A Step-by-Step Guide to Develop a Marketing Plan for Your Nonprofit

As a leader of a nonprofit whose success depends on donors and can only thrive with continued generosity, it’s fair to say that a strong marketing plan is mission-critical. Without it, not only will your nonprofit fail to build awareness for its cause, but you’ll struggle to gain the financial footing you need to make a real difference in your community.

The most successful nonprofits make a lasting, widespread impact because the administrative personnel behind them run them like businesses. In other words, they count every dollar, give a purpose to each penny, and invest a portion of those funds wisely into helping earn more. Similarly, all investments (time and otherwise) put into your nonprofit’s marketing efforts should warrant the same business-minded approach.

In this guide, you’ll learn five critical steps you need to follow to create a results-driven marketing plan that will help you grow your nonprofit in a sustainable way.


Define a set of marketing goals

Characterize your audience

Formulate consistent messaging

Choose the right marketing strategies

Analyze results and continue improving

5 steps to market your nonprofit

If you feel like you’re taking shots in the dark with your marketing plan, it’s time to rethink your approach. When you don’t know who you’re trying to reach, where to find those people, or what to say to get their attention, it’s time to go back to the drawing board and zero in on where you need to focus.

Here are the steps you need to follow to ensure your marketing efforts pay off.

1. Define a set of marketing goals

First and foremost, running your nonprofit like a business means setting out to accomplish a handful of specific, measurable goals before investing any more time or money.

There are different ways to define your marketing goals, but most nonprofits have one ultimate conversion event in mind: Donations. However, while donations are important, much like sales are to a business, the largest brands don’t measure everything by revenue generation. Instead, they also look to metrics that prove awareness, engagement, and loyalty.

As a nonprofit, you should identify multiple metrics and goals that relate to the following:

  • Awareness: How can your marketing efforts spread awareness for your nonprofit and get people talking about what you do?

  • Engagement: How can people get involved without (or in addition to) giving money? Can they act socially to spread the word or volunteer their time?

  • Conversions: How else can you “convert” someone into a supporter aside from collecting a donation? Think volunteers, newsletter subscribers, pledges, and more.

When setting your goals, set both short-term (accomplished in the next three to six months) and long-term (accomplished in a year or more) goals and make sure they are SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound. Then, identify one or more metrics to help you track your progress toward each.

Check out Launching a Nonprofit Initiative? Here’s Everything You Must Know to learn how to get your nonprofit’s latest idea off the ground with the right steps to take.

2. Characterize your audience

Many nonprofits make the same mistake that small businesses tend to make, which is assuming that they have mass, general appeal. While that might be true to some degree, failing to identify a very specific target audience will only hold you back.

Just as the biggest brands do, your nonprofit should take some time to lay out different audience personas. A persona is a profile for your ideal supporter—you should even go as far as to give them a name.

Creating a persona takes a great deal of research, and it’s essential that you leave as little as possible to guesswork. Some of the details you should include in your target persona include:

  • Demographic information, such as age, gender, relationship status, where they live, where they work, household income, etc.

  • Personal interests, this includes social media platforms they use, the topics they read about the most, and who they interact with online.

  • Communication preferences, such as how they’d prefer to hear from you (email, text, social media, mail, etc.) and what they want to hear.

  • Tone and style, which will guide the creation of your messaging going forward. For instance, do they respond best to campaigns that make them feel happy, inspired, or empathetic?

Most nonprofits will end up crafting up two or three personas, but you should identify one as your primary target.

Enlist the help of nonprofit CRM software to help manage some of your supporter’s persona information, such as communication preferences.

3. Formulate consistent messaging

With your target personas in front of you, you will be able to formulate messaging that makes those personas feel as though you are speaking directly to them. Assuming you’ve done your research, this will lead to better results from your campaigns.

Some of the ways that your target persona will guide your marketing efforts include:

  • Where you choose to market or advertise. For instance, if you know that your target persona prefers social media over mailers, you will want to act accordingly.

  • The tone and content of your message. If a persona responds better to inspiring messages, you should avoid images and content that makes them feel sad, angry, or burdened.

  • What you ask for. Crafting the CTA (or call-to-action) based on whether your persona is most likely to donate, volunteer, or share will help you generate the most impact from your campaign.

In addition to formulating your messaging based on the persona you’re targeting, you should also keep in mind that your nonprofit’s brand needs to shine through. Remember that your brand voice should remain consistent, even if you’re changing the tone of that voice to match a certain persona, campaign, or event.

A great idea starts somewhere. Learn about tips for How to Launch a New Nonprofit Initiative: A Guide for Success once you have your messaging strategy in place.

4. Choose the right marketing strategies

With messaging that speaks to your personas in order, the next step is deciding how you’re going to get that message out to your audience. There are several marketing strategies to choose from, and you’ll likely use a mix of them to reach your goals.

  • Content marketing can help support your SEO goals and drive organic traffic to your website. It involves blog posts, videos, and other types of content to educate your audience on important topics.

  • Email marketing allows you to keep your audience engaged after they have signed up for your newsletter. Sending emails is practically free and can foster loyalty.

  • Cold outreach involves volunteers dialing a list of numbers and introducing those who answer to your nonprofit’s latest campaign.

  • Bulk mailers allow you to send donation requests or information to a list of addresses, but you will pay for the production of the mailers and postage and likely have to buy the mailing list as well.

  • Paid advertising, such as on social media or specific websites, can help you reach your audience, especially when targeting a persona that you expect to donate large sums. You will likely pay per impression.

  • Search advertising will allow you to show at the top of relevant search results in Google or other search engines. You will likely pay per click.

Generally, by investing in content marketing you can build a list of email subscribers, which in turn, leads to email marketing. Meanwhile, the paid advertising methods you select (if any) will depend on your budget and target persona. It’s also important to recognize that, while content marketing will generate long-term traffic, the traffic generated by paid campaigns is short-lived.

Marketing strategies are just one of the many for-profit strategies that nonprofits can adopt. For more tips on how to get your nonprofit to succeed like a for-profit, check out Five Effective Ways To Operate a Nonprofit Like a For-Profit Business.

5. Analyze results and continue improving

However you choose to move forward with your marketing strategy, you must look at the metrics you identified in step one and track your progress toward your goals.

  • If you find you aren’t hitting the milestones you set, you need to analyze the approach you are taking and consider how you can alter your messaging to better match your target persona’s interests.

  • If you find that your target persona isn’t responding to what you thought they would, it might be time to rethink that persona or do additional research to enrich their profile.

  • If you find it consistently impossible to reach your goals, they may be too ambitious. Rethink your goals and make sure they are specific and achievable.

Over time, you will become better at setting goals and reaching them. What matters is that you always go back to the data to keep your approach grounded in results.

Remember not to leave your nonprofit employees behind in your efforts. Read about Tips and Best Practices for Motivating Employees in Nonprofit Organizations to keep your staff engaged and motivated.

Boost your nonprofit’s marketing plan

One of the challenging parts of marketing for nonprofits is learning how to resonate with their audience in an authentic and encouraging way. While it will take time to cement your brand voice and figure out how to use it in the open market effectively, analyzing your results with each post, message, and campaign will help you get there.

You’ll also find more helpful advice in Software Advice’s resource hub, but why stop there? At Software Advice, we offer free insights on the best software that suits your business. Schedule a call or click here to chat with an advisor today to find the right tools for your business.