How to Get the Most Bang for Your Marketing Buck as a Teeny Tiny Nonprofit
Time management is a huge issue for marketing professionals at small nonprofits. Of all the marketing activities that you can do, how do you manage what is possible on the schedule you have, and with a very limited budget?
I recently spent a day volunteering at the Evanston Rebuilding Warehouse, a nonprofit organization that supports the reduction of waste in landfills through sustainable deconstruction and renovation building practices. ERW runs a retail building supply warehouse that supports their job training initiatives — it’s where my husband and I purchased much of the material that went into our renovated two-flat, material that would otherwise have ended up in a landfill. ERW is an awesome community resource, but their team has a single part-time marketing person who, in her part-time time at ERW, has duties other than marketing.
The organization needed some help prioritizing marketing tasks for their small budget and limited staff, so I spent my time there helping them create a one-page marketing plan that will work within their constraints.
I want to show the work we did for ERW here, and in doing so, I’m hoping to provide a blueprint that other nonprofits can follow to create an effective digital marketing strategy with their own tiny budgets and limited hours.
Start with your major goals
Organizations with tiny budgets tend to start their marketing strategy with free tools like Facebook and Twitter, but this isn’t a strategy so much as it is a list of tools that time-strapped staff can never get to. Rather than immediately generating a list of free social media outlets, think high-level and start your marketing plan with your major organizational goals.
In ERW’s case, it was to raise awareness. ERW wants more people to know about their awesome warehouse space filled with salvaged and affordable building materials. (I, personally, would like to keep it a secret, but I get where they’re coming from.)
It’s okay to start with a huge goal like raise awareness because, using this process, we will break it down into smaller, achievable tasks, or tactics.
Now we ask: what are the marketing tactics that are available given my time and budget constraints that can help raise awareness?
For ERW, we looked at some things they were already doing:
1. Posting new inventory and program information to their Facebook page
2. Posting new inventory to their website and to Flickr
Then we considered some additional tactics that could raise awareness with their target audience. We looked for things that would cost little to nothing, and that wouldn’t take too much time.
1. Post items that are plentiful and regularly in stock, like doors and sinks, to Craigslist (they were already doing this, but not regularly)
2. Posting unique furniture finds to the Apartment Therapy classifieds
3. Doing some of their own PR/outreach
Side note about PR: While it can be a huge can of worms, we identified 5 key outlets where it would be feasible for them to get a feature, including the Chicago Tribune. Instead of reaching out “whenever there’s news,” we picked two times of year when it makes sense to pitch donating to ERW: spring cleaning and tax time.
Create a timeline
We then set a timeline and frequency for doing each marketing activity, and for each, identified baseline metrics and benchmarks. For instance, ERW would post to Craigslist once per week with 5 items, and post to Facebook twice a week with interesting pictures of new inventory at the warehouse. This schedule meant ERW staff could block out time each week to handle those marketing tasks without feeling overwhelmed by tasks that get left on the table. It’s totally manageable, and we hypothesized that it would have an effect in spreading the word about ERW.
In order to measure whether it actually works, we assigned key performance indicators (KPIs) to each task. So in order to test whether posting to Craigslist brings in more traffic, we planned to track traffic to the website from Craigslist over the next 6 months. (Your baseline metrics are your current metrics, so in that column you would include whatever the current traffic from Craigslist has been for the past 6 months.)
When picking KPIs for goals like these, don’t worry about being 100% accurate. Unless you’re Neilsen, you’re not going to have a scientific report on the effects of your marketing efforts. But you will be able to create and then validate a hypothesis. For tiny nonprofits, assigning and then assessing KPIs at regular intervals will help you build a picture of your marketing efforts and will assist you in reporting efforts and results to stakeholders.
Let’s take a look at another goal and how we broke it down into manageable chunks.
ERW’s second major goal was to increase donations.
It usually doesn’t make sense to ask people to donate at the beginning of their encounter with your organization. You want to buy them a proverbial drink first. So we identified some easy, manageable tactics to help people increase their level of involvement with ERW once they become aware of the retail warehouse. Moving people through this “funnel” eventually leads to donations:
Become aware of ERW > Join the email list
Join the email list > Become a member
Become a member > Make a donation
For each stage we assigned a marketing tactic, which was easy once we looked at the donation funnel. For instance, how do you encourage people who are on your email list to become members? Send an email where the main call to action encourages membership! (ERW membership is awesome, too. If you’re a member you can add items to a wish list and staff will call you if, say, the type of fridge you’re looking for comes in.)
For each donation tactic, we assigned a KPI and a timeline to review and measure whether the tactic was effective in upping donations.
Making it all work
Once these tactics and their accompanying metrics are assigned, you have a working marketing plan for the foreseeable future. You also have a stopping point. Now you know which tasks you are capable of — tasks you believe will help you achieve your bottom line goals. Anything that doesn’t fall within that realm is a bonus. If you get to it, awesome. If not, you can put it aside without feeling like you’re neglecting an essential marketing duty.