Developing A New Nonprofit Marketing Communications Plan

With another unsettling economic year on top of us, it’s time again to begin developing or refining a new marketing and marketing communications strategy, budget and plan. If you’re fortunate enough to have achieved a good ROI from your current program, along with the data to substantiate the reasons, you’re in better shape than most.

For example, in the for profit arena, only eight percent of Chief Marketing Officers (CMO’s) say they can determine the ROI of their social media efforts. And 93 percent of CMO’s say they’re under more pressure to deliver significant ROI.

A Changing Nonprofit Marketing Landscape

The Giving USA Annual Report presented the nonprofit community with some good news – giving increased by 7.1 percent in 2014 versus 2013 to $359 billion. Individuals again accounted for nearly three-quarters of the total, with foundations a distant second, at 15 percent.

And, interestingly, while arts/culture/humanities increased by 9.2 percent, and the environment/animals by 7 percent, international affairs declined by 2 percent for the third year in a row.

As individuals are leading this growth, the obvious question becomes how to continue this trend? Consumer demographics, income, expanded consumer promotion and politics will impact many marketing communications programs next year. Consider the following:

  • The two largest age groups, Millennials and Boomers, are very different. Millennials are cash strapped, unimpressed with brand names, and socially conscious; Boomers, on the other hand, are brand loyal and projected to account for about 70 percent of U.S. disposable income in 2017 (Quirk’s Market Research).
  • Asians and Hispanics will continue to become even larger and more potent portions of the US population. Many will be courted by nonprofits for the first time, representing a brand new audience (US Census Bureau, 2014 National Projections).
  • Median household income actually declined 8.7 percent between 1999 and 2013 to $51,939 (Census Bureau Current Population Survey). And, while many people care deeply about certain causes, how to dispose of those hard earned disposable dollars rules many spending and giving decisions.
  • At the same time, these consumers are being bombarded with the largest major media and marketing services expenditures in history — $406 billion is expected in 2015. That’s a staggering $1,262 per person (Zenith Optimedia)! Beyond the dollars, that’s a lot of clutter and competition.

The road ahead will be very different than previous years. And, with the onslaught of political advertising driving up prices and reducing media inventory, even greater emphasis must be placed on developing smarter marketing communications plans to deliver improved ROI.

Marketing Tactics To Consider Before Finalizing Your Plan

There are a number of important tactics that can be used to improve ROI as well as brand presence. I’ll focus on four:

  1. Like most managers, you probably think you understand what’s important to your donors, prospective donors, staff, volunteers and even your Board. But, do you really know what they believe about the organization? And, do they in turn understand your mission, or has “mission creep” expanded your core identity? Further, do they see their time and financial commitment rewarding and making a difference? That means employing market research to learn what’s really important and providing focus before committing to a marketing communications plan. It’s prudent, and fact trumps opinion.
  2. Consider conducting a marketing communications audit to determine when, where and how to invest your time and money. An audit will provide an evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of your existing program as a whole, as well as how each individual tactic does or does not meet your objectives. With this information, all of the elements of your program – subject matter, budget allocation, media mix, theming, graphics, tone and manner, new versus traditional media – can all be integrated into a holistic marketing communications program well before committing to the unknown. Look before you leap.
  3. Be sure you’re media neutral. Traditional media such as print, broadcast, direct mail, newsletter, events and public relations still remain important media tools. But, today, so do blogs, social media, online videos, webinars and more. All have value, but learning how to use them is vital. There must be an understanding of the difference between efficiency and effectiveness.
  4. Your anniversary, whether it’s your 5th, 33rd or 50th provides a unique opportunity to rekindle enthusiasm, and to galvanize all of your constituents to the relevant, important and needs of the organization. It gives you the chance to tell your story, not just your history but also your plans and goals for the future. Unify and focus everyone around a 12 – 18 month program to establish your vision.

Marketing Communications Consultants Or Internal Staff

If you’re like most nonprofit leaders, the majority of your time, talent and training is devoted to your passion for the programs and services you provide. The same is probably true of your most committed volunteers, staff and Board members.

Given that, does your organization have the marketing and marketing communications talent and background to develop the strategies, budgets, plans and tactics that are necessary to help you succeed in today’s environment?

If not, consider partnering with established, media neutral, senior level professionals to help your team formulate, refine and, if necessary, implement your programs. Look for people with experience in both nonprofit and for profit arenas, with extensive experience across brands and industries, as well as a willingness to “tell it like it is”, so that candor will flourish.

Most probably, the near future will present nonprofit marketers with a rocky road to travel. Hopefully, some of these thoughts will help, but also remember what Mark Twain said – “The secret of getting ahead is getting started”.