What's Missing from your Nonprofit's Strategic Plan - Part II: Marketing & Engagement
What's Missing from your Nonprofit's Strategic Plan Part II: Marketing & Engagement

What's Missing from your Nonprofit's Strategic Plan - Part II: Marketing & Engagement

05/26/2023 by Andrew Fretwell
Build on your organization's growth with technology by improving your approach to marketing.

In the first blog post of this series, we covered how technology often becomes a blind spot for nonprofits in long-term strategic plans as it pertains to their fundraising and development goals. Marketing is the logical extension of development and fundraising. Any development professional will tell you that fundraising is about storytelling and selling a stake in that story. Instead of selling stakes in a company to produce a profit, fundraisers sell a stake in a story to produce an impact. But once development has developed its story, marketing determines the audience that story should reach.

Technology provides the critical bridge between your program team, fundraising team, and marketing team. The program team needs to manage, track and report on your impact in the same place that development can translate that impact into a story, and your marketing team can amplify that story and make sure it reaches our audience. 

Without that bridge, the story you tell becomes stale and vague. It’s fine to say, “we’ve fed more people this year than ever, especially around the holidays!” but it’s far more powerful to say, “we’ve fed 1,200 new families and 500 new children this year- with nearly half of those meals delivered between Thanksgiving and Christmas!” That’s the story that generates excitement and donations. The right marketing tools ensure that this story reaches as much of your audience that wants to hear it, when they are ready to hear it, truly accelerating your reach.  

That is why how that story gets broadcast is as important as the content itself. As the saying goes, “the medium is the message,” so let’s break down the marketing channels, as most nonprofits are utilizing them.


The original online marketing tool. Your website is one of the few places where organizations and brands can create a curated experience. Your website is a palace where you have full control over branding and content. And with the ability to add portals, landing pages, forms, and dynamic content, your palace can be built ever more majestically.

There is one serious limitation the website has - it lives in one place - on a browser with a URL address. Your website can’t come knocking on my door and remind me how great it is. Your website only works as well as your outbound tools to bring your constituents into that website. And the first significant digital outbound tool most organizations use is email…


While emails don’t hold the kind of monopoly on digital communications they did 15 or 20 years ago, everyone still spends a lot of time reading, deleting, and responding to them. It is often the first digital introduction to your constituents. If you don’t deliver upfront with relevant personalized content, prepare to be relinquished to spam filters, joining the company of endless unread campaign emails and phishing scams.

If you want to do better than that, you need the right tools. Marketing tools like Marketing Cloud Account Engagement (formerly known as Pardot) and Marketing Cloud that use dynamic segmentation, adjusting to how each individual audience member behaves, is the best place to start. But even when done perfectly, email inboxes are increasingly becoming associated with work and school only, and not so much a place to be browsing during free time. Inboxes are crowded places full of tasks and promotions, but not social interaction or context - and that brings us to social media…

Social Media

Most nonprofits lean heavily on their social media presence to project their brand and engage constituents both as a single audience and through 1:1 messaging - but social media has gone from the thing to replacing email, to the thing slowly being replaced.

No one really knows where these individual platforms, or social media as a whole is headed. The landscape is extremely volatile and user behaviors are fluctuating faster than with which most organizations can keep pace. Most people I know, Boomer to Gen Z, profess a suspicious, love-hate relationship with most of their social media apps - and that tells me there’s much more disruption on the road ahead. So while social media is a central pillar of your marketing, agility and adaptability are key for future planning.

The Keystone that Pulls it all together

Each of the above sections highlights that no one channel can guarantee your story gets traction with your audience. Organizations are looking for a blended, omnichannel strategy that nimbly stitches together an experience across all these channels at scale. To do this they rely on their website, email, social media, and to a lesser extent SMS as their marketing engine - and that’s why they’re behind.

Brands that successfully market today have constructed an omnichannel journey that ties together all these channels into a cohesive, personalized journey with a curated smartphone app experience. It’s the rug that ties the whole room together. I’ve written about the importance of building an app in the past, explaining how apps allow brands to closely guide their users' experience, create and reinforce habits ($$), collect far more data with increased touch points, and provide opportunities for an authentic and safe community to be built.

From Roblox to Amazon, brands that are successfully engaging their audience today drive that engagement with an app at the center of it, and their marketing channels as boosters along the journey. The “app” is not a magic bullet and many nonprofits do not currently have the data foundation on which to build a successful app. But with a platform like Salesforce and any serious marketing and engagement plan that doesn’t have an app on its roadmap is missing its piece de resistance.

None of this is easy, and it requires a different approach to marketing than most nonprofits are used to taking. The nonprofit executives that figure this out now will be the ones who build their following, impact, and donor base faster than everyone else.

Would you like to talk more about your strategy or use of marketing? Reach out to us at Arkus over on LinkedIn or through our contact form