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Staffing Your Marketing Department

The pros and cons of engaging employees and contractors.

One of the biggest marketing decisions every nonprofit makes is how to staff their marketing department.

Marketing and communications work have components that need to be executed on an daily basis. Creating content (writing, designing, making videos, etc); posting; monitoring accounts; engaging with your community; and tracking success require a dedicated person (or team) that keeps a pulse on your marketing as part of their job.

If you’re very small, maybe you, as the founder, have been running your organization’s marketing. My recommendation: that’s absolutely fine for your nonprofit’s early days. However, unless you’re a marketing expert and running day-to-day communications energizes you, I would delegate it out sooner rather than later.

You have nearly limitless choices when it comes to bringing marketing talent onto your team, so it pays to take the time to think about what structure works best for you.

Here are a few models:

1. In-house strategic expertise, outsourced implementation

Hire a marketing director or manager with strategic expertise, and give them the resources to contract out the talent they need to ensure day-to-day marketing is well run.

2. In-house implementation, outsourced strategy

Hire a full-time marketing specialist or coordinator tasked with day-to-day implementation, and bring on contracted support for strategy and special projects.

3. Have a volunteer run the marketing

I almost put this in the “things to avoid doing” section of this blog post, but this is a reality for many organizations. I would caution against this approach unless you have a clear and simple strategic marketing plan in place, a robust volunteer management system, and a skilled volunteer with a lot of time on their hands who will commit to your organization for at least six months.

4. Add marketing to the job description of another role

Again, this isn’t the best-case scenario, but is often a reality for nonprofits. Many nonprofits choose to hire a development and communications specialist role, or even add “marketing” to their director of development’s title. Alternately, you may choose to hire a programs-focused outreach and education coordinator who is also in charge of marketing. If you split a marketing role, expect that there will always be tension between prioritizing marketing and prioritizing the role’s other responsibilities. And this tension will impact your marketing outcomes.

5. Completely outsource your nonprofit's marketing to contracted support

There are many full-service marketing firms that can put a team together to manage all your marketing efforts. You can also hire an individual contractor to work closely with your team on implementing marketing strategies and creating content.

Nonprofits often have unrealistic expectations about brining on marketing and communications talent. Here are some things to avoid:

  1. Don't hire an entry-level or early-career marketing professional and expect them to excel in every aspect of marketing. Good marketing requires a diversity of skill sets that is rarely found in one person.

  2. Don't bring on a volunteer and leave it up to them to decide what to post with little or no direction. Have a marketing plan in place, and then look for a highly skilled volunteer—think a social media manager at a local company.

  3. Don't micromanage your marketing talent.

  4. Don't hire someone you can't trust to work independently. Marketing is complex and multifaceted, and oftentimes, it’s hard to nail down a review and feedback process that works for everybody involved. The more trust you can put into your marketing team to produce high-quality content independently, the better.

Employees vs. Contractors: The Pros and Cons

So now that you’re considering you options, what are the pros and cons of employee and contracted support?



  • An employee will know your organization and needs better.

  • An employee can be more flexible to projects as they come up.

  • An employee can become integrated with your team and collaborate with other staff members on a daily basis.


  • Employees generally require more comprehensive supervision and support.

  • Employees generally cost more, once payroll taxes, benefits, professional development, the hiring process, etc. are factored in.

  • An employee’s working hours might get eaten up by staff meetings and team obligations, lessening the efficiency of their time (this is especially true for part-time employees).

  • Good marketing requires a diverse range of skill sets: graphic design, strategic thinking, and strong writing are just a few. It’s rare to find an employee who is strong in all areas of marketing.



  • A contractor can usually jump into the work quickly with minimal onboarding.

  • Contractors’ outside perspective helps them contribute new ideas.

  • Contractors are usually self-employed individuals, so your organization does not need to pay payroll taxes or benefits.

  • Generally, contractors know how to protect their time, and focus on one thing at a time, increasing the likelihood of completing tasks and staying on track.

  • Contractors may be more likely to push back on your ideas when they believe something won’t work.


  • One risk of hiring a contractor is that they may be disconnected from the rest of your team, and miss out on the content ideas that are generated when creative minds collaborate.

  • A contractor may come with a bias for their own expertise, decreasing their focus on getting to know your nonprofit and your unique needs.

  • Contractors generally come onboard for shorter periods of time, which can hamper your efforts to build a marketing/communications department that is sustainable in the long term.

I’ll leave you with this

First, no matter whom you hire, an important condition for successful marketing is buy-in from your entire team (and board). Both employees and contractors will need information and support from your team.

Last, it is difficult for the same person to plan and implement at the same time. Or at least, I’ve never seen it done well.

Whatever you choose, give your marketing talent time to slow down and formulate a plan before getting started on day-to-day implementation.

If you’re interested in exploring what contracted marketing support could look like at your organization, I’m always happy to chat! Feel free to schedule a free consultation to work through what might be a good fit for you.


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