10 Steps to Creating
a Nonprofit Marketing Toolkit

Generate Awareness, Acquire Donors and Encourage Participation

Not every nonprofit organization can capture lightning in a bottle, but in the summer of 2014, the ALS Association did just that with their Ice Bucket Challenge (IBC). Although there are different stories about the origins of the idea, it basically involved dumping ice water on your head or someone else’s head to raise money for charity. Individuals filmed themselves performing the activity, nominated others to take the challenge within 24 hours or make a donation and shared the footage on social media.

This wasn’t just a gimmick. The IBC might be one of the powerful examples of the influence of social media on our behavior. What lesson can be learned from the IBC? Try a variety of tactics — one of them might catch fire. However, don’t count on lightning striking twice. It’s generally wise to follow a more traditional path when it comes to marketing your nonprofit. You must generate sustained support, not just a momentary peak. And that requires a marketing toolkit built on a strong foundation: a strategic plan that’s supported by proven techniques, one of which is social media.

Here are 10 steps to building your nonprofit marketing toolkit:

1. Identify your target audience
Develop a clear picture of your audience, their demographics and their interests in order to build personas. You likely have several different segments of people including:

  • First-time donors
  • People likely to donate
  • Corporate donors
  • Previous high-level donors
  • Influencers (like celebrities or local personalities)
  • Volunteers

2. Understand your unique value
Nonprofits are in the business of persuading people to care and get involved. How is your organization different from groups who align themselves with similar causes? Because consumers often have limited funds for charitable contributions, how will you position your mission as the one they should choose?

3. Craft your messages
You should have a mission statement and a vision statement so your staff and volunteers can quickly explain why you exist. Be sure to consider your audience rather than focusing exclusively on your organization. Proactively address common questions or concerns that potential donors might have and capitalize on motivational triggers that bring people off the sidelines.

4. Determine your channels
You’ll want to include a mix of online and offline tactics in your marketing toolkit. Your website is a critical component and should have a simple, secure way to receive donations. The IBC shows us that social media can be incredibly effective and far-reaching. Offline tactics often include special events, fundraisers, direct mail and public relations.

5. Drive specific actions
The importance of including a call to action (CTA) cannot be stressed enough. CTAs should be clear, specific and easy to follow. Consider the donor lifecycle: awareness, consideration and decision. How will you move people through those three stages in your marketing activities?

According to the Advertising Specialty Institute, nonprofits spend 19% of their marketing budgets on promo products, giving away 83% and selling 17% of the merchandise.

6. Set measurable goals
Network for Good defines a “goal” as a “‘statement of being’ for a plan.” Think of each goal as a pyramid, with the goal positioned at the top. Each goal is supported by objectives (focused and specific), strategies (where the rubber meets the road) and tactics (tools you implement) as you work your way down the pyramid.

7. Inspire engagement
This tip comes from Sea Change Strategies. Most nonprofits have a compelling story about the struggle that gave rise to their organization’s existence. Tell it often, at least once a year. Solicit heartwarming stories from your donors and share them far and wide. Offer a real-life glimpse into the life of your organization to give authenticity to your marketing efforts.

8. Manage schedule and budget
They say the devil is in the details. Scheduling and budgeting are important details of your marketing plan, and it often takes more time and effort than expected to manage them. If you don’t want projects to be delivered late and over budget, you need to keep an eye on them. Create a marketing calendar, assign responsibilities and ask for regular staff updates. Hold people accountable for completing tasks in a timely manner.

9. Analyze your results
Your goals (step 6) should have specific metrics that can be measured and tracked. Those might include visitors to your website, traffic from online advertising, social media activity, attendance at events, total of volunteer hours, newsletter subscriptions, lead conversions, corporate partnerships, testimonials and fundraising.

10. Make adjustments
Any good plan can be made better by applying real-world lessons and making modifications for improvement. What’s working? What isn’t working? Fine-tune your marketing plan by sharpening — or even replacing — a few tools in your toolkit if something isn’t generating the desired result: to connect with your audience in meaningful, memorable ways.