It’s the end of the week and you’re packing up to head home when the email arrives: a request to make a new brochure for an upcoming event. Oh, and it’s next week. Can you help? Nonprofit marketers know this scenario a little too well.
There can be a lot of pressure to do a one-off or last-minute project that doesn’t necessarily have a lot of marketing strategy behind it. Email blasts, press releases, event materials, web pages, social media posts, printed collateral, promotional items—these are just some of the potential asks lurking in the shadows.
To be fair, some of the last-minute panic can be of your own making. This Calvin and Hobbes comic was taped to my desk for many years when I was the go-to writer for fundraising and marketing materials. If you’ve ever felt like the over-tapped, in-house creative agency at your organization, you’re not alone!
Get practical advice and resources in a marketing toolkit that’s perfect for lone staffers and small nonprofit teams.
Tools for Nonprofit Marketers
No matter the source of panic, it’s important for nonprofit marketers to find effective tools or processes to manage urgent or unplanned requests. Otherwise, you run the risk of inconsistent branding, mistakes, poor user experiences and missing out on opportunities to better leverage your expertise.
We’ve put together a list of seven ways that nonprofit marketers deal with last-minute projects. Don’t be afraid to experiment until you find one that works for you! You’ll also see some advice from Wired Impact’s project managers, Allyson Lough and Nickie Bartels, who work with our clients every day to help solve this issue.
Shared Marketing Library
Definition: An online, self-serve area where staff can find things like templates, approved photos, and frequently-requested documents like fact sheets, reports or forms. Some items might give staff editing capabilities while others can be “locked down” with advanced permission settings or as PDFs.
Example: A staff member has been asked to make a presentation to a community group and they need PowerPoint sides to describe what your nonprofit does and how to get involved. You’d like for them to stick to your brand’s style and message, but you don’t have time to make something from scratch. You send them a link to a standard presentation deck in the marketing library.
Implementation: Consider secure cloud storage options like Google Drive, Dropbox or Box. For multimedia like photos and videos, SmugMug is also a great option for pre-made galleries.
The easier you can make it for others to ‘do what you do,’ the better. If this approach doesn’t take care of the request entirely, it at least makes it easier for you to tackle the project at a later time. ” —Nickie
Definition: A form, document or email template that someone needs to fill out and send you with all of the details of their marketing request. They will need to think a little more about the goal and details of the request while you get information that helps you prioritize it and assess the need.
Example: A program manager would like to create a flyer for a new initiative. They fill out and send you the creative brief with information about how they intend to use it, what should be included, the primary call to action, and any deadlines that are looming.
Implementation: Create a process that’s easy to implement and train people on. You might even do a test run with a few key staff to get their feedback and support. If needed, set a timeline for when a brief should be submitted (e.g., at least two weeks’ notice). Get more advice on making creative briefs.
Your colleagues need to know what’s required to make marketing projects successful. For example, if they don’t know that it takes 3 weeks to write and put together an event landing page with a registration form, they may reach out too late in the game without even realizing it. Make it clear that certain projects have to be requested in advance. That way, you can more easily identify rush work and push back if things come your way too late to get done well.” —Allyson
Definition: Taking the time to meet and discuss the project in person, even if just for ten minutes. You take the foot off the gas and get a chance to ask clarifying questions about the scope or goal, talk about the organization’s priorities, and explain what this project would replace in your current workload.
Example: You know that the fundraising team has been working on the year-end appeal but you haven’t heard from them yet and you know it’s coming up soon. Rather than go back and forth over email, you contact the project lead and set up a time to check in on their plans and offer support.
Implementation: Create a standard agenda for your consults to help keep them on track and let people know what to expect each time. Sell it as a service to help shape campaigns and projects early in the process so that you’re well-prepared to pitch in when the time is right.
What makes last-minute panic so panicky isn’t so much that someone is making a request; it’s that the request is another in a long line of things that need to get done. Explaining how that project will come together and what other items may need to move to make that happen is key.” —Nickie
Definition: A written strategy document that outlines marketing goals, how you intend to reach them, and what marketing success looks like. Plans can be for any length of time or for specific campaigns, and they should set clear priorities for what needs to happen to meet your goals.
Example: Your organization is awarded a grant to launch a pilot program…. this year. You’ll be in charge of “raising awareness” but there isn’t a clear picture of what that means exactly. Working with the rest of the team, you create a marketing plan that describes the most important goals for marketing the program, lists the tactics you’ll use, and sets targets to aim for 10 new participants.
Implementation: Make sure to grab a copy of our marketing strategy template. We recommend creating a few target audience personas, too. The most important thing is to document your plan, even if you know it will likely change as time goes on. When another unexpected project comes your way, you’ll be able to show what’s already in the works.
Everything feels pressing when it hits your inbox. The best thing you can do is always, always go back to your goals. Dedicate an amount of time to the project that’s proportional to how much it may or may not move you toward your goals. It’s easy to come up with cool ideas, but if you don’t see them getting you more donors or volunteers, why are you spending time on it?” —Allyson
Definition: A document where previous and upcoming communications are tracked to help you see what’s been done, what’s scheduled and what’s in progress. When new requests come in, they can be slotted in based on priority, the channel (email, social media, blog), or even the audience.
Example: To keep the blog updated on your website, you publish on a weekly schedule that repeats each month: client story, helpful resource, advocacy news, and a message from the president. Your editorial calendar plans these topics three months at a time, so when there’s an urgent request to publish a fundraising appeal, you let the person know which days are available.
Implementation: Create your editorial calendar in a format that’s easy for you to maintain and adjust over time. Make sure to put it somewhere that’s easy to refer to constantly, and bonus points if you can also bring it to meetings or your in-person consults. Grab our free template!
It’s important to be the person that your organization can reach out to and ask, ‘Is it possible to make this happen?’ If no one has that global view of everything in motion, you can’t make that decision. And there’s no way to keep track of it all in your head.” —Allyson
Project Management Software
Definition: An app or other technology that helps you list and monitor tasks. You can use project management software just for yourself or when you need to coordinate (or report to) teams of people who make marketing requests.
Example: You are part of a small marketing team that wants to keep track of print projects and email newsletters as they move through the writing, design and review process so that you meet your deadlines. Using a project management program, you’re able to assign tasks, look at their status, exchange notes and hold everyone accountable.
Implementation: Here at Wired Impact, we’re a bunch of Asana nerds that use it for working on client projects as well as our internal processes (like managing this blog!). You could also consider options like Slack, Trello, Google Keep and others depending on your needs. Experiment and see what feels right, starting with this list of free project management tools.
Things crumble quickly when deadlines are seen as fluid. There should be someone in charge of managing and communicating timelines. That way, team members know who to go to when they are falling behind or need help….before it becomes a major problem.” —Allyson
Definition: Hiring outside help like a consultant, contractor or business to provide the know-how or capacity that you don’t have in-house. You’ll have to pay for professional assistance unless you have skilled volunteers or interns that can take on the task.
Example: Your board president wants a video of an upcoming event to share with the people he’s cultivating for a big fundraising ask. Instead of trying to get footage on your phone throughout the day, you hire a videographer to do the filming and editing while you manage the event instead.
Implementation: There are many different types of help you can hire, from website maintenance and grant writing to campaign development and design. The hardest part is knowing when it’s worth it. Be sure to check in with the people in your organization that know the budget and your hiring practices.
It’s worth considering that even if you can do it, is your time better used elsewhere? Spending months putting together a video is fine, but why not hire someone to get it done faster and better so you can focus on ongoing marketing?” —Allyson
When you need a little reinforcement, here are a few additional places to turn for good advice and tips about herding your marketing cats:
- Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less (Greg McKeown)
- 7 Ways to Say No Without Actually Saying It (Nonprofit Marketing Guide)
- The Causes and Costs of Lost Productivity in Nonprofit Workplaces (Beth Kanter)
- 7 Review & Approval Process Hacks to Help Restore Your Sanity (Workfront)
- Three Ways to Boost Marcom’s Impact at Meetings (Nonprofit MarCommunity)
It’s never too late to start creating boundaries, experimenting with tools, and developing new processes that slow things down at your organization. You might need some time to build the internal buy-in you need, but everyone will be better off (and a little less panicked) in the long run thanks to your leadership.
If you’re not sure where to start or what tools might work best, focus on education first. As Allyson notes, “Ultimately, it’s the job of a marketer to educate everyone else at the organization about what it takes for the marketing to work for them. If we don’t think of educating others as part of the process, expectations won’t be clear, deadlines will be missed and the marketing tactics won’t drive the organization forward.”
What are some of the last-minute requests that throw you off your marketing game? Any helpful tips or resources to share for responding to unexpected projects? See you in the comments!