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Nonprofit Marketing Plan & Template: The C-A-A-T Framework

Marketing, especially digital marketing, can seem really complicated.

But it doesn’t have to be.

Today, we’re looking at simple 4-part nonprofit marketing framework that will work with any marketing approach and allow you to create a clear, logical, and scalable plan that moves your mission forward.

We’re going to use the C-A-A-T Nonprofit Marketing Framework (pronounced “caahhhht”) to understand the strategy first and then we can get into the nitty gritty details.

Most of the other nonprofit marketing plans out there seems to do the opposite. They’re creating a 50 step process where it’s easy to end up getting lost in the details as you consider the perfect font for your marketing rather than the real strategy behind it.

So let’s get to it!

C-A-A-T Nonprofit Marketing Framework

Simple is good. Simple is functional. Remember that when you look at the framework and know that we’re going to dive into the details for each stage. Here’s the C-A-A-T Nonprofit Marketing Framework:

And if funnels (not felines) are more your thing, then here’s the same framework in a more traditional style:

C-A-A-T Nonprofit marketing framework funnel version

Now that we see the big picture, let’s breakdown each step so we understand how it all works together.

Start With A Specific Goal

Of course, it’s hard to know where we’re going if we don’t have a goal so start with a target.

It can be general like “find more volunteers”, “attract more donors”, or “get more people aware of our mission.”

Don’t overthink this part! You know what will move your mission forward so start there! The C-A-A-T Marketing Framework will help us understand how to get there but you need to be clear on where you want to go.

#1 Connect On Your Chosen Channel

A channel is the platform you use to connect with your audience. Google, LinkedIn, Facebook, Tik-Tok, E-mail, YouTube and even direct mail are all channels.

At this stage, we want to decide what channel to use so we know what type of content we need to create. It could be a direct sales or service page, an entertaining video, or just helpful content but our channel will help us understand what works best.

While many channels are often grouped together, like social media, even a quick look will show us that there are big differences and what you’d post on Facebook, LinkedIn, Tik-Tok would likely be quite different even though they all fall under the social media umbrella.

As a result, we want to start by looking at each channel individually so we understand what to post.

Understanding High-Intent, Low-Intent, and Mixed Channels

We know that there’s a big difference in content between channels like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Google search. Yes, you’re more likely the find emojis on Facebook but the more important difference is high-intent, low-intent, or a mix of both.

Low-intent platforms are ones where users are typically shown content rather than searching for it (like a news feed). The problems your organization solves aren’t usually top-of-mind for people on these platforms so you may need to use more educational content before advocating for an action along with more eye-catching content to stop the scroll and get attention. 

Facebook is a classic example of this and users will get on Facebook to “research” a “friend” from high school, see what their family is up to or just be entertained by funny photos but if your organization shows up and appeals to them, you can interrupt what they’re doing and get their attention.

High-intent platforms are ones where users are looking for something specific and only want to be shown something that matches their search. The people on these platforms have higher awareness of problems and usually searching for a solution that you can offer directly. 

Google is a great example and because the intent is high, you can change your ask to match.

For example, if someone is searching for “volunteer to help animals” in Google, you want to match your page to their intent and give them exactly what they want: a chance to volunteer.

Lastly, mixed-intent platforms are those where some users have high-intent and others are just checking out what the algorithm gives them.

The best example here is YouTube which generates massive views through it’s recommendation algorithm but is also the worlds second largest search engine.  Depending on your topic, you may be focused more on capturing search intent, tapping into the algorithm, or ideally both on platforms like YouTube.

In many cases, intent can be a spectrum with many platforms falling somewhere in the middle:

high intent vs low intent nonprofit marketing channels

We’ll cover more on offers, asks, and actions on step three when we introduce the Advocacy Ladder but for now it’s important to ask yourself:

“Is my chosen channel high intent where I need to give them exactly what they’re looking for or lower intent where more interesting or eye-catching content will be more effective?”

Let’s say you’re looking for volunteers. If Facebook is your chosen channel, you’d want to create a visually appealing post with short bullet points showcasing the options for volunteers in your organization. But if you’re using Google Search you’d want to send people directly to a more in-depth page that covers all your volunteer options and the next steps for getting started.

#2 Acquire An Audience

Just getting attention isn’t, unfortunately, enough and we also need to find a way to connect with this person again in the future.

Someone will need to interact with your organization around 7 times before they take action. It’s not a perfect rule but it does highlight the need to keep the conversation going.

But most people get to a website and then you never see them again. They forget about your organization, your mission, and they lose motivation before taking action. That leaves you stuck at one quick interaction.

We can change that by acquiring contact information from our new connection and building an audience of people that we can connect with again. We have several ways of doing this including:

  • Using cookies to “flag” our visitors so we can follow up with on other platforms
  • Building our following through subscribers, follows, and more
  • Acquiring email addresses so we can contact our new connections
  • Completing a transaction which allows us to collect contact information
  • And more

Out of all your options, email is usually the best, but also the hardest get. You can use email opt-ins like this:

email opt in example

Or you can grow your audience on your socials with fun and easy-to-engage with posts like this:

easy to engage with facebook post

All these can work and in some cases, you’ll use multiple. The important part is to know how your marketing plan turns connections into an audience.

#3 Advocate For Your Cause

It’s time to advocate for your cause and educate your new audience on how they can help so you can move towards your ideal action.

That could be asking for donations, finding event attendees, finding adopters for cats, or anything else your organization needs. The important here is actually advocating and asking for action. I’ve worked with several nonprofits that do a great job building an audience but aren’t consistently advocating for their cause so they can move their mission forward.

We can use the Advocacy Ladder to make sure we’re moving things in the right direction.

The Advocacy Ladder

Your advocacy and asks should be moving your audience towards actions that are more and more valuable to organization (and also higher commitment). Those who want to be a bigger part of your mission will jump at the opportunity and those who are happy where they’re at will stay in place.

Here’s the Advocacy Ladder and some of steps may look a little different for your specific organization:

advocacy levels for non profit marketing

Following the Advocacy Ladder, we should be asking our email subscribers for higher commitment actions like donating or closely related actions like signing a pledge but asking our subscribers to simply view a page is too far down the Advocacy Ladder and represents a move in the wrong direction for the relationship.

The reverse is also true, and if someone is viewing a page for the first time, we’d want to start by asking to connect via email or have them sign a free pledge before moving straight to donate. That doesn’t mean we can’t also ask for donations (and we should be) but we also want to give our visitors a smooth path up the ladder too.

When it comes to implementing this stage of the C-A-A-T Marketing Framework, we need to be asking ourselves if our plan has a way to move people up the ladder smoothly. If not, we could be keeping things stagnant by offering no opportunities for our audience to build a relationship or only offering high commitment steps like donations.

Higher Intent Accelerates Your Climb Up the Advocacy Ladder

Before we move on to step 4, we need to add one more layer: the relationship between intent and the Advocacy Ladder. When you’re using high-intent channels, you can jump up the ladder faster and sometimes this even means blending your advocacy, ask, and audience building into one step.

For example, if you’re using a high intent channel like Google Ads and someone is searching for “volunteer at animal shelter”. In that case, you can directly let them know about the work you’re doing, how they can help,  and ask them to submit a volunteer application. Your mechanism for acquiring an audience and advocating are blended into one step where you get them to complete an action (apply) and collection their information via the application.

On the other hand, if you’re looking for volunteers on Facebook, where intent is much lower, you may need to focus on building the relationship first through lower advocacy actions first and then start promoting for your volunteer program.

Does That Mean High Intent Channels Are Better?

With that in mind, it might sound like high intent channels are the only way to go right?

Not exactly.

While higher intent channels, like Google search, let you move up the advocacy ladder towards some higher value actions, it also narrows the relationship. If you don’t match what the high-intent user is looking for, they’re going to leave.

As a result, your marketing funnel is relatively narrow like this:

nonprofit marketing framework with high intent

With lower intent channels, like Facebook, you can move people in multiple directions over time.

Here’s a visual example of what that would look like:

non profit marketing funnel example with low intent

Simply put, the higher intent the channel the more you need to get to the point to acquire your new audience as a connection. With lower intent channels, you’re focused more on building the relationship more slowly while still advocating for your cause. Both are effective and best will depend on your goals.

#4 Track, Report, and Improve

Now that we have our marketing plan in place, it’s time to track our results and report on what’s working so we can improve our marketing plan over time.

At a minimum, we need to be tracking which channels (Google search, Facebook, YouTube, etc) produce what results and Google Analytics 4 is typically the best way to do this. Reach out if you need help getting Google Analytics 4 in place for your organization.

From there, we want to know what those results cost us so we can figure out where to allocate our budget for the best return. Starting with a simple example, let’s say you’re trying to get people to register for an event- here’s the line of thinking you’d apply:

nonprofit marketing plan example with registration clicks

That’s it! It sounds complicated, but the hardest part is usually implementing the tracking. Once you know that registration clicks are worth $10, you can hold marketing teams accountable and easily understand whether results from different channels are good or bad.

However, we can also take things further and add a time element to our analysis. Let’s say that your 5,000 person email list generated $100,000 in donations within the last 12 months including your big donation event. That means the average email subscriber is worth $20 per year ($100,000 dollars / 5,000 people).

With these numbers, you now know that getting email subscribers for $2 each is great! If you’re paying $18, then that’s not so great but if you expand your time horizon to two, three, or five years then it starts to look better. Of course, most organizations need better cash flow than waiting years to see a return on marketing so select the timeframe that makes sense for your nonprofit.

It’s also worth noting that this example simplifies things and doesn’t account for the value of legacy donations that could come from your email list, email subscribers that attend events, make purchases, use your services, and much more. But it does give you enough data to know whether or not you’re seeing a measurable return from your marketing strategy or not.

Nonprofit Facebook Marketing Plan Using The C-A-A-T Framework

Now let’s put all together and look at some examples starting with a lower intent channel like Facebook.

Set Our Goal

We want to use Facebook to get more donations. I know, it’s simple but just clarifying that will level up your nonprofit’s marketing. Most organizations simply post on social media “because that’s what you do” without any strategy behind it. By setting a goal and using the C-A-A-T Framework to figure out how to get there, you’re way ahead of the curve!

#1 Connect

We’re going to use an easy-to-engage with post to generate page likes through limited organic reach but more likely via paid promotion. Here’s an example post we could use that’s a great starting point to a new relationship.

Example facebook post for engagement

#2 Acquire

We’re getting more page follows in order to build our audience through more easy-to-engage posts.

#3 Advocate

At this point, your audience has seen your post several times so we’re moving closer to those 7 positive interactions. At this stage, we can advocate for our cause and ask for an action that’s higher up the Advocacy Ladder like donating. This post does a great job matching our channel with a short, easy-to-understand story, and great images.

Example facebook post for advocate

#4 Track and Report

Now it’s time to track and report on what worked. At the basic level, we’d want to know how many donations occurred from the post.

Even better, we’d want to know how much was donated so we can understand how valuable Facebook is for us and how much attention (and budget) it should get.

Nonprofit Google Ads Marketing Plan Using The C-A-A-T Framework

Now let’s look at a higher-intent channel to see how advocacy and audience get blended.

Set Our Goal

We want to use the Google Ad Grant to get more registrations for our nonprofit that connects deployed military with people who want to send them care packages. This is one of the many strategies you can use to maximize your Google Ad Grant and you can read more about that in this article.

#1 Connect

We’re going to use Google search ads to to show up for the very high-intent search phrase “how to send care packages to troops”. Our ad shows up right at the top and makes it clear that this this a great match to what they’re searching for.

example of connecting via google ads

#2 Acquire and #3 Advocate

Because the intent is so high and specific, we can immediately advocate for an action- in this case registering with our nonprofit so we can help them send a care package.

advocate for action marketing plan

#4 Track and Report

Once again, it’s time to track and report. We’ll be able to track how many people register and assign a value for our nonprofit.

That’s It!

The C-A-A-T Framework is designed to make planning your marketing simple but I’d love to hear what you think. Feel free to reach out our comment below with any questions or how you’ve been apply to apply the C-A-A-T marketing template.

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