How to create a nonprofit marketing plan: Free template

March 19, 2024
min read
How to create a nonprofit marketing plan: Free template

Promoting your nonprofit's campaigns, programs, and events through marketing is critical for success. Effective marketing helps you spread the word, reach new audiences, secure registrations, collect donations, and achieve all kinds of goals that push your organization's work forward.

If you've already learned the basics of nonprofit marketing and want a closer look at exactly how to fit all the pieces together into a coherent strategy, we've got you covered.

This guide will review some important information about nonprofit marketing concepts and then dive into a sample nonprofit marketing template and plan.

Learn more about FreeWill's innovative non-cash giving solutions for nonprofits.

Why you need a nonprofit marketing plan

Nonprofits need marketing plans to ensure that their outreach and promotional efforts have the intended impact. Modern marketing can involve many different channels and messaging strategies, so without a clear vision of your goal and audience, marketing can easily become scattershot and ineffective.

Marketing plans can be developed at different scales (like to promote an entire campaign to a broad audience or a single event to a small group of donors), but they all have a few key elements in common:

  • A defined goal
  • A defined audience
  • Specific target actions and key performance indicators (KPIs) that define a conversion
  • Marketing channels strategically chosen to align with the goal and audience

By establishing these concrete guidelines and laying out a roadmap for your messaging, a marketing plan takes the guesswork out of reaching your goals. Plus, a well-defined strategy makes it easier to course-correct and learn from your performance along the way.

Additional nonprofit marketing context to understand

Let's briefly review some of the most important concepts that will help shape your nonprofit's next marketing plan:

Inbound vs. outbound marketing. Inbound marketing involves attracting audiences to engage with your content, learn more about your campaigns or programs, and become increasingly engaged over time. Outbound marketing is more direct, with your nonprofit reaching out to specific audiences with specific asks, akin to traditional advertising. Different marketing goals will be best served by different approaches and channels, so it's helpful to understand the distinction.

Channels, audiences, and goals. Nonprofit marketing plans must define these elements to be as useful as possible. Channels include email, social media, print, text messages, and more. Your audience for a marketing campaign might be large or extremely targeted. Your goal should be measurable and directly related to the overarching objective, for example, clickthroughs to a page promoting your new program or event registrations within a specific timeframe. Each of these elements should be aligned to drive the greatest impact—a relevant goal promoted via channels proven to drive engagement from a specific audience that is likely to be interested in your ask.

The marketing funnel. Different supporters will have different levels of awareness of the topic or ask that your messages present. The marketing funnel is a helpful concept for thinking about these levels, from limited or no awareness (top funnel), some awareness (middle), and full awareness (bottom). By considering your audience and crafting your message with these funnel positions in mind, you'll better meet them where they are and boost the chances of engagement.

The quality of the marketing journey. As you steward your audience down the funnel or otherwise encourage them to take action, keep the quality of their experience top of mind. Especially today with so many digital outlets competing for our attention, a seamless, easy experience is essential for successfully convincing audiences to take action. Review the web pages and tools you're using at every stage of the journey and put yourself in your supporters' shoes to find pain points.

For a closer look at each of these concepts and more, please explore our longer introductory guide, Nonprofit marketing 101: How to build a next-level strategy.

Key steps of building a nonprofit marketing strategy

As you start creating your nonprofit marketing strategy, we recommend using this 12-step framework to organize your efforts:

The steps for creating a nonprofit marketing strategy, listed in the text below.

1. First, think about your organization's priorities. How does whatever you're marketing (a program, campaign, event, etc.) support those priorities? This connection will help shape the rest of the marketing strategy,

2. Determine your marketing objectives. What exactly should your marketing push accomplish? These might include generating awareness, driving donations or sign-ups, or identifying new prospects, to name a few common examples.

3. Set goals to support your objectives. How will you measure progress toward your objectives and gauge success? Use the tried-and-true SMART framework to make your goals specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.

4. Review your past marketing efforts and tools. Have they been effective? Which campaigns were the most successful, and why? What audiences did they target? Exercises like SWOT analyses can be helpful at this stage in addition to studying past results and notes.

5. Determine your audience. Who will you target with your new marketing campaign? Which segments of your audience are the best candidates to help you reach your goals? Which stage in the marketing or awareness funnel are they?

6. Consider marketing channels. Now, which outlets or types of messages will be best suited for your goals and audience? Past marketing campaigns are especially helpful for making inferences about the best channels to use for different contexts.

7. Find any gaps in your toolkit. What tools, resources, or collateral do you need? Think back to Step 4 and consider any new investments that you may need to make to reach your marketing goals.

8. Craft your case for support. Now it's time for messaging. Try to distill your core ask to your audience down into a single sentence or two that concisely expresses why they should take your target action to help you reach your goal.

9. Lay out a plan. Determine the exact marketing campaigns or specific sets of messages to your audience(s) that will come together to push your goal forward. Think through how you'll measure conversions and collect the necessary data.

10. Make it real by developing campaign materials. Write the emails, social media posts, mailers, phone scripts, and more that you'll need to put your marketing plan into action. Rely heavily on your case for support and infuse it into all of your messaging as you tailor it to your audience(s) through different channels.

11. Double-check your data processes to ensure you'll be able to capture the right information for measuring your campaigns' performance once they're deployed.

12. Launch! Put your plan into action and track your performance to course-correct as needed.

Of course, there are tons of variations of these steps out there that will help you reach your marketing goals, but this core framework will help you cover all your bases. Once you handle all the essential considerations and understand the underlying marketing concepts at play, you can truly make your strategies your own with new adaptations and messaging tactics.

Learn more about FreeWill's innovative non-cash giving solutions for nonprofits.

Putting it all together: Nonprofit marketing plan template

Using an understanding of the various channels available, the marketing funnel, and the key steps outlined above, we can put all the pieces together into a tactical nonprofit marketing strategy.

Follow along as we flesh out each of these core sections of the strategy:

 A blank nonprofit marketing template with numbered sections described in the text below

Let's walk through the process you'd follow to fill out this template.

1. Organizational priority

What is the big-picture purpose of this marketing push? How does it relate to your nonprofit's strategic priorities?

2. Marketing objectives

What are the specific outcomes that you want from your marketing push that will support the organizational priority?

3. SMART goal

Distill the priority and objectives into a specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-bound goal. Write it out as a single sentence if possible to help it better stick as the clear center of your strategy.

4. Past performance

Review key performance metrics from past marketing campaigns that targeted similar objectives. What audiences did they target? What specific strategies did you use, and how did they perform?

5. Audience

Determine the specific audience for your new marketing push based on its objectives and past performance. What is the funnel position of this audience? Is there a more specific subaudience that you might also target?

6. Marketing channels

Which channels can you use that will best reach your target audience based on your understanding of them and past performance? In this template, we highlight email, social media, and direct mail as common options, but don't be afraid to think outside the box if needed.

7. Case for support

Write a one to two-sentence pitch that distills your marketing ask down to its clearest form. It should present a clear ask and mention the concrete impact that taking the action will have.

8. Marketing campaigns

What are the specific campaigns that you can deploy on each channel as part of this marketing push?

9. Campaign specifics

Determine some logistical specifics for each campaign. What will your messages consist of? When will they be sent? Will they target a specific subaudience? How will you measure their success?

10. Creation and deployment

With all the strategy and details figured out, it's time to create your campaign collateral, double-check your data capture processes, and launch your campaigns!

Learn more about FreeWill's innovative non-cash giving solutions for nonprofits.

Sample nonprofit marketing plan: Promoting planned giving

Let's try a concrete example of this marketing plan at work.

Imagine that your nonprofit has recently started a planned giving program and wants to strengthen its prospect pipeline to begin securing more gifts. You might fill out the template above to include these details:


First, we have the big-picture organizational priority: strengthening the planned giving pipeline. When we consider the specific marketing objectives that can support this priority, we might generate a list like this:

  • Increasing traffic to our planned giving website
  • Encouraging web visitors to request more information about planned giving
  • Engaging more qualified planned giving prospects in conversations with gift officers

Let’s take the first of these objectives and set a SMART goal for it:

Increase web traffic to our planned giving website by 150% year-over-year

This goal is specific, measurable via web traffic, and achievable (based on the organization’s hypothetical previous web traffic metrics from the previous year, when the website was brand new). It’s relevant to the organizational priority of building a more active planned giving pipeline by increasing the volume of potential donors, and it’s time-bound to the year.

Metrics and audience targeting

Next, we’ll take a look at previous marketing efforts related to this goal. We could pull traffic metrics from the previous year and the first batch of promotional emails that were used to promote the new website. In the data, we might find low open rates and even lower click-through rates, indicating something was wrong with the email strategy—perhaps the subject lines and messages were unappealing, or it was sent to too broad of an audience that wasn’t likely to engage in the first place.

So what audience(s) should we target this time to increase traffic to the planned giving website?

Think back to the marketing funnel. Our goal revolves around increasing general awareness and encouraging visitors to start learning more, making it a fairly broad, top-funnel request. We’ll want to cast a wide net by targeting a large audience.

However, we can narrow our audience down a bit to help ensure the messages will be effective. For instance, we could filter our database of donors to exclude those marked as inactive (i.e. haven’t donated or engaged in the past two years). By cutting down our list this way, our performance metrics will be more representative of the actual potential in our base of support.

But why not go further? In addition to sending broad messages to a large audience, we can send more targeted messages to a smaller subaudience of supporters who are statistically more likely to be interested in planned giving. With a little research, we learn that donors ages 45 to 64 who have longstanding relationships with a nonprofit are the most likely to create bequest gifts. Generate a new segment of your audience with these parameters, and you have a subaudience to reach with more targeted messaging.

Marketing channels and collateral

Now that we know which audiences we’re targeting, we can determine the marketing channels that will work best for reaching them. For broad, top-funnel audiences, email is a good choice. Social media can also be a smart move if we have high-quality content to share and start conversations, like testimonials from our first planned donors. For our subaudience, we’ll add direct mail, which can work well for reaching older demographics.

So what will we need to turn these plans into action? You might jot down this list:

  • Collateral for our messages, including templated language, graphics, and donor testimonials
  • A direct mail vendor that can print and ship the mailers
  • A Google Analytics account for our planned giving website to track web traffic data

Case for support

Next, we can get started laying the foundation for our marketing messages by drafting a core case for support. This key message will be echoed in all the other outreach conducted as part of this marketing push. For this example, we might use this case for support:

Planned giving is a highly impactful way for anyone to make a difference in our community.

And for the subaudience of our most likely prospects, we might get a little more specific:

Planned giving is a highly impactful and mutually beneficial way to create a lasting legacy with our organization.

This variant more intentionally taps into the longstanding relationships that this audience has with our organization. It also mentions the donor benefits of planned giving, which could be more appealing to older donors concerned with estate and financial planning.

Marketing strategy

With these guidelines in place—goal, audience, channels, and case for support—we can lay out a concrete strategy. These are the specific marketing campaigns we’ll run:

  • A short series of emails introducing the planned giving program and encouraging readers to visit the website to learn more, plus additional mentions of planned giving in the monthly newsletter
  • A social media campaign to highlight existing planned donors and share their stories, with each post encouraging readers to share and explore the website
  • A postcard sent to our subaudience of likely prospects during National Make-a-Will Month to introduce the program and mention the benefits of planned gifts

Although the ultimate shared goal is to generate web traffic to the planned giving website, it’s also important to determine how we’ll measure the performance of each of these campaigns.

For the email series, tracking the open and clickthrough rates will give us a quick glimpse at their effectiveness. Social media shares can be a good measure of how compelling our campaign is, as well. It’s harder to track immediate results of direct mail, but over the long run, we could correlate planned giving info requests or secured gifts to the mailing list to determine if our strategy helped contribute to the success.

With our strategy taking shape and a clear picture of the marketing campaigns we’ll run, we’re in the home stretch. We’ll develop our campaign materials using our core cases for support as a guide, double-check that we’re prepared to capture relevant performance data, and then launch the marketing strategy.

How to start promoting your giving programs

Equipped with this template and foundational nonprofit marketing best practices, you'll be able to start generating more attention than ever for your organization's programs, events, and campaigns.

Just keep in mind that the most effective marketing approaches are iterative—there's no need to lock yourself into one rigid plan when you can take your time learning lessons and making improvements to your strategy. Especially for growing organizations already concerned with the costs of investing in new giving programs, this approach can be freeing. Start small and targeted, stay flexible, and learn as you go. Identify which channels resonate the best with different audiences, test new messaging strategies, and more. By following the processes and tips discussed above, you'll have a reliable and repeatable framework for iterating improvements and generating better results.

To learn more, please keep exploring with these additional resources from the FreeWill team:

FreeWill can help you raise more and end your marketing journeys on a high note.