How to Build an Easy, Affordable Nonprofit Marketing Plan

Ryan Jones • Mar 12, 2020

If you happen to have the misfortune of perusing the results from a search for “marketing plan,” you’ll surely be familiar with the feeling of heart palpitations and nervous sweat.

It’s easy to take away the idea that your digital marketing plan needs to be 40 steps, requires a monstrous budget, and demands the full attention of your entire staff. But as a nonprofit, typically under financial and time constraints, is a platinum-level, comprehensive marketing plan really necessary?

In a word, no. But you do need a marketing plan of some kind if you want your nonprofit organization to thrive.

The days of doing good work and expecting people to share organically on your behalf are over. According to the Content Marketing Institute in 2016, almost 80% of nonprofits say they do some content marketing, but since only 24% of those rates their efforts as “extremely” or “very” successful, it’s pretty safe to say there is room for improvement in a huge chunk of the nonprofit space. 

And what’s the best way to boost success? Make a plan, make it actionable, and don’t break the bank.

Here are Keela’s six easy steps to build a budget nonprofit marketing plan that you can execute today:

1. Start with a Marketing Audit
2. Set goals
3. Write your message
4. Connect with your audiences
5. Measure and report
6. Do it all over again… but better! 

Worksheet for successful SWOT Analysis

Not sure how to get started? This worksheet includes a simple how-to guide to analyze your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, an example tailored to the nonprofit sector, and a template to help you conduct your own SWOT Analysis

1. Start with a Marketing Audit

Before looking ahead to future success, you first need to review where you’ve been. If you have the time and resources to do a comprehensive audit like this one, by all means, go for it. Audit guidelines like this will have you looking at the dust bunnies under your desk for insight, but you don’t have to do a forensic analysis if you don’t have the time, staff, or budget. 

Instead, start by listing your marketing efforts from the previous year or two. 

The media landscape changes so fast that there is no sense in looking at marketing strategies from before 2006 if, for example, a huge amount of your nonprofit business lives on social media. If you do a lot of advertising or spend a lot of time on social, you might only look at the last six months. Don’t overextend yourself or your staff.

Next, measure the success of each marketing effort. You can try to assess how it made your audience feel or whether anything translated into brand goodwill. Keep in mind, this kind of thing is hard to quantify and even harder to replicate. 

What you need are numbers. Figure out how much it cost to execute – including staff time – and then determine how many donations were a direct result of each effort. That is, dollars out versus dollars in. 

The ones that earned you more than you spent are worth examining for the future. The ones that earned less than they cost are a great learning experience but usually, that’s about all they’re good for. 

It’s also a good idea to establish recent patterns for relevant data points like changes in number of followers on social media, number of email subscribers, email open rates, etc.

Now you’ve got some tools for your new, super successful marketing campaign.

2. Set goals

Setting goals is easy. Setting reasonable goals, not so much. 

Keep yourself reined in by starting with your marketing budget. If you constrain your plan to work with a portion of the money your organization actually has, you’ll be better equipped to keep your expectations in check. 

The upside of this approach is that you don’t have to wait for a big windfall from a wealthy benefactor. If you start small you can start right away.

Next, think about what effects you’d like to get out of your latest marketing push. Do you want to increase your organization’s awareness, get in front of new, potential donors, or promote something specific, like an event or contest? 

Once you’ve narrowed down what you’re promoting, you need to think carefully about the amount of change you can reasonably expect considering your budget and history.

If your Instagram audience grows by five percent each month, increasing that to ten percent makes sense. Expecting it to double, especially if you have a small budget, is probably not in the cards. Conversely, if your previous campaigns have only been increasing your average donation by one or two percent, you might not be pushing hard enough.

Lastly, make sure your marketing goals and organizational goals line up. 

If you’re a Canadian organization that only fundraises in Canada with no plans to expand internationally, don’t set a goal of reaching 38 million subscribers – there just aren’t that many Canadians!

3. Write Your Message

So you’ve figured out what you did in the past and organized your resources for your next campaign. What’s next? 

It’s time to write your message. 

If your organization has been around for a while, you’re probably already good at this part. In case you need a refresher, here are a few cues for content creation:

  • Identify your target audience and shape your message accordingly. Are you after first time donors, repeat donors, lapsed donors, corporations, influencers, or investors?
  • Decide if you want to promote brand awareness or create a targeted campaign with more specific outcomes – not both. Utilize referral software to efficiently track and manage the success of your promotional campaigns, allowing you to measure and optimize results based on your chosen strategy, whether it’s focused on brand awareness or specific targeted outcomes.
  • Make your call to action easy to understand and put it front and center.
  • Tailor your message to your media. Don’t write a thousand words for an Instagram post; follow best practices for email marketing; use a proven resource like Unbounce to make sure your landing pages land donors.
  • Make your message compelling. This is the hardest part. In charity and nonprofit fields, it’s easy to get preachy without meaning to, so work on keeping your message hopeful and interesting, and above all, motivating. You want people to act, not react.

While it’s an achievement to write your message, you also need to write it down

Countless people have written great marketing content only to throw it out into the world without keeping a record of what they did and why. Record everything you’ve done up to this point, including the reasons and resources you used to make the decisions that led you here. You’ll appreciate having it on hand for future reference.

Communicate Your Nonprofit’s Impact with this Storytelling Toolkit

Use this FREE toolkit to learn the key elements of an impact story and improve the way you write and share your nonprofit’s message.

4. Connect with Your Audiences

You know what you’ve already said and what you’re going to say next, but who are you saying it to? Understanding where your audience is can be key to your marketing strategy so give it a high priority in your planning process. 

If you already have solid email or social media subscribers, start there. If not, it’s worth it to put small amounts of your resources into several places to learn if the audiences there are open to your message.

Here’s a quick look at some of the best places to put your message.

Email Marketing:

Sending your message to email newsletter subscribers is pretty much the best way to preach to the choir. If you’re trying to engage your database, email marketing has got to be your go-to method. 

Plus it’s a nice flexible format—say a lot, say a little, send pictures, embed links, email is pretty good at all of it. Just don’t expect to increase new donors through email alone. Spam is spam, even for a good cause, and people who don’t know you likely won’t even open your email. You need to build trust and credibility first.

It’s worth noting that cold emailing a list of addresses is illegal in many jurisdictions.


Whether it’s Google AdWords or Facebook Ads or another ad service, advertising online spreads the word as far it can possibly go. And according to the Global NGO Technology Report, 34% of nonprofits worldwide have paid for social ads, so while there is precedent for nonprofits advertising online, it’s not exactly common practice. 

The nice thing about digital ads is that you no longer have to put together a $10,000 ad campaign; now you have the option to start by putting $10 into a targeted ad and see how it does. If it does well, great, pay for more in your next round. If not, you only spent $10 and you learned something about your message, your audience, or both.

Blog Post: 

Like email marketing, putting something on your blog is likely going to reach a lot of people who already know and follow you. However, it adds in the benefit of being public and searchable, so you may get traffic from new donors who arrive at your site organically. 

It’s the top weapon in your arsenal for storytelling as you can drive home your impact through cause-based stories of how your organization helps.  For optimum sharing potential (since social media isn’t great at longer messaging) write those stories in a blog post, link to it from social, and watch people funnel through it to your site while your organization reaps the benefits. 

Social Media: 

When posting to social media, you have to make sure your medium fits your message.  Looking to attract corporate donors? LinkedIn. Lots of nice photos as part of your campaign? Instagram. Looking to target people in your donor’s networks? Facebook. Pick the platform where you know your audience is and put your focus there. Just because Pinterest exists doesn’t mean you have to have an account. Trying to be everywhere at once will spread you and your resources too thin.

Influencers and Ambassadors: 

It’s nice to post to your own social media accounts but a quick way to reach a new audience is through influencers and brand ambassadors. Find someone on your preferred platform with a lot of followers and a similar sensibility to your organization and talk to them about promoting your latest fundraising campaign. 

Deals like this can be very cost effective, easy to execute, and your organization benefits from someone else’s notoriety.


No longer just NPR on the internet, podcasts are a media juggernaut in their own right with millions of listeners around the world. There is a podcast for everything and ad time can be purchased very reasonably in most cases. 

Check out this list of nonprofit-specific podcasts to get you on the right track.

It’s important to choose a podcast that has a parallel listenership to your core audience so that your message is in line with the content of the show. Plus, many podcasts will help you write the advertising so that it fits in with the flow of their episode.

5. Measure and Report

Once your message is sent, it’s time to measure. 

Would you believe that the Content Marketing Institute found that 62% of nonprofits with marketing plans are not measuring their return on investment? If you aren’t measuring the effects of your campaign, how will you know what worked and what didn’t? 

You don’t need to do second year calculus on this step, just measure what you were trying to affect: change in subscribers, donations, average donations, etc. All those metrics that you ferreted out in steps one and two are now your baseline to compare against. 

Hopefully your new campaign did better in every aspect, but even if it didn’t, you’ve learned something for use in the future. Just make sure to generate a report of your findings because you’re about to…

6. Do it All Over Again…But Better!

It’s time to iterate. Take what you’ve learned from this process and make your next campaign even better. Your marketing plan shouldn’t be all or nothing, so you ought to have some budget left in the bank for another round. 

If your last Google AdWords buy was $10 and you saw a small spike in new donors, try $100 this time and see if you get a commensurate boost. If your Facebook audience engagement was high but Twitter was just so-so, it’s time to rethink your social media priority. If your email response was good but you want it to be great, do some more research and hone your message

Stick to your plan and document everything so you know what you did and what you can do better in the future. You’ll get better each time you go through these steps. You’re on your way to nonprofit success!

See How Nonprofits Use Keela to Raise 4x More!

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Get Your SWOT Analysis Worksheet
This worksheet includes a simple how-to guide, an example tailored to the nonprofit sector, and 
a template to help you conduct 
your own SWOT Analysis.