How to Develop a Simple Nonprofit Marketing Plan in 5 Short Steps

January 6, 2018

A marketing plan is an essential component of any well-run nonprofit, no matter how small. In this post, we'll review the definition of marketing and why the term has negative connotations for some people.  Next, well look at what a marketing plan is and why it's important to have one.  And, finally, we'll look at the five short steps involved in developing a marketing plan.  We'll use plenty of examples and illustrations along the way so that in just a few short minutes, you can be on your way toward developing your own marketing plan for your nonprofit.  Here we go!

nonprofit marketing plan

what is marketing and why does the term sometimes have negative connotations?

Marketing is simply the activities and strategies employed by a nonprofit organization that are designed to spread the message of the organization, as well as to solicit donations and calls for volunteers. One reason that marketing sometimes stirs up negative feelings is that the term, as used in business, is sometimes viewed as sales-centric, fueled by avarice, distasteful and dirty, rather than as a legitimate and very necessary tool for promoting and raising support for an organization’s mission.

what is a nonprofit marketing plan and why should you have one?

A marketing plan is simply a document that outlines the activities and strategies to be pursued annually in pursuit of various goals and objectives.  The goals typically include:

(1) New donor or member acquisition;

(2) Donor/member/funder retention;

(3) New grant acquisition;

(4) Community engagement;

(5) Networking with other organizations and influencers who can help you achieve your goals; and

(6) Becoming a thought leader and go-to resource on a particular issue.

The main reason to develop a marketing plan is that nonprofits that create and execute a well-thought-out marketing plan grow faster and have more impact than those that do not.


The five steps for developing a nonprofit marketing plan are listed below.  Figure 1 is a chart showing an excerpt of a plan developed using the first four of the five steps. Hopefully, you will find that the chart Figure 1 is a good graphical representation of how to do the first four steps and of how they work together in creating the plan.

  1. Establish Goals

Establishing goals is the first step in the development of any marketing plan.  The six typical types of goals were discussed above. Ideally, the goals support the organization’s overarching strategic plan. If you don’t have a strategic plan, I suggest you develop one before drafting a marketing plan.  Doing the latter before the former is a little like putting the cart before the horse. For help in developing a strategic plan, see this post: The Nonprofit Strategic Plan Simplified: Framing Issues, Drafting Goals and Drafting Objectives.

  1. Develop Objectives

The next step is developing objectives. Each goal typically is at least two objectives. The objectives each target one important result that, if achieved, will lead to attainment of the goal.  So if a goal is “to grow donor revenue,”related objectives might include both (a) increasing the number of persons who are annual members of the organization; (b) ensuring that existing members are retained; and (c) growing the amount raised from supplemental and major gifts.

Objectives should be “SMART,” meaning they should be:

SPECIFIC: Target one important result.

MEASURABLE: Ensure that the result is something you can track.

ACHIEVABLE (but Ambitious): Ensure that milestone you set for yourself is significant but not pie in the sky.

RELEVANT: The result must relate closely to the goals you have already established.

TIME-BASED: A deadline for achieving the result must be specified.

Taking the foregoing rules into consideration, our objective around increasing annual members might read as follows:  “to increase the number of persons who are annual members by 20% by December 31, 2018.”

  1. Establish Strategies

Strategies explain what you will do to achieve each objective. With respect to the above objective related to increasing the number of persons who are members, one strategy may be to develop a snail mail solicitation. Strategies may also include tactics, which are things necessary to implement the strategy. For example, if you intend to solicit the members of a particular group for whom you do not currently have contact information, a tactic would include securing their names and addresses and adding them to your database.  

  1. List audiences, Media and Channels

Each strategy involves a particular audience to whom well-crafted messages are targeted using the most appropriate media and marketing channels.  (Much more will be said about messaging in my next post; for now we’re simply taking a 50,000 foot-high look at the basic elements of a marketing plan).   Choosing media and channels depends on understanding your audience and the media and channels to which they are most responsive. These choices also must be made in light of your technical capabilities and common sense.  If you don’t have video software and don’t know someone who can help you with a video project, then video might not be possible, at least for now. Similarly, if you’re preparing a policy argument for a politician, common sense dictates that paper is probably a better medium than video, especially if you’re hoping that specific verbiage from the policy to find its way into legislation.

Nonprofit Marketing Plan Table
Figure 1. Nonprofit Marketing Plan Table
  1. Create a Marketing Calendar

The final step is to create a marketing calendar. As shown in figure 2, below, each strategy is plotted based on the month in which the activity is supposed to take place and the channel or channels through which the activity is to be accomplished.

Nonprofit Marketing Plan Calendar
Figure 2. Nonprofit Marketing Plan Calendar

Additional Resources

J. Campbell. Use These 5 Steps to Create a Nonprofit Marketing Plan. The Wild Apricot Blog. (1/3/2018) (Available at:

B. Delaney. Ben Delaney's Nonprofit Marketing Handbook: The hands-on guide to communications and marketing in nonprofit organizations. (2014). (Available at:

N. Edgington. What Nonprofits Don't Get about Marketing. Social Velocity. (9/8/2015). (Available at:

Network for Good. 7 Steps to Creating Your Best Nonprofit Marketing Plan Ever. (No date). (Available at:

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