The missing step in your nonprofit marketing campaign?

Whether you’re a one person shop or part of a forty person team at a university, chances are you have experienced the frustration associated with the failure of a marketing campaign, inability to measure results, or the dreaded “doomed from the start”  idea.   Odds are…that as nonprofit communicator, it was your mistake that caused that great idea to fail when put into action.  But, too often we fail recognize our own mistakes and chalk up a failed campaign as nothing more than an anomaly.

Having participated or consulted on dozens of nonprofit marketing campaigns in the last two year, and drawing from personal experience, I can safely say that within the first two meetings or discussions following the introduction of an idea, you can generally determine whether a campaign will be a resounding success or missed opportunity. But why two meetings?

  • During the first meeting, an idea is presented and it is typically determined whether or not the general concept has validity and whether or not there is a need for a second meeting.
  • During the second meeting, the group comes together to begin the planning process.

So what could go so horribly wrong during those first two meetings that could so greatly affect your concept’s chances of producing measurable results? 

No Formal Campaign Marketing Strategy!

The idea seems so simple, yet everyday nonprofit executives, marketers and communicators rush into action on an idea without ever stopping to develop a basic written strategy for their campaign.  Too often, we come up with an idea, rush to get it out the door, assign tasks, and fail to ask: if and how we can measure results, if the costs (in time and money) outweigh the benefits, if we have the capabilities to put a plan into action, and whether or not we are maximizing potential marketing opportunities.  As a result, we are too often left with disorganized, off-message, unmeasurable campaigns that produce no benefit to the organization other than to say “we did it”.

Imagine what would occur if a marketing manager for Coca-Cola walked into a meeting of high-level executives and discussed how he launched a marketing campaign, without a written strategy, without a cost-benefits analysis, and without determining how results would be measured.  The marketing manager would be fired on the spot, regardless of the campaign’s effectiveness, for violating company procedures and more importantly the most basic principle of organizational marketing: planning.

A more thoughtful approach

If you take away one tip from this article, then let it be to remember always slow down.  If a promotional idea is good today, then it will still be a good idea tomorrow.  Slowing down gives you the opportunity to turn a good idea into a great opportunity. You wouldn’t decide on a Friday afternoon to go home, jump in the car and leave town for two week vacation; so why would you spend less time organizing and planning a marketing campaign than you would spend planning a vacation.

Developing a written plan, doesn’t mean that you spend days, weeks or even months working on a single campaign.  Once you have committed to a more thoughtful approach and established a clear procedure to examining new ideas, you’ll find that drafting a quick, yet comprehensive, campaign plan is no more time consuming than drafting a press release.  More importantly, you’ll also find that the clear course of action will save you time, increase efficiency, provide a clear method of measuring results and greatly reduce stress.  Of course, the larger the campaign, the more time and planning is required; but in most cases, nonprofit campaigns and events are small-budget, small-key events.

What to address

A campaign marketing plan needs to address key issues and answer key questions:

  1. Who is the project leader? (Someone needs to be in charge and accountable for the execution of the campaign)
  2. What is the purpose of the event/campaign?
  3. Is the campaign scope and objective in-line with both your organizational marketing plan and strategic plan? (if it doesn’t fit, you must acquit)
  4. Who are the primary audiences?
  5. What is your budget?
  6. What clearly defined objectives do you want the campaign to achieve?  (Pay attention to the word “clearly”. If you cannot define clear objectives, you cannot measure success. )
  7. What marketing tools will you utilize and why?
  8. Develop a timetable(matrix) of milestones
  9. Who is responsible for each milestone?
  10. Are there other organizational events/campaigns that can be leveraged to strengthen this campaign or could be weakened by this campaign? (check your organizational master calendar)
  11. How will you measure, evaluate and report campaign results?

Stop making excuses

You may tell yourself that you are addressing these issues and that there is no need or no time to develop an actionable written strategy.  But step-back, take an objective look and ask yourself if your most recent campaign could have been more effective.  Were results easily measured?  Did you fully explore every opportunity and potential marketing tool?  Were tasks completed in a timely manner, or rather on an ad-hock basis?

In the nonprofit sector, it is safe to say that nearly every employee is time-starved, there are always too many cooks in the kitchen, and the demand for immediate results will always exist.  But these are not excuses to overlook the fundamentals of organizational marketing that we were taught in our very first marketing or business course.  If they don’t exist, establish clear policies and procedures to support the planning process and educate executive leadership on the value of the planning process.

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