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How to Create a Nonprofit Marketing Plan

April 12, 2017

Photo of hands, some holding pens, gesturing to parts of a plan laid out on a table.

Nonprofit organizations face “the biggest digital marketing challenge of all: having no money,” according to marketer Margot da Cunha at WordStream. “To operate, thrive, and raise awareness for their cause without spending a substantial amount of money can seem impossible in a world of bigger, louder, and more financially equipped online advertisers.”

You can develop a nonprofit marketing plan that helps the organization navigate the unique challenges of nonprofits. The plan keeps the nonprofit’s budget, objectives, strategy and other important considerations in perspective.

Creating a Nonprofit Marketing Plan


What will the proposed marketing efforts achieve? Objectives can include big-picture goals such as educating the public about core issues and connecting with public figures or politicians.

“This should be as concrete as possible so you can measure it,” says consulting firm Upleaf. “For example, grow your list of email subscribers, increase membership, bring in 25% more new donors, promote X, Y or Z service. List your objectives in order of priority.”

Target Audiences

Identify your primary target audiences, such as donors and beneficiaries, as well as the people who influence them. Your secondary or tertiary target audiences can include people such as local businesses and parents, for instance.

Desired Action

Examine what action you would like your audience to take, as well as how you will measure it. The following actions are common for nonprofit organizations.

  • Become a member of the nonprofit.
  • Donate directly to the nonprofit mission.
  • Subscribe to receive updates about the organization via email.
  • Take some form of advocacy action.
  • Share a story or testimony related to the organization’s mission and messaging.


Consider what types of messaging will raise awareness for the problems your mission aims to solve. You should also look at how you will engage your audience.

For example, you could look at emotional storytelling for capturing your audience’s attention. Capturing the problems and empowering success stories can form a core part of your messaging. And within this overall strategy, you might integrate calls for action, such as asking for donations and other efforts that will engage your audience and benefit your organization’s mission.

Start building topic ideas that you can use to generate articles for your website and use in your email marketing strategy. Topics should appeal to specific target audiences. Upleaf also recommends using different messaging topics for social media. “Themes help guide your social media manager in his/her daily messaging. Include the proportion of messages for each theme. For example: 50% educational resources; 15% advocacy campaigns; 15% fun, quirky stuff; 5% inspirational quotes; 15% testimonies.”


Once you have identified your audience and investigated types of messaging, you can analyze specific tactics that will help the organization achieve its fundraising goals. Think about some of the following examples.

Video to Convey Mission and Share Stories

The nonprofit organization Charity:Water demonstrated the power of video when presenting at an inbound marketing conference.

“The reason his presentation was so impactful to me was the videos he shared exposing how big the water crisis actually is,” Cunha said. “Yes, I knew that it was a global issue, but hearing the stories, seeing the people affected, and empathizing with the scope of this crisis evoked such strong emotions in me that I not only shed tears among 5,000 other marketers, but went on to create my own Charity:Water fundraising birthday campaign.”

Cunha continued by pointing out how the “power video has on awakening one’s emotions shouldn’t be underestimated, especially when it comes to digital marketing, where your messages have the power to spread to enormously large groups of potential donators. Emotions are ultimately what drive people to act, so spending some time and resources on video production and hosting shouldn’t be put on the back-burner for non-profits.”

Infographics to Present Graphics

The percentage of nonprofit marketers who used infographics in their content marketing increased to 71 percent in 2016 from 53 percent in 2015, which was the largest increase for all tactics analyzed in a Content Marketing Institute report. Infographics also rank in the top 10 for most effective nonprofit marketing tactics.

An infographic is 30 times more likely to be read than a text article. For presenting powerful information such as statistics, your nonprofit organization could better reach its audience through this popular and effective tactic.

Mobile-friendly Donate Buttons

Facebook allows nonprofit organizations to put “Donate Now” call-to-action buttons on their page. Utilize this simple tactic on social media networks for your organization’s website and in email messages.

Pay-per-click Tactics (for Free)

“Many non-profits mistakenly rule out pay-per-click marketing simply because it starts with the word ‘pay,’” according to Cunha. “These marketers likely aren’t aware of Google’s Ad Grants program, which is basically free money given to non-profits to advertise on the world’s largest and most effective search engine, Google.”

There are some limits on the program (can’t exceed $2.00 cost-per-click bid and use more than $10,000 per month). You can sign up for Google for Nonprofits with an AdWords account and a Google nonprofit account.

Influential People/Partnerships

You may not be able to have a celebrity campaign for your nonprofit organization, but you can tap into your inner circle and find the most influential people you know. Find someone who may be able to advocate for your cause.

Social Media Hashtags

Neil Patel on Inc. described how a nonprofit organization used the “firstworldproblems” hashtag to capture an audience with a potential reach of 1.2 million.

WATERisLIFE used this hashtag and the idea behind it to spread its viral video, the First World Problems Anthem. “The video features people in situations of serious need repeating common #firstworldproblems, for example, ‘I hate it when my phone charger won’t reach my bed,’” Patel said. “The video highlights the irony of our own problems, placing them into stark relief against the deeper needs of those who lack clean water. The strategy proved remarkably effective as the video went viral on Facebook and Twitter, expanding WATERisLIFE’s reach.”

Social media hashtags allow your organization the ability to tap into a source of viral marketing.


Like many nonprofit organizations, yours may have limited resources for marketing. This may force you to look into what forms of marketing have a better return on investment for your goals.

Content marketing is a solution for many nonprofit organizations. Content marketing costs 62 percent less than outbound marketing but generates more than three times as many leads. This form of marketing can be an asset for the typical nonprofit marketing budget, as it’s more effective than traditional marketing.

One out of three marketers in 2016 expected increases in their nonprofit content marketing budgets for 2017, although budgets for content marketing have remained flat (23 percent of total marketing budget), according to the Content Marketing Institute’s report. “Lack of budget—while still among the top five challenges for nonprofit content marketers—was cited by fewer respondents this year (56% last year vs. 45% this year). Marketers who have a documented content marketing strategy fare even better in this regard, with only 38% saying lack of budget is a challenge.”

A Career in Nonprofit Marketing

Grace College’s online Master of Science in Nonprofit Management equips students with the knowledge and skills to succeed in marketing communication, applying technology, creating and training staff, raising funds and improving efficiency within an organization. Rooted in Christian servant leadership, the program helps graduates apply faith to careers in nonprofit management.

This accelerated program can be completed in two years. It takes place in a fully online learning environment, allowing students the flexibility to complete coursework alongside personal and work responsibilities.