How to create a charity marketing strategy from scratch


April 24, 2024

How to create a charity marketing strategy from scratch

Get in front of and connect with the audiences that matter to you most and achieve your mission with a marketing strategy for your charity

Your charity is going places! But where to, exactly? Any journey needs a set of directions otherwise you could easily get lost. That's what your marketing strategy provides, a guide to get you from A to B. In this blog, we explain the essence of strategy and how to create one from scratch.


Without a marketing strategy, your charity may never quite achieve its full potential. Having clear strategic marketing objectives and a plan for how you intend to achieve them is critical to your mission, because without them you'll just drift. A written marketing strategy provides a sense of direction and structure to your marketing campaigns and activities, aligning them to your goals.

Oh no, I need to create a charity marketing strategy, now what?

You're in a meeting with your charity's chief executive and the board of trustees when you hear the words 'marketing strategy' and notice all eyes are suddenly on you. Your heart skips a beat and your primal fight/flight/freeze response is triggered as you realise they're expecting you to craft a new marketing strategy to help drive the charity's mission.

Sound familiar? And a bit daunting?

The word strategy seems to invoke a sense of dread in most people, probably because management consultants the world over have successfully convinced everyone that it's difficult.

Don't worry, it's actually not that scary at all. Read on as we explain in simple terms what a marketing strategy is and all the steps involved in creating one.

Let's go!

What exactly is a charity marketing strategy?

Whether it's for a charity like yours, a small high street business, or a global mega corporation, the essence of a marketing strategy is just the same:

A marketing strategy for a charity is just a high level routemap to guide its journey from it is now to where it wants to be.

That's it. Nothing more, nothing less.

The process for creating a marketing strategy looks like this:

  1. Define your starting point

  2. Set your destination

  3. Evaluate the journey options available

  4. Choose one

  5. Identify your waymarkers

The complexity actually comes when you're developing the tactical marketing plans that you'll need in order to implement your strategy (more on that later).

It's easier to wrap your head around with an example:

You're reading this in your home office in Manchester, which you can think of as your starting point.

You need to be in Leeds later for a client meeting. This is your destination.

You could:

  • walk

  • cycle

  • drive

  • catch a bus

  • take the train

  • fly

  • use a canal barge

  • take a hot air balloon

These are your journey options, each with its own pros and cons which you need to evaluate on two critical criteria: feasibility and cost.

On this basis, you rule out walking, cycling, catching the bus, navigating the canals and piloting a hot air balloon because they're not feasible (either because they won't get you where you need to be on time, or because you lack the resources and capabilities needed). You rule out flying from Manchester to Leeds Bradford airport because it would be too costly. This leaves driving and the train. 

The return train journey costs less than putting petrol in the car, but train strikes, driver shortages and overrunning rail maintenance all mean you can't guarantee your train will run. In the end, you opt to drive.

That's your strategy: you're travelling from Manchester to Leeds by car. The precise route you'll take, any any stops along the way, are the equivalent of your tactical marketing plan (again, more on this shortly).

Now, you just need a few waymarkers to make sure you stay on track, which in this case could include familiar landmarks alongside the M62 motorway and, of course, the motorway signs.

See, that wasn't so hard, was it? 

5 steps to creating a marketing strategy for your charity

OK, now you understand the basic concept, let's look at each step in more detail and with more of a marketing context.

1 Define your starting point: where are you now?

This is important for a number of reasons. For a start, it allows you to establish a baseline that you can judge your progress against. Things to consider could include:

  • current annual income

  • people helped in a year

  • number of regular donors

  • how many volunteers you have

You should also conduct a SWOT Analysis (which will highlight any areas that might need attention, for instance a lack of internal marketing resource might be a Weakness that will need addressing at some point if you're to successfully execute your strategy) and carry out a PEST Analysis to identify any external influences that might act as barriers. 

If you're not familiar, a SWOT Analysis compares Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats whereas a PEST Analysis considers Political, Environmental, Social and Technological factors.

2 Set your destination: what are your strategic objectives?

When setting these, it's important to make sure they're:






You might decide, for instance, that one of your strategic marketing objectives is going to be "to raise brand visibility in order to increase service use by 5% in the next 12 months by reaching and connecting with more people that can use our help."

This is specific (5% increase in service users), measureable (you can judge this by comparing to the previous 12 months), achievable (a 5% gain is likely to be comfortably met), relevant (it's directly linked to your mission), and time-bound (you're going to do it all in the next 12 months).

When developing your charity marketing strategy, you could have one overall objective or several that sit side-by-side.

3 Evaluate your journey options: what strategic choices are open to you?

Now it's time to think about all the different ways you could achieve your strategic marketing objectives.

Sticking with the example of raising brand visibility in order to grow the number of people using your service by 5%, your options could include:

  • running national TV and radio ads

  • taking out ads in national newspapers

  • a national billboard campaign

  • a national leaflet drop

  • running targeted ads on Facebook

  • running ads on Google

These are all very real ways of boosting brand awareness and getting in front of people that might be interested in what you do, but you need to do a reality check: how feasible are these options, and what are the costs?

Do you have the internal skills, enough people, media buying experience and the necessary industry contacts? to pull any of these off? Do you have the money needed to pay for them? Are they likely to get you the results you need? 

Once you've run the options through this filter, you'll have a good idea which you're likely to be able to execute. 

4 Choose one: pick the option(s) most likely to succeed

Being sure to always keep in mind your strategic marketing objective(s), choose the strategy that has the greatest chance of success, because:

  • you have the resources

  • you have (or can gain) the capabilities

  • you can afford it

  • it will reach the right audience

In our example, after some research and careful consideration, you might conclude that you simply aren't geared-up and don't have the money to run national ads on TV, radio, in print, on billboards or with a leaflet drop, and that these are all 'spray-and-pray' approaches that, whilst reaching mass audiences, won't necessarily get you in front of the people most likely to benefit from and want your support.

And whilst you don't have anyone on your team that is equipped to build and run Facebook and Google ads campaigns, you can acquire this capability by partnering with an agency like Fifty2M. Based on your research, believe that this more targeted approach will be less costly and therefore more affordable.

So that's your charity marketing strategy: to increase brand visibility and attract an extra 5% more service users in the next 12 months, you're going to hire an agency to run targeted ads on Facebook and Google.

See, easy.

5 Identify your waymarkers: how you'll track progress to stay on track

Like any journey, you need to know if you're heading in the right direction, not about to get lost, and that you'll eventually arrive at your destination.

It's the same with your charity marketing strategy.

In the case of our example strategy, your waymarkers could include:

Month1: appoint an agency

Month 2: collaborate on campaigns

Month 3: run trial campaigns

Month 4-12: run ongoing campaign

Month 6, 9 and 12: review results

This way, you have a clear idea of what should be happening and by when. In months 6, 9 and 12, you should be looking to see how many more service users you've acquired, because this will tell you whether or not it's working, and whether you're on track to meet your 5% growth objective.

That's how you create your charity marketing strategy, but what about the tactical marketing plan(s) your charity will also need?

You might recall that we've said a few times that your marketing strategy will need to be supported by a tactical plan or even plans.

If your strategy is a high-level route-map, then your tactical plans are the precise journey instructions that you need to follow. 

Going back to our earlier travel example (driving from Manchester to Leeds), the equivalent of a tactical marketing plan would include:

  • what time to set off

  • whether and where to get petrol

  • which roads and motorways will be used

  • whether and where to stop for a break

  • the expected arrival time

In our charity marketing strategy example (to increase brand visibility and attract an extra 5% more service users in the next 12 months, hiring an agency to run targeted ads on Facebook and Google) the underpinning tactical marketing plan might include:

  • audience selection

  • campaign objectives

  • conversion measurement

  • ad copy and creative

  • landing page creation

This is an important point: a marketing strategy alone won't get you to where you need to be, for that you also need a charity marketing plan. But there's no point developing a marketing plan if you don't have a strategy in place to guide it.

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