For everyone out there, who doesn't know where to start with their marketing, who doesn't know where to start planning or doesn't know what to do - we're going to start at the very beginning. In this episode, I unpack the way that I look at marketing from a big picture perspective and share the principles I use to make marketing decisions.

Hosted By
Monica Maye Pitts
Monica Maye Pitts Chief Creative Officer

Where to Start – Zero to Marketing Superhero – Part 1

For everyone out there who doesn’t know where to start with their marketing, who doesn’t know where to start planning or doesn’t know what to do – we’re going to start at the very beginning. In this episode, I unpack the way that I look at marketing from a big picture perspective and share the principles I use to make marketing decisions.

This episode is the first installment of my Zero to Marketing Superhero series, Where to Start – The Basics.

Before you ever even start marketing, you need to get your head on straight. Because marketing is not about meeting your emotional needs, it’s about getting the job done. It’s about communicating with other people, not communicating just to yourself. It’s about communicating with your target audience. So we need to set aside some old beliefs, pick up some new ones, and put our heads on straight to get the job done.

Here’s what you’ll learn to become a nonprofit marketing superhero:

  • Planning your marketing isn’t about how much money you have.
  • Great marketing starts now.
  • Good marketing starts with a goal to measure against.
  • You start where you are.
  • It’s not, “You build it and they will come.”
  • Know thy audience like your best friend. Maybe even better.

Planning your marketing isn’t about how much money you have.

Some people think that marketing is all about spending money, or that how much marketing you can do completely revolves around how much money you have. But if you have read my blog, or listen to me talk about marketing, you know that I have a totally different strategy…

Nonprofit marketing is about combining your strengths with your assets. With those two things, you can build your plan.

Your Strengths

Your strengths are all the things that you have as an organization, or as a person, that makes you unique or special. So you could be great at public speaking or photography or writing. You might have amazing core values (and I really hope you do). Maybe you just take care of every single person like they’re a member of your family. These things are your strengths. These are the things that make you amazing. 

Then you’re going to pair those strengths with your assets. 

Your Assets

Assets are the resources that your organization has that can be used to create influence or to meet new people. 

That influence could be bought, borrowed or built. Meaning, you could:

  • Buy influence by purchasing an ad
  • Borrow influence by writing an article for another organization’s email list
  • Build influence by leveraging one asset to build another. For example, you could leverage your email list by asking that list to follow you on Facebook. 

There are all kinds of assets that come in all shapes and sizes – I have a big list of them in my Marketing Plan Template, complete with CHECKBOXES. Man it’s exhilarating, box checking, isn’t it? Makes you feel like you’ve got so many assets to do your marketing with. And that’s because you do! It could be anything from a printer to a company car. 

Processes are also assets – Like your checkout process, sales process or an invoicing process. Assets also include existing marketing materials like previously designed ads or testimonials. Those are all assets that you can leverage to gain influence and grow your organization through marketing. 

Determining strengths and assets is one of the very first things that I do whenever I sit down with someone who wants to market their organization. Why? Because I  want you to market your organization in a way that’s both successful, but also comfortable for you. That’s why we’re going to lean into our strengths. 

If you hate writing, then don’t start a blog. You’re just going to be miserable. And if you hate talking, then don’t start a podcast. That’s not gonna work either. While it may connect with your target audience, and that may be the way that they want to intake their information, there are still plenty of people for you to communicate with in the ways that you feel comfortable communicating. 

So: Assets + Strengths. Together, those two things become the plan that I build for anyone, including myself.

Great marketing starts now. 

The next thing that’s going to make you successful in your marketing is that you actually do marketing. I know that sounds crazy. It doesn’t start later.

Great nonprofit marketing is like your 401k, you have to invest in it now so you can use it later. 

Marketing is not all about creating donations right now, in this minute. It’s about setting you up for success down the line, and you have to build your assets to leverage them. You have to invest in your marketing right now, so you can rely on it later. It’s not just something that you set and forget. 

The earlier that you start investing in your 401k, then the more money that you would have to retire, right? That’s why they tell you to start your 401k as soon as you get out of college or maybe even before, because that money is going to grow and build momentum throughout your career. That way when you retire, you didn’t actually have to earn every single dollar that you would need to actually retire. At least that’s what my Edward Jones agents tells me. 😉

Your marketing is the same way. You invest in your marketing and build your assets, so that way you can utilize them later on down the road.

Right now, while your organization might be small, that’s totally okay because that is where you are. But if you don’t build those assets for the future, and you just completely ignore your marketing, then you won’t have the momentum that you need when you want to expand or take on that new project. 

Just like your retirement, your marketing begins with the end in mind. 

Good marketing starts with a goal to measure against.

And that goal doesn’t need to be outlandish. It doesn’t need to be crazy. Part of the success in your marketing is actually doing your marketing. Set something that’s actually attainable.

I know a lot of people are really apprehensive about setting goals. Just like people are apprehensive about investing, because they just don’t know where to start. They don’t set goals because they’re afraid that they won’t reach them.

It was about two years ago that we announced that we were going to allow the participating organizations of CoMoGives to set goals and let donors see those goals online. CoMoGives is our community’s local year-end giving campaign powered by the Community Foundation of Central Missouri. My company, MayeCreate, is the marketing arm for the campaign.

Anyway, we thought we should allow people to set goals and have donors come and see those goals as they’re getting ready to make a donation, because it can impact In their decision making and make them want to donate more. A lot of organizations didn’t want to show their goals to donors because they were concerned they weren’t going to meet them. 

That fear of not reaching a goal is a bad reason not to set it, and it’s also a bad reason not to monitor it. Fear of failure is toxic to any person.

I would not be here if I would have been afraid to start a business when I was 25. And I certainly wouldn’t be talking to you on this podcast, if I was afraid that I was gonna say the wrong thing, make you angry, or say something you might not agree with me. Those are all fears. And I also wouldn’t know what to talk to you about if I didn’t look at the things that I had done, and see what you listen to the most. Your life is measured by how well you fail and what you learn from it, so that you can avoid it at the next pitfall.

How to set goals.

When setting goals, choose a goal that’s inspiring, but also attainable. Don’t set a goal to write 15 blog posts in a week. Because while you aspire to be a marketing superhero, you have other responsibilities, and you can’t make blogging your full time gig.

That’s not an attainable goal.

I just sat down with a client the other day, and he’s like, “Monica, I really feel like we need to start pushing and really making sure that we get the young moms on Instagram.” And I was like, “what you’re doing right now that’s really, really working is Facebook, and we’re slowly but surely getting a foothold in Instagram. But what’s working is Facebook. And you also said that you wanted to do this other marketing project.” And he’s like, “yeah”, and I’m like, “so which one’s more important? You only have you and one other person and us, and you have a limited budget with us. So we can’t just do everything, we need to choose what’s most important, like you get to pick one.” And he was like, “Okay, well, I think we pick the other one.” And that’s great, because I’m telling you, I am the exact same way. I sit there and I think, “Oh man, why am I not using Instagram Stories? And I should be using Instagram more just in general.” I have these same thoughts, because I hear it on podcasts. People say, “Oh, well, you should be doing this because it’s gonna work.”

Friends. Pick one new thing. That’s it. Work on it for first quarter. Look back at it. Did you even do it? You might not have even done it. And if not, all right, let’s move on to second quarter. And let’s work on it then.

If I have five new things, I just can’t pick which one I’m going to work through first. So pick one new thing. And that’s it. That’s what you get. And it’s all right. You just need something that’s attainable right now. Because reaching the goal is inspiring. It’s exciting. So don’t just don’t overwhelm yourself with it, okay? Before you even start, try to understand what your success looks like, because it can come in many forms. And it is really, really fickle.

I mean, think about 2020. That is like the perfect example of an ever-changing version of success. When I started 2020 I was hiring more people, I was gonna ramp up, we were gonna do more and more and more. We were positioned to have our best year ever and things were going awesome. And then this pandemic hit, and I was really upset about it. I grieved that version of success, because it just wasn’t going to happen. I cried, and I sent everyone home where they would be safe. And instead of having the best year ever, I had to pull on the reserves that I’ve been saving for years for a rainy day and get government loans. 

Hey, but you know what, I didn’t just sit there with my head between my legs breathing into a bag. I mean, I did do that some afternoons. But most afternoons, I sat here in this very spot that I’m sitting right now. And I talk to you guys. I called you on the phone. And I had conversations with you. And I started my podcast, and I did events, and I got to know what you needed, because I knew that I could help someone, even in this time where I was having a tough time. So that version of success became: If new people listened to our podcasts, if you downloaded a free resource, if you learned from me while getting through this junky time together, then that was my new version of success. And so even if things don’t go according to plan, that’s okay. That can be part of your version of success. Instead, what is the alternate? What else can it look like? And that will help you know if what you’re doing is okay or not.

You start where you are. 

Again, marketing is like a 401k. And just like your investing, you’re starting your marketing where you are, and that means that you don’t have to pretend to be something else. You want to authentically represent yourself. If you are unable to purchase extremely expensive video production or web design talent, that’s okay. Because you are where you are – It’s always a journey.

People get very wrapped up because they feel like they have to have the perfect website or perfect video or say it the perfect way all the time. And I always tell people, don’t beat yourself up. You don’t look like you have a million dollar marketing budget because you don’t have a million dollar marketing budget.

If you were a Fortune 500 company and your website’s a pile of crap, and your videos look like you made them on an iPhone, and that’s probably not very good, right? But you’re not. You are where you are. And there is no shame in that. So embrace that. If it means that you have kind of a cobbled together website right now, or a haphazard video…hey, you have a website, and you have a video. That is way better than not having anything at all.

Now, to start where you are and set your goals, I want you to ask yourself:

  • What are your organization’s strengths?
  • What are your assets? 
  • What’s your budget? 
  • What does your current list look like? 

It’s all a math game in the end. If you’re thinking you want to get $100,000 in donations, but you only have 10 people that I can ask for donations, that’s gonna pretty much be unrealistic, right? Unless those people are really rich. Then you, my friend, are awesome. 

But most of the time, that’s not the case. So when you’re setting your goals, you just need to look at what you’ve got and figure out what’s attainable. Ask yourself realistically, what is the likelihood of the people on your list donating?

For example:

  • If your goal is to get $100,000 in donations
  • And you have a list of 100,000 people
  • And the likelihood of someone donating is 25% (25% of 100,000 people on your list is 25,000 people)
  • That means that each person only has to give $4 (your $100,000 goal divided by 25,000 people)

Boom, that is totally doable!

But I just gave you the best case scenario. Who around here has a list of 100,000 people that they can email, or call, or send a letter to? But that’s the way that I work through those math problems in my head:  What’s my goal? What’s the number of people that I have the opportunity to speak to? And then what’s the likelihood that they would have of making a donation? Is that attainable?

Look at what’s working.

Look over the success of your previous marketing campaigns. That’s where you can get that conversion rate I mentioned a couple paragraphs ago. Conversion rate is the likelihood of somebody getting involved, or volunteering, or making a donation. You can get your conversion rate based on your previous activities. 

As you’re looking at past campaigns, what worked and what didn’t work? What are the other outcomes of those activities? Like I said, not everything is about getting a donation right now. There are other things that happen from your marketing activities. You can start building relationships with people. Then down the road, they’ll be more likely to give a donation or volunteer to get involved. Look at what campaigns were effective in building long-term relationships, and try to replicate that.

We want to base our marketing plan on things that have worked in the past, and are working right now. So look at the data that you have right now, and see what’s working and what’s not. We want to keep doing the things that are working and don’t get emotionally attached to the stuff. 

There are times where I think, “oh my goodness, I just love this. I want to do it so much.”

For example, I love giving presentations. Since they’re so fun to do and people like them, I thought I’d record them as videos. Well, I gotta be honest with you. Recording stuff on video is not my jam. I have to record things so much, and I get hot, my armpits sweat, I get nervous. I can sit here and talk on a podcast microphone by myself all day long. But when it comes to making videos, it is just not as easy.

So I made all these videos, and we edited them to the nines, and we put them up on YouTube. They were so pretty, we spent so much energy on them, and I thought they’d be so great. Here’s the deal friends, they didn’t do so hot. I didn’t have a whole bunch of people watching them. So you know what I did? Even though I had footage for a bunch more videos to publish, I just never published them. Because it just wasn’t worth the effort to edit them and put them together and publish them because people were not watching them. They didn’t watch them unless I directly sent them to those videos because it was answering their problem. 

Moral of the story: Do the things that work.

It’s not, “You build it and they will come.”

Before you stop a marketing channel because it’s not working for you, remember that it could be because you’re not doing much to promote it.

You gotta let people know about all the cool marketing stuff you do! Your marketing activities need to be constructed to support each other. You can’t just add stuff to your website and expect people to just happen to go over there and find it. Use other types of mediums like social media, email, even direct mail, the phone…any type of active medium you’re comfortable with…to reach out and remind people to visit what you’ve built. 

For instance, if you spend all this time blogging, because you think it’s very much the right thing, you need to look at your numbers and make sure that it’s the right thing.

I have clients who have a blog, but it’s mostly just more announcements. Not really so much a blog, it’s more of a newsletter. So they spend all this time making blog posts, but no one goes to see them. They put so much energy into them, I really hate for them to continue pouring energy into making these blog posts that aren’t working.

So I ask them, “Well, why didn’t anybody go look at these blog posts”, and “Did you tell anybody about them?” And the answer was no. They actually don’t, they just put them up there. And that’s it. So I think that if that organization were to post about those blog posts that they made on social media, and then also email their email list about the blog posts, they might actually be worthwhile to them. But as it is, if they’re not willing to do the other two components, it doesn’t really work because it’s not doing its job.

You can create a Facebook page. But if you never ask people to join, it’s just a vacant room. And you could have the most amazing website or blog. And you could have invested 1,000’s of dollars or hours to build it. But just building that website isn’t enough, people have to find it. And you have to tell them that it exists by doing the things that need to be done like blogging or promoting it via social media, or email, or running ads. But just putting a website out there doesn’t necessarily mean that everybody is going to find you.

The cornerstone of every successful marketing campaign is a deep knowledge of your target audience, you need to know them like they are your best friend, and maybe even better. 

If you want to know what to post about on social media, blog about, put into your newsletter, what type of event to have, how to ask people for donations…it all comes from this – Knowing the people that you serve, knowing the people that donate to you, those that volunteer for you, and knowing your board members.

Create buyer personas. Then you’ll always know who your audience is and how to connect with them. The nonprofit marketing magic happens when you talk about and you do things where the interests and core values of your organization intersect with those of your target audience. Because that allows us to connect with people who truly believe in what we do as an organization.  You can find instructions on how to make these in my Nonprofit Marketing Plan Template and if you’re not into DIY you can join me for a free Target Audience Discovery Workshop!

There are so many people that say their target market is everyone. Not everyone with disposable income is your target audience. It’s not. So if that’s a belief that you have right now we just need to let go of it. Because your target audience is not everyone. And I really encourage you, even if you think you know who your market is, don’t skip this step. Because the more focused that you can be on the people that you’re talking to, the more success you will have connecting with them. 

Well-targeted marketing is like going to a party and speaking to someone who maintains eye contact with you, who responds to your comments with questions, who really, genuinely seems like they’re interested in what you’re saying.

They talk to you like you are the only person in the room. And if you’re trying to talk to everyone at once, it’s like talking to someone who instead of making eye contact with you is just like letting their eyes roam the entire conversation, scanning the room for someone better to talk to. They’re only sort of listening to you. They’re just like nodding and “Mm hmm”-ing and you know what that feels like. It’s not cool. Those are not the people that you want to be friends with. People aren’t going to want to be friends with you if that is the way that you are treating them.

  • What problems do you solve for your audience?
  • What are their goals and challenges, personally and professionally? 
  • How does your service help them reach their goals or solve their challenges? 
  • What are the common objections that they give you to volunteering or to donating? Or to being a board member? 

A good marketer knows why their donors donate, and why their volunteers volunteer, and they know the challenges that they solve for them. I know it sounds strange, you solving a challenge for your volunteers, but you are. You are helping them fulfill something in their life. The question is, what is that thing? 

I went wayyy down the bunny trail with this in Episode 37, Do You Really Know Your Donors? If you want to hear how you solve problems for your donors, and your volunteers, please listen to Episode 37.

The easiest way to do this is to create buyer personas. Some people call them ideal customer avatars, I call them buyer personas. Maybe I’m just like totally old school. But ultimately, these are just fictional representations of your donors, volunteers, and board members. You can create them and put a face with them and a name with them. And then when you’re writing content to that audience, you literally write it to that person. 

When I’m writing content, I say dear Katie, dear Emma…I literally put that person’s name in, and I’m writing an email to them. And in your case, you’re not just going to have one buyer persona, you’re going to have many, because you’re making relationships with many different types of people through your marketing. And if you need help with that, once again, there is a fill-in-the-blank worksheet in the Marketing Plan Template

The real magic in nonprofit marketing happens when you talk about and do things where the interests and core values of your organization intersect with those of your target audience. 

If you drew, what are those, a Venn diagram? Is that what my daughter’s doing in school? It’s the circles, right? And then the circles overlap. The spot where the circles overlap, that is the sweet spot. And it’s really, really easy to stray away from that. 

Understanding Venn diagram symbols — with examples | Cacoo

I even find myself doing it. I’ll be in a consulting session, we’ll be getting super excited about what we’re talking about. And we’ll be like, “Oh, we can do this, we can do that we can do this”. And then when I go, “Wait a second, whoa, we just totally fell off the tracks here.” And we will have thought of the most creative things. But they are not the creative things that align with the purpose of the organization and the values of the organization and the values of the people that we want to connect with. 

We need to keep those in our sights at all times. Those are the things that we’re going to use to make decisions with. They’re important because we want to attract people like us. We want people whose interests and values align with our own, those are going to be the best supporters that our organization can ever come in contact with. 

My husband and I, we have the same core values. And we have some shared interests. That’s what makes us strong as a team, as a couple and as parents. Because while I don’t golf and he golfs, and I do aerial and he doesn’t do aerial, we both understand and have a core value that each person gets to maintain their independence while being a part of the family. We understand that it’s that time away from our family that makes us stronger as a family. And so we support each other as we go through those things. And I also very, very seldom ever look at him and think, why would you just say that to our kid? Because we have the same core values. So we parent in a very similar fashion and it makes it so much easier to raise kids together.

Imagine if that wasn’t the case, if we didn’t have the same core values, and he was angry at me every time that I wanted to take an aerial class – “why are you wasting money on yourself taking that aerial class?” That’s not supporting me and that’s not the person that I want to be with, and those aren’t the people that you want to attract to your organization, because those aren’t going to be long term supporters. They’re like one and done friends, and we want long term supporters.

Five years ago, we knew we had to make a shift at MayeCreate. And we wanted to work with people that we really liked, and people who really appreciated us, we were tired of working with just everybody. And we were also tired of having to learn every industry over and over again. Because there’s a big difference between working with an asphalt company, a nonprofit, and a hairdresser, right? Those are really different things. 

So we went through and we did an activity. And we shifted to work with clients who have our same core values, we documented our core values, we categorized our clients, and we outlined the core values of each category of client. And now we choose to work with the clients whose core values overlapped ours. That’s where we focus all of our marketing on. 


So with all that covered I hope I offered some clarity…I mean, I certainly gave you something to think about. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me!

Also, check out part two of our Zero to Marketing Superhero series – Marketing on a Dime

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