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5 Step Field Guide to Nonprofit Marketing Campaigns

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My first trip outside the United States probably ruined me for “normal” travel. I had an opportunity to work in Kuwait out of college and I took it.

Little did I know that experience would whet my appetite for a lifetime of travel to, let’s say … different places. To date, I’ve never been to England proper, but I have been to Haiti, Kosovo, Iraq, Indonesia and, most recently, Nigeria.

Along the way, I’ve adopted a few strict travel rules. Among the most important is look before you step.

Why? Because external threats like terrorists and tsetse flies probably are not what’s going to get you. You’re much more likely to be felled by not paying attention to your own two left feet.

1. Don’t rush to execute

I think it’s the same for nonprofit marketing communications teams – and the fundraisers and program folks who rely on them.

Often we’re so eager to start executing on a campaign that we forget or rush through the other two parts: strategy and evaluation. After all, execution makes the stuff or tactics that external audiences see. And it’s fun!

But when you rush to execution, I can practically guarantee campaign failure. Or if luck is on your side, partial results.

Here’s what those three stages – strategy, execution and evaluation – look like when planned properly (look down, my nonprofit friends!).

2. Plan your strategy

Some people wing it when they travel, and depending on the experience you want, that may be fine. But it’s no way to run a successful marketing campaign, especially if you’re spending donor dollars.

Here’s a better way forward:

Define the audience: You know EXACTLY who you need to communicate with – primary, secondary and tertiary (often key internal) audiences – and how their needs differ. By exact, I mean you’ve captured their demographics and psychographics in buyer personas.

Set objectives & goals: You have clearly defined what the overarching objectives are. These often come from fundraising or programs. Think of these as the specific destination you’re headed. Then you’ve created numeric marketing goals (content shares, unique web visits, downloads, event attendance, pledges signed) that support them.

Caution: Nonprofits love to declare “awareness” as a goal. But you can only increase awareness if you already have a benchmark (number) for what awareness currently is and the will (and budget) to measure it again after the campaign. To me, awareness is not a destination. It’s a mile marker on the way to your audience taking a specific action, such as donating. And if your PR firm loves to talk about impressions, here’s where you may be being duped.

Choose campaign positioning: Explore what is the single, truest, most persuasive thing you can say about the purpose for your campaign. Then put it in words (not jargon) the audience can understand. People’s attention span is short these days, so your hiking boots need to be tightly laced up or your messaging will stumble. One way to capture positioning is by using a value proposition, like Geoff Moore’s template. Your 2-3 key campaign messages that are backed with emotional and compelling proof points flow out of your positioning.

Complete a creative brief: It’s like a good map or GPS system. A creative brief helps reduce stressful edit rounds by clearly documenting what successful content should look like from the start. In other words, it saves everyone time – and makes you a rock star for taking the time to do it right!

3. Execute like a pro

Congratulations! You’re ready for the execution phase, but you’re not making the fun stuff quite yet. You need to get your bearings first — as in how far am I going, how many days will I stay there, and how much can I really afford?

Determine reach & frequency goals: Reach is how many people are in your audience. Frequency is how many times they’re going to hear from you. Conventional wisdom says that people need to hear the same message at least 7 times before it registers, though a new program or issue may need many more. After all, we are bombarded with an estimated 4,000-10,000 brand messages per day. And we filter those heavily to stay sane. Ensure your goals are realistic in terms of your goals, staff time and budget.

Set media budget & schedule flights: Did someone say budget? Yes, good marketing that achieves results costs money. The good news is that with well documented reach and frequency goals you can do the math in advance on how much your campaign should cost. Like travel, there may be unexpected detours on the way, but you can only manage costs if you have a budget up front. Those costs can be captured in a spreadsheet, along with what tactics you’ll deploy and when (flights) to ensure you stay top of mind for your audiences.

4. Define success upfront

Document your evaluation plan: Here’s where you determine by what method your marketing goals will be measured. Do you need a survey, focus group, or will analytics suffice? Ask yourself whether you can realistically do this in-house or if you need outside help. How much staff time and money will be needed to measure if your campaign was a success? A good evaluation plan leads to easy reporting to the higher-ups and less confusion about whether specific marketing tactics actually worked.

5. Dealing with internal objections

All this planning takes time – a scarce resource at nonprofits. You’re bound to have some naysayers who want to just want to jump on a plane without packing nary a toothbrush – much less their passports.

Whose job is it to say, “Whoa there partner, let’s do this campaign right.”

It’s everyone’s job, whether you’re an executive director, fundraiser, program officer or marketing coordinator. That’s because we are all accountable for how we spend donor dollars.

But sadly, it often falls on the most senior person in marketing/communications. I say sadly because it’s sometimes hard to say “let’s eat our vegetables” when everyone else is already headfirst into the chocolate cake. Manners count, though, and won’t the cake taste better after you’ve done a good job with those veggies?

I know, you become the buzzkill. The “negative person.” The process freak. The holdup.

In reality, you want to save time. You want to maximize the budget. And you want to cut an even bigger and gooey-er piece of chocolate cake when that campaign changes lives and takes home awards. Marketing campaigns can do all that and more, when they’re done right from the start.

Try to paint a picture of that destination for your internal (tertiary) audience up front. After all, marketing to them is part of the plan.

Which brings me to another rule of travel: Somewhere along the way you’re going to have to hurry up and wait. A plane is delayed. Hotels lose bookings. A protest or strike interrupts your itinerary.

Veteran travelers are prepared for these moments, have the right gear and pivot accordingly. Delays are not usually a big deal to them.

I hope you’ll adopt the same attitude and actions when preparing your next marketing campaign. Hurry up and wait to get your strategy, execution and evaluation plans in place.

When you’re not tripping over your feet mid-campaign, you might be surprised where and how far those plans take you.

Bon voyage!

Are you ready to give your donors the content they deserve? Download our donor-centered content marketing worksheet and checklist here.

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