You know how important marketing is to your nonprofit organization. It allows you to build a recognizable brand, associate that brand with your mission, and create strong, lasting relationships with the donors, partners, and other important folks who will help you make a difference to your clients for years to come.
Getting your board to see that, though, can be a whole other story.
While a solid, well-funded marketing strategy is vital to the long-term success of any organization—nonprofit or otherwise—it can be hard to demonstrate that impact to executives, board members, and other higher-ups, especially when short-term efforts such as fundraising campaigns might yield much more tangible, immediate results. And pressure on CMOs and marketing directors keeps rising as marketing professionals are increasingly held responsible for demonstrating how their efforts affect an organization’s key objectives.
So how can you show your CEO, CFO, and board that marketing is a critical part of your organization’s success? Today, we’re going to look at how you can illustrate the connection between your marketing efforts and the larger goals of your organization, and explore which metrics are most important when reporting on the results of nonprofit marketing initiatives.
Metrics That Matter
In a white paper entitled “How to Prove the Value of Marketing to the Enterprise,” Gartner senior director analyst Marc Brown demonstrates how to prove the value of marketing by focusing reports on the metrics or key performance indicators that matter most to the organization’s overarching goals—in other words, those that contribute directly to revenue.
Brown argues that an overreliance on vanity metrics can lead to skepticism from executives and board members, and make it harder to secure the budgets that marketers need to do their jobs well. Rather than reporting on likes, shares, and other metrics that don’t directly relate to income, he suggests focusing on those which show “quantitative results from actions”—what he calls lagging indicators.
In the for-profit world, this would include metrics such as:
- Cost per acquisition
- Average order value
- Engagement rates
- Sales conversion rates
- Marketing-sourced pipeline
For-profit marketers can demonstrate the connection between their work and measurable business outcomes by working backwards from the lagging indicators they’d like to see to the leading indicators that will make them possible—metrics such as brand awareness, content downloads, requests for information, etc. By carefully tracking, for instance, the percentage of prospects who eventually make a purchase after downloading a free ebook, marketers can gradually build up a picture of how top-of-the-funnel marketing activities, such as content creation, impact sales and revenue.
In other words, connecting the dots between the leading indicators—generally the focus of marketers—and lagging indicators—the bottom-line metrics executives and board members typically care about the most—can clear up a lot of confusion for higher-ups who may not have your marketing savvy, and make your vital contribution to the organization much more obvious.
To apply this approach in a nonprofit context, simply swap out Brown’s for-profit lagging indicators for metrics which show your organization’s progress toward its goals (Donorbox offers a handy list of 20 common nonprofit KPIs here). Then figure out which leading indicators your marketing team will need to hit so that your fundraisers and other team members can reach the right lagging indicators.
By working closely with your fundraising team, you’ll gain a sense for which marketing campaigns and assets are most helpful in moving prospects to become donors—and you’ll gather the information you need to report that impact to your board.
For instance, suppose you work for an education nonprofit with a board member who is mainly concerned with program delivery metrics. Without some guidance, this board member might have a tough time understanding the connection between the white papers you publish through your company blog—which analyze trends in early childhood education—and the tutoring services that your nonprofit provides to underserved students in your community. Unable to see the link between the activity and the later result, they might question whether it’s worth spending further time and money on this content in the future.
In this case, your reporting should be focused on making clear, undeniable connections between the lagging indicators the board member is most concerned with (beneficiaries served) and the leading indicators that relate to your team’s marketing efforts (content downloads).
With your own CMS and analytics tools, you might be able to learn how many times your white papers have been downloaded from your website, and what percentage of the users who downloaded a copy eventually became one-time or recurring donors. If you’re lucky, you might even find out how much of the year’s revenue is directly attributable to donors who began their user journeys by reading one of your white papers—a clear link between your efforts and the organization’s ability to serve students.
In addition, consider working with your fundraising team to find out how they’ve been using your content during visits and calls. Have any major donors in the last year cited facts or statistics from one of your white papers as reasons for committing to a gift? If so, that’s further evidence of the impact that your marketing efforts have had on the organization’s ability to fulfill its mission.
With this information in hand, you should be able to translate the value of your work into terms that your skeptical board member will find compelling—a definite number of students who are now receiving tutoring services, thanks to donations made as a result of prospects’ exposure to your white papers. The same process can be applied wherever the link between marketing and program delivery isn’t clear for key stakeholders.
By showing that you and your marketing team are the ultimate source of the leads that make your programs possible, you can greatly increase the chances that you’ll receive the budget you need to do your best work.