How To Create a Nonprofit Marketing Plan

Marketing Plan for Nonprofits

Written by Judson Aulie

8th November 2020

How To Create a Nonprofit Marketing Plan

Marketing Strategy

 As a nonprofit organization, you have the unique challenge of convincing strangers to donate their hard-earned money without them receiving a tangible product or service in return. On top of this, you are competing with thousands of other nonprofits who are after that same well of donations. 

The good news is, there’s a way to bring in serious donations while also building brand loyalty, and that is by having a well thought out and dynamic marketing plan for your nonprofit.

To help you develop this nonprofit marketing plan, we have laid out some key areas you need to focus on for your nonprofit:

  • Differences between nonprofit and for profit marketing
  • Outline your key objectives and goals
  • Take inventory of what has worked and what hasn’t in the past
  • Identify specific audience segments
  • Develop your nonprofit’s marketing message
  • Choose distribution channels
  • Implement software to track your results

1. differences between nonprofit and for profit marketing

There are many similarities between non profit and for profit marketing, but there are some key differences you should address when you are in the nonprofit sector. you earn money

How you earn money

At the end of the day, both nonprofit and for profit companies are trying to do the same thing, make money. However, the way they go about this is very different which means you will need to adjust your marketing plan accordingly. 

For-profit companies earn revenue in exchange for goods or services, while nonprofits earn donations from people choosing to give some of their income for a cause they believe in. 

For-profit businesses have the advantage of instant gratification and a direct benefit to the customer. Nonprofits have the challenge of convincing donors to help with a cause where they might not see the direct benefits of their money at work. 

This makes it essential for nonprofits to build donor loyalty and trust through their nonprofit marketing plan. It’s not about getting the donor to feel like they have benefited, but rather to make them feel like they have supported a great cause.

How to Earn money

Attracting customers/donors

A helpful tool that was made for the for profit landscape but can easily be adjusted for the nonprofit sector is The Buyers Journey. We’ll be using this guide throughout the nonprofit marketing plan to help identify our donors thought processes throughout the decision-making process. 

The basics of The Buyers Journey are:

Awareness stage – Donor realizes they have a problem

  • A potential donor might become aware of a cause that they would like to support

Consideration stage – Donor defines their problem and researches options to solve it

  • Donor looks for nonprofits and other ways to support this cause

Decision stage – Donor makes a decision

  • Donor either decides to donate to your nonprofit or chooses a different way to support the cause.

The reason we outline this is because the main goal for both sectors is the same, attract customers/donors and convince them to support your cause.

In the for-profit sector, they typically do this by generating interest in a product or service that can benefit the customer. For nonprofits, they need to build awareness for a certain cause or issue, this is usually obtained by appealing to donors’ emotions.

Customer/donor satisfaction

In the for-profit sector, companies build up hype around their products and services, then have to make good on what they promise to the consumer. 

Since nonprofits don’t have a tangible product, it is much more about making the donor feel great about helping others and donating to your nonprofit. But it doesn’t stop there, since you are competing with other nonprofits, you need to make them feel like their money did the most good compared to what it could have done if it was spent elsewhere.

Attracting Customer

2. Outline your nonprofit’s key objectives and goals


Before you dive into your nonprofit marketing plan, you first need to take a step back and look at the key objectives for your nonprofit. This can be obtained by asking questions such as:

  • Are we trying to build awareness for our cause?
  • Are we trying to attract more donors in our current market segment?
  • Are we trying to reach a new customer segment?
  • Are we trying to increase donations from our current donors?
  • Are we trying to attract corporate donors? 

Your key objectives can also vary based on factors such as:

  • Size of your nonprofit
  • Donation trends
  • How long your nonprofit has been operating
  • Donor loyalty  

One big mistake nonprofits tend to make is having too many objectives that spread the companies resources too thin. We recommend having 1 main objective and at most 2 supplemental objectives. Your objectives should be big picture ideas that have supporting goals beneath them. We recommend the SMART method for creating your goals, they should be:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

3. Take inventory of what has and hasn’t worked in the past

A good starting point for your nonprofit marketing plan is to take a look at previous marketing campaigns to get a general sense of what does and doesn’t work. 

Marketing is always a moving target, so just because something worked in the past doesn’t necessarily mean it will achieve the same results now, but it at least gives you some data to work with.

 Along with your previous marketing strategies, you might be able to look at some of the written content, images, and videos from previous campaigns to brainstorm ideas for new marketing content.

4. Identify specific audience segments

“When you speak to everyone, you speak to no one” – Meredith Hill 

You can develop the best marketing material in the world, but if you are sending that message to the wrong people, you won’t achieve much success. This is why we need to break our target donors down into segments, such as:

  • First-time donors
  • Potential donors
  • Corporate donors
  • Loyal donors
  • High-level donors who have stopped donating
  • Celebrities or influencers 

Each of these segments will receive a curated message that appeals to them. Depending on your objectives and goals you can decide what segments you should focus on more than others.

Audience Segmentation

5. develop your nonprofit marketing message

 As mentioned in the previous section, your marketing message will differ between donor segments, however, your overall marketing message should have a common theme and have continuity across each segment.  

Depending on which segment you are sending the message to, your content should, in general, be focused on: 

  • Informing a potential donor about the cause your nonprofit supports
  • Persuading potential donors why their money would do the most good at your nonprofit
  • Strengthening the relationship with current donors 

6. choose distribution channels

 Now that you have a tailored marketing message for each of your distinct donor segments, it is time to select the most effective channels for reaching them. 

Different channels have different strengths and weaknesses, below we have given suggestions for the most effective channels in the different stages of the donor/buyer journey. 


In this stage, your donor likely is just starting to learn about the cause and still probably hasn’t heard of your organization. That is why advertising in search engines with Google Ads is a great starting point for a number of reasons. 

About 70% of all searches on the internet are done using Google. When people are searching for the cause that your nonprofit supports, you can put an advertisement at the top of the page to guide them to your website where they can learn more about your organization. 

Along with this, there is a program available called Google Ad Grant’s where nonprofit organizations are eligible for $10,000 worth of free Google Ads.  

Audience Segmentation

Furthermore, there a companies such as Click Nonprofit that help nonprofit organizations get the most out of this program. Given this huge boost to your marketing budget, this is definitely the best place to start your nonprofit marketing campaign. 

Another channel that can help direct potential donors to your website while also informing them about your cause is blogging. Blogging gives your website quality content that helps readers find out more about your cause.  

Along with this, having content on your website helps you rank higher for keywords that your potential donors will likely be searching for when they are ready to contribute to your cause. 


Once they are on your website, you know that they are interested but may not be ready to make a donation quite yet. For these potential donors, it is best to have a lead magnet which will hopefully convince them to sign up for your email list.  

Once you have them on your email list, you have access to send them curated content via email. This doesn’t mean send them emails every day, you need to have a well thought out process for this stage where you move them into the decision stage. 


With your email marketing campaign, you should be able to build trust and support with the potential donor to eventually move them into the decision stage. 

 There should always be an option for them to donate, but you typically don’t want to push it too hard in your first couple of emails. Once you have built rapport with them and they trust your organization, then it is time to ask them for the donation. 

8. Implement software to track your results

Finally, marketing is always a moving target and takes a significant amount of trial and error before you get it just right. The best way to ensure you get to this sweet spot sooner rather than later is to have software to track all of your nonprofit’s marketing efforts. 

Once you have this data you can assess what is and isn’t working and make adjustments as needed. There are a number of great software programs to help you with this, such as:

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