Six Steps to Planning Your Year-Long Marketing Plan

This article originally ran in our Nonprofit Hub Magazine, a free bi-monthly magazine dedicated to providing focused content on a particular topic.

In our November/December 2014 edition, we explored how to build your 2015 marketing plan. To reserve your free copy of our next issue, sign up today


The future is closer than you think.

By the time you read this article, you should already be thinking about your 2015 marketing plan. And it’s going to take more than a few hours. It should take several weeks, if not a few months.

So let’s break down how to get your plan from concept to paper.

1. Know the Difference Between Fundraising and Marketing

Fundraising is tied to every action you make, so it can be difficult to separate it from marketing. The two are vastly different (but not separate) when it comes to planning.

Think of fundraising as the sales wing of your operation. Marketing is more like the advertising side where you try to reach the masses with your message and raise awareness of who you are and what you do. It’s your sales/fundraising department that goes after the bigger fish to land their money to support your mission. Note that these goals and plans for marketing and fundraising should work together and be complementary. When you are planning your marketing for the year, you should focus on tasks like email marketing, mass mailings and social media.

2. Commit to Doing One Marketing Event Each Month

In order to create a successful year-long plan, you need to commit to doing one event per month. It might not seem like much, but one marketing campaign, event or fundraiser can fill your calendar quickly. By organizing something each month, you can build momentum and work to coordinate your efforts year-round. This will ensure that you remain in the minds of donors, constituents and the community.

3. Start Putting Your Plans on the Calendar

This sounds obvious because we’re creating a year-long plan, but you should start at the macro level and look at your year as a whole.

Not every one of these monthly items needs to be a big blowout event or all-encompassing campaign. That strategy will wipe out your staff and decimate your budget. Plan a mixture of events that serves a variety of outcomes. Make sure you are reaching new potential donors, recruiting those to help you and spreading the word to people who might be unfamiliar with your nonprofit.

The first part of this step is to figure out what those items will be. Are they a mass mailing? An activism campaign? These marketing events should be specific to your nonprofit. And they don’t all have to be new ideas. You can still incorporate your big year-end campaign. Think of your best 12 and start to plot them on the calendar.

You will also need to know how your events work with other happenings in the community. You don’t have to settle on dates for each of your events (or range of dates for your campaigns) but you should have a rough estimate of how everything works together and the timing of it all. Use a pencil for this step because things will change along the way.

4. Plan Backwards

Because not all events are equal, determine how much work will go into each of these projects. Does the May community event need to be started in February? Can you wait to start working on the April social media blitz in mid-March? Figure out the basic logistics and how much work each will require. This is a step-by-step guide on how to assemble each of the monthly projects. After looking at the full calendar and the steps involved in making those projects happen, you might need to move several around to make your plan work.

5. Share the Plan

It might be tempting to keep your plan inside your marketing team, but that’s the worst mistake you could make. Share the plan with everyone in your nonprofit. Even if they might not have direct involvement in the execution of the plan, they should have buy in. Getting everyone on board on the top level of your marketing plan can help with follow-through and execution. The plan can also serve as a rallying point for your nonprofit because they are unified by a single plan and vision of the next year.

6. Go Forth and Tweak

Once you start implementing your plan, you’ll need to make changes. What you create now won’t look like what you’ve done a year from now. But even if you change a majority of the ideas, writing them down to start the year will put you miles ahead. Also, people leave and change jobs. If this happens to your nonprofit, the plan will ease the transition and make sure that the marketing plan will carry on.

There you have it: Six steps to plan your plan. This outline should provide you with the guidance needed to put it all together. Every nonprofit’s marketing will look different in the end because the marketing needs of each nonprofit vary greatly. But the most important lesson is to make a plan. And don’t waste any time; the new year will be here before you know it.


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.

November 5, 2014

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