Budgeting in any industry can be overwhelming, let alone if you’re putting together a non-profit marketing budget. It can start to feel like everything is a priority as you sit down to plan. At the same time, it’s important to go into a new fiscal year being mindful of your spend. As you sit down to plan your overall finances for the year, setting up a non-profit marketing budget is key to achieving the goals and initiatives you’re working towards.
Establishing budgeting goals and marketing objectives doesn’t have to be a daunting task either. When executed properly, they can help you make objective decisions and lay down steps for future success. Below we’ll cover the importance of a marketing budget for your non-profit, tips for getting started, and ideas for managing your budget throughout your fiscal year.
Why Is A Non-Profit Marketing Budget Important?
So why exactly is a budget important for a non-profit institution specifically when it comes to your marketing? From a high-level view, it’s key to pre-planning your marketing initiatives and making sure you have the right resources behind them.
If you’re curious what the average marketing budget non-profits have in place is, research shows the general rule is roughly between 5-15% of your operating budget. However, one surprising study found that almost 20% of non-profits had no firm budget at all and simply played it by ear month to month.
As a non-profit group, you likely put a lot of energy into impact initiatives like fundraising, donor relations, or event planning. But at the end of the day, marketing is an important piece to all of those activities.
By establishing budgeting goals up front, it’s a lot easier to advocate for the day-to-day support you’ll need before you’re in the midst of marketing work. Plus, when it comes time to review the year with your board, it makes reporting on your marketing strategy’s ROI much easier to track.
4 Best Practices When Creating a Budget for Non-Profits
It’s best to start establishing your non-profit marketing budget roughly 2 ½ to 3 months ahead of your new fiscal year. This gives you and your team enough time to pull together different components. The average marketing budget for non-profits will need to account for cash flow, programs, advertising, and more. If you’re not sure where to begin, here are some great non-profit budgeting tools from the National Council of Nonprofits.
Starting early will give you enough time to set up deadlines for internal and board approvals so you’re ready to get started when the fiscal year begins. Plus, it allows you to engage any outside vendors or marketing agencies that can offer extra support outside of your team’s scope. Here are the best practices that can be helpful as you’re putting it all together.
1. Set Your Strategy
To start, you’ll need to have an idea of the overarching objectives of your organization for the year. Marketing for brand awareness is great, but it’s not the only way you can use marketing to make a difference. Your marketing choices should be flexible enough to offer support in a variety of ways to different impact initiatives.
For example, marketing efforts to help raise a specific amount of donations vs. hosting a campaign to engage current volunteers would look very different. Pick those top non-profit-wide initiatives and then dig into how marketing will play a role in achieving them.
2. Determine Your Marketing Goals
Next, it’s time to look at marketing goals that will support those overall efforts you’ve identified in the first step. These should be clear and measurable. Some typical marketing goals non-profits set can include:
- Quotas (for your events, email marketing list, social media, etc.)
- Performance-based benchmarks
- Boosting Leads
- Increased donations or support
- Driving qualified website traffic
As an example of how it all fits, consider a non-profit with an objective to find new volunteers. If there’s a sign-up area on the website, a great marketing goal could be to drive more qualified website traffic to the page.
Increasing site traffic with visitors who have similar interests will give the organization greater visibility and help boost those volunteer numbers over time. Plus, as your site traffic grows over time, you’re likely to build your expertise, authority, and trust. This means you’ll perform better in search algorithms as well. Once goals like this (driving more traffic) are established, it’s time to consider the day-to-day marketing actions you can take to reach them.
3. Pick Your Tactics & Think One Step Ahead
Carrying on with the analogy above, if your marketing goal is to drive more traffic your tactics may include investing in a PPC campaign or focusing on a content marketing strategy. These are the efforts that will help you work towards those goals.
Identifying which tactics you’ll use and the costs associated with them will help you create those important estimates for your budget. And while you’re planning out your tactics, make sure that you’re including a good mix of both traditional and digital marketing efforts.
Some traditional marketing tactics to consider are:
- Print advertising
- Direct mail campaigns
- Radio messaging
- Billboard messaging
And some effective digital marketing tactics you can pair with these include:
- Social media advertising
- Internet radio messaging
- PPC / display advertising
- Organic internet marketing
- Website redesign or hosting and management updates
From there, decide how to allocate your budget, keeping those main goals in mind as well as any spending requirements. (For example, there may be minimum spend amounts needed to do advertising via radio or social media.)
If your non-profit marketing budget also needs to cover events, consider setting up buckets per event. You can include budgeting to cover each event’s postage, signage, security, rental fees, printing, design, and more. That way those hidden costs won’t be unaccounted for in your budget.
As an extra safety net, consider also setting up a miscellaneous fund so you can plan for the unexpected and field any last-second requests. This can also come in handy for items with larger costs like photography, videography, or traditional media placements like TV and radio.
Once you’ve settled on which tactics are most important to reaching your marketing goals, you can start to craft your best marketing budget.
4. Communicate with Your Non-Profit Team
Marketing for a non-profit typically has to cover a wide range of mission pillars. Your team will have a role in event planning, execution, follow-up, and plenty else that falls on your plate. The key here is to have your action steps planned ahead so you have enough resources to cover all these demands.
While putting together your budget, there may be necessary tactics that require clear communication to the board or fall outside the scope of your team. For example, redesigning your website to improve your branding might be a necessary tactic, but it is challenging if you don’t have the right dev and design support internally. Additionally, it will likely require cooperation from the profit’s top stakeholders.
As you start to present your marketing budget, communicate what’s needed for your marketing tactics to be successful and also advocate for the resources your team will need to accomplish them. Uniting expectations at the start will make the months ahead easier to navigate.
Managing Your Costs Throughout the Fiscal Year
Once your budget is in place the next hardest part can be sticking to it and managing it throughout the year. Here are some of our recommendations that can help, especially if you’re trying to maximize your dollars throughout the fiscal year.
Tap into Your Volunteer Network
It’s easy to think within the confines of what your team can do, but don’t forget there’s an entire community behind you that believes in your cause! Consider ways that organizations, volunteers, or other partners you have exposure to can help open the doors for growth and help you carry out marketing goals in a cost-effective manner.
Look for Trade or Pro-Bono Relationships
Be vigilant for any opportunities to create a mutually beneficial relationship that also helps you stay on budget. This could include:
- Trading venue fees for sponsorship highlights on event materials.
- Trading a free, mission-driven in-office lunch and learn for event volunteers.
- Trading board membership dues and seat for marketing support.
Don’t Just Think in the Present
And last but most important, don’t just stay in the moment with your marketing. Always keep an eye a month or two ahead, while evaluating the past months, to make any marketing budget adjustments and stay on track.
It can be a slippery slope if your non-profit staff gets bogged down in fundraising or focuses on the event happening right now, with no preparation for what lies ahead. Doing this can potentially pinch planning for your next major impact initiative and steal away from its future success.
How An Agency Can Make The Most of Your Money
As you begin establishing budgeting goals and drawing conclusions for your marketing budget, remember that you are not alone. If you’re finding that there are certain marketing goals that fall outside what your team can support or are trying to navigate creating a well-rounded marketing plan, having an outside perspective can help.
You may find that working with an agency can generate creative ideas for expanding your mission awareness into new markets at a reasonable cost. Consolidating your outsourced support to one vendor instead of multiple can save money in the long run and provide a more cohesive support system when it comes to marketing execution and branding.
Plus, the experience of an agency can go a long way when budgeting for marketing pieces you’re unfamiliar with. Their expertise can help you determine the best spend of your money for each marketing bucket so that your dollars make the best impact possible.