All action and no traction. That’s what most marketing is, nonprofit and for profit. A series of discrete actions—a direct mail invite for a fundraising event, a two-part email campaign to introduce a new program, a blog launched for an advocacy campaign—with no connection between them, no plan.
That’s what evaluation expert Edith Asibey calls “the tactical syndrome—broad or undefined goals leading to that laundry list of communications tactics.” Planning is the only antidote—front end planning (including planning the evaluation approach) followed by evaluation on an ongoing basis.
Consider these strategies two halves of a whole—they work best together. Without them, you’re simply throwing your marketing resources away.
Step One: Planning Impact
Here’s the problem. All too frequently, I hear nonprofit communicators who are “just doing it”— reaching out without taking the steps necessary to make sure they are engaging the right people in the right way to reach their goals. Without planning, that is.
I understand that you’re pressed for time and sometimes you just have to get something out the door. But usually that effort to get that one web page updated or the e-news article written and out the door is all action, no traction.
What you get from that is marketing product. What you don’t get is impact. And you may be alienating loyal and prospective audiences by missing the mark.
It’s hard, very hard, to take the time to plan. Because none of us have a minute of extra time, and planning seems like a real chore. But here’s what planning gets you, according to Sandra Jordan, Director of Communications & Outreach for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID):
1. Directs your focus.
- Only when a path is clearly defined can you stay on it.
- A clear path ensures you make the most of your effort and budget.
2. Forces you to articulate concrete, measurable objectives so you, and the decision makers who make staffing and budget decisions:
- Know what you are working towards (critical for buy in).
- Make the right decisions on how to get there.
3. Provides a definitive means of tracking progress (or lack of progress).
- Against stated objectives.
4. Doubles as a pithy overview of your work to engage colleagues and funders.
- Marketing is an all-organization responsibility.
- But to engage your colleagues (or prospective funders) you need to be able to show them what you’re doing and why.
5. Makes it easy to draft your day-by-day work plan.
- By breaking down the big ideas that comprise the master marketing plan into nitty-gritty execution.
- Clarifies elements for your work plan and roles and responsibilities, so you focus on priorities and capitalize on each staff member’s or freelancer’s skill set.
Step Two: Evaluating Impact
The e-word alone frightens many nonprofit communicators away because it’s human nature to avoid facing what we’re not doing well. I expect that’s why our 2007 survey showed that only 37% of nonprofit communicators track impact.
But evaluation is just as crucial as getting your campaigns out there. Without it, you’re driving blind.
Here are just a few of the insights you’ll get from proactive, all-the-time evaluation:
1. What’s working.
- So you can do more of that, and less of what’s not working as well.
2. What segments of your base are engaged, and which segments you have to get to know better so you can speak to their wants and preferences.
- So you know who you’re still courting and who you’re nurturing for the long run.
- So you know how to best court those who aren’t yet engaged.
3. What their habits are.
- When and how much do they read, how often and when do they participate in your Facebook fan page or download a report.
- So you know how to reach out to them in the way most likely to motivate action.
4. What content is most compelling to your base.
- So you can develop more content on those topics.
5. What messaging generates action, and what doesn’t stir the pot.
- So you know what messaging to use more often, and what needs to be cut or revised.
Here are three surefire ways to evaluate your marketing impact, easy to tackle even if you’re a one-person shop:
1. Launching periodic online surveys of five questions or less to get to know your base and prospects, and solicit their input. Use Survey Monkey (free).
2. Forming an ad hoc marketing advisory group.
3. Setting up and analyzing Google Analytics (free) for your website and blog.
Get to work!