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The First Step in a Nonprofit Marketing Plan

Updated: Nov 21, 2019

If you work for or run a nonprofit, you may be struggling with how to write a marketing plan for a nonprofit organization. The good news is that marketing is just a set of tools and skills that can be applied to a wide variety of enterprises, including charities. The first step in a nonprofit marketing plan is for the organization to have a firm understanding of its Vision, Mission, and Goals.

This may sound really, really simple but it is the backbone of the organization's message. It is the set of organizing ideas for why the organization exists and for what it does. It is the message to the nonprofit's first audience -- itself.

If an organization doesn't know why it does what it does, it can't market. The nonprofit doesn't know its message or it doesn't know who it is sending its message to. Marketing is delivering the right message to the right person at the right time.

Nonprofits are in a competition for the attention of their audiences which is why a nonprofit marketing budget should focus on getting the fundamental aspects of the organization's message right.

The fundamental aspects of the message touch three levels of thinking - strategic, operational, and tactical.

Vision - Mission - Goals

The engine that drives a nonprofit organization is a set of nested guiding principles.

At the strategic level there is a vision statement. This is what the organization hopes to achieve. It may never achieve this vision but it is far enough "out there" that it inspires the long term activities of the nonprofit. At the operational level there is a mission statement. This is what the organization does everyday. There is no way for a nonprofit to achieve its vision if it fails to execute on its mission. At the tactical level, there are goals. These are the way a nonprofit organization measures if it is making a difference.

  • Vision - What a nonprofit hopes to achieve and why it exists.

  • Mission - What a nonprofit does on a daily and yearly basis.

  • Goals - Measurable activities that give feedback on whether or not the nonprofit's mission activities are successful.

Some example Vision and Mission statements from well-known Kansas City nonprofits:

The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation


  • A society of economically independent individuals who are engaged citizens, contributing to the improvement of their communities.


  • To help individuals attain economic independence by advancing educational achievement and entrepreneurial success, consistent with the aspirations of our founder, Ewing Marion Kauffman.

Children's International


  • Bringing people together to end poverty for good. We aim to create a world without poverty where every child, family and community is connected, productive and thriving.


  • We connect people around the world in the fight to end poverty. Working together, we invest in the lives of children and youth, build the healthy environments they need to thrive, and empower them to create lasting change in their own lives and communities

Goals for Nonprofits

A really good framework for goals is to keep them SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely (or Time-Constrained).

An example SMART goal for a nonprofit that organizes uses 5k race events to gain donations would be:

"Grow the number of volunteers helping staff 5k events to a pool of 150 individuals from the corporate donor pool in the Kansas City Metro Area by the end of calendar year 2019."

Let's consider how this statement is SMART.

  • Specific - "Grow the number of volunteers helping staff 5k events..." Right up front you know what the activity of the goal is. It is about increasing the number of volunteers. You also know why the goal has been set. In this scenario, 5k events are important to the fundraising efforts of the organization and this goal furthers the execution of 5k events.

  • Measurable - "...to a pool of 150 individuals..." How will we know when we have met our goal? When we have 150 people in our volunteer pool.

  • Achievable - "....from the corporate donor pool in the Kansas City Metro..." We're not recruiting volunteers from the whole United States. We're not even considering volunteers from outside of Kansas City as "counting" towards this goal.

  • Realistic - Reading this statement, is it reasonably achievable for our organization? 150 individuals may be a stretch if your nonprofit just started running these types of events.

  • Timely - "...by the end of the calendar year." A good goal has a stop date.

Review your Vision, Mission, and Goals at least annually. Once a nonprofit has taken this first step toward strengthening its message it can begin to tackle the next steps of its marketing plan.

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