planning for creativity in nonprofit marketing

Yes, indeed, there is a place in a creative agency for project management. Not only is there a place for it, but I would argue that it is a vital component to the business and the creative process. I’m not talking fancy gantt charts, expensive software, or endless piles of documentation. For me, the most important aspect of project management is the Initiation Phase.

As a cause marketing firm here at The Cause Collaborative, we create. We create the experiences, we tell the important stories, we get the right folks to pay attention. We don’t have endless hours, resources, or dollars. We need to provide our clients with the solution that fits their needs on time, with the allocated resources, and within the budget they’ve allotted. You can’t do this without planning and thinking ahead. And once you have the plan… then it’s easy to let the creativity begin.

Step 1: Ask the Right Questions

Every project needs some definition behind it. Asking some basic questions up front can help shape the entire project and keep those project surprises at bay.

Ask questions such as:

  • What is the problem we’re trying to solve?

  • What does the client hope to achieve?

  • What kind of experience do they want guests to have?

  • What budget is there to work with?

Having answers to these questions is key. It will help give the creative team some direction on how far to go with ideas, what parameters they need to stay within, and what the expectations are. There’s nothing worse than having endless hours of brainstorming and coming up with that beautifully amazing idea, only to discover that it totally missed the mark and in no way meets the needs of the client.

Step 2: Document the Answers

The best way to not miss the mark with a client is to document. Document the answers to those questions you asked up front and check the document with them for alignment. This can serve as your guide to forming the rest of your project plan. All your major decisions should refer back to some of the basic questions you asked up front.

Of course, you need to ask way more questions and determine many more details. But this is a great place to start.

Step 3: Ask MORE Questions

Just a reminder that although you’ve asked the questions and you’ve documented the answers, it’s a good idea to revisit the questions and the document throughout the project. Things can change. Budgets can grow (or shrink). New problems can arise. Sometimes you can catch those things and change direction before it’s too painful. It never hurts to stop for a minute, check for understanding, and continue on.

Step 4: Create with a Plan and Purpose

Once you've asked the right questions and documented the answers, the creative team can work their magic! All the parameters are known, the direction is clear, and the focus is narrowed. Instead of handing off a plan for a project with something so broad as “make something pretty,” you’re providing the context needed to get started immediately. No more wild goose chases. No more heading down the wrong path. You know what the goal is, and now it’s time to come up with a creative solution.

That’s what we do at The Cause Collaborative: define the need, plot out a plan to meet that need, and then create the best version of the solution we can. And when we’re able to work a little extra magic to add that extra something… that’s when we truly feel successful!

Want to see how The Cause Collaborative puts our process to work for regional causes? Check out our case studies.