Here is a how-to guide to cre­at­ing a mar­ket­ing plan. Though I wrote it specif­i­cally for non­prof­its, the steps can be applied to any type of busi­ness or organization.

Mar­ket­ing Plan: Key to Meet­ing Orga­ni­za­tional Objectives
By Terri Davidson
Does your non-profit need a mar­ket­ing plan? This is more than a rhetor­i­cal ques­tion, though the answer, of course, is yes.
Fre­quently, many non­profit admin­is­tra­tors and devel­op­ment offi­cers do not con­sider mar­ket­ing to be one of their organization’s over­all func­tions, as mar­ket­ing is felt to be a dis­ci­pline for com­pa­nies that make money and seek profits.

Yet every orga­ni­za­tion has a group of cus­tomers it serves and needs a plan to find these folks with the right mes­sage and in the most cost-effective way. Like for-profit insti­tu­tions, you still need to con­vince your cus­tomers to use or fund your ser­vices. A mar­ket­ing plan is the road map to help you meet these goals and objectives.

How­ever, a mar­ket­ing plan should be more than a doc­u­ment that will take con­sid­er­able time and energy to pro­duce, undergo an ardu­ous review and approval process by your board of direc­tors, and then be left to sit on a shelf until the next paper purge. It should be a work­ing doc­u­ment that you can use fre­quently through­out the year.

Your first mar­ket­ing plan may be exten­sive and focus more on broad state­ments than action, but it should also be the foun­da­tion for fur­ther years’ plans. Each year’s plan should be ana­lyzed for effec­tive­ness both quan­ti­ta­tively, i.e., more clients, more dona­tions, etc., and qual­i­ta­tively, i.e., improved image and/or ser­vice as demon­strated through sur­veys and other factors.

Here are a few good rea­sons why your non­profit needs a mar­ket­ing plan:
1. Mar­ket­ing plans help your orga­ni­za­tion define its cus­tomers. Most non­prof­its have a vari­ety of dif­fer­ent types of cus­tomers: clients, indi­vid­ual donors, foun­da­tions and cor­po­rate donors, mem­bers of the board of direc­tors, vol­un­teers, and employ­ees. A mar­ket­ing plan requires that you define these cus­tomers in sev­eral dif­fer­ent ways. Here are some sam­ple ques­tions you should ask:
Who are your cus­tomers? What is their cur­rent demo­graphic pro­file? How do they use your ser­vices? How do you recruit employ­ees, vol­un­teers, and board mem­bers? How does your orga­ni­za­tion meet their needs?
2. Mar­ket­ing plans help your orga­ni­za­tion ana­lyze its com­pe­ti­tion. Many non­prof­its have col­le­gial rela­tion­ships with orga­ni­za­tions and agen­cies offer­ing sim­i­lar ser­vices, hav­ing sim­i­lar mis­sions, etc. Nonethe­less, these groups also are your com­peti­tors, vying for the same clien­tele and fund­ing sources. It is impor­tant to know what mar­ket share you have ver­sus the com­pe­ti­tion and how you can dif­fer­en­ti­ate your ser­vices from theirs.
3. Mar­ket­ing plans help you assess how well you have done in grow­ing your orga­ni­za­tion. Know­ing what have you done well and what needs to be improved is cru­cial for tak­ing the next step. A mar­ket­ing plan requires that you look at all aspects of your ser­vice and mis­sion through the tra­di­tional four “P’s”: Prod­uct (ser­vice), Place, Price, and Pro­mo­tion. To these, you should add two more: Pre­pared­ness, which is mar­ket research, and Peo­ple — employ­ees, vol­un­teers, and board mem­bers who are pro­vid­ing ser­vices or rep­re­sent­ing the orga­ni­za­tion. All those P’s must be exam­ined and con­stantly improved to win in the marketplace.
4. Mar­ket­ing plans force you to look at demo­graphic, tech­no­log­i­cal, gov­ern­men­tal, and cul­tural trends. Even non­prof­its need to look ahead for trends in the mar­ket­place and refine their ser­vices. For exam­ple, are there or will there be fewer or more poten­tial cus­tomers in a par­tic­u­lar age group you serve? Can you develop new ser­vices that will meet a greater need? Are there fund­ing sources that will pro­vide seed money for this next step?
5. Mar­ket­ing plans pro­vide your orga­ni­za­tion with a plan of action to meet your goals and objec­tives. One of the final aspects of a mar­ket­ing plan is the plan of action or pro­mo­tions com­po­nent. What strate­gies and tac­tics will your group use to find more clients, dona­tions, and ener­getic and qual­i­fied board mem­bers, vol­un­teers, and employ­ees? What is the timetable required and how much will it cost? Who will be respon­si­ble for imple­ment­ing the strat­egy? How can all con­cerned par­ties be involved in its implementation?

The devel­op­ment of a mar­ket­ing plan is the first step in becom­ing a marketing-focused orga­ni­za­tion — a step that can only make your orga­ni­za­tion stronger and more poised to ful­fill its mission.