There’s a significant amount of confusion, especially within nonprofits regarding strategic marketing plans.  And that’s really unfortunate, because a well-developed plan plays a critical role in steering an organisation towards success by getting the best return on limited resources and avoiding key challenges that many organisation’s face, like mission drift and low return/poor outcome projects.

Here are answers to the seven questions I am most frequently asked about strategic marketing plans.

1. Is a strategic marketing plan and a communications plan the same thing?

No.  Absolutely not.  A strategic marketing plan, as the name suggests is about the strategic big picture. 

It looks at the overall vision and mission of the organisation, critiques them, and then looks to find the best way to achieve them given the organisation’s strengths and the reality of the market environment in which it operates.  When done well it is a warts and all, no holes barred, no sacred cows process.

It tackles big (and often touchy) questions like:

  • How can we ensure we are still here in 5, 10, 20 years to continue the mission (or do we plan to achieve it and shut up shop sooner)?
  •  If we continue as we have been, what financial resources does that give us to invest in future capacity building and long term sustainability so we are still operating to change the world?
  • What do we do as an organisation that is better than any other competitor, be they nonprofits, social enterprises, for profits or governments? 
  • Given the environment in which we operate (including competitors and funding opportunities) what products or services can we provide that are superior to anyone else?
  • Is this a niche we can claim and make our own?
  • Is the ‘demand + willingness to pay’ for these products or services (from clients/donors/governments/foundations) such that the resulting revenue makes them financially viable?
  • How can we brand this new, more focussed strategic identity? 
  • What skills and resources do we need to acquire/channel here to make this successful?
  • Who are our target markets for donors, for clients and supporters?
  • What do they need from us to come on board?  How are we going to deliver it?  How are we going to build the relationship and keep them?
  • How are we going to use our limited resources strategically to make this happen?
  • Are we currently providing products or services that someone else does better or more efficiently?  Can we drop that and focus on something we can do better without critically devaluing our brand?  (Yes, even if we have done it for 20+ years).
  • Are we trying to be everything to everyone?  Are we undertaking activities because ‘we always have’ or because it is the pet project of a Board member or long term employee, rather than because we can do it better than any other nonprofit competing for funding and donor dollars?
  • How can we work smarter not harder?

In contrast, a communications plan is typically a tactical plan that flows from the strategy.  Having identified key target markets during the strategic marketing process, the communications plan will speak to how you will communicate with that target market.

2. What goes into a strategic marketing plan?

This can range from organisation to organisation, consultant to consultant, but as a minimum, they will typically include:

  • An analysis of the organisation’s internal strengths and weaknesses
  • An analysis of the operating environment, including other nonprofits competing for funding (market analysis)
  • Identification of what products/services the organisation can:
    • Deliver better than anyone else (the value proposition), and
    • For which there is adequate ‘demand + willingness to pay’ (market analysis)
  • Clearly identified target constituents (clients, donors, supporters, funders) based on the refined product/services to be offered
  • Branding development recommendations regarding how the brand needs to be modified/tweaked/overhauled (if necessary) to reflect the more strategic target market and product/services mix
  • Pricing and positioning strategy – how the pricing and positioning for products and services will interact with market demand/willingness to pay to ensure financial viability (including where services to clients are ‘free’ and the funders are governments, donors or community partners)
  • Delivery channels – how constituents can engage.  For example, can clients access or book services online, or Skype for support; can supporters donate, volunteer or buy merchandise online; can members access members-only content and support communities online, or can this only be done via traditional in-person or snail mail channels.
  • Marketing communications (also known as tactical marketing).  This is the materials (collateral) part of marketing – and will include recommendations about how you are going to promote your products and services to your target market.  It will make recommendations about the marketing mix, e.g: brochures, E-News, reports, E-Books, flyers, blogs, videos, flash mobs, website content, social media – based on your target market.

3. What is a strategic marketing plan going to do for me?

Many, many things.  To name but a few:

  • It will act as the roadmap for future operational and budget discussions about project selection, resource priorities and goal setting.
  • It provides clear target markets which staff (paid and unpaid) can use every day when crafting project operations and messages to ensure they focus on the right people.
  • It can help encourage a sense of understanding and community amongst staff as everyone works towards a clearly defined long-term strategy.
  • It encourages all staff to start thinking strategically
  • It provides a sense of pride to individual staff members who can trace how their daily tasks link directly into target markets and goals in the big-picture strategic marketing plan.
  • It prompts the organisation to focus limited resources (human and dollars) towards delivering products and services that the organisation can deliver better than anyone else.
  • It discourages mission drift into activities which aren’t strategic
  • It prompts the discontinuation of programs that aren’t in the organisation’s strategic interest, but are continued based on emotional or historic rationales
  • It encourages the embracing of new opportunities, innovations and process that will strategically enhance the organisation, and its mission – for the long term.
  • It encourages investment in strategic capacity building for the long term, rather than short term non-strategic spending.

4. Does my nonprofit need a strategic marketing plan?

Yes.  In order for your organisation to change the world, it needs to be solvent, and running effectively.  In order to advance towards your mission sooner, your organisation needs to have funding reserves for strategic investment.  In order to ensure long-term viability, and create the necessary reserves for investment in your organisation, you need to get strategic.

5. Does Full & Frank provide in-house strategic market planning sessions and writing services?


6. How much does it cost?

The cost will vary based on a range of factors including:

  • the size and scope of the organisation and its activities
  •  the number of participants (e.g. staff and board members) you would like engaged and consulted in the development of the plan
  • how comprehensive and long-lasting you would like it to be
  • the number of iterations/revisions you would like following the initial draft plan
  • the current status of your organisation’s strategic sophistication

Just as house building projects cost differing amounts, so do different consulting projects.  Please feel free to contact me and we can discuss what can be achieved with your available budget.

7. Will it be painful?

It will be exciting and invigorating for people who want to advance the organisation strategically to the next level.  It will be challenging and uncomfortable for people who are adverse to change, are emotionally wedded to the way things have 'always been done' or who like squirreling away knowledge about the organisation and its operating processes as part of ensuring their value and status.

Having said that, we work to create an environment of enthusiasm, respect and inclusion where all players have an opportunity to contribute.

Take the plunge.  No one cries.

AuthorJuanita Wheeler