioned or featured in the media.
    • Email open and click-through rates: Evaluates the effectiveness of email campaigns in reaching and engaging the target market.
  • Volunteer Engagement Metrics:
    • Volunteer recruitment: Measures the number of new volunteers acquired within a specific period.
    • Volunteer retention: Tracks the percentage of volunteers who remain active over time.
    • Volunteer hours: Measures the total amount of time contributed by volunteers.
  • Program Impact Metrics:
    • Outcome measurement: Evaluates the effectiveness of the nonprofit’s programs in achieving their intended outcomes.
    • Beneficiary satisfaction: Measures the satisfaction level of the individuals or communities served by the organization.
    • Success stories and testimonials: Tracks the number and quality of success stories and testimonials from beneficiaries.
  • Cost-effectiveness Metrics:
    • Cost per acquisition (CPA): Measures the cost required to acquire a new donor or supporter.
    • Return on investment (ROI): Evaluates the financial efficiency of marketing efforts in generating desired outcomes.

2. Target Audiences

If goals are the “what,” your audience is the “who.” Who should you ask to take action to accomplish your goals? 

Depending on who you want to talk to will ultimately set the stage for all other strategy—from how you message your campaign down to the marketing channels you’ll use to reach people. 

Start by breaking potential audiences down into ‘cold’, ‘warm’, and ‘hot’. 

Cold Audiences: Cold audiences are people who don’t know your organization yet. If your goals include adding new people to your community, then consider how you’ll reach cold audiences. Just remember, new people are less likely to give, and when they do, it’s more likely to be in smaller amounts.

Warm Audiences: Warm audiences are already connected to your organization but haven’t donated yet. They may be email subscribers, social media followers, or on a physical mailing list. You should target this audience if your goals include adding more first-time donors. 

Hot Audiences: Hot audiences are your existing donors. Suppose your goals involve asking current donors to give again, in higher amounts, or on a recurring basis. In that case, you’ll be reaching hot audiences.

Once you know what types of groups you want to reach, and what you’re asking them to do, you can write key messages that appeal to those audiences.

Situational Analysis / SWOT Analysis

Even the best laid plans can go awry because of factors outside of your control. A SWOT analysis will help you assess situational factors that could impact your goals so you have the chance to course correct. 

Internally, you have strengths and weaknesses that impact your work for the better and worse. And externally, there are opportunities and threats that can either propel or hinder your organization’s mission. 

If we’re in a recession, it might be difficult to invest money in a new website, which would threaten your goals of increasing your list of leads. Or, on the flipside, there might be government initiatives that offer grants to nonprofits in difficult economic times that could provide the opportunity to update your site.

Fully staffed team that works well together
Loyal volunteers 
Small list of leads
Outdated messaging 
Grants for nonprofits 
Donated office space
Economic recession
New competition 

3. Key Messaging

Clear goals? Check. Target audience? Check. SWOT analysis? Check. 

Everything is set up for success. Now, the all-important question: What are you communicating? What message can you send that will resonate with your audience and help you achieve your goals? 

An important part of strategy mentioned in the Five Pillars is brand messaging. You need consistent, clear, compelling marketing messages that captures your mission as a nonprofit and how your audience benefits from that mission. Whether you’re writing a social post, email, or snail-mail letter, it should all sound and feel consistent no matter what platform you use.

For your key messaging, you want to take that same story and tailor it to your specific goal. If your goal is to increase regular volunteers, you should rely on your overall brand messaging as a foundation but specifically write copy that resonates with potential volunteers.  

In two-to-three short statements, write the big-picture problem, solution, and result that you want to portray in your overall message. This paragraph will guide the rest of your messaging. It will look something like this:

Many people struggle with [the problem of what they have and feel before]…

that’s why your support will help people [your service solution]…

so that they can [experience this result or identity change].

Budget and Resources

When you’re a nonprofit with limited funds, your budget can feel like the enemy to success. But determining your budget is a crucial part of evaluating and implementing your goals for the year. To avoid getting ahead of your budget, answer these three questions as a team: 

  1. What assets do we need to create this year to achieve our marketing goals? 
  2. Do we have the internal resources to create and manage those assets? If not, are we lacking skills or capacity? 
  3. What would it cost to outsource what we can’t do internally?

Implementation Timeline

Think back to your 12-month goals you set above. What do you need to do each quarter, each month, each week to reach those goals by the end of the year? 

Just like you used detailed, actionable language to set your outcomes, metrics, and opportunities, it’s crucial you go the extra step of breaking each goal down even further and placing it on the calendar. 

Not only does a detailed timeline provide accountability to make real progress, but it also gives your entire team a clear game plan for the year and specific steps everyone can take.

Performance Measurements & Evaluation

Thanks to the metrics you defined when you set your annual goals, you have a way to measure your overall success. But when and how should you be evaluating your progress throughout the year? Each quarter, you should take time to do four things: assess, plan, execute, and report. 

But, first, take a temperature check with your team: 

Consider the past quarter: What were the biggest wins of the past quarter? What are you most proud of? What are your biggest regrets? Summarize the last quarter in one word or phrase. 

Consider the present: What are you confident about? What are you lacking? 

Consider the next quarter: What are you excited about? What are you concerned about? 

Now, get more detailed: 

  1. Assess – Review the previous quarter’s scorecard, goals, and after-action review. Ask your team:
    1. What did we expect to happen? 
    2. What actually happened? 
    3. What worked well? 
    4. What needs improvement? 
    5. What do we need to stop doing? Start doing? 
    6. What difference do we want to see next quarter? 
  2. Plan – Revisit annual goals and set quarterly goals, but avoid the temptation to add too many goals to your list. It’s better to be realistic and get ahead than fall behind. Ask your team:
    1. Do we need to revise, remove, or add annual goals? 
    2. Are we on track or off track with our annual goals? 
    3. What do we want to see that’s different from today to feel like it was a successful quarter? 
    4. How will we measure progress and completion of these goals? 
    5. How confident do you feel about accomplishing these goals? 
  3. Execute – Assign goals, break down goals into actionable tasks, and report to your entire team. 
  4. Report – Add metrics to your scorecard and track progress weekly. 

9 Specific Steps to Create a Nonprofit Marketing Plan

With the Five Pillars of Digital Marketing and the Eight Essential Components of a Nonprofit Marketing Plan in your toolbox, you’re ready to build. Here is your step-by-step guide to implementing your nonprofit marketing plan.

Step 1 – Conduct a Nonprofit Marketing Audit

Before you can overhaul your marketing plan, you need to know where you’re starting. Whether you’re building a plan from scratch or tweaking an existing framework, it’s crucial to look back before you can move forward. Our fist step is to audit what we’re already doing.

First, four fundamental questions your team should be aligned on: 

  1. What do we do? 
  2. Who is our primary audience? 
  3. What is the main problem we solve in the world? 
  4. What are differentiators or unfair advantages compared to similar nonprofits? 

To assess what’s working well and what’s not, consider the Five Pillars: 

Strategy: Have you documented your brand, audience, and goals?

Traffic: How do you intentionally drive people to your nonprofit? 

Conversion: How do people engage with your nonprofit?

Nurturing: How do you build trust, affinity, and excitement over time?Reporting & Analyses: How are you tracking each step so you can assess and optimize?

Step 2 – Establish SMART Goals

After you’ve completed a marketing audit and assessed what went right or wrong in the past, you can introduce your goals and objectives for the future. 

In the previous section, we stressed the importance of setting detailed goals and objectives—not just a list of lofty ambitions. When you’re dreaming big about the future, making SMART goals will bring you back down to earth. 

Specific: When setting goals, get highly specific and use actionable language. Instead of “More donors,” commit to, “Create marketing funnel to attract new email leads.”

Measurable: How will you know if you’ve successfully hit your goal? If “more donors” is your goal, you might technically achieve your goal as long as you end the year with one more donor than you started. But “Create marketing funnel to attract 50 new email leads” is specific and measurable and advances your mission. 

Achievable: It’s easy to set huge goals. But don’t forget you’re human and your team is human. Setting realistic goals will keep you on track throughout the year and save you the stress of missed deadlines. 

Relevant: Are your goals in line with your overall objectives for the year? If your biggest need is securing more donors and volunteers, new email leads should be a top priority, not redesigning your nonprofit logo. 
Time-Bound: Give yourself a realistic deadline. “Create a marketing funnel to attract 50 new email leads by the end of the second quarter” gives you a specific action to work toward, metrics to measure success by, and a specific date to aim for.

Step 3 – Create Targeted Audience Personas

To narrow your audience beyond “hot,” “warm,” and “cold,” create targeted audience personas. This allows you to step inside the mind of your potential supporters and identify their challenges, goals, and aspirations so you can communicate more effectively. 

  1. Name your persona.  
  2. Identify their desires, fears, and frustrations. What do they want that you can solve?  
  3. Determine relevant demographic information such as age, location, or income range. 
  4. Establish relevant professional characteristics like work title or company size. 
  5. Imagine their personal preferences, from hobbies and interests to brands they enjoy and personal values. 
  6. Consider their goals and challenges. What do they want in life? And what’s keeping them from achieving their goals? 
  7. Discover their information sources. Where does this person consume information? Who do they listen to? 
  8. Determine perceived positives and negatives of this persona’s relationship with your organization. Why would they engage with your nonprofit? Why would they be hesitant?

After this exercise, you’ll have a clearer understanding of exactly who you’re speaking to. If you’re looking for volunteers to drop off canned goods to your food kitchen, for example, you might come up with Volunteer Valerie. 

She wants to be involved in her community and is looking for volunteer opportunities, but between her full-time job and three children, it’s difficult to find time during the week to volunteer. She lives in a nearby neighborhood and would be considered upper middle class. She values community, justice, and work/life balance. She’s active on Instagram and always has a podcast on in the car. 

Now, when you create an Instagram campaign, you’re not speaking to faceless usernames. You’re talking to someone like Valerie, who has the resources and heart to give but doesn’t think she has the time. When she learns she can drop off food on her time schedule while still making a genuine difference in the community, she’ll be ready to jump on board!

Step 4 – Map Your Target Audience Relationship Journey

Stranger -> Subscriber -> Supporter -> Brand Evangelist

Each step of your marketing plan should move your audience forward in their relational journey. Remember that the ultimate goal is to transform strangers into brand evangelists. But you never want to jump from stranger to, “Give us money.” By slowly but intentionally connecting with your audience and nurturing your relationship with them in an authentic way, you’ll create a lasting bond that will outlast a one-time transaction. 

To map out exactly how you will get your audience from A to Z, focus on reach, conversion, and ascension. 

Reach: Strategically choose a mix of paid ads, organic/owned content, and earned media to reach your audience. 

Convert: Craft an entry-point offer, core offer, and ascension offer to convert your subscriber into a supporter.  

Ascend: Nurture your audience by providing value, frequent content, promotion, and opportunities for involvement.

Step 5 – Craft your Core Messaging

People don’t buy products or services—and they don’t make financial gifts to them either. People only buy and give toward one thing: transformation.

Your messaging should tell the transformation arc of the people impacted by the services made available by donors’ generosity. Here are five questions you need to answer to start crafting your recipients’ transformation arc. 

1. What do recipients HAVE before and after receiving your services? 

2. How do recipients FEEL before and after receiving your services? 

3. What does your recipients’ AVERAGE DAY look like before and after receiving your services? 

4. In an ideal world, why is it WRONG for recipients to face these problems? 

5. What IDENTITY do recipients relate to before and after receiving your services? 

Use this grid to capture your answers and build copy that speaks directly to your audience and the transformation their donations make possible. 

Have: Have: 
Average Day:Average Day:
Identity: Identity: 
Philosophical: Philosophical: 

Step 6 – Evaluate potential strategies and tactics

You have a robust set of strategies and tactics to achieve your goals—and we’ll go more in depth on 12 more marketing strategies in the next section. Now you have to choose which combination of strategies will help you meet your objectives and effectively move your audience forward in their relational journey. 

When choosing strategies, assess three factors: 

  1. Relevance to your objective – If your quarterly goal is to attract new donors, you shouldn’t spend all of your time and resources on email marketing, which is better for speaking to an existing audience. 
  2. Your timeline – SEO is a great tool to find new people but it’s a long-term investment, making it a better fit for annual goals than quarterly goals. 
  3. Marketing trends and current events – Pay attention to what’s happening outside of your organization so you can be ready to address topics that are relevant to your mission and would introduce more people to your work. 

Step 7 – Identify Key Measurements 

Setting aside time each week to review your metrics will provide you with real-time feedback. It will also become a helpful tool to review each month, quarter, and the year. 

Different goals will require different metrics, as discussed above, but always make sure to include: 

  • Your measurables 
  • Your goal 
  • Who is responsible for each goal 

With this format, the objective of “new community partnerships” would look like this: 

WhoMeasurables Weekly Goal 6/26-6/307/3-7/7
SamLocal organizations contacted via cold email 15 cold emails sent 1018
AllieWebsite visitors350 unique visitors230322

Step 8 – Create a Marketing Calendar and Ongoing Execution Plan

It can be tempting to stack multiple campaigns at a specific time of the year that’s beneficial for your nonprofit, like several back-to-school driven events for vulnerable students. But not only will that overburden your team, it will also produce long gaps during the rest of the year where you’re not advancing your mission. 

Creating a marketing calendar will help you avoid this. When making your calendar, keep two fundamental objectives in mind: 

  1. Space out campaigns throughout the year. 
  2. Once you’ve set a campaign or event, work backwards to determine and assign tasks. 
Social Posts
Website Landing Page 

Step 9 – Allocate a Marketing Budget 

The final step is allocating a budget. Every nonprofit’s budget will look different—and your budget doesn’t have to keep you from achieving your goals. This is where choosing the right strategies will come into play. This is another reason why getting highly specific on your goals matters. If you have limited funds, spend them on what actually matters most and will advance your mission. 

A specific dollar amount matters less than thoughtfully considering your assets and needs. As mentioned above, let these three questions guide your budget conversation: 

  1. What assets do we need to create this year to achieve our marketing goals? 
  2. Do we have the internal resources to create and manage those assets? If not, are we lacking skills or capacity? 
  3. What would it cost to outsource what we can’t do internally?

12 Marketing Strategies for Growing Your Nonprofit

Throughout the guide, we’ve mentioned a variety of strategies and tactics and the importance of selecting the right strategy for each goal. Here are the top 12 marketing strategies compiled in one list: 

Website – Your website—and homepage in particular—is often the first impression you’ll make on your audience. You don’t need a highly technical website to clearly communicate your mission and give your audience the opportunity to join you.  

Content Marketing – To build a relationship with your audience, you need to genuinely provide value and give them a reason to engage with you. An effective way to do this is through content: videos, guides, blog posts, PDFs, webinars, etc. Building content provides value to your existing audience, builds your authority, and attracts new leads. 

Email Marketing – Email is one of the best ways to nurture your relationship with your supporters. From welcome campaigns for new subscribers to ongoing monthly newsletters, don’t neglect this lower-cost, high-reward tool. 

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) – The goal of SEO is to reduce friction for people who actually want to find you online—whether they know you by name or not. The best way to optimize for Google is to optimize your visitors’ experience with relevant content and technical SEO best practices. This will cue Google that your website is trustworthy and authoritative within your niche. Research keywords your audience is searching and focus on building helpful, user-centric content using those keywords. SEO should always be in service of your audience over “gaming the system” to get clicks. 

Google’s Ad Grants Program – 6.9 billion Google searches happen daily. Don’t miss out on all that exposure! With Google’s Ad Grants program, as an eligible 501(c)(3) charitable organization, you can get up to $10,000 per month in Google Ads every month completely free. To find out if you’re eligible and get the most out of your ads, catch our webinar replay on using this program effectively. 

Event Marketing – While most of these strategies focus on digital marketing, face-to-face communication is always a powerful tool. Hosting fundraising events is an incredible way to raise awareness, build community partnerships, and provide value to your existing audience. Participating in other organizations’ events through networking, speaking, sponsorships, breakout sessions, or a booth is also smart. 

Influencer Marketing/Earned Media – Collaborating with others to reach their audience is a great way to grow your own audience. Whether you work with other organizations or influencers through a partnership or you pitch your nonprofit to media outlets for coverage, using other people’s platforms is an important piece of the growth puzzle. 

Direct Mail Marketing – While digital might feel like the only future, direct mail isn’t dead. In fact, Forbes argued it’s still one of the most effective tools for small organizations. The key is to thoughtfully target your audience and rely on concise, compelling copy. 

Social Media Marketing – When you plan your social-media strategy, consider both organic and paid content. Post on the platforms where your audience lives and invest in paid campaigns to identify new potential supporters. Evaluate your social media posts effectiveness against identified KPIs.

Partnerships and Collaborations – Find local and national leaders and businesses that share your interests to increase your impact. Many businesses want nonprofit partners that align with their company values, providing them with relational rapport with their customers and offering you needed donations and awareness. 

Public Speaking – Conferences and events often have a wide variety of speaking opportunities, from the keynote level to breakout sessions. Searching for events serving the same audience you serve is an easy way to boost your authority in your field while also building awareness of your work. Advocacy & Grassroots Marketing – For most nonprofits, advocacy is in step with the work you already do. If you’re on the ground serving a population, you likely have consequential knowledge, experience, and impactful stories to influence transformative legislation. A secondary benefit to advocacy is spreading awareness for your own nonprofit which in turn will lead to more people being served.

Let Us Help You Do Good Louder.

We believe the only thing better than the positive difference you’re making in the world is empowering you to make that difference even bigger. That’s why we’ll come alongside your team to help you amplify your mission with online marketing strategies and full-service implementation that works.

Courtney Runn

Courtney Runn

Courtney helps nonprofits and purposeful brands tell better stories so they can have a greater impact on the world.

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