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Love it or hate it, marketing plays a vital role at most, if not all, nonprofits. It helps organizations promote their programs and services, bring their mission to prospective donors, reach new partners, and so much more. Marketing is part of the teamwork that makes that nonprofit dream work. Whether your organization’s marketing is rolled into the fundraising program or carried out by your ED, one thing’s for sure—your organization shouldn’t be wasting precious resources on ineffective marketing. However, according to the 2019 Nonprofit Communications Trend Report, only about one-third of survey participants are regularly measuring their marketing effectiveness (inconceivable!).

If your organization is not regularly measuring your marketing efforts, you’re missing out on a whole lot of valuable data and insights that can make your marketing exponentially more effective. Of course, measuring marketing efforts doesn’t have to be a laborsome project. By defining your goals, setting strategic metrics, and creating tools for regular measurement you’ll be on the path to success.

Let’s talk about some of the challenges of measuring marketing effectiveness and how to set your organization up for marketing success.

Challenges of measuring marketing effectiveness

Before we discuss how to measure marketing effectiveness at your nonprofit, let’s look at some of the top challenges nonprofit professionals deal with when taking on this kind of initiative.

  1. Unclear goals—If your organization doesn’t have clear marketing goals or objectives, it’s going to be much more difficult to measure the effectiveness of your efforts. After all, how can you measure success if you don’t know what the heck you’re aiming for? Not to mention, it’s difficult to decide on strategies and tactics you’ll use if you don’t have a goal in mind.
  2. Undefined metrics—If you’ve defined your marketing goals or objectives, but haven’t spent time thinking about what metrics can help you evaluate your success, we get it. It can be hard to measure something like increasing awareness. But without defined metrics, it’s gonna be a challenge to measure your marketing effectiveness.
  3. Mistaking causality for results—One of the biggest challenges in measuring marketing effectiveness is trying to avoid mistaking causality for results. What the heck does that even mean you ask? Basically, seeing an uptick in social post engagement doesn’t necessarily mean it came from an increase in page likes. It could be from a number of factors. If those factors aren’t identified and defined, it will be difficult to determine why or how the increase in engagement happened. 

Set your organization up for marketing success

Now that you’re caught up on some of the common challenges of measuring marketing, you might be wondering what you can do to set your organization up for marketing success. We can help with that! There are tons of things you can do to build a solid marketing foundation for your organization.

To help you get started on the path, we recommend following these three steps.

Step #1—Set a clear goal for your overall marketing plan and all marketing campaigns

We’ve established that unclear marketing goals are a major challenge for measuring marketing, so, guess what the first step is gonna be? That’s right, setting clear goals from the get-go! Specifically, we recommend you set a clear goal (or goals) for your overall marketing plan and any marketing campaigns you run. Why? Having a goal in place not only helps you make decisions about strategies and tactics, but it also helps you measure your progress towards your goal.

According to Nonprofit Marketing Guide, nonprofits are generally working towards 12 or so core communications and marketing goals. Some of these include: 

  • Raising awareness of your issues to educate people on your cause
  • Brand building and reputation management for the organization
  • Communicating internally with our staff or board
  • Supporting major donor fundraising
  • Supporting event fundraising (galas, walks, etc.)

To prevent overwhelm, prioritize your goals so that you know which one is most important and focus on working on that one first.

Step #2—Define “success” for each of your goals

Let’s get really real for a sec. Tracking marketing metrics isn’t a perfect science because we have a lot of imperfect options for measurement. Generally, we have to pick a few metrics to help us capture the full picture of our work and results. To select the right metrics, we need to first define what success looks like for our marketing goals.

For example, success for a goal like “raising awareness of our issues to educate people on our cause” could have a number of different outcomes such as:

  • Increasing the number of people who come to your organization for support
  • Gaining more notoriety through earned media and being a sought-out issue area expert
  • Increasing the number of local online conversations about the issue

These outcomes are very different and would be measured differently. That’s why it’s important for your organization to thoroughly define what your marketing success looks like so you can pick the appropriate metrics to measure.

Let’s say we decided success looks like increasing the number of people who come to your organization for support. A few metrics we could track include number of program inquiries, number of program sign-ups, and number of program page views on the website. This is just to name a few, but you get the gist.

Step #3—Create a system for regular and on-going measurement

Nonprofit friend, you’re well on your way to marketing success at this point. But let’s keep the momentum going and develop a system to measure your marketing on the regular.

For starters, you’ll need a metrics dashboard. A dashboard might sound fancy, but it could be as simple as a spreadsheet where you track your key metrics. Ready to build your own? Zapier has a great tutorial on building a metrics dashboard, including how to auto-import data from Google Analytics. Now that’s a fancy time saver!

Next, you’ll need to decide how often you’re going to update your metrics dashboard. Most nonprofit professionals find a monthly update sufficient. To stay on top of this task, set up a recurring calendar appointment for 1 hour each month to update the spreadsheet, review the numbers, and update any future marketing plans.

Finally, metrics are only useful if you truly use them so make it a point to not only look at the metrics but ask questions often. Why are you seeing certain trends? Could you scale certain marketing activities that are seeing good results? Should you eliminate what’s not working? If you do a monthly or quarterly review of your marketing plans, incorporate these questions into your process.

Measuring your marketing’s effectiveness doesn’t have to be difficult. If you follow these three steps, you can be well on your way to ensuring your organization maximizes its marketing initiatives. We know a lot of creativity and awesome goes into your marketing, so let’s make the most of it!

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