My Board Wants to See Marketing Results. Now what?


You did it. You made your case, fought hard – and won. You got the board to approve funding for that large-scale digital marketing project. Time to celebrate, right? Well, not so fast.

We’ve seen it before. A nonprofit leader secures money for a new website or ad campaign, and a certain euphoria sets in: “alright, we finally got the funding – let’s do this thing!” Lost amidst this haze though, is the consideration that at some point, the board that approved this expenditure is going to want to see what that money delivered.

Having the “ROI” conversation is always tricky, but it’s twice as hard when you have to showcase digital marketing results, which are by definition technical and data-heavy. In fact, it’s not uncommon for even the most capable nonprofit professional to approach us after a campaign has already started and say: “Okay, now I have to report to the board. What does success look like?”

Luckily, we’ve coached many a nonprofit leader on how to not only interpret and showcase digital marketing results but also how to frame discussions for maximum success. It all comes down to three key rules:

1. Set Boundaries on What’s Expected of Marketing

One mistake we’ve seen clients make, both in discussing initial digital marketing plans and reporting digital marketing outcomes to their boards is allowing themselves to be drawn into the narrative that marketing is responsible for “everything.”

We once worked with a school whose goal was to increase student enrollment by a certain percentage. They called us in to launch their first-ever digital campaign, which was the right call given that their competitors were doing the same and that they were not a well-known name outside of their immediate location.

Within 7 weeks of our work, 90 individuals had completed applications to the school. This was a big success that outpaced what the school would have done without this marketing behind it.

Alas, the client was disappointed, and we parted ways a few months into the partnership. Turns out that even though students were applying, they weren’t enrolling.

Hopefully, you see where this is heading: How can a digital marketing campaign be responsible for getting parents to sign on the dotted line? The short answer: it can’t. The campaign’s job was to get people to fill out the form to apply or to learn more about the school, but any number of factors outside of the campaign’s control could influence the final decision.

By discussing with your board the extent of what marketing can do, you’ll relieve some of the pressure of being accountable for factors you can not control. Instead, focus on concrete and measurable metrics like campaign traffic, post shares, form completions, and other critical conversions.

An added benefit of limiting the discussion of your results to specific metrics is that what’s left will reveal structural or operational weaknesses in the organization. For example, in the case of our school client, if 90 people filled out a school application, but none ended up going to the school, then perhaps other areas need to be improved – anything from the enrollment process to course offerings and tuition relative to other schools.

A healthy board that seeks sustainable, long-term growth should welcome this type of analysis, but it’s a discussion that needs to be handled with care, and best had before the campaign is underway.

2. Frame Your Discussion In Terms of Overall Wins

Most nonprofit pros that have spearheaded – and now have to report on – a campaign don’t realize that they have a superpower at their disposal: information. That is to say, they’re so focused on reporting major wins that they overlook many of the additional benefits that a well-executed campaign or website can deliver.

In addition to the stated goals of your campaign, consider talking about the following:


If an average of 1,000 visitors comes to your website each month, but now, thanks to your campaign, 2,500 are coming to your site – that’s a massive gain in the overall awareness of your brand. Many more people are now familiar with your organization than before. You can and should emphasize this as a win (and the same would apply to increases in social followers, or gains in email subscribers).

Yes, you were probably tasked with increasing members, or raising funds, but as a side benefit, this is huge. The goal of your organization is to grow; awareness lays the groundwork by exposing you to many more potential donors, followers, and supporters.


While exposure in the form of awareness is great, perhaps more important is the level of engagement you’re getting from your campaign. This is how deeply an individual is vested in your campaign messaging and content, and you’ll see it in things like:

– How much time they spend on a particular page of your website
– Whether or not they’re sharing or saving your campaign ads/posts
– How much time they spend looking at your videos

Highly engaged individuals are gold. Not only do they have a propensity to become your next donor, student, or member, but they become the audience to which you may eventually “retarget” your campaign, bringing them one step closer to formally supporting your cause.

Tangibles: Marketing Infrastructure

This one’s hiding in plain sight. Before you began your campaign, did you have your Google Ads account set up, populated with ads, and finely tuned for success? How about your Meta Ads platform? Well, now you do. And that’s a big deal because unless your nonprofit was already well-versed in digital advertising technologies and methods, you probably had no marketing infrastructure built out (save for a website and your social media pages).

But now that you’ve gone down the path of a formal campaign, you or your agency has now put in place the tools you’ll need for high-level marketing for the foreseeable future. So, there is an actual tangible benefit – aside from any campaign ROI – that comes with that initiative. Make sure your board gets this.

Intangibles: The Marketing Mindset

Here’s one that I love to remind clients of that doesn’t get the attention it deserves; I see it as the “intangible” twin to marketing infrastructure – the marketing mindset. In short, by investing time and resources into a formal marketing campaign, you and your team (and hopefully, your organization) are learning marketing. Your agency will have educated you on marketing theory, outreach practices, communications, messaging, and marketing technology. Hopefully, this way of thinking imprints itself in your D.N.A., and your organization will benefit from it for years to come. You’ve helped them introduce a marketing mindset into their business model, and this is something most nonprofits simply don’t have.

In the end, the board wants to see results, so I’m not suggesting that you sugarcoat or obfuscate. But there are indeed many more benefits to investing in digital marketing than your organization’s chosen success metrics, and by including and highlighting these items in your discussions, you’ll be making a stronger case for your overall ROI.

3. Define Success Before Your Campaign Begins (But if You Haven’t, That’s Okay)

I’ve saved this one for last since, if you’re reading this chances are you haven’t done this step, and that’s alright.

To save yourself major headaches, we advise starting to talk about potential results with your board well in advance of starting your campaigns. Indeed, as an agency, we make it a point to ensure that we’re laying out potential results in the campaign proposal itself.

These don’t have to be set-in-stone results – there are too many factors out of both agency and client’s control that can affect things (especially if you’re discussing revenue targets), but you should have a transparent discussion about aspirational goals related to marketing metrics, general expectations, and ideal results.

Moreover, these conversations should be repeated with your board prior to and during the campaign. Like anyone else, board members are pulled in many directions and details that seemed top-of-mind in January may fall in importance come April.



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