Having a marketing plan is key for nonprofits

Special to The TribuneSeptember 19, 2013 

Barry VanderKelen

For nonprofits, public relations is frequently confused with marketing. Though interrelated, they aren’t identical. The confusion weakens both efforts.

Public relations spreads information about programs and activities among the public, typically through newspaper, radio, television and the Internet. Public relations is about capturing attention.

Marketing is actions and activities that influence behavior , such as receiving services or making a donation. In order to influence someone’s behavior, you must first get their attention.

Both public relations and marketing will be strengthened if a plan is created and followed. Nancy Schwartz, a marketing relations consultant, offers a nonprofit marketing template that guides the creation of a marketing plan ( http://www.nancyschwartz.com).

The plan has four elements: identify the main goals of the organization, who you are trying to reach and influence, what tactics and methods you will use to reach them, and how you will know that the plan has worked.

A key constraint on a marketing plan’s scope is the available staff, volunteers and budget to implement it. More complex organizations will have more complex plans.

If the marketing plan is the first one an organization has created, it should be relatively modest. Many lessons will be learned as the plan is implemented. As confidence in the ability to plan and achieve goals grows, so can the plan’s scope. It is crucial to have clear and measurable goals that are carefully tracked.

Public relations is measured by the number of mentions in the media or attendance at apublicity event. Marketing is measured by looking at changes in volume of inquiries about a program you offer.

Developing and using a marketing plan will bring focus to public relations and marketing activities. Such a plan will reduce the feeling that your organization is “the best-kept secret” in your service area.

Barry VanderKelen is executive director of The Community Foundation San Luis Obispo County. Reach him at barry@cfsloco.org.

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