This Creative Brief Template Helps Ensure Powerful Copy and Design

Many creative marketing projects get underway without a clear sense of expectations between a nonprofit’s marketing and organizational leadership, and the creative folks (whether in-house or freelance) delivering it.

The result? An extended and expensive creative development process with many revisions—not to mention chewed-up nails, bruised egos and depleted momentum.

Taking the time and energy up front to craft a thorough creative brief will save you organization time and money, and ensure you get the fundraising campaign, program mini-site, campaign website or annual report you envisioned. And going through this process may highlight that another medium or approach will work better than the one you had in mind.

Your brief should be, well, brief, running no more than two pages. Make it easy to scan with the use of clear sub-headings, white space and bulleted lists.

Here’s what your brief should include:

  • Overview
    • General project information
    • Goals
    • Measurable Objectives (benchmarks to measure progress towards goals, e.g. increase donor retention by 20% this year)
    • Deliverables Needed
      Note: Deliverables can change during the creative process, i.e. the graphic designer might suggest that a blog, rather than an e-newsletter, will do more to address your goals.
  • Primary audiences
    Provide enough detail to enhance everyone’s understanding of who the audience is. Include some user demographic information if possible.

    • Who are your primary target audiences? Choose a typical audience member or two and profile including job, age range, gender, passions, what her day looks like, etc.
    • How will your audiences use this Facebook page, white paper or website?
    • What should be avoided in talking to these audiences?
  • Tone and Image
    • Funny and casual, or formal and buttoned-up, or…
    • What do the audiences believe or think, before you start communicating with them?
    • What tone and imagery should we use to engage them?
    • Specific visual goals?
  • Messages: Features, Benefits and Values
    • List top features and/or facts about the program, service or organization, and its value to target audiences
    • How do these stack up against the competition?
    • If you could get one sentence across, what would that be? How would you prove it?
    • Other major points?
  • Budget and Schedule
    • Has a budget been approved? If so, what is the range?
      Note: Having a budget range enables creative to shape a doable approach, rather than a sky-in-the-pie approach that doesn’t fit your budget.
    • When must the message get to the audience for greatest impact (e.g. service introduction date, conference, special event)?
    • What are start and due dates for the finished work?
  • Process
    • Who is the point person (on the nonprofit side)?
    • What is the internal review and approval process?
    • Who needs to sign off on final execution?
  • Anything else?
    • How many rounds of revisions on your side (be they yours, your bosses, or your CEO’s) should the writer or designer include in her bid for the job?
    • Your additions?

Download this creative brief template today and review it with my tips fresh in your mind. When you do, you’ll be poised to outline a clear and productive creative brief when your next marketing project pops up.

Get your creative brief template here.

What techniques do you use to ensure that your communications product match your vision and goals, and your audience profile? Please share here.

More at Five Steps to Great Graphic Design for Nonprofits

No Time for a Marketing Plan? Start With a No Pain, All Gain, Do-It-Now Nonprofit Communications Audit

More on Communications Audits

I recently received this Ask Nancy query and was eager to respond ASAP, as this is a question I hear frequently from nonprofit communicators like you…

Dear Nancy,

Colleagues at two other organizations in our county are in the middle of communications audits. I’m interested, but don’t know what that process would mean for our organization.

What is a communications audit, and what value does it deliver? We’re overloaded as it is and it’s hard to even consider taking on even one more thing!

Thanks much,
Denise Harris, Project Director
Human Services Coalition

Denise asks a great question, seeking not only the definition of this marketing strategy but it’s value, so she can weigh ROI (return on investment). That’s the ideal way to prioritize marketing strategies.


Dear Denise,

First of all, let me promise you that executing a communications audit is a far happier experience than an IRS audit! And in doing so you’ll generate an immediate impact:  The audit findings will save you time immediately on completion, helping you focus on doing more of what’s working, and less of what’s not, while providing a clear framework for prioritizing.

Ideally, I’m a big believer in the value of creating a full marketing plan — so you know where you’re going (clear goals) and the best way to get there (based on realities of your target audiences wants and values, factors in the environment in which you work). But if you don’t have time for that right now, or it seems too daunting, a communications audit is a great place to start.

  • Definition — What is a communications audit?
    • A snapshot view of what you are doing marketing wise, evaluated that against your marketing goals and benchmarks, and in light of the wants and needs of your target audiences, and what your competitors and partners are doing.
  • Value — You’ll use your findings to:
    • Be more strategic: Ensure you’re reaching the right audiences with relevant messages via the right platforms, to increase engagement and action.
    • Get the most from your marketing investment: By increasing internal awareness of current approach vs. more productive opportunities, and building this practice into a habit.
    • And you’ll continue to leverage this information (and new findings your seek out) on an ongoing basis to fine-tune your strategies and tactics to work better than ever before.
  • Follow these steps:
    • Drawing on conversations with your colleagues and with target audiences, and on research of colleague and competitive organizations communications.
    • Ask these questions first:
      • What are our marketing goals and the benchmarks we can use to measure our progress towards them?
      • What do our target audiences (the folks we need to engage to meet our marketing goals) want and value?
      • What do we want them to do and what might help and/or get in the way (call to action)?
      • Are our messages relevant to our target audiences? Are they engaging them and motivating them to act?
      • Where and when are their open-minded moments (the times and channels–e.g. Facebook vs. a PSA) that they’re most likely to digest our messages? This is where to invest!
      • What are others competing for the same engagement, time, donations doing well (models)?
    • Assessment comes next:
      • Assess all communications materials channel by channel (e.g. all websites, all email communications, all print materials, all direct mail) against these criteria.
      • Assess consistency of key elements (e.g. messages, branding) across channels, products and programs/campaigns.
  • Make indicated changes ASAP!
    • Do more of what’s working well. Cut what’s not.
    • Get inconsistencies in line with branding standards asap to ensure its’ easy for your network to recognize–in a moment, at a glance–that the marketing content is from your organization, and make it easy for them to remember and repeat it to friends and family.
    • Eureka–Clarity and immediate time savings!

Hope that helps, Denise. I urge you to go for it, and let me know how it goes!

All best,
Nancy

P.S. How do you audit your communications, and what do you do with your findings? Please share your communications audit guidance here.

Marketing Budget How-tos — Answers to Calm Your Fears and Power Up Your Budgeting Mojo

The hands-down, most hated and most frequently-avoided marketing task is budgeting. I hear that from you and your peers time and time again.

But I urge you to get past this bias by taking 10 minutes to absorb today’s budgeting guidelines. You’ll learn the value a budget brings to your work as it translates the actions outlined in your marketing plan into expense. The result is a completely different way of looking at your marketing work, serving as both a clear framework for your decision-making on wants vs. “nice-to-haves” and a powerful tool for getting the marketing dollars you need to meet agreed-upon goals.

You’ll see clearly how much you have to spend to reach your goals and, via tracking results, will gain a sense of what strategies work best to achieve which goals. For example, based on your budget framework, you may decide to promote your advocacy campaigns via direct mail and email, text and paid advertising in order to match legislative timeframes. At the same time, your budget might indicate that it makes sense to hold off on enhancing your already-strong membership program with the launch of a members-only community.

Start building your budgeting skills and confidence right now with my responses to the your most frequently-asked questions:

1. A to-do list is not a marketing plan.

I have a to-do list a mile long. That’s my marketing plan and what I use to create my budget. Or do I need something else, too?

No, that to-do list is not your marketing plan! It’s a marketing checklist that you hope will move your organization forward. And I guarantee that even if you complete every single one of those tasks, you won’t be contributing as much as you could to meeting your organizational goals.

Your current marketing approach is all action, and no traction. You’re generating a stream of one-off marketing outputs that don’t achieve much and may even be confusing to and/or alienating the individuals you need to engage to move your mission forward.

I urge you to scrap the laundry list and take a one-day marketing planning sabbatical (here’s a marketing plan template to work from). In just a single day, you’ll finish with a much clearer path in front of you to:

  • Direct and prioritize your focus, and ensure you make the most of your budget
  • Know what you are working towards and make the best decisions on how to get there (critical for leadership buy in and ongoing support)
  • Craft an accurate, realistic budget built on logic and strategy, one that will greatly increase your success rate in getting the budget you need
  • Track progress (against concrete, measurable benchmarks)
  • Confidently draft a realistic daily work plan.

When you’re making marketing decisions throughout the year, use the plan as your framework. It will enable you to distinguish “needs” from “wants,” to craft a budget around what really matters.

2. Connect the dots between your marketing goals and what it will take to get there.

How do you propose we ramp up our marketing dollars from zero to what we really need?

Start with reviewing your marketing goals (or articulating them, if you haven’t already) to ensure they represent the best way you can put marketing to work to advance your organizational goals. Once you review those goals with leadership, and get approval, then clearly connect the dots between your proposed budget and what you want to accomplish in a way that’s easily accessible.

In most cases, achieving marketing goals requires financial outlay in addition to human resource (time, effort and skills; in-house or outsourced). There’s no way out of it: You have to pay for services such as reliable web hosting, flexible email marketing tools and postage. And if you want to design a high-impact website, analyze targeted email marketing or implement successful fundraising campaigns, there’s a price tag associated with doing that well.

All too frequently the barrier to a sufficient budget is that your colleagues (staff and leadership) don’t understand what communications really is, what it can accomplish and what it takes to do it really well. I recommend you guide them to that understanding by sharing your marketing plan (talking through it is far more effective than simply circulating the document) and making that clear connection between goals and budget.

3. Your budget projections are a key factor in your marketing decision making, and a concrete baseline to work from.

How important is it that my actual expenses match my projection? I feel like my budget is just made up.

Projections are the best way to assess how your investment in each campaign or project relates to its relative importance in your marketing plan. That’s a crucial ingredient in your marketing decision making, so there’s no avoiding projecting what your expenses will be.

Secondly, tracking expenses versus projections during the course of your budget year is the only way to keep on track with your marketing budget; the equivalent of benchmarking for your marketing dollars. Without projections, you have no guidance on whether you’re spending too much, or too little.

Keep in mind that a first-time budget is always fiction, as is any plan or projection (and a budget is a quantitative plan) before you implement.

To minimize the gap between fantasy and reality, craft a first-time budget based on your marketing expenditures of the prior year. Extrapolate from those what the costs of new campaigns and projects will be and modify your allocation depending on the relative importance of the featured program, campaign or service. That’s the kernel of ROI—return on investment. In addition, consider tracking how staff marketing time is focused by program, campaign or service as well.

Use that first year to scrupulously track your expenses—by program, campaign or service; and by expense type (e.g. online tools or graphic design services). Assess quarterly, to make sure you’re expenses aren’t exceeding your budget, and again at year end. Doing so will help you:

  • Understand what you’re really spending to market your organization, and each program, campaign or service
  • Compare your marketing investment for each program, campaign and service with its relative importance in achieving your current marketing goals, and with the specific benchmarks you set up to measure your progress in meeting those goals (see this marketing plan template)
  • Whether you track marketing results qualitatively, quantitatively (easy to do for a fundraising campaign or a campaign launching a new program, but challenging in many cases) or using a bit of both methods, compare those results to expenditures, to understand the ROI of each initiative.

You’ll finish with an accurate map of expenditures and a sense of ROI that together will guide fact-based decision making as you shape the follow year’s marketing plan and budget.

Do keep in mind that your budget will have to be adjusted each year to reflect increasing costs and changes in your organization such as new programs, cut programs and changes in geographic area served. For example, launching a new program requires an increased marketing budget for the first year or two so you’ll need more dollars or do less on other fronts.

4. Advocate for the budget you need to achieve your marketing goals.

I’m told how much money I get for marketing each year regardless of what I think I need. Is that normal?

There’s no standard but unfortunately, being delivered a marketing budget is a very common practice, one that is seldom grounded in data or a clear understanding of what it takes to achieve your marketing goals!

I urge you not to sit back and accept it. Instead, move into action to educate your colleagues and leadership so they understand the power of marketing, and what it takes! Advocate for what you really need to move your mission forward.

In many cases, a misunderstanding on what kind of budget is required is actually the fault of us marketers. Time and time again, I see nonprofit marketers fail to share their strategies and goals with leadership and peers. As a result, you’re sabotaging far more than your budget. You’re also sabotaging the potential of this vital strategy for nonprofit success.

Once you develop your plan, it will very clearly enable you to outline out a comprehensive budget. Share the budget with your marketing plan—both are effective ways of conveying that you have a clear plan for moving forward, shaped on concrete data and strategies. It will be comforting for your leadership to have these plans in hand, and greatly increase the probability of getting more marketing dollars.

If you can’t get the budget you need, take this opportunity to reset expectations on what can be delivered for less than that.

How to Design an Effective Marketing and Communications Budget (Case Study)

Question: What percentage of a nonprofit’s budget should be spent on marketing and communications?

–Sherri Greenbach, Executive Director
Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York

Dear Sherri,

What a great question! The answer is (as you probably expected) “it depends.”

You definitely need to have a comprehensive, realistic budget. It’s a critical component of your annual marketing and communications plan and, like the work plan, serves as a map to ensure you reach your goals. The budgeting process helps you to determine whether your plan is realistic. If not, cut the plan to focus on ultimate priorities and retool the budget.

In the for-profit world, it’s fairly standard to determine a marketing budget by allocating 10-20% of projected gross revenues to marketing and communications. However, things aren’t so black and white in the nonprofit world with our dual bottom line of people and dollars. You can take the percentage approach OR the flat dollar approach.

What’s most important is that you establish a detailed marketing and communications budget prior to the start of each fiscal year, and track costs (by strategy and program or project) and results AS YOU GO so that you can analyze cost vs. benefit. The budget should be integrated into your annual marketing and communications plan, with a dollar cost allotted to each strategy (direct mail, email, paid advertising, media relations, etc.) and program or project, each of which should be broken out by its various components (consulting, evaluation, printing, postage, etc.).

Each organization’s plan (and budget) will cover a unique set of components. Don’t forget to budget for the tasks – such as researching your audiences and evaluating outcomes – that give you the information to make your selected strategies as successful as possible.

The Percentage Approach

This approach is favored by those who believe that marketing and communications expenditures should directly reflect a nonprofit’s evolution and the size of its budget. Personally, this is the approach I prefer. The advantage of developing a budget based on your organizational finances is that it’s organic. Communications spending grows as does your organization. Of course exceptions are made for special needs such as the launch of a new program, introducing new leadership, or tackling an urgent advocacy campaign.

The average allocation is from 9-12% of your annual organizational budget (start with 10%). Advocacy organizations tend to allocate a higher percentage (12% or higher) of their organizational budgets to communications, since much of their advocacy work is communications based.

Here’s a highly-simplified example of a budget shaped by the percentage approach:

2% Purchasing all advertising and promotion media, including internet, newspaper, radio, TV, and direct mail (postage).
+
4% Producing (design, artwork) and printing all communications. This includes newsletters, brochures, web sites, press kits, etc.
+
1.5% Producing special events.
+
3.5% Salaries, consultants and freelancers.
=
11% Total percentage of the organizational budget going to marketing and communications.

The Dollar Approach

Others in the field consider a flat dollar approach to be more relevant (and safer) than the percentage approach since your total budget has to cover utilities, rent, taxes, health insurance, etc.

Defining the dollar figure is challenging the first time round but becomes much easier once you have records of several years’ marketing expenditures to work from. Start out with a quick-and-dirty calculation based on last year’s costs and revise it to reflect special campaigns, inflation, etc. Or, if this is your first year out, estimate the costs of what you think you’ll be doing based on what you know today. Contact colleagues in the field and prospective vendors to get your projections as accurate as possible. Either way, you’ll end up with a baseline budget.

Frankly, I’ve heard a lot about this method as a viable alternative to the percentage approach, but have never seen it put into practice.

What Budgeting Does for You

Whichever approach you take, you’ll find that a formal budget is a great aid in decision making. To begin with, your marketing communications budget (and plan) will help you distinguish between needs and wants. You’ll see clearly how much you have to spend to reach your goals and, via tracking results, will gain a sense of what strategies work best to achieve which goals. For example, based on your budget framework, you may decide to promote your advocacy campaigns via direct mail and email, media relations, and paid advertising in order to match legislative timeframes. However, you may decide to hold off on enhancing your already strong membership campaign with the launch of a members-only web site.

So, Sherri, start your budget process today, even if you’re in the middle of your fiscal year. Make sure that you track costs by category and maintain a spreadsheet of actual vs. projected expenses. By next year, you’ll have an accurate map of expenditures that will serve as a great foundation for next year’s planning process and a sure means of ensuring you make the most of your marketing and communications budget.

Do keep in mind that your budget will have to be adjusted each year to reflect increasing costs and changes in your organization. For example, launching a new program requires an increased marketing budget for the first year or two so you’ll need more dollars or do less on other fronts.

Proactive Budgets Get the Marketing $ Needed for Impact!

The hands-down, most hated and most frequently-avoided marketing task is budgeting. Believe me, I hear it constantly.

Now’s the time to get past this bias and digest the coming series on on budgeting how-tos. You’ll learn the value a budget brings to your work as it translates the actions outlined in your marketing plan into expense. You’ll discover is a completely different way of looking at your marketing work, that works as both a clear framework for your decision-making on wants vs. “nice-to-haves” and a powerful tool for getting the marketing dollars you need to meet agreed-upon goals.

Start building your budgeting skills and confidence right now:

Q: I have a to-do list a mile long. That’s my marketing plan and what I use to create my budget. Or do I need something else, too?

A: No, Virginia, that to-do list is not your marketing plan! It’s a marketing checklist that you hope will move your organization forward. I guarantee that even if you complete every single one of those tasks, you won’t be contributing as much as you could to meeting your org’s goals.

That’s because this kind of marketing is all action and no traction. You’re generating a stream of one-off marketing outputs that have little impact. In fact, these one-offs are likely to confuse and alienate the people you really need to motivate to give, volunteer, and register.

So scrap the laundry list and take a one-day marketing planning sabbatical (here’s a marketing plan template to work from). In just a single day, you’ll finish with a much clearer path in front of you to:

  • Direct and prioritize your focus, and ensure you make the most of your budget
  • Know what you are working towards and make the best decisions on how to get there (critical for leadership buy-in and ongoing support)
  • Craft an accurate, realistic budget built on logic and strategy, one that will greatly increase your success rate in getting the budget you need
  • Track progress (against concrete, measurable benchmarks)
  • Confidently draft a realistic daily work plan.

You’ll see clearly how much you have to spend to reach your goals and, via tracking results, will gain a sense of what strategies work best to achieve which goals. And when you’re making marketing decisions throughout the year, use the plan as your framework.

Your plan (can be a one-pager) will enable you to distinguish “needs” from “wants,” to craft a budget around what really matters—what’s going to drive your marketing impact–motivate your people to take the actions you need!  For example, based on your budget framework, you may decide to promote your advocacy campaigns via direct mail and email, social, text and paid advertising in order to match legislative time frames. At the same time, your budget might indicate that it makes sense to hold off on enhancing your already-strong membership program with the launch of a members-only community.

What’s keeping you from budgeting to fuel your marketing impact?

Ramp Up Your Marketing Budget to What You REALLY Need: Nonprofit Marketing Budgets, Part 2

Dive into this second installment in my series to learn how to get what it takes to fund your nonprofit marketing plan. You’ll find Part One here.

Q: OK, now I get how much it’s going to take to do our marketing right. How do you propose we ramp up our marketing dollars from zero to what we really need?

A: Connect the dots between your marketing goals and what it will take to get there.

Start by reviewing your marketing goals (or articulating them, if you haven’t already) to ensure they represent the best way you can put marketing to work to advance your organizational goals. Once you review those goals with leadership, and get approval, then clearly and concretely connect the dots between your proposed budget and what you want to accomplish in a way that’s easily accessible. Your goal is to translate the actions outlined in the plan — what it will take to meet those goals — into expense.

In most cases, achieving marketing goals requires financial outlay in addition to human resource (time, effort and skills; in-house or outsourced). There’s no way out of it: You have to pay for services such as reliable web hosting, flexible email marketing tools and postage. And if you want to design a high-impact website, analyze targeted email marketing or implement successful fundraising campaigns, there’s a price tag associated with doing that well.

All too frequently the barrier to a sufficient budget is that your colleagues (staff and leadership) don’t understand what communications really is, what it can accomplish and what it takes to do it really well. I recommend you guide them to that understanding by sharing your marketing plan (talking through it is far more effective than simply circulating the document) and making that clear connection between goals and budget in a one-page spreadsheet.

When you do, you’ll find that budgeting is a completely different way of looking at your marketing work, serving as both a clear framework for your decision-making on wants vs. “nice-to-haves” and a powerful tool for getting the marketing dollars you need to meet agreed-upon goals.

Nonprofit Marketing Budgets: Part One

What’s the barrier to getting the budget you need to achieve approved marketing goals?

Use Projections to Guide Decision Making: Nonprofit Marketing Budgets, Part 3

Dive into this third installment in my series to learn how to shape and use budget projections. Here are Part One and Part Two of the series.

Q: How important is it that my actual expenses match my projection? I feel like my marketing budget is just made up.

A: Projections are the best way to assess how your investment in each campaign or project relates to its relative importance in your marketing plan. That’s a crucial ingredient in your marketing decision making, so there’s no avoiding projecting what your expenses will be.

Secondly, tracking expenses versus projections during the course of your budget year is the only way to keep on track with your marketing budget; the equivalent of benchmarking for your marketing dollars. Without projections, you have no guidance on whether you’re spending too much, or too little.

Keep in mind that a first-time budget is always fiction, as is any plan or projection (and a budget is a quantitative plan) before you implement.

To minimize the gap between fantasy and reality, craft a first-time budget based on your marketing expenditures of the prior year. Extrapolate from those what the costs of new campaigns and projects will be and modify your allocation depending on the relative importance of the featured program, campaign or service. That’s the kernel of ROI—return on investment. In addition, consider tracking how staff marketing time is focused by program, campaign or service as well.

Use that first year to scrupulously track your expenses—by program, campaign or service; and by expense type (e.g. online tools or graphic design services). Assess quarterly, to make sure you’re expenses aren’t exceeding your budget, and again at year end. Doing so will help you:

  • Understand what you’re really spending to market your organization, and each program, campaign or service
  • Compare your marketing investment for each program, campaign and service with its relative importance in achieving your current marketing goals, and with the specific benchmarks you set up to measure your progress in meeting those goals (see this marketing plan template)
  • Whether you track marketing results qualitatively, quantitatively (easy to do for a fundraising campaign or a campaign launching a new program, but challenging in many cases) or using a bit of both methods, compare those results to expenditures, to understand the ROI of each initiative.

You’ll finish with an accurate map of expenditures and a sense of ROI that together will guide fact-based decision making as you shape the follow year’s marketing plan and budget.

Do keep in mind that your budget will have to be adjusted each year to reflect increasing costs and changes in your organization such as new programs, cut programs and changes in geographic area served. For example, launching a new program requires an increased marketing budget for the first year or two so you’ll need more dollars or do less on other fronts.

Nonprofit Marketing Budgets: Part One and Part Two

How do you project a marketing budget that’s useful to you, your peers and leadership–and how do you use it?

8 Ways to Craft a Communications RFP Process that Works

As the founder of a 15-year-old marketing firm serving nonprofits and foundations, I’ve probably reviewed over 600 RFPs in my time, all from nonprofits and foundations seeking communications services. And I can tell you, no more than 100 of them were designed well enough to motivate specific and thorough responses from top contenders.

Accuracy, of course, is key. Because if your nonprofit’s RFP doesn’t cover everything you’re looking for, in the way you want it delivered, your organization won’t get what it needs. Trash in, trash out as they say. So put some time and effort into the RFP process.

Here are some guidelines for implementing a RFP process that will motivate high-quality service providers to respond eagerly, thoroughly and accurately:

1. Be realistic…

In the work you’re asking for in a particular timeframe, within a specific budget. If you don’t know what it takes (time- or $-wise), ask colleagues in peer organizations.

2. Be thorough…

In what you include, and format the proposal with care so it’s easy for the recipient to scan and review.

Put the effort into making the proposal easy to digest, just as you would your brochures or website.

3. Cover these areas:

Organizational background (brief), project description, why you’re implementing this project now, goals and objectives, challenges (if you know them), deliverables, timeframe, who to contact with questions.

4. Know what you’re looking for.

Your organization can select the right expert(s) only if you know what you want — personality, skills, style and experience-wise. Don’t use the proposal process to try to figure out what you want. That will backfire, big time.

I recently received an RFP from an organization sending it out for a second round to four communications firms this time (it was released to six firms first time out). When I asked what was missing from the initial set of six proposals, the prospect said she didn’t really know, but that none of the proposals had “hit it on the head.” When I asked what the head was (i.e. what they are looking for, what does the staff team think it takes to make this process work), she couldn’t answer. Believe me, they won’t find the right firm until they do know what they’re looking for.

5. Ask recipients to let you know within a day or two whether they’ll be responding or not.

That way you can send the RFP out to additional marketers if you need to.

6. Give bidders two weeks to respond.

Crafting a proposal is extremely labor intensive if it’s done right. Give firms the opportunity to do it right.

7. Be prepared to answer these questions:

  • How many firms/individuals will be submitting proposals?

I never jump in if a prospect is expecting more than five proposals. That says to me that they are fishing for ideas or may not know what they want until they see it (or not) in a proposal. If that’s the case, I know that we don’t have a good chance of getting the work.

  • What’s your budget range?

Some  prospects are reluctant to  share this information, thinking that the bidders will just mark up the work to that level. Most of the time, believe me, the budget isn’t enough, and knowing the range enables us to define what we can provide for that fee.

  • What are your criteria for selecting a consultant or firm?

I like to know what’s most important to a prospective client, and also get a sense of the culture of the organization. A good fit is crucial.

  • How did you hear about me/us?

It’s the kiss of death if the prospective client tells me she doesn’t remember. Finding me on the Web is a sign that I have to probe more, to ensure she has done her research thoroughly and her findings (on experience, focus, perspective) match her needs.

  • Who is your point person on this project?

It’s difficult to succeed in bringing a project to life when there’s not a single point person. Your point person should run much of the review and approval processes inside your organization; synthesizing (solo or via a group process) what are bound to be divergent opinions.

8. Be aware of the firm or consultant who submits a proposal without asking questions.

Doing so indicates a player who’s not serious about the job or not putting the required time into the proposal development process. The proposal you’ll receive from those who don’t contact you for more information is likely to be generic. Not a good sign!

I’m looking for a sense of connection, as well, when I call a prospect with questions. That’s a critical component of project success, and can’t be assessed until speak we speak few times, even if only by phone.

Readers, follow these guidelines and I promise you a much more successful communications RFP process, and product.

NEW Nonprofit Marketing Plan Template—Right-Things, Right-Now Marketing

________________________________________________________

Download a copy of the template to customize for your organization.

Insights are your key to marketing that’s more relevant than ever. Simply dive into this insight-driven approach to marketing planning—built on the rock-solid foundation of relevance—to connect more quickly and strongly with supporters and partners, and to motivate them to take the actions you need (to give, volunteer, sign a petition or…).

This Template outlines a marketing planning process driven by three types of insights you gather, learn from and act on now to shape an initial plan, and on an ongoing basis to ensure your approach stays relevant.

Follow the clear path outlined below, focusing on these three insight action items, to get to the right marketing actions for your organization to take right now. Then repeat the insight action items on an ongoing basis to ensure your marketing remains relevant to your audiences as their wants and preferences, and the environment in which you work, change over time. That’s right-things, right-now marketing.

This approach guarantees right-things, right-now marketing for the duration. It will highlight priorities and not-worth-its-whiles,  diminish those annoying fears that you’re not doing the right thing, build your personal confidence and skills, and boost your organization’s marketing impact now. Relevance rules!

Part One: Your Organization

a.    Goals—What you want to accomplish

  • Organizational Goals: What are your organization’s main one to three goals for the next 12 to 18 months?
  • Marketing Goals: What are your one to three marketing goals (how you’ll use marketing to reach those organizational goals)?

Examples:

    • Organizational goal for Environmental Health Partners (EHP)
      • Improve regional health by significantly reducing exposure to toxic chemicals—lead in homes, bay contamination, and air pollution from trucks, ships, power plants and other sources.
    • Marketing goals
      • Build awareness about EHP’s work and impact.
      • Motivate 15 area residents to attend a two-part community meeting (to be held in each of four neighborhoods in the region), to build their understanding of the relationship between health and the environment and train them as effective advocates.
      • Forge partnerships with key partner organizations in the region with existing relationships with citizens and policymakers.

 → Right-Things, Right-Now Marketing Action Item

b. Situation Analysis—Conditions inside and outside your organization

  • What is the environment in which you’re working—competitor and colleague orgs, marketing audit, policies and more?

You can assess the situation in several ways:

      • Environmental scan: What policies, practices, or other factors could help or hurt your marketing success?
      • Competitive analysis: What are other organizations providing in terms of content, programs and resources? How successful are they?
      • Audience research: What does your audience think about your organization, its work and/or the issues you work on?
      • Marketing audit: What current marketing work is succeeding, and what needs to change and how?
      • Internal audit: What are the perceptions, hopes, ideas and concerns of staff and leadership in relation to the marketing agenda?
  • Gather Insights from data, what you know/see/hear, and asking and listening.
  • Use them to shape your marketing plan, then update it regularly to keep it relevant.

c. Calls to Action—What you want your audiences to do

What do you want your target audiences to do to achieve your marketing goals? Be specific.

Examples:

  • Subscribe to our e-newsletter.
  • Like our Facebook page and share your question there.
  • Participate in our community meeting.
  • Share your story.
  • Learn about environmental dangers in and around your home.
  • Collaborate on a project with us.

Download a copy of the template to customize for your organization.

Part Two: Your People-Target Audiences & Segments

  • Who are they? Who are the one to three groups of people whose help you need AND are most likely to help OR most risky not to engage?

Alert: If you try to reach everyone, you will fail to engage anyone well.

→ Right-Things, Right-Now Marketing Action Item

a.   What are their points of view? What do your target audiences want and care about, so you can connect with them?

  • Gather Insights from data, what you know/see/hear, and asking and listening.
  • Use them to shape your marketing plan, then to update it regularly to keep it relevant.
  • How can you segment them, so you can reach them most effectively? How does each group break out into one to three segments (that share perspectives, habits and wants)?

Examples:

    • Target audience: County residents—Build their understanding of the environmental health dangers in the region and how they can improve the situation, so they are motivated to advocate for cleaner environmental behavior on the part of corporations.  Their main want—for their children to stay healthy.
      • Segments: Parents of children 12 and under; parents of children 12 to 18; school administrators; homeowners.
    • Target audience: Staff members and leadership of prospective partner orgs working in the region—Build understanding of EHP’s role and impact in fighting for community health so prospective partners see the partnership as providing value to their own impact, and want to collaborate.
      • Segments: Staff and leadership of organizations serving the communities within the region that are most at risk; staff and leadership of other regionally-focused environmental organizations; neighborhood home owner associations.

Part Three: Your Messages, Methods & Tactics

a.    Framing the Message—Benefit Exchange and Barriers to the Call to Action

  • Benefit Exchange: Why should your supporters care? What’s it in for them?

Examples:

      • Seek to ensure that their children, other family members and friends are healthy.
      • Want to ensure property values.
  • Barriers:  What’s in the way of you motivating the actions you want supporters to take?

Examples:

      • Industry owners in the region have implemented well-resourced campaigns to promise safe and healthy living to residents.
      • Parents have too many choices and time constraints.
      • Partners don’t really trust us yet.

b.    Best Methods—To achieve your marketing goals

  • How can you best motivate your supporters to act? Options are: Branding / Positioning, Message Development, Content Creation, Training, Relationship Building, Community Building and Organizing

Examples:

    • Build the network: Nurture relationships with prospective “supporters” within relevant local organizations, from the Lions Club to the Chamber of Commerce.
    • Message development: Shape and deliver messages that will clarify for, connect with and engage your audiences. Consistent, memorable messaging helps your base to keep your organization top of mind, recognize its relevance to them, and spread the word about it.

c.    Best Tactics—To put your methods into action

How can you connect with your supporters via these methods, e.g. the nitty-gritty? Will be based on your target audiences’ habits and preferences, as well as which tactics work best to achieve your goals.

Examples:

  • Message development—Audience research; write positioning statement, tagline, talking points; test and refine; develop style guide, train staff and board on messaging, develop style guide; launch.
  • Standards guide—Create a guide (PDF) for staff and volunteer messengers to use to make decisions on messaging and “look and feel” of communications.
  • Develop a one-page “leave behind” flyer summarizing the value of partnering for prospective partners, and a series of follow up emails (to follow in-person visits to prospective partner organizations).

Part Four: Put It All Together

a.    Resources—What it takes

  • Roles and Responsibilities
    • Who does what?
    • Existing staff or new staff? Outsource? Social capital (board members, volunteers, other connections)?
    • How much time will it take?
    • Training needed?
  • Budget
    • How much does your plan cost?
    • Ideal to begin planning process with an idea of what you can spend so you can plan realistically.
    • Goal is to develop an understanding of greatest ROI (return on investment) by tracking expenditures and results in coming year, to inform planning for the following year.

b.  Benchmarks and Measurement— Get to goal & stay on the path to move supporters

  • Benchmarks: What are three to five concrete, specific and measurable (when possible) steps to complete en route to achieving each marketing goals? Warning—Vague benchmarks will get you nowhere.

Examples:

    • Finalize partnerships with two organizations to cross-promote advocacy campaigns within the next six months.
    • Initiate building six additional partnerships.
    • Increase the number of incoming inquiries (coming from a partner org website, a volunteer advocate or another source) from prospective volunteer advocates by 10% in 2014 and by 15% additional in 2015.

→ Right-Things, Right-Now Marketing Action Item

  • Measurements: How to measure how you’re doing against your benchmarks?  You need to know:
    • What is working best so your org can do more of it?
    • What targets are engaged and which segments do you need to engage differently?
    • What content is most compelling to your base?
    • What messaging generates action and what fails to motivate?

Examples:

    • Incoming inquiries.
    • Website usage analytics: “What are the most visited pages on your site” to “What keywords are users searching on to get to your site?”
    • Response rate to direct mail, telemarketing.
    • Open and click through rates to e-mail fundraising and other e-communications.
    • Online survey findings and other audience research.
    • Change in volume of incoming inquiries from each source (website, volunteer referral) in 2015.
  • Gather Insights from data, what you know/see/hear, and asking and listening.
  • Use them to shape your marketing plan, then to update it regularly to keep it relevant.

c.   Step-by-Step Work Plan—Start with a 30-day plan, begin implementation build out your plan to  90 days

  • What do you need to do to build understanding, buy-in and participation among leadership and colleagues? Then what?
  • Elements: Every discrete task that needs to be done, who tackles each task, start date and deadline for each task.

Download a copy of the template to customize for your organization.