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How to create a non-profit marketing plan

Author's avatar By Expert commentator 04 Sep, 2017
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Tips on how to create a non-profit marketing plan with limited funds

Non-profit organizations face one of the biggest digital marketing challenges of all: having limited funds or no money at all. Nonprofit organizations have to operate and thrive in marketing their cause without spending a substantial amount of money. This is difficult because bigger organizations have the funds to spend on online advertizing.

You can develop a marketing plan that helps navigate the unique challenges of nonprofits, and keep 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.

Make your objectives as concrete as possible, for example:

  • Grow your list of email subscribers
  • Increase membership by 25% amount
  • Promote X, Y or Z service

Make sure your list of objectives is 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 non-profit 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 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. One watcher commented:

The reason [their] presentation was so impactful to me was the videos [they] shared exposing how big the water crisis actually is. 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.

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 non-profit 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 non-profit 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)

Are you aware of Google's Ad Grants program? This is basically free money given to non-profits to advertise on Google search. Many non-profits instantly dismiss this way of advertizing because of the paying element, but this isn't always the case.

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 Non-profits with an AdWords account and a Google nonprofit account.

Influential People/Partnerships

You may not be able to have a celebrity campaign for your non-profit 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 non-profit 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 non-profit 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 non-profit 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 non-profit 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.

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