Nonprofit Marketing Project Management: Making Your Plan a Reality

Nonprofit Marketing Project Management

You’ve probably been advised a few (dozen) times to relate your work as a nonprofit marketer back to your larger goals as an organization. And for good reason — it’s timeless, tried-and-true advice! And marketing project management is useless without that key step.

Chances are, though, if you’ve put in the time to develop a marketing strategy, then you’ve already gone through the process of tying your work back to your goals and putting those less integral projects on the back burner. Which leaves you in a different kind of dilemma: 

How do you identify which of these important, relevant strategy items is the most important and relevant for you to begin right now?

Selecting a Project From Your Marketing Plan

When you’re deciding what from your strategy to pull in and when, it’s helpful to consider the answers to questions like: 

  • Is this a short-term project we can complete quickly, or a longer-term, foundational play that will take time to do well? 
  • When might our team expect to see results?
  • What is the cost to our organization of waiting to start this project?

Assess the time you expect it will take to work on this project and the impact completing it will have on your team. Then, use those answers to help yourself determine whether now is a good time to begin this particular item of your strategy or whether another might be a better fit.

And be realistic. Yes, if this project is in your strategy, then it’s probably there for a reason: It’s important and relevant to your goals as an organization. But you just can’t do everything at once. Consider what is the most important project you can do now, what you stand to gain from completing it, whether waiting will help or hurt you, and start there.


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How to Start Your Marketing Project Management

Nonprofit marketing project management can be tough. Whether you’re the leader of a larger marketing department or you’re managing a small-but-mighty team, you’ve got a lot of ground to cover and figuring out the best place to start can be a challenge.

To kickstart your marketing project management:

Break It Down

Once you know what project to begin, your next step is to figure out how to get started. The best way to do that? Start breaking down your big idea into smaller steps so you can see all the pieces of the puzzle before you start putting it together. 

  • What are the steps? Start considering how you want this project to go and what larger tasks you expect to comprise it. You can work backward from there. What needs to happen? Whose expertise could you use? What kind of resources and time do they need to be their most successful? You won’t know the answers to everything, and you can’t anticipate every roadblock. But it’s good to try anyway.
  • What is the priority? It’s tempting to start work on lots of smaller tasks. It feels productive to knock out so many things from the plan’s to-do list so quickly! But when you’re prioritizing pieces of your strategy, looking at your larger tasks first and planning around them can be helpful. Identify your “big rocks” — those critical, more time-intensive tasks that others are waiting on to begin — and start there. Consider how much time they’ll take and how important they are for others on the team, and let that help you determine what’s most important to begin right now.
  • What is the result? Finally, think ahead about what you expect to see and how you’ll measure your marketing results. This way, you’re not only getting an idea of what needs to get done, but you can also clearly see what the impact can be. This is especially helpful to keep yourself on track and focused on the bigger picture later on once the team is in the weeds.

Find (and Use) the Right Tools

Review those smaller steps you’ve broken your project into and identify what tools you expect you’ll need in order to do them well. Sometimes it’s hard to know what you need until you get started, but if you can equip yourself from the start with the tools you need to keep yourself productive and your team organized, do it.

For example, if you aren’t already using Google for Nonprofits, get yourself set up. This will give your nonprofit free access to G Suite, which is a true lifesaver when it comes to collaborating on things like your website and blog content, your meetings as a team and your processes as a project manager in general.

There are also tons of free marketing tools you can take advantage of for things like data collection, online advertising, community forums and lots of projects in between. Running point on a project that relies on visuals? Pexels can be a great resource for stock photos, and your team can use Canva to crop and resize those photos or to easily create a wider range of graphics for projects.

Identify what you’ll need, whether the free version of these tools is enough or if you need to consider purchasing a paid tool. Whatever your project, do your best to make sure you have what you need before you dive in so you don’t end up frustrating yourself or your team by scrambling to find the right resources or get a budget approved at the last minute.

Set Crystal-Clear Expectations

Nobody can read your mind. When you’re setting up your project (and through every step once it’s started), don’t assume your team somehow knows exactly what you’re thinking. Get comfortable setting clear expectations in general for your team, especially around capacity, and more granularly, for project-specific expectations. 

From the start, clarify:

  • When you expect a project to be completed.
  • The way you expect the team to communicate updates.
  • Where the team can turn for resources and questions.
  • What “done” actually looks like.
  • What each person should do upon completing their step of the project.

Don’t assume your team inherently knows the answers to any of these questions.  If you’re running point on the marketing project management for your nonprofit, then you need to be the one to set those expectations. Because chances are, the team is actually assuming you’ll tell them.

How to Keep Your Nonprofit Marketing Project On Track

In my experience, there are two types of people in the world: Those who are great at starting projects and those who are great at finishing them. As the point person for implementing your nonprofit’s marketing strategy, you’re going to have to be both. Here’s how:

Streamline Common Tasks

It’s helpful at the start of a project to consider efficiency, but often, you’ll have a better idea of what kind of work you can automate once you’ve gotten started. Keep an eye out for opportunities to streamline various parts of your work as a nonprofit project manager, as well as work that your team is doing.

What kind of emails or assignments can you create a template for? What reports can you automate? What questions are your team members asking you most frequently, and how can you make it easier for them to find the resources they need?

Look for opportunities to address these questions, and be as proactive as you can about doing so. The easier you can make it for yourself and your team to do what you do, the easier it will be to keep your project on track.

Celebrate Small Wins

You’re not doing yourself any favors by spreading yourself too thin or multitasking. But it can be difficult to sustain one project for too long—especially without celebrating small wins. 

We all need a little boost every once in a while. To keep yourself and your team motivated, take the time to celebrate small wins and the completion of milestones along the way. That way, everyone can enjoy and benefit from that feeling of accomplishment, even as you’re continuing with larger projects. 

These little boosts don’t necessarily need to come from checking an item off your to-do list (though no one here is going to judge if that’s the satisfaction you’re chasing). Beyond checking smaller items off your list, it’s helpful to remember the goals you set at the start and check in on your progress toward them.

When possible, reviewing your progress in the data can be a great way to get a more objective view of the team’s progress and put the work you’ve been doing into perspective. When you feel good about your progress and you can see the impact it’s making, the motivation to keep going becomes stronger.

Be Cool

No matter how much planning you put into a project, no matter how carefully you think through each and every step, things will come up that you just couldn’t have anticipated. When that happens, try to be cool. Don’t respond to stress with more stress.

Sometimes, things come up, and they’re overwhelming and maybe a little scary. You might feel like you need to take care of it right this minute. But when that happens, often the best thing you can do is step back, take a deep breath and think. 

Try not to put pressure on yourself to respond immediately.  First, consider asking yourself:

  • Does this truly need my full attention right now?
  • Am I the best or only person who can address this issue?
  • What is the best way to update my team about any changes to our plan?

Things become a lot less stressful and overwhelming when you can debunk them. Put a plan in place for managing last-minute panic and handling overflow, and you can keep your project on track no matter what comes up along the way.

Your strategy is your guide, and it’s what all your projects are rooted in. But it isn’t a document you create and never update. As you make progress on the various projects you’ve outlined in your plan and you have usable data to demonstrate your performance, you’ll need to revisit and revise. 

No matter what iteration of your strategy you’re working out of, knowing how to start projects and keep them on track is essential. What have you found helpful in your own nonprofit marketing project management? Let us know in the comments.