LSA Together - December 2011 - Feature 3

Nonprofit marketing impact: The two keys to gaining traction

Part One

Nancy SchwartzBy Nancy E. Schwartz
Publisher – / President – Nancy Schwartz & Company

Nancy will be the presenter for the LSA Communicators Network one-day conference April 17, prior to the LSA Annual Conference. More information about this special opportunity is here.

“We’re working so hard, but we’re not getting the results we want.” That’s a tune I hear, again and again, from nonprofit communicators exhausted from their efforts, disappointed at hitting a wall and frustrated by not knowing how to do better.

All action and no traction. That’s what most marketing is, nonprofit and for profit. A series of discrete actions—a direct mail invite for a fundraising event, a two-part email campaign to introduce a new program, a blog launch—with no connection between them, no plan.

My response is immediate and assured, as I’ve seen it work time and time again: There are two clear and doable ways for even the smallest organization to generate marketing impact—planning and evaluation. Consider these strategies two halves of a whole—they work best together. Without them, you’re simply throwing your marketing resources away.

Step One: Planning Impact

All too frequently, I hear nonprofit communicators who are “just doing it”— reaching out without taking the steps necessary to make sure they are engaging the right people in the right way to reach their goals. Without planning, that is.

I understand that you’re pressed for time and sometimes you just have to get something out the door. But usually that effort to get that one web page updated or the e-news article finished is all action, no traction. What you get from that is marketing product. What you don’t get is impact. In fact, you may be alienating your audiences by missing the mark.

It’s hard, very hard, to take the time to plan. Because none of us have a minute of extra time, and planning seems like a real chore. But here’s what planning gets you, according to Sandra Jordan, Director of Communications & Outreach for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID):

1. Directs your focus:

  • Only when a path is clearly defined can you stay on it.
  • A clear path ensures you make the most of your effort and budget.

2. Forces you to articulate concrete, measurable benchmarks so you, and the decision makers who make staffing and budget decisions:

  • Know what you are working towards (critical for buy in).
  • Make the right decisions on how to get there.

3. Provides a definitive means of tracking progress (or lack of progress):

  • Against stated objectives.

4. Doubles as a pithy overview of your work to engage colleagues and funders:

  • Marketing is an all-organization responsibility.
  • But to engage your colleagues (or prospective funders) you need to be able to show them what you’re doing and why.

5. Makes it easy to draft your day-by-day work plan:

  • By breaking down the big ideas that comprise the master marketing plan into nitty-gritty execution.
  • Clarifies elements for your work plan and roles and responsibilities, so you focus on priorities and capitalize on each staff member’s or freelancer’s skill set.

(To be continued in January — Part 2: Evaluating Impact)

Nancy E. Schwartz helps nonprofits succeed through effective marketing. She is the publisher of the Getting Attention e-update and blog, and, with her team, works with nonprofit organizations and foundations nationwide to build and maintain relationships with key audiences. For more nonprofit marketing guidance like this, subscribe to her e-update at