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Why have a marketing strategy?

Here are six ways that marketing strategy can help your nonprofit and a handy metaphor to understand the difference between goals, strategies, and tactics.

The other day, I was creating the agenda for a strategic planning session, and my client aptly pointed out, “You forgot to add the part where you explain why we’re doing strategic planning.”


In all seriousness, the comment gave me pause. I imagined myself standing in front of a room of board and staff members, trying to explain why strategic planning is just so integral to a nonprofit’s success. It felt silly. We all have strategic planning horror stories about sinking a lot of money and time into a plan that gathers dust on a shelf. And at the same time, it is clear to me that strategy can be a lifeline for nonprofits. And, the absence of strategy can be the beginnings of a downward spiral.

(One note here: while I specialize in strategic marketing planning, it is very similar to organizational strategic planning, but on a smaller scale, with a narrower focus.)

One of the biggest reasons why fear and resistance surface during strategic planning is that it professionals often have an innocuous, hazy concept of strategic planning.

So, I wanted to share a metaphor that helped me untangle the elements of a strategic plan. I heard this on a marketing podcast called Everyone Hates Marketers, which I would recommend if you like French accents and don’t mind a few swears. In the episode How to Become a Marketing Strategy Expert, guest Kevan Lee compared strategic planning to planning a roadtrip (an analogy I can get on board with) and used it to explain the difference between Goals, Strategies, and Tactics.

  1. Goals. If you’re planning a road trip, your goal is your end destination. It is where you plan to be.

  2. Strategies. Your strategy is the route you plan to take. Maybe you’re taking the scenic route to avoid some traffic. That’s your strategy.

  3. Tactics. Your tactics are the individual steps you take on your route. Turn left at the stop sign. In a quarter mile, at the traffic circle, take the second exit, etc.

I liked this metaphor so much that it inspired the name of my marketing strategy planning service, Roadmapping. During a roadmapping process, you can expect to define goals, strategies, and tactics to get you to where you want to be.

Six ways a marketing strategy can help your nonprofit

Okay now that we’re clear on the difference between goals, strategies and tactics, let’s get into the meat of it, what are six reasons why having marketing strategy is a good idea for nonprofits.

1. A marketing strategy helps you get to know your audience(s).

Communications is particularly challenging for nonprofits because they cater to distinct audiences with distinct needs:

  • Community stakeholders or the clients the nonprofit serves

  • Donors (and this could be broken down further to corporate, individuals, foundations, etc.)

  • Volunteers

  • Community Partners

  • Etc.

Naming, describing (sometimes through persona work), and prioritizing your audiences is the first step in a marketing planning process. The better you know your audiences, the better equipped you are to serve them the right information at the right time.

2. A marketing strategy helps you align your marketing goals to your overall strategic goals.

When you’re doing day-to-day nonprofit marketing, it’s helpful to know how your work fits in with the bigger picture. It makes the work more rewarding, keeps it on track, and helps you advocate for long-term, high-impact projects instead of getting sucked into the rigamarole of the day-today.

3. A marketing strategy helps you let go of the need to be on every platform.

I see nonprofits getting stressed and frustrated by social media because they feel like they have to be everywhere, all at once, all the time.

Truth is, being on every platform isn’t sustainable for most nonprofits.

Roadmapping helps you prioritize the platforms that are going to be most impactful for your organization. And, it lets you take a sigh of relief as you put your organization’s Twitter account to sleep.

4. A marketing strategy helps you allocate appropriate marketing resources.

It’s hard to justify spending marketing dollars at a nonprofit. Period. Funders don’t like it, donors get upset, Dan Pallota gets on a soapbox, and you’re still advocating for spending $15 a month to upgrade your Mailchimp account. When your marketing strategy is linked to outcomes for program participants or organizational sustainability, it becomes much easier to advocate for the budget you need to do marketing well at your organization.

5. A marketing strategy helps you measure marketing success.

With clear goals you can define clear ways to track what marketing success looks like at your organization. This helps you get out of a pattern of compulsively checking your Google Analytics page for new website visitors and into a routine of recording useful metrics that help you see big picture progress.

6. A marketing strategy makes creating content much easier.

When you don’t know your audiences...and you don’t have goals...and you don’t know how you’re measuring success...creating marketing content can be….frustrating and haphazard. It is easier and more efficient when you’re writing to an audience you know at regular intervals with clear goals in mind.

If you’re struggling with any of the above, a roadmapping process can make your nonprofit marketing efforts more aligned and more effective. Feel free to schedule a chat with me to discuss your organization’s roadmapping needs.


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