Marketing Planning Made Easy: Fighting Overwhelming Feelings & Jumping In!

I don’t know about you, but the new year always makes me feel two distinct ways when it comes to work. First, I get that shiny, fresh-start feeling and am ready to take on the world: Let’s think about what we want to do differently this year! Let’s make all the plans! Let’s do ALL the things!

But then (almost immediately afterward), comes the overwhelm. Who has time to plan when there are so many things that just need to be done? Who can stop to think big picture when there are to-do lists that never got finished last year? Add to this the last couple of years of heightened stressors, understaffing, and increasing length of stay for pets, and it’s no wonder we’re all feeling a little…stretched.

But here’s some good news. Even a very simple plan will actually make your work less stressful and allow finished marketing pieces to come together faster in the long run: a surefire recipe for reducing overwhelm! Most importantly, creating a quick marketing plan will ultimately make your messages and content MORE impactful and effective.

The 5 tips and tools below are designed to help you make a plan in just an hour or so, giving you a quick but comprehensive strategy to work from. So go hide in a quiet cat room, set the timer on your cell phone to 60 minutes, and let’s dive in!


1. Start with: Managing Expectations

Marketing plans are wonderful things, but many folks feel overwhelmed by the idea of creating a year-long plan…especially one that they know will need to change in response to emergent needs. Instead, keep it simple: consider making a plan based on one specific quarterly goal or a specific program goal (ex: Increase fostering by 10% in the first 3 months of the year; reach 100 new clients for your pet pantry program by March 1st; reduce the number of animals reported outdoors/in the cold this winter by 15%). 

A very clear goal allows you to keep things focused, time-bound, and centered around exactly what will need to happen to make that vision a reality.


2. Then: Who Are You Trying to Reach?

To achieve your goal, what community members would ideally be seeing your messages or campaign? Do NOT skip this step: Everything else you plan on relies on taking the time to think about who you are trying to reach.

Too often, we’re overlooking community members who can help us achieve our life-saving goals by crafting messages and campaigns that appeal more to our own sensibilities than to others. Neglecting our audience often means we’re communicating only within our own bubble, which makes our sphere of influence (and ultimately our impact) smaller. So before you start thinking about what TikTok sound you want to use or which photos you need, think about who you have missed reaching in previous efforts. 


BONUS TIP: It can help to think of your audience segments in terms of personas, complete with names, occupations, values, and habits! Interested in this concept? This can be helpful for building strategic approaches in operations too, and once you know who you’d like to participate in a program, you’ll know who you want to market to! Learn more in this video presentation from Ariel Zhang and check out this worksheet template.


3. Next: Building a Bridge from Idea to Action

Before you jump into what you want to say and what your campaign will look like, take a moment and think about what you need your core audience segment(s) to do to reach your goal. For instance, to increase fostering by 10% in Q1, you might try to reach some of the new retirees in your community. The next questions to ask are: 1) What might be standing in their way? 2) What’s working in our favor? Try to be objective and brutally honest with yourself here!

Using our example above, perhaps there is a prevalent misunderstanding in the community that your organization doesn’t often adopt young pets to older adults. That perception is a barrier to getting your target audience to take action on fostering because they may feel pre-judged or concerned about how much work it will be to foster. On the other hand, maybe you’re in an area with a higher-than-average retiree population which will work in your favor. Identifying these strengths and weaknesses will help you craft messages and campaign ideas that directly respond to what your audience might need to hear from you. Fill in this information on your audience persona worksheet


4. Action Time: Create Connection

You’ve built a super strong foundation, now it’s time to make the magic happen! Identify 1-2 core messages that help your target audience(s) take action and that can serve as the foundation for whatever content you create. For instance, what might adults aged 60+ need to hear from you to learn more about fostering and give it a try? Based on the strengths and weaknesses you ID’d in our example, one core message might be about how easy it is to pick out a foster and get started, or about how much support your organization provides to fosters. 

If you’re stuck, pay special attention to the challenges you identified in the step before this: Barriers often tell us the most about what community members need to hear from us. Change their minds!


BONUS TIP: All the most beautiful marketing content in the world won’t succeed if it’s clear that you don’t respect and value your community / target audience. One way we can provide customer care through marketing is by watching our words. Learn more here


5. Finally: Bringing it All Together

The final step is to think about where your target audience is most likely to see your messages. Social media is a wonderful (free!) way for animal welfare organizations to build connections, but it’s important to remember that it’s not the only way, especially if you’re trying to reach new people. Consider this: On social, at any given time we may be only reaching 10% of our captured audience. Even in our newsletters, the average open rate is 26% (and these are folks already signed up for your communications!). Depending on the audience and what you want them to do, remember that reaching them offline might just be the key to engagement.

Once you know which platform(s) you’re going to use for your central messages, it’s time to get creative. Now it’s time to think about photos, graphics, videos, and what will catch the eyes and build a connection. Need some inspiration? Check out the Marketing Resource Center!


One last consideration

Successful marketing is intersectional. If you’re lucky enough to work on a larger team, involve colleagues who are running programs or operations by asking them some short but important questions about audience targets and challenges/strengths. If you’re wearing many hats, you might just have a secret superpower…already dialed in to how programs in your organization are running and performing. In either case, the more you know, the better you’ll be able to create powerful marketing content!




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Caitlin Quinn

Caitlin Quinn

Caitlin is passionate about working with shelters and rescues to reimagine the way they tell their stories and connect with new audiences. She has served in the animal welfare field since 2008 and early on had the honor of working closely with diverse organizations across the U.S. to maximize resources, redesign policies, and find life-changing marketing solutions. In 2015, she got her MPA with a concentration in nonprofit management and in 2021, she began teaching marketing + communications for the University of Florida Master of Veterinary Science, Concentration in Shelter Medicine program. She lives in NY with a petite brindle pit bull named Sally who owns her heart.


  1. Cheri Cowherd Cheri Cowherd on January 5, 2023 at 6:00 pm

    This was a wonderful article and so timely. I hope we can implement all your tips for our shelter-Haven of the Ozarks. Your website looks extremely interesting and helpful.