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Introducing Strategic Marketing for Small Nonprofits

While marketing is an important business function for most for-profit organisations, nonprofits, especially those at the grassroots level, tend to put it on the back burner. The reason for doing so is usually simple — when significant effort and resources are required on ground to make a difference in the lives of their beneficiaries, marketing themselves is generally not a priority for nonprofits. Besides, marketing is often perceived to be too sales-centric and nonprofits tend to avoid it because of the perception of it requiring too much financial or resource investment.


However, in today’s digital age where it is imperative to form an engaging relationship with your intended audience, marketing has become pivotal for any nonprofit's success and survival. With the rise of the internet age, a  plethora of marketing tools and platforms are now available to nonprofit leaders, allowing them to harness the power of marketing to further their organisations’ mission.


A marketing strategy for nonprofits that checks all the boxes, will eventually help create awareness and a positive image about the organisation and it’s mission, while also forging valuable relationships with all of its stakeholders. Organisations that follow a well organised marketing strategy also have a distinctive advantage over peer organisations at gaining the credibility and loyalty they need to succeed at their mission.


Luckily, developing such marketing strategies is no longer rocket science, and you can do so by following the steps below.

Taking Stock

The first step of developing a cohesive marketing strategy is taking stock of the current state of marketing efforts at your organization. 

1. Identifying Stakeholders

Make a list of the different kinds of people that your organisation comes in contact with. For example, people who visit your organisations office, those who follow you on social media channels, those who subscribed to your emailing list, those who visit your website and so on.

This list will help you categorise everyone into stakeholder groups important for your organisation such as beneficiaries, donors, volunteers, corporates (for-profit organisations), other nonprofits and government organisations or policy makers. This distinction helps narrow down the kind of messaging, and thus the marketing effort, each stakeholder group requires. 

2. Analysing Messaging and Branding

Begin by asking the following questions:

  • What is the message you are sending to each of your stakeholders?

  • What are your mission and vision statements? Are these being clearly reflected across all your communication channels?

  • Do all your stakeholders know what is it that you do? (Ask them!)

  • What makes you special and is that effectively conveyed to the stakeholders?

  • How often do you reach out to your stakeholders and how has the response been?

  • Where does your organisation’s branding (logo, tagline, brand colors) appear? - Is the messaging / branding consistent across channels? 

The answers to these questions will give you a clear idea of the consistency and effectiveness of the current marketing efforts. This in turn, will help you highlight the things you wish to change for the better, implement anew or do away with entirely.


Successful nonprofits have consistent branding, engaging messaging that connects with their intended audiences, and clear call to action’s across their marketing channels. Their stakeholders know what makes them special, leading to long running partnerships that benefit the nonprofit. 


Setting Goals

A marketing strategy is only as efficient and successful, as it is organised. Armed with the knowledge of stakeholders identified earlier and the analysis of your nonprofits messaging and branding, we can now define clear goals for our marketing strategy.


Defining a set of goals also helps break down a marketing plan into ‘action items’ needed to achieve the said goals. These action items are concrete, specific, measurable (when possible) to-do’s, and also end up providing the metrics for evaluating results.


For example, let’s say an initial evaluation of the current organizational website that isn’t performing well, has determined that: 

  • The messaging on the website is inconsistent

  • No. of page visits are very few

  • There are no clicks on the donation button (no leads)

  • The design is outdated

Thus, we can craft our marketing plan by defining the following: 

Goal: Generate leads on the website

Action items to achieve goals:

- Update the content to cater to all stakeholders

- Ensure consistent messaging
- Implement a new web design

Metrics to measure results:

- An increase in the number of page visits

- Increased donations through the website 

Selecting Outreach Channels

Once you have defined clear goals for your marketing plan and crafted the relevant messages for your stakeholders, determine the most relevant channels to communicate with them. Also, determine the frequency with which you will use these communication channels.


Here are some of the online and offline marketing channels. There is no limit on which of these channels you can choose to work with — it entirely depends on your organization’s ability to take on the effort required for each. You may need a few test runs across channels to determine what works best with your audience. In the end, we are looking for a balanced mix of channels that should cover all your stakeholder bases.

A place to learn about grassroots development in action.

This article is part of our free 9-part course, Creating a Marketing Strategy for Community Nonprofits.

Creating a blueprint

Now that we know what we want to do and how, it is time to create a step-by-step work plan to delve into the specifics. To create this work plan, you will need to define three key components:


1. Roles and Responsibilities

Who is responsible for overseeing the successful implementation of the marketing plan? You can choose to assign a role within the existing staff, hire new staff members or outsource it to independent marketers.


2. Timeline

Depending on milestones defined for different marketing channels, create a marketing ‘calendar’. Keep in mind that your calendar should include all current and new marketing efforts. Here is a sample plan for an organization that identified ‘generate leads on the website’ as a goal, and has an ongoing email marketing campaign already in place:


3. Budget

Allocating funds for marketing at the beginning of the project is crucial to make sure you aren’t running into losses. A quarterly (or monthly) budget for a mix of online and offline marketing efforts should be a good place to begin. 

Tracking Results

Evaluating the results of your marketing plan at intermittent intervals helps determine if you are progressing towards the intended goals and if new strategies should be implemented.


Set a timeline for review (perhaps regroup with your team monthly or quarterly for a status update), and track results using metrics defined at the beginning of the project (number of website visits, clicks on donation button, number of email opens etc.). There are a number of tools available, both free and paid, to track if your efforts are achieving their desired outcomes.


For example, Google Analytics helps track website traffic and page visits, and email marketing platforms (such as MailChimp and Constant Contact) provide a through analysis of email opens and clicks.

Creating New Strategies

Marketing strategies are often recurrent in nature - the success of a strategy will set the stage for the next phase of enhancement. Use the results of a successful completion of a plan to create the next one. For example, once a website has been created to generate leads (such as page visits or donations), a new plan to look into optimizing the site for search engines can be made. 

Finishing Up

So there you have it. Creating a organised marketing strategy can be a bit time consuming, and require you to really put thought into what you’d like to tell your audiences. But, it is worth your effort and time because when marketing is done right, it can reap great benefits for your organisation — it gives you the opportunity to showcase your uniqueness, appeal to your audience’s sensibilities through stories that connect with them, and eventually, create a better world for everyone. 

About the Author

Anita started her professional career with a degree in computer science engineering, but over the last 8 years, has helped various corporate and nonprofit organisations develop their marketing strategy. She is passionate about conceptualising and implementing innovative campaigns that help build powerful brands. Anita has been a blogger and photographer for over a decade, and in her spare time can be found coding Tumblr themes, rereading Tolkien, journaling her adventures over at That’s So Annie (link to or trying her hand at learning something new (right now, it’s baking)

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