Lift Off: How to Create Your Initial Nonprofit Marketing Plan

You’ve got an idea for a nonprofit organization that’s going to make a big splash in the world. But you don’t want to toil away in anonymity. You want to make sure that other people are aware of the ripples you are creating.

While you are working on your logistics and the governance, don’t forget to take some time to develop an initial nonprofit marketing plan. This is your first step on the path to doing good, so you want to make sure you start strong. Take time to work on your plan and don’t just fly by the seat of your pants.

Develop Your Story

Before you build a website, plop down a boatload of cash on ad buys or set up a Facebook page, you first need to establish your story. Every nonprofit has an origin story that is either interesting, touching or inspirational. Why do you exist? If someone asks you to tell what your nonprofit is about, can you do so in a succinct manner? You don’t need to be able to recite your story memorized word-for-word, but you need to be able to quickly tell people what you are doing or at least hope to do. This is different than your mission statement or core values. It can incorporate the same themes, but this is a story about why your nonprofit came into being and exists.

Know Your End Goal

What is the ultimate goal for your marketing? Is it to spread awareness of your cause? Is it to recruit volunteers? It is to garner donations and financial support of your cause? Eventually, it will probably be all of the above, but when you are getting started, pick the one that is the most important to you and focus your efforts on that to start. How do you want the public to connect with you right now? Once you get off the ground and start making headway in this area, you can broaden your efforts to include the other areas. Just start with a focus and don’t try to do everything right away.

Plan Your Initial Campaigns

Marketing is an ongoing, year-long effort. You have to start somewhere and this is it! Your first nonprofit marketing plan shouldn’t be just a one-time event. It should be an on-going process where you start building a relationship. Much like you need to figure out what you want to accomplish, you also have to figure out who you want to accomplish those tasks for you. A blanket approach might sound appealing, but you should target your message for what you want to accomplish to who you want to accomplish it. Don’t forget to set up a budget for your first campaign. Money can be tight at first, but allow yourself enough budget to make the campaign worthwhile and then stick to your financial guidelines.

While you are doing all of the planning, it also helps to figure out what some of your benchmarks will be. What will make this a success? Be specific. Setting vague goals like “Get more people involved,” is just as bad as not setting a goals. Set several tangible, measurable goals to give you something to strive for.

Once you know who you are writing to, you can start to craft your message. Put in place the mechanisms that will execute your plan and enlist help to get it done. Again, this initial campaign should be part of a bigger year-long marketing strategy, so don’t try anything too extreme. It might help to develop a style guide for your organization while you are building this initial nonprofit marketing plan so you can be consistent with imagery, language and tone. It might create a little more work now, but it will pay off down the road.


Once you have your plans in place, start making it happen. Keep track of how it goes early on so you can make adjustments as the campaign goes along. Examine how it goes during your first month and then expand and make adjustments for the next two months. Again, because this is a new venture, keep your expectations realistic, but don’t be afraid to evaluate honestly. Track the number of people you engage, the return on your investment for fundraising or how many contact points you created. All are useful and help move your nonprofit forward.

A word of warning: don’t try to make a viral campaign. You can’t force virality. If it’s a good message that people like, they will share it on their own. By forcing something, it will hurt your new nonprofit’s already developing brand.

How Will People Find You?

After you launch your initial campaign, then what? You need a website. There is no way around this. How you go about building a website can make all the difference. You can do it for free or spend your entire budget on it. Try to find a middle ground and make your website functional, engaging and one that works for you (has the functionality and services you need, like fundraising, collecting volunteering information or contact forms). Your website should also tell your story that you touched upon in the first step. Develop that emotional connection with your visitors and build off your campaign.

Don’t get too frustrated if things don’t go your way. Learn from it, and evolve for your next campaign. It is a learning process with your brand new organization. But also, don’t forget to celebrate your victories. Getting your new nonprofit off the ground with a well-thought out campaign is worthy of a celebration.

To learn more about developing a year-long marketing campaign, sign up for the Nonprofit Hub magazine, which the November/December edition focuses on creating a plan for 2015.


Lincoln Arneal

Lincoln Arneal was a Senior Editor at Nonprofit Hub who brought loads of real-world nonprofit experience to the team. He was the past executive director of a nonprofit that provided leadership development to junior high and high school students. He looked to bring the insights from his time forming, developing, and running a nonprofit to help others in their quest to do good. Lincoln also had a legal background and had written for various newspapers (covering high school sports) for the past 15 years. He could be followed on Twitter at @NPLNK.

September 29, 2014

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