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Avoid This Massive Marketing Budget Mistake

Posted by on February 5th, 2019
Posted in Blog, Nonprofit Branding, Nonprofit Communications   

It happened to me twice. I joined an organization as the head of marketing only to discover that—despite there being a marketing team or funds to hire support staff—the budget for doing any actual marketing work was practically zero.


Now, imagine the pent-up anticipation of a nonprofit hiring its first ever marketing officer. Everyone from the executive director to the board chair to the program directors will have a list, compiled over years, of the projects they know need immediate marketing attention.

And they’re right. With marketing finally being made a priority, it’s time for a new head of marketing to cross things off those lists and show results. But without a budget, substantial marketing results are a fantasy. Both times this happened to me, I wasted months lobbying for funds so I could implement my plans to achieve the very results the organization hoped to achieve. That was valuable time lost and money wasted.

So, I urge you: avoid this massive marketing blunder. Set a marketing budget.

To see a measurable outcome from your investment in marketing staff, budget not just for the salary and benefits that will help you land an inspiring leader, but also for the funds to allow that staff to implement strategic and creative marketing campaigns. Not doing this is a trap that many organizations fall into, and you can see why. If an organization is stretching to afford the human resources costs of marketing staffing, it can easily forget to budget for the funds that will enable that person to actually do the work.

A full-time position is a big expense, with returns that are not always easy to measure. You may think that you can put a person on the payroll to handle marketing, and that she’ll get you big results in visibility, donor engagement, program participation, or otherwise simply by wielding her skill and expertise.

Trouble is, marketing expertise and marketing tools and tactics are completely different things, and they each cost money. You’d never hire a painter to paint your house, then tell her she had to do so without paint or brushes, because you neglected to budget for them.

When you hire a marketing communications or digital/social media professional you also must plan for the expenses that person will need to incur to do their job. And while you can’t know exactly what tools and tactics your new pro will want to implement, creating a reasonable budget for marketing expenses is within your power.

While there is no standard nonprofit size, mission, or budget, assessing your needs, conferring with colleagues, and doing some strategic planning can help. If you’re planning to hire marketing staff, do your homework. What do you want them to accomplish? What means are they likely to use to accomplish your goals? What are the basic communication tools you’ll develop or refresh? All of these things have associated costs, from social media ad buys to printing to market research. More to the point, all those costs come with potential—financial—rewards, if budget for them exists.

Investing in marketing is one significant way to boost your organization’s brand, build community, and cultivate a donor base. That’s the lifeblood of your nonprofit organization.

Put together a marketing budget—even if it’s largely based on hypotheticals—and be ready to update it to reflect the realities your new marketing team brings into being. Avoid simply choosing a percentage of your existing overall budget to cover marketing. Why? Because the goal of marketing is to increase the revenue flowing into your nonprofit. So set smart goals, and then set aside enough financial resources to reach them.

Not sure where to start? Each organization differs in resources, time, and funds available so we’ve outlined a few marketing initiatives to help you envision what a reasonable marketing budget might need to cover:

  • Web Design: Redesigning your website so it’s on brand and user-centric would be best but, if that’s not in-budget now, consider a website refresh so it looks as engaging and forward-thinking as your organization. Mission Minded has a few suggestions on how you can make your website best reflect your brand.
  • Digital Marketing: An impressive new website is just one element of a grander digital marketing strategy. You want to make sure all of your digital channels are optimized for impact, both to build your brand and to attract online engagement.
  • Annual Reports: Writing and designing an annual report that actually helps you raise more money is an achievable goal. Here are 6 tips that can help you do just that. While annual reports can be presented digitally, those will still incur design, writing, and web development expenses. If your donors would benefit from holding a powerful brochure in their hands, add more budget for printing.
  • Newsletters: Whether printed, digital, or both, expert writing and design will make your communications—and your case—more likely to inspire action.
  • Digital Advertising: Social media may be free, but wielding it to your advantage takes expertise and patience. An investment in paid advertising to reach would-be supporters can return big results with less outlay of time or money, especially if it’s part of an integrated digital marketing strategy.
  • Photography: New, high-quality, professional photography will tell your organization’s story in a visually compelling way and serve your digital and printed needs for years.
  • Video: Content is king and video is the new normal. Whether it’s a marquee video for your home page, something to show at your next gala, a series of 6-second Facebook ads, or short vignettes proving your organization’s impact, video is the most effective way to emotionally engage modern audiences.

Jennie Winton is a Founding Partner of Mission Minded, a 25-year marketing veteran sought for her expertise in branding nonprofit organizations, and a one-on-one leadership coach.

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