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Tuesday, January 23, 2018

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Most Nonprofits Not Using Marketing Plan, Want Strategy Help
Nancy Schwartz

November, 2008

I was surprised to see that more than 60% of nearly 200 nonprofit communicators responding to our first Getting Attention survey reported that they do not work from a marketing and communications strategy.

Even those who do have a plan, shared the following problems:
  • The plan isn't followed.
  • There's no budget.
  • The environment (in which the nonprofit works, or within the organization) has changed dramatically, making the plan irrelevant.
Those nonprofit communicators who are "planless" report that they do a lot of talking about creating one, but first need to develop leadership support for the process.

Equally compelling, more than 89% of respondents said that learning more about strategy (why, what, when and how to communicate) was either "important" or "critical" to them.

Readers, I can't tell you how strongly I believe in the value of a marketing plan to serve as the foundation of your daily work. The right plan is flexible enough to embrace the changes your organization faces on a regular basis yet specific enough to guide ongoing implementation.

I promise to focus on this topic much more in the coming year.

Most striking were these findings, highlighting that nonprofit communicators:
  • Face Three "Greatest Challenges"

    Readers consistently pointed to three "greatest challenges" faced in their everyday work. These are:
    • Getting buy in (strategically, and in terms of resource allocation) from colleagues and leadership.

      GA readers report that colleagues, leadership and board members frequently don't see that program success is dependent on effective marketing. They frequently have absolutely no marketing insight.

      A lucky 10% of readers reported that their leaders fully support and understand their marketing work. But 63% responded that although they receive some degree of support from leadership, their work is still little understood.

      As one respondent writes, "Our team's greatest challenge is being taken seriously by senior management, who often make communications-related decisions without our input."

      Another comments that leadership "wants branding but never thinks about audiences; wants coverage but believes its real only when its a story in the New York Times."

      Lots of frustration here.
    • Creating brand or name recognition to build and reinforce awareness.

      Many respondents point to the lack of brand as a deterrent to marketing success. But it's a catch 22. Most nonprofit communicators lack the time, budget and/or expertise to develop a high-impact brand. One reader points to her "inability to identify a clear message that we're all comfortable in communicating, much less specific audiences with messages tailored to each."
    • Lack of time and budget to do all that has to be done.

      The reader who sums it up as "too many competing priorities," seems to be speaking for the 69% of respondents who pointed to the lack of time and money as a huge barrier to success.

      Not an uncommon problem in the workplace. But when you're supposed to be producing, the problem is a big one. One reader writes that she finds herself "getting bogged down in the day to day, leaving no time for planning, analysis or creative thinking."
  • Are Striving Develop Skills In Several Areas

    Over 80% of survey respondents identified these topics as "important" or "critical" areas in which they need to strengthen their skills.
    • Strategy (tied for top pick, identified as an "important" or "critical" skill gap by 89% of readers)

      Readers want to learn more about strategizing to whom, what, when how and where to communicate. As you've read, most don't work from a communications plan, which is key to working within time and budget constraints. Even when you do, problems abound. Many of you share the lament that "fighting fires frequently preempt strategy even if you have a plan." Also described as "juggling while walking a tightrope."
    • Message development and branding (the other top pick)

      Nonprofit communicators report that although there's a lot of talk about nonprofit branding, there are few colleagues they can turn to for guidance in this area. 88% of respondents pinpointed this as an "important" or "critical" area in which to develop greater expertise.
    • Website development and promotion

      Many nonprofits continue to work on transforming their website from a brochure to one that takes advantage of the interactivity of the online medium. Marketing the site is another task for which enough time is seldom allotted, and for which skills are frequently just not there.

      Several readers mentioned a lack of understanding on the leadership level on how and why an organization's web presence needs to be integrated with other communications strategies.
    • Evaluating success.

      We know how hard it is to measure how much communications are helping to change behavior of any kind, much less generate changes such as increasing awareness. GA Readers report that they know that evaluating impact is critical for building leadership buy-in and increasing budgets. One reader comments, "we need to know results to determine how to invest the limited marketing resources we do have."
Lots of challenges but have faith, each and every one of the challenges readers mentioned can be tackled with success. It's just a matter of learning how...from peers, from training and from Getting Attention.

© 2002-2008 Nancy E. Schwartz. All rights reserved.

About the Author
Nancy E. Schwartz helps nonprofits succeed through effective marketing and communications. As President of Nancy Schwartz & Company (, Nancy and her team provide marketing planning and implementation services to organizations as varied as the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Center for Asian American Media, and Wake County (NC) Health Services.

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