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How to Defend Your Nonprofit Marketing Budget — Even in Tough Times

Management’s first response to a tight budget is often to reduce expenditures across the organization. After all, that’s the best way to balance the budget. Every department suffers equally. Right?

Wrong! Although it may seem right (politically) to accept this decision, it’s the wrong move to make. In the long run, accepting a significant budget cut will harm your organization. When a nonprofit cuts marketing, it cuts off one of the hands that feed it.

Even worse, marketing is often cut more than other areas. Our work is sometimes perceived as being expendable, rather than recognized as a critical means of generating revenue, raising awareness, etc.

That’s what you have to point out – as diplomatically as possible. Rather than taking a defensive position when faced with budget cuts, proactively respond to your leadership’s challenges with either or both of these proposals:

  • Leave our budget untouched, and we will increase X by X in the next fiscal year. Even better, if you will increase our budget by X percent, we’ll increase X by an additional X percent.
  • Let the marketing and communications team work with the current budget for the next two years, and we’ll deliver an X percent increase in revenues (donor and/or earned income) in that time.

Of course, these strategies require your marketing and communications team to report on concrete results, proving the value your efforts bring to the organization. Examples include:

  • Direct Marketing (online and snail mail)
    • Response rate.
    • Dollars earned per dollar spent (return on investment, or ROI).
  • Media relations:
    • Development of media relationships.
    • Coverage by media type (blogs, newspaper, magazine, Web, broadcast).
  • Showcasing organizational experts:
    • Incoming calls from the media, including bloggers.
    • Number of speaking engagements and presentations (and audience count).

Whatever you do, don’t just give in to a proposed budget cut for your department. Consider the options with as much creativity as you bring to your marketing work. Then shape your strategy and come back with a creative solution that will let you and your colleagues continue to build the bottom line.

Good luck!

Nancy Schwartz in Leadership and Board Members, Planning and Budgets | 0 comments

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Nancy E. Schwartz helps nonprofits succeed through effective marketing. Nancy and her team provide marketing planning and implementation services to nonprofit organizations and foundations nationwide. She is the publisher of the Getting Attention e-update and blog. For more nonprofit marketing guidance like this, subscribe to her e-update at

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