Anyone who's worked for a nonprofit organization or government agency has heard this response: "Sorry, there's no budget for that." For those of you who long to create a more proactive marketing program but simply don't have the financial backing to make it a reality, there is hope. And for those of you who realize that your efforts could use an overhaul but are unsure how to justify - or limit - the expense, there is an answer.
If you want to debunk the "no budget" myth to create a results-driven, proactive nonprofit marketing program, take the proven steps below.
Find the Money
- Ask for it - If your primary program funding comes from grants, ask for marketing support in the grant itself. This strategy is not only acceptable to grant makers, it is becoming standard practice in grant writing. Your budget can include expenses such as market positioning analyses, marketing plan development, branding, collateral materials (design, copywriting, printing, and distribution), Web site development, public outreach campaigns, and whatever other support you need to get the word out. If you're not sure what your tactics will cost, request a general bid from a consultant or firm.
- Look under the seat cushions (metaphorically, that is) - Audit your publications for efficiency and cost-effectiveness, and you are sure to find hidden costs that can easily and quickly be reduced. If your organization lacks consistent messaging - a common challenge - your publications may be far less effective than they could be. Consider spending time clarifying your messaging and be sure it's incorporated into all publications. It's possible that other publications could be eliminated, consolidated, or changed to electronic publications to eliminate the high costs of printing, bindery, mailing house, and postage expenses.
- Analyze your existing strategies and workflow - Audit your marketing program and conduct a full marketing review to analyze which of your existing marketing strategies cost your organization the most money, and comparatively, which have the highest return for your bottom line and/or the most benefit to your customers. A careful audit will help you understand which of your tactics are the most expensive. Sometimes, finding the budget you need is as simple as redirecting money from one tactic toward a new, higher-return tactic instead.
- Find promotional partners or sponsors - If you didn't include a marketing budget in your grant proposal or you simply want to make your limited dollars stretch even further, consider finding a promotional partner. Partners typically include for-profit organizations/businesses, or the media who are willing to provide pro-bono (donated) resources to promote your organization. Your promotional partnership could include a myriad of agreements, such as donating printing or distribution costs, providing free advertising space, or providing access to their customer list (appropriate if their customers are also your target customers). Promotional partners are particularly effective for new service or product launches and for events.
- Prioritize - If your marketing program needs a real overhaul, prioritizing is key. Create a complete list of your recommendations (e.g., branding, redesign of marketing materials, redesign of Web site, creating a new marketing plan, etc.). Then, prioritize your recommendations over the course of two to three years, if possible. While the longer-term plan might make it more difficult to measure substantial results in a short period of time, it will make the overhaul much easier to fund.
You Found the Money ... Now Prove the Value of its Allocation
- Start with a Results-Driven Marketing Plan - Before requesting funding, be sure to create a solid one- or two-year marketing plan. Your plan should be very realistic, should include measurable objectives that affect your bottom line and your ability to fulfill your mission, and should also include a budget that takes into account all related costs.
- Estimate potential revenue return to justify the expenditure - What's the relationship between a new brand, a new Web site, search engine optimization, or a special promotional campaign and the potential revenue you might receive in return? Estimate the relationship between the costs and the potential revenue to really justify the expenditure. Take things even further by sharing how the expenditure helps you fulfill your mission.
- Offset some expenses with in-kind donations - If you're requesting financial support for a one-time expense like branding, a Web site redesign, or a communications audit, try to offset some of your regular expenses, like printing, mailing costs, or advertising, with in-kind donations from area businesses. That way, when you present your budget for approval, the sticker shock won't be so bad.
Secure Your Future Budget - Hold Yourself Accountable
- Decide what accountability really means - For some, accountability means taking your communications plan off the shelf at year end, and checking off the tactics you fulfilled. Done. To really secure your future budget, hold yourself more accountable. Spend one to two hours each month or each quarter (depending on the scope of your marketing program) to analyze and report your progress toward reaching plan objectives. Which tactics are doing the job? Which are far exceeding expectations? And which, if any, need to be pulled as soon as possible?
- Track and report progress - Report your progress to managers and constituents with visual graphics and a brief narrative that describes the impact your marketing efforts are having for your organization and your customers. If you find that some tactics simply aren't working, rethink those tactics or stop them altogether - and report this to your administrators or board as well. This demonstrates that you are results-driven, and that while you're willing to take risks with cutting-edge tactics, you hold yourself accountable to making every dollar count.
- Remind them how far you've come - Accountability also involves having a clear picture of how your marketing program has evolved and grown over the years. And not just in terms of more staff, or a bigger budget, or even in terms of prettier or fancier collateral materials. How have your changes affected the bottom line - your organization's ability to serve your customers or communities? Are you much more proactive now? Are you more results-driven than last year? Have you eliminated waste by switching from direct mail to e-mail-based promotion? Have you reached a much wider market share, or have you reached entirely new markets this year? Reporting answers to questions like these could help debunk the "no budget" myth and secure your futuren nonprofit marketing budget for good.
Tiffany Meyer is president of Numa Marketing, and the author of Writing a Results-Driven Marketing Plan. Find more information about her nonprofit marketing services, register for her affordable nonprofit marketing e-courses, or sign up for her monthly e-zine The Smart Nonprofit at www.numamarketing.com. ©2007 Tiffany Meyer