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Avoid Implementation Paralysis: 8 Steps to Turning Nonprofit Strategy Into Campaign Success

If you’ve done any strategic communications work, the implementation phase that follows can be challenging.

You’ve spent weeks, sometimes months, creating a comprehensive communications plan only to freeze during the campaign execution. So often, we see nonprofits create amazing marketing strategies that die in the execution phase.

The team sticks to old habits. Reacting to gut instincts instead of strategizing and relying on data.  By the end of the year, you’re wondering why donations are flatlining and your campaign never took off.

We know it’s hard and there are a lot of ways things can go wrong.

So, we’ve created a guide to break the paralysis and build effective and lasting campaigns that meet your organizational goals.

1: Take the lead

Why do great communications plans die? Most often, it’s from lack of leadership.

I’m not calling out the directors and CEO’s of the nonprofit world. We’re saying someone, anyone, needs be captaining the ship and taking the lead on the project.

The team lead needs to define goals and activities and make sure deadlines are met. Always ask, “who’s in charge here?”

2. Huddle Up with Other Organizational Teams

You might be captain but to deliver you need to get everyone on board. It’ll save you time and energy in the long run.

Buy in from different teams in your organization is hard, but it’s a critical element to success.

We find the best approach is asking teams about their pain points, instead of coming in trying to change things immediately.

Ask them about what their goals are, and where they are getting stuck. What audiences and personas are they trying to work with.

Additional hints on how to get everyone onboard:

  • Share what you’ve learned during your planning phase to teach them underlying communications strategy and messaging concepts. This helps open minds.
  • Talk through the strategy and its direction. Frame as a solution to their frustrations.
  • Bring together operations, development, programs, and comms teams for their big picture thoughts.
  • Be open to feedback and follow up with steps you’ve taken to address their ideas.

3. Do a 360° Communications Review

If you recently updated your personas or messaging, take stock of the materials and engagement strategies that you are currently using.

To see lasting change, you need to know your weaknesses. Start by doing a honest audit of your current communications materials and messaging. Here are some tips to start your review:

Review your messaging

  • Are we clearly stating the problem using the persona’s “why”?
  • Does my solution statement include a compelling impact message?
  • Are you using jargon in your messaging?
  • Is my team speaking with one voice?

Review your engagement strategy

Think about acquisition and engagement. How to move your personas through an engagement pipeline. Ask questions like:

  • Do our materials have a compelling call to action?
  • Where do we find new supporters (social, events, conferences)?
  • What is their “why” and is it integrated into our messaging?

Marketing Funnel

Get a fresh perspective

If you have worked on your messaging for too long, sometimes it’s hard to spot where the gaps are. Think about bringing in a pair of fresh eyes!

  • Bring in a supportive, curious, and creative outsider to review your communications. You want them to make things better not just point out the gaps.
  • Ask your supporters (new and existing) what they think using surveys and stakeholder interviews. What excites them and what is falling flat?

4. Test your messaging

Is your best messaging falling flat?

There are a lot of ways that you can start to test new messaging to get quick feedback on your updated communications strategy. This can be even more effective if you can segment your testing based on persona. Here are a few tools to start testing.


Google Grants provides $10,000 a month in free pay per click advertising on their search interface. Start to test your messaging in your ad copy. You’ll quickly start to see the winner.

We particularly like to test messaging on high-volume campaigns because that will allow you to see meaningful results quickly. Review your account and try to connect your campaigns to your personas, and start testing.

If you have some budget to pay, social ads on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn can also be a great way to test ads.

We recommend using an engagement campaign with content to test this messaging to cold audiences.  If you have a remarketing list, or custom audience that you can target these can also be extremely effective in driving results.

Email A/B Testing

Testing email subject lines and internal copy is also an effective way to test messaging. It’s even more effective when you have really great segmentation in your email lists.

When testing, compare your open rates on based on your subject line, and your click through rates for your email copy.

IMPORTANT: To get results that are significant, you should only test element at a time – subject line or email copy. Do not test both email copy and subject lines together. Then you will never know if it was the subject line or the copy that drove the results.

Website A/B Testing

Your website is also a great place to test messaging. Using tools like Google Optimize or Crazy Egg, it’s really easy to test the copy on your website without spending a fortune. 

When testing, try to pick pages that are critical to getting individuals to take the next step in your engagement process. This could be a campaign landing page, a program page or your homepage. To get results quickly, you need to find a page that has a lot of traffic.

5. Hold Yourself Accountable

Facing a constant concern of project drift? Even the best laid plans can drift off course. Keep yourself in check by keeping your board, funders, and constituents in the loop. They’ll trust you more if you keep them involved at every stage. Remember they care about the big picture of where you’re heading, not your task list.

Watch my Facebook interview with Rootid about how Root & Rebound successfully navigated implementation paralysis and held our teams accountable.

6. Be Realistic

After a learning experience or strategic planning experience, it’s natural to feel like this is a priority to start NOW!

Then reality sets in and we realize that there are million other things going on inside of our organization.

Be practical when defining your project scope and timeline. Here are some tips on how to succeed:

  1. Create your project team – put together a group that’s no larger than 4 people together to work on the implementation. Assign roles to that team based on everyone’s strengths.
  2. One Step at a time – There’s no need to change everything at once. Pick one campaign or one segment of your work, and map out a process to change the collateral, messaging and design as needed. All to often we get overwhelmed if we try to do it all at once.
  3. Assign a project lead – The most important role in keeping things on time and moving forward is a project lead. Be clear that being a project lead doesn’t mean they do all the work, they just keep tabs on what needs to be done, and who is responsible for what.
  4. Use the right interal project tools to communicate – Email is a tough way to keep track of tasks and project progress. There are a ton of great free project management tools out there (we love Asana) that help keep communications and responsibilities clear. Find a tool that works well for you, but ditch the email! 
  5. Realistic project schedule – You know your workload best. Do your best to project an end date, then add 20% for a buffer.

7. Measure Your Success

Are you learning the right lessons or making the same mistakes?

In order to continuously improve our work, we need to become data-driven marketers

Not only does it give us insights about where we should be spending our time and what works, it will also help us communicate our impact better.

A few things to consider:

  1. Get Google Analytics Goals Set up – Almost everyone has Google Analytics setup, but few people have setup goals. Goals help you see when users on your website take the action you want them to (think make a donation, sign-up for email alerts, read an article, etc.). Setting up goals is critical to understanding which marketing channels and campaigns are performing best.
  2. Campaign Dashboards – Democratize your data by creating a campaign dashboards. Many CRM’s provide automatic reports, and Google Data Studio provides some great dashboards (Rootid has a free Nonprofit Dashboard you can start with). Dashboards let everyone in your organization know how campaigns are performing, and opens up conversations. 
  3. Google UTM Tags – These are not that well known, but Google UTM tags help us get more granular about which marketing channels are performing best during a campaign. You can then look at your data dashboard to see if your Facebook campaign, email or SEO are driving the most results. Then you can devote more resources to those channels!

Sometimes people are scared to measure because they think it will point out failure. Be realistic with your team that failure is not always bad. It merely shows that you need to make changes to what you’re doing.  It’s not a disaster.

8. Maintain Engagement with Surveys & Stakeholder Interviews

Worried your audience will drop off? Make sure your content continues to resonate with your audience motivations by running surveys and stakeholder interviews. It’s a great way to keep the conversation going.