This transcript is from the January 9, 2019 Independent Sector & Prosper Strategies webinar, “Leverage Marketing to Drive Social Change at Your Nonprofit.” Listen to the full webinar recording here.
Alyssa Conrardy: I’m co-founder and president at Prosper Strategies, the leading marketing and communications consultancy for the nonprofit sector, and we’re based in Chicago. Our firm, as many of you know, provides brand strategy and marketing planning services for social sector organizations. Because we only work with nonprofits, we see a lot of similar challenges when it comes to marketing–from limited budgets, to a lack of understanding of the role that marketing should be playing in the sector, to a failure to measure marketing’s impact on mission outcomes.
Introduction to the Nonprofit Marketing Manifesto
Early last year, we began to think about how we could offer some real, actionable solutions to nonprofit-specific marketing challenges we found that nonprofits were facing across the country. We wanted to reach beyond our client base and have a bigger impact on the sector as a whole, so our manifesto was the first answer to how we could do that. We believe the nonprofit sector needs a marketing revolution, and our manifesto is the rallying cry for that revolution.
Some people might say that the nonprofit sector is behind the curve, but we don’t actually think that’s true. We think nonprofits are really forward-thinking and care about driving their mission forward. However, we have seen in so much of our work that the system is set up against nonprofit marketing. Funders and supporters and others who might make it possible for you to pursue marketing in a bigger and deeper way are sometimes aligned against marketing. They like to talk about it as overhead, as they’d like to do with so many things in the nonprofit sector. As a result, marketing doesn’t get pursued at the level it should.
Our big idea in the manifesto is really about changing that perception and changing opinions about the role that marketing can and should play in nonprofit sector. We believe that marketing can do so much more than just raise awareness about our organizations. It can contribute to every single goal we set at our organizations. When that happens, marketing becomes a true tool for mission impact and social change. But we know this ideal is the gold standard and realizing it is far more easily said than done.
In our manifesto, we included a set of 10 commitments. If you were on the last webinar you got an overview of the first five of 10 commitments as a teaser of what’s to come in this series. The 10 commitments are our effort to make this concept of the power of marketing actionable. The commitments include everything from aligning your brand with your mission values, to avoiding creating unintentional harm for the people you hope to serve through your marketing, o finding ways to measure marketing’s mission impact.
If you want a refresher on all 10 of the commitments, you can watch that first webinar here. Each month in the coming year, we’ll be hosting a webinar on each commitment. It’s a lot of great content to dig into and hopefully, this can be the spark for your own marketing revolution.
Commitment #1: We will recognize marketing as a tool for driving social change.
Today we’re going to dive into the first commitment in the Nonprofit Marketing Manifesto, which may be the most important commitment of all: “We will recognize marketing as a tool for driving social change.”
To make this first commitment more actionable, we wanted to bring together real practitioners and the fields real leaders in the field who are living and breathing these commitments every day. We wanted to talk to them about how this first commitment actually plays out in reality.
“We will recognize marketing as a tool for driving mission impact and social change. We will acknowledge that when it’s leveraged properly by nonprofit organizations like ours, marketing really is capable of changing the world.”
The whole manifesto is a mindset shift, but this commitment is a mindset shift more than any of the others. In our work, we see that nonprofits–and those who fund them and support them–still misunderstand or de-prioritize marketing. They think that it’s meant only for the corporate world, or they don’t pursue it at all. When they do, they often live in a nebulous world of awareness building, which is only one tiny piece of what marketing can and should do.
This isn’t something we’re accusing every organization in the sector of, but it is something that is ingrained in the way the sector is supported. That’s what this commitment can and will change. With our first commitment, we want to get our whole teams on board with this idea that marketing can and should be so much more. It’s critical to mission impact. Until we make this shift, the rest of the commitments in the manifesto can’t really ever be seen through.
But, I know you may be thinking: “That’s all good in theory, but what about in practice?”
That’s what I’ve asked Kristine and Danielle to join us to talk about. As I mentioned, they are two great examples of people in organizations living and breathing this commitment. In this Q&A, I’ll ask them a few of my own questions that have come up in my work with clients, and then open up for additional questions from the audience.
Without further adieu, I’m going to turn it over to Dani and Kristine here just to introduce themselves and give you a sense of their background and how it applies to what we’re talking about today.
Q&A with Kristine Brown, Big Brothers Big Sisters and Danielle Viera, A Better Chicago
Kristine Brown: I am the Marketing Communications Director at Big Brothers Big Sisters here in metropolitan Chicago. Our agency is actually an affiliate of the larger, national organization. At Big Brothers Big Sisters here in Chicago, we really started to look at marketing about three years ago. Before I joined Big Brothers Big Sisters, this chapter did not have a marketing team, department or practice.
My background is in agencies where I worked for larger CPGs like Kraft. Then, I decided I wanted to do something that was more mission-driven, so I went back to school. I got my masters at Northwestern in marketing and saw an opportunity to bring those skills to the nonprofit sector. Now, at Big Brothers Big Sisters, we have really started to dig into marketing here in the local chapter and then on a national scale as well. I’ll be talking about that later.
Danielle Viera: I’m Danielle Viera. You can call me Dani. I am the Director of Communications and Engagement at A Better Chicago, which is a venture philanthropy organization here in Chicago. We invest in education nonprofits and basically any bold ideas that can really change educational outcomes for kids here in the city, ranging from early childhood to college access and completion. It’s an exciting time for me to bring my talents to Chicago and work with an amazing and incredible team that’s focused on mission-driven work.
My background is actually in DC, so I’m very familiar with the independent sector. I started my career on Capitol Hill working for a senator and transitioned into nonprofit communications pretty early in the game, right after the 2008 election. I’ve been doing global nonprofit work both in agency and in-house for the better part of a decade, working with nonprofits that are either based in the United States or abroad, along with some social change coalitions that are started by corporations. My most recent position was at the American Diabetes Association where I was a head of advocacy communications and public relations.
Conrardy: Thank you! A great intro from both of you. Like I said, these are both very inspiring examples of people who are in the field, living and breathing this commitment.
What does Commitment #1 mean to you?
Let’s dive into our first question. The question I’d love to hear from both of you, because you come from very different perspectives and backgrounds, is what commitment one means to you and how you approach your work. How does it impact the way that you work, the way you function within your organization, and the way that you approach marketing externally?
Brown: For me personally, and our entire team at Big Brothers Big Sisters, it was a shift in mindset. Not only was it making it a priority to make sure that marketing was a part of our strategic planning, but it also meant our entire agency was more customer-centric. We looked at each customer journey and the different touch points of communicating with them. At Big Brothers Big Sisters, we create mentoring matches, pairing “bigs” with “littles.” We found that once they were paired, they had this amazing relationship that continued for years and years, but they were losing connection to our agency and our brands. That meant less to them than the relationship. We had to focus on those touch points throughout and make sure the customer experience was something we marketed from the first minutes of their match, to the time they become alumni and their match closes, and they become potential donors.
Viera: For A Better Chicago is interesting because we’re not a direct service organization. So, a lot of our storytelling and marketing shares the work our grantees are doing, and how we’ve been able to help them scale and grow and change the lives of so many students across our city. But we also incorporate a message of larger global change when it comes to how donors think about charity and how people think about giving in a strategic and impactful way.
I was really lucky. I don’t think I mentioned this in my intro, but I basically left DC and moved to Chicago just for this opportunity. I came here last August, so I’ve been in this role for not yet a year. I came into a situation where my boss, our Chief External Relations Officer, was very clear about wanting communications and marketing to be part of this role. She really wanted to bring in somebody that could grow that space in a way that brought out our storytelling, brought out our brand awareness, refreshed the way we talk about ourselves and aligned us as both thought leaders and as true partners when it comes to how we talk about our grantees, the investments that we’re making and the end goal, which is to end poverty in Chicago.
I would say this commitment is the leading mission for my role and also for our organization as a whole. I am lucky enough to work with people that understand how important it is to communicate to the outside world what we do, why what we do is important, and how you as an individual can be part of changing the cycle of poverty and giving opportunities to children that don’t have it. So that mission commitment number one is in everything.
Conrardy: It’s the whole point, exactly. I think more and more, as we do work in the field, we’re talking to people who have that same perspective that you do. I think, in this role, the perspective is changing a lot. Outside of this role, I’m not sure that the perception of marketing and its potential is the same.
Like I said, you both very much inspire me. We’ve had Dani and Kristine on panels and things for Prosper before, and just hearing about what they do and how they’re approaching their work can be an example and inspiration for all of us.
What struggles have you faced with making the case for marketing internally?
This really relates to what I was just talking about. What’s the biggest struggle that you face when it comes to making the case internally for prioritizing marketing and communications as tools for mission impact? I’d love to hear, and I’m sure the attendees would too, if you have any tips for them on what they can do if they’re struggling to make that internal case to get people on the same page about this.
Viera: Yeah, I will probably have to pull from previous experience more than my current role. As I mentioned, I’m very lucky, and I know everybody is not that lucky. I work with a small team and they, our governance, our board, and our leadership council all understand the importance of marketing and investing in that space. I will say, when I worked at larger organizations or even smaller nonprofits that are really tight with their budgets, it’s very difficult to communicate to people that you have to spend money to make money. It’s also very important to separate your marketing and communications team from your development team because people should not be the bank. I think that’s a really big struggle that happens for all of us at nonprofits because you’re limited in the amount of people you can bring in and be in those roles.
I think it’s really important to advocate for space in your organization for communications and marketing. That is the focus, that is what you’re doing, and those people support the development team, they support the program team, and they support the executive team in real and solid ways, and also data-driven ways. I think that’s a space that we’re really leaning to in the marketing world, but they aren’t always tied to development goals. Marketing should have their own internal strategic goals that line up with your organization’s goals, but that are very focused on marketing, brand awareness, storytelling and communications in a way that allows you to find the best and brightest in the communications and marketing world to fill those roles, instead of trying to have somebody that’s doing both development and strategic communications, and trying to somehow spread that bandwidth.
Brown: I couldn’t agree more. This is a completely different challenge, but something I think that comes up with a lot of different organizations is this point about storytelling. We try to tell these incredible stories, but a lot of them are sensitive or they involve children. We have to ask ourselves: how we can communicate those stories and protect the children that we serve, but also get their voices heard? I think there are two different points with that.
What we’ve seen at Big Brothers Big Sisters is most people want their voice to be heard. They want their stories shared, and there are ways we can do it to be very empowering. We also think about who tells the story. We’ve had a lot of our volunteers, or our “bigs,” tell the story of our children. It’s really nice because they see them in such a wonderful light and they bring out that child’s life in a way that makes it very empowering and motivational. So, my advice would be to consider who is telling the story.
Do you ever feel like you’re missing out on “a seat at the table”?
Conrardy: In our chat, I see someone saying they struggle to be in the right room at the right time for the right conversations. Is that something you two face as well? Do you ever hear about a conversation that happened that you could have lent really good insight on, but you weren’t invited to that conversation because people didn’t think it was communications’ or marketing’s place?
Viera: Yeah, oh yeah. Always. We all want to be in the room where it happens. I do think that it’s important to find opportunities to, depending on how large or small your organization is, speak to the heads of different departments and make sure you have continuous touch-bases with them. That allows you to understand exactly what’s going on in a holistic way. I’ve found that in both large and small organizations. At ADA, we created what we called a synchronization calendar. We made sure all the different heads of different departments had an overarching view of what meetings were going on with strategic partners and sponsors, what advocacy days were happening, and so on.
At A Better Chicago, we’re smaller. So, I’m able to walk over to someone and say, “hey can we have monthly touch-bases or quarterly touch-bases?” I can make sure that I am part of the conversation, and that they’re thinking about me when it comes to the communications side of whatever initiatives they’re working on. I think you can kind of force yourself gently into their face in a way that just says, “I’m working on my strategic calendar for the next quarter and want to make sure I’m highlighting the work that you’re doing in a really strategic way that builds on it.”
Conrardy: Really helpful insight. I think that, no matter small or big, well-funded or not so well-funded, you’re going to face this in a marketing and communications role at any organization. So I agree, advocate for yourself and figure out how to get in the room when you should be there. Continually try to educate people about the role that marketing should be playing in the conversations that you can contribute to because, quite honestly, even well-intentioned people just have no idea how broad and wide marketing and communications can be at the organization.
What are you doing to sync your marketing and communications plans up with your organization’s strategic plan?
We at Prosper believe that to see this first commitment through, marketing really needs to play a role in every goal that you set in your strategic plan at your organization and beyond your strategic plan. So, tell us what you two are doing, if anything, to sync your strategic plans with your marketing and communications plans, whether formally or informally.
Along with that, I’d love to hear what some of the goals are that you brought into your marketing and communications plans that go beyond raising awareness and raising funds, which are two goals that are more typical of a nonprofit marketing and communications department.
Brown: At Big Brothers Big Sisters, we’ve set up a strategic plan for the next five years; it’s a growth plan. Actually, one of the things we’re doing is raising money for marketing. We’ve put it on its head. I will start off with the fact, though, that the first thing I did when I got there was create a marketing plan and align it to our business objectives. Our business objectives are obvious ones: bring in more volunteers and bring in more donations, and we align those to specific, measurable goals. We are now also, like I said, raising money, and marketing is one strategic component of that because, for us, it directly leads to recruitment outreach and engagement with our organization.
To your point, though, of bringing something beyond awareness, one thing I noticed at our organization that’s really important for us is that we are working on being in some high-risk and high-need communities right now. We’re bringing mentorship to those communities, so for us, marketing is not only about making sure those children are served, but it’s about changing the rhetoric in those areas. So, what does a mentor look like? What does the healthy relationship look like? What does a role model look like? A lot of kids in Chicago communities have mentors. That could be a gang member, so we’re going in there and we’re changing the way we communicate things. That’s a huge thing that we all can do as nonprofit marketers.
Conrardy: What you’re speaking to is using marketing and communications beyond just your organization’s goals and educating to change the dialogue and behavior in your community. Your mission isn’t well served if people have the perception of mentorship as something that could potentially be harmful or lead children down the wrong path. Yes, we need to drive our goals forward, but often, before we can even start to do that, there’s an education and social behavior change component to our work that’s really, really essential. How about you, Dani?
Viera: As I said, I am lucky to have a very strategic team that did think about our strategic plan for the next five years in a way that looks at our growth and our access, trying to affect the way children and students at every age have access to a great education. Not just an OK education. We’re talking about the type of education that will change their lives and get them to a family-sustaining career. A lot of that is, like Kristine was saying, about changing the language around how people think about success for a student. Is it just getting them to high school graduation or is it just getting them into college graduation, or into college?
In our mindset, because our mission is to end poverty in Chicago, that means getting them to a career. That has changed the way that we talk about how we work with our grantees and the types of grantees that we’re looking for. We’re always looking for more organizations that have proven success and proven educational outcomes that we can invest in. Our audience is twofold in that way. If you’ve been sending the messaging that we’re also trying to send out and you’re doing amazing work, would you fit in our portfolio? But, also to our donors: Do you want to see more come out of your dollars? Do you want to see your impact amplified? We can do that for you.
A lot of that is changing feelings and thought processes around where you invest your donations, how you invest those donations, and why we’re a great place for you to do that. Then, also telling that story of how the kids that are part of our grantee programs are excelling at insane rates. So, what do those benchmarks look like in a data-driven world, and then what does that look like in a human head versus heart.
We are very data-driven. A lot of our support comes from people that love that data. They like the idea of donating a certain amount of money seeing exactly what’s happening in the process of a student’s life and how the grantees that you’re supporting are changing that trajectory. So, it’s really nice for me because I can very easily see where my marketing and communications plan can align perfectly with the goals that we have. It’s also really fun to get creative about what that can look like. Examples include corporate sponsors and important partnerships in ways that align our brand, with Chicago, its citizens, or maybe expats who don’t live in Chicago anymore but still care about the city, which is a large portion of our community. It really lines up very nicely with our strategic plan. I’m lucky that our strategic plan is so clearly aligned with what we want to do on a communications level.
Conrardy: You’re lucky, but you’re also thinking about it in a way that everyone should, and they’re lucky to have you. I hope that this is giving you perfect ideas about things that are maybe outside of the traditional realm of what you would expect or think marketing could do, and allow you to get a little bit more creative. I think they both have great examples of different approaches that might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think about marketing. Even if you’re not doing the same things that Kristine and Dani are talking about, to be able to use their examples and be able to say, “here’s what some other organizations have been able to do by applying communications and marketing in different and creative ways,” I think you can start to open people’s minds a little bit.
Viera: I would just add that, at A Better Chicago, our values are really important to us. We communicate our internal values to an external world, and that aligns with how we hire and how we talk about the work we do. So, I would encourage everyone to think about how you communicate, what it looks like to be on your team, and why the people that are in the room at your organization are so great and so valuable. It’s these different kinds of marketing for the internal team that can become an external tool for you to use.
Conrardy: Absolutely, and I think, at most of our organizations, our people really are our greatest asset. Our impact is only possible because of the people on our team. Being able to communicate how they are the living, breathing embodiment of your values and your mission and how they’re driving it forward can be a huge differentiator for an organization both externally and internally for talent acquisition. We’ll talk a lot about that topic at next month’s webinar as well.
How do you think the perception of the importance of marketing differs between the nonprofit world and the corporate world?
Moving on to our next question. This one is for you, Kristine, specifically because you work in an agency environment. A lot of your clients are from the corporate sector so I’d love to hear how, at your newest role at Big Brothers Big Sisters, how you think the perception of the power and importance of marketing is different between the corporate world the nonprofit world.
Brown: There’s the obvious one that we’ve talked about a lot today, which is having marketing on a budget. Something that is maybe not so obvious and something that we see a lot in the agency world is we really focus on brands. We focus on what people think of brands and how they feel about interacting with those brands, and it’s all about creating that feeling. We missed that importance of the actual brand itself in the nonprofit world.
At Big Brothers Big Sisters, we’re so focused on what we do, and we looked at changing a lot of our regulations to strategically grow. So, what do we need to do? We stuck to our mission, because our mission has been around for over a hundred years. That doesn’t need to change. We don’t need to change what we do; we need to change how people see us. That is something that we in the nonprofit world just need to look at and think about.
Conrardy: Agreed, and in a minute, we’ll get to your recent rebrand of the national organization, which obviously you played a role in. I think that’s a really good example of prioritization of brand and changes that needed to be made without changing your mission. If any of you are not aware, Big Brothers and Big Sisters rebranded in October of this past year. If you want to look at the new brand, we’ll be talking about that more in a minute and I think it’s definitely interesting to see a comparison between old and new as we prepare for that question.
Dani, over to you because you’ve been through a bunch of different roles in the nonprofit sector where you wore many different hats. I’m curious what you see as the biggest misconceptions related to the role of marketing in the nonprofit sector as a whole, both within and outside of organizations. We talked about a lot of them at the beginning of this conversation like overhead and that sort of thing, but what’s the most problematic across the different roles that you’ve experienced?
Viera: I would say strategically figuring out whether things are in-house or whether you need to hire an external consultant or firm or expert to make certain things happen for you. I think most people listening are probably aligned with me and Kristine when it comes to goal-setting based on your objectives and making sure everything goes back to that. So, do you have in-house talent that you need to make this happen? Do you need to change your goals and objectives to make sure that you have the people on your team who can make this happen? I do think that budget aligns a lot with that in an almost negative way, though, because you can do a lot with people that you have. So, try starting with what you already own internally and see where you can amplify that by bringing on external support.
I know when I was at a boutique firm working for nonprofit clients, some were like, “we don’t have anyone in-house doing any of this, so can you create and lay out a whole marketing strategy?” That’s just not realistic, not our business, and no corporation would ever do that. You have to think of your nonprofit as a business in very real ways. That means creating a team that can address all the needs you have in-house and be bolstered by the external support that you bring in, but not reliant on that external support. That makes it really hard for consultants to be successful, and also for you and your organization to be successful in a way that can be sustainable. I think that’s probably what I ran into the most. It happened at the American Diabetes Association, where we were about 500 people strong, and it happened at smaller nonprofits that had a team of ten.
I think being realistic is a difficult misconception for nonprofits to get over. What do you do? Can you do something great with a smaller initiative and make the impact that you’re looking for, or does it have to be a year-long strategy? How can you get to the goal that you’re trying to reach? The way that we were talking about strategic planning, that should be happening in your marketing team and your communications team in a way that is sustainable. But, you shouldn’t try to do a million-dollar campaign with 25 hundred dollars, especially with little time and no data that are driving the realistic outcomes.
Conrardy: I could not agree more. Going back to what Dani said about the choice of what you should do internally and what you should do externally, I think it might be counterintuitive to say that my agency, and I think most agency partners, prefer if you have a more robust marketing communication function internally. You may be wondering, doesn’t that leave less work on the table for us, and maybe it does, but it leaves for us the areas where we can be most effective to come in and help you fill capacity and fill in gaps. We have done it all. We’ve worked with organizations that want Prosper to be their entire outsourced marketing department and function. We work with organizations that have robust marketing and communications teams, ones that have one-person teams, and everything in between. Our best relationships are really those that have robust marketing and communications teams and have someone guiding the ship internally on the strategy.
We are a very strategic firm so we can absolutely help there but all these challenges we’re talking about, all the internal misconceptions about what marketing can and should do, are that much harder if you have no internal marketing. You really need that person who’s embedded in the organization and navigating the relationships with other departments and functions to advocate for the role of marketing. Then, an agency can come in and be really, really helpful.
And to bounce off of the second part of what you said, about being realistic about what we can and should do. I also agree with that. So often, we see organizations that are really passionate. They have a lot of great people with a lot of fire behind their ideas. They want to make them happen so they go after them full force, but they’re often not choosing or prioritizing the most impactful ideas on the mission and on the goals. They’re not even measuring if the idea is going to be impactful. They don’t have a way to measure it and, therefore, they’re trying to do a whole bunch of things at once and none of it is necessarily that effective.
So, these are both things I would challenge you all to be advocates for changing within your organizations. What two or three strategic pieces can you focus on advancing first to make a measurable impact across a couple of very specific areas? Then, grow from there, rather than trying to do a whole bunch halfway. I’m passionate about that topic for sure.
What was the motivation for Big Brothers Big Sisters’ recent rebrand? How did it signify the organization’s recognition of the importance of marketing?
As I promised, I wanted to get to the topic of Big Brothers Big Sisters recent rebrand. I’d love to hear what you can share, Kristine, and I want to pull back the curtain on that process. What was the motivation was for it? What do you know about what it looks like on a national level? What it was like for you here on the local level? I’m also interested in hearing how this choice to rebrand was or was not a reflection of the organization’s prioritization of a brand and marketing, and changes in the perception of those things at Big Brothers Big Sisters.
Brown: A lot of the time, rebrands can be very painful for a lot of people. But the beauty of this rebrand was that it was based on a business objective. The business objective, or business challenge nationally, was that Big Brothers Big Sisters was losing growth numbers, meaning we were declining the number of children served across the nation. Our organization here in Chicago has continuously grown as it has in other pockets where we’ve had a focus on marketing. The national agency really paid attention to that. They put together a research component for everything. I would say before doing anything, start with data. That is your biggest ally. It will help with leadership and governance and it will help communicate what you need to do and you can always point back to the return on it.
We did a research study and learned that, generationally, we were declining in brand recognition and relevance. We were also gaining brand confusion. So, I see a couple of our listeners are from the Boys & Girls Club. I often say that I’m from Big Brothers Big Sisters and people ask, “how is it at Boys & Girls Club?” I just told you, I don’t work for Boys & Girls Club! That tells us a lot. It tells us that we need to think about who we are, how we resonate, and what people know about us.
So, we completely rebranded and now we have a way more modern look. You can look at our old logo, which looks like hard purple, primary colors. The icon looks like a young little, but we serve kids up to 18 years old, which, for people in Chicago, is huge because we’re dealing with issues of gun violence and things that impact kids at all ages. We needed to change the perception of who we serve, but also become more relevant to Millennials and new generations coming up. We now definitely have a more modern, younger feel, and it’s great.
Conrardy: I think it’s a really great example and I’m personally so excited to see the organization go through the rebrand, because I volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters, and obviously, I want them to succeed. I was sensing what your data proved about your old brand and that it was causing some of these issues with the different types of declines you mentioned. I’ll be really interested to see if you’re able to report back in just a couple years about how this impacts that, but I’m already so thrilled to see the change. It’s a shining example. We don’t have the data yet, of course, so it’s a goal that I think brand can play in really driving mission.
Brown: I think what we’re already seeing, without even having the data to back it up, is that every agency has a consistent look. Something for anyone with a bunch of affiliates or even if you just have a team of five internally, make sure you are consistent because that drives your brand. If you are not saying the same thing and looking the same way it hurts your brand.
Conrardy: Absolutely. Even the smallest things can hurt your credibility when it comes to inconsistencies, and that will come up more in webinar four. So, stay tuned for more on consistency and cohesion across brands, especially for federated organizations.
What does an organization that is truly using marketing as a tool for mission impact look like?
In your opinion, I’d love to hear what you feel an organization that truly prioritizes marketing and communications as tools for mission impact looks like? What does the team look like? What do the agencies could look like? What does the budget look like? What kind of expertise you have? What does other leadership outside of marketing and communications field look like? Give us a sense of what that would look like in an ideal world.
Viera: I would say start from top down. Start with your governance of your board that has a background in marketing and communications. Does your board believe that marketing and communications have importance and are they getting regular updates on how marketing and communications are impacting your overarching goals? I think that sets the tone for the rest of the organization because no matter what, let’s be honest, if we’ve ever worked for an organization where nobody above you cares at all about marketing or communications, your work is ten times more difficult at every point because you’re always trying to prove that your role is important, and you’re always trying to find ways to influence people outside of your team. You’re always trying to make the case that you need to be in the room for strategy building, so it has to be top down. I think you have to advocate for having someone on your board–or an entire committee on your board would be even more amazing–that is focused on marketing, communications, what that looks like, and a successful strategy.
Then, throughout the organization, I really do believe that you have to separate development from communications and marketing. That really shows that you care about communications and marketing in a separate way from growing your donations. We’re nonprofits, so fundraising is obviously, important. We all know that going into that role. But, you have to be able to very clearly delineate what active web initiatives are meant for fundraising goals, what initiatives are brand awareness goals, and separate those so that it doesn’t feel like you’re trying to achieve both at the same time. You have to start to think, alright, this initiative or this campaign is all about awareness, and if we raise some money, that’s great, but our primary goal is not both raising money and growing awareness. I think that having an organization or a team that thinks that way is really important.
Brown: I completely agree with all those points and the other thing I’d say is I do think a lot of people envision the marketing person wearing every single hat. I come from the agency world and I’m an account person but when I came onboard to Big Brothers Big Sisters, it was expected that I would stay an account person but also the creative director and the graphic designer. Can we look at these like an agency? I mean, in my ideal world, we would function to have all those goals. We’re not going into this as nonprofits and saying you’re an accountant, can you also be a salesperson. So, I think we also have to communicate what those functions look like and why there are talents and skills in different roles and responsibilities.
Conrardy: A challenge at your organization, and part of the reason we’re here having the conversation, is to change the perception. So, if you need to make the case, feel free to send this webinar recording to others and let them know that you’re not alone in feeling that you shouldn’t have to wear every single hat on your marketing team and be an agency and the marketing director and the strategist all at once.
What is the biggest piece of advice you have for those who want to commit to making marketing a tool for mission advancement and social change in 2019?
Let’s just end with a quick side thought, a 30-second thought, on the biggest piece of advice you have for those who really want to commit to starting their own marketing revolution by making marketing a tool for mission advancement and social change in 2019.
Viera: Data. I think we’ve said this probably five million times, but I do think coming to the table with data that aligns with your goals for the year and being able to say: “It’s most important for me to do these top three things with our entire team as a cohesive organization. The marketing team can lead these initiatives but this is something that everybody has to buy into.” Otherwise, you won’t be successful.
It’s January. I think most of us are in planning mode for the rest of the year and looking at how we’re going to achieve the goals that we might have already set for 2019. I think being able to say, alright, these are my goals and these are the numbers that I’m trying to reach is really valuable. The data points show that these are important numbers for us to reach as an organization. That will be obviously very subjective to you, but be thinking through a lens of how you can be as data-driven in your role as possible. That allows your boss to advocate for you and your boss’s boss to advocate for you. It really puts you in a position to say that you’ve set these objectives and these goals, and if you don’t meet them you’re going to explain why it doesn’t work and how you need to change trajectory.
Brown: We both agree that that the biggest thing is to start with a data point or a business objective and work on it from there. It can be small. I encourage people to do that. Maybe in smaller communities, that can be developed as one media relationship per month. Something where you could get the word out there and just focus on something which was strategically aligned to a particular objective, whether it’s awareness or volunteer yield, or anything like that.
Conrardy: The first audience question is really relevant to what we were just talking about: data and measurement. It should be top of mind for everyone going into this year and always.
How do you measure impact from marketing beyond outcome?
This is a heavy question and not one that I’m not sure I have the perfect answer to go with it. “How do you measure impact from marketing beyond outcome?” Who wants to take the first crack at that?
Brown: I can offer something. I come from a very data-driven background and program so it is hard but let’s think about quantitative versus qualitative. When we’re doing that, we follow up every single board meeting with data on our marketing objectives, and we also provide a mission moment. At each board meeting we show the impact that we’ve had by either bringing in a common match, the big and little, we get a story together, we do quotes, or we do something that just makes it real. And I think telling stories and making sure you have a constant stream of that content is really important.
Viera: Yeah, I would definitely say storytelling is a space that doesn’t really have numbers associated with it that can show exactly what impact that you’re having in your community. I come from more of a storytelling and earned media background, so I would say for any other media folks, that it’s about growing out of the impression world into a more qualitative base when it comes to sharing what a story means. There was a time when getting your CEO on ABC News was a huge deal, and everybody was doing that. We no longer really live in that world. Being able to share a story in, say, The Chronicle of Philanthropy is more valuable than a piece in The Washington Post. It can sometimes be that storytelling, qualitative piece that you need. I think trying to find organizations like yours and comparing the thought leadership you have at your organization versus the thought leadership they have at theirs can also show where you’re falling on the totem pole. Tell a story like, “we’ve grown over the past year.” Then, you’ll get more inquiries on specific topics from outlets that really align with what you’re doing versus maybe getting two stories on national news with probably not much impact.
Try to find a way of creating a very subjective and focused face on why things matter that you were able to secure what you were able to secure. Whether it’s a hashtag, social media growth, actual media stories, thought leadership office, op-eds, or speaking on a panel, even if those opportunities don’t actually align with a number, there might be ways to share impact.
Conrardy: We talk a lot about qualitative and storytelling to report back on results. I do think that we all can do more to think about quantitative reporting as well. I think it is really challenging and really fraught, just as any type of measurement in the nonprofit sector is challenging and fraught with problems. But, what I would encourage everyone to do is choose just one thing to focus on and work backward. So, either using your strategic plan or, ideally even a step further than that, if you have one, using your theory of change, think about what the actual outcomes are that you’re looking to drive. Then, choose one or two specific outcomes that the organization–not just marketing–is looking to drive. Work backward and think through how your marketing program and your communications program is doing a whole variety of things that might be driving toward that outcome. Then see where you have an opportunity in small ways to measure marketing’s impact on whatever those outcomes might be.
As a really simple example, you might have a theory of change or strategic plan goal around growing impact in a specific community. So, let’s say that’s the theory of change that you need to have impact in this community to achieve your mission. In the strategic plan, you might have an objective on growing your volunteer presence in that specific community. Then, map back to some marketing you may be doing like social media advertising or hyper-targeted community media outreach in that community. You can take the marketing metrics for those specific things, and where possible, and in the digital world sometimes it is possible, you may be able to link up to that. Say our social media ads acquired 700 volunteer leads, 300 of which became actual volunteers, and then that feeds back to our strategic goal of growing volunteers, which feeds into our theory of change of increasing our presence in this community.
You have to work backward and you have to think about one little tiny piece at a time. If you think about it globally, it becomes extremely overwhelming and difficult. But, remember that you don’t have to provide metrics for every single thing. If you can provide a few key data points along with a whole bunch of great qualitative things like Dani and Kristine mentioned, if you can get a couple of quantitative numbers in there that prove, okay, this really does have a connection, and it does work, that’s typically enough to illustrate for your leadership, funders or others that there is an impact. Focus where you have the most important metrics–any metrics are better than none–and tie back to the strategic plan.
Kristine, can you elaborate on the touchpoints you mentioned to maintain the connection between bigs and littles throughout their relationship?
Our next question asks, Kristine, if you could elaborate on the touchpoints that you added, one or two maybe, even just as examples to maintain the connection between bigs and littles throughout their relationship.
Brown: Before I came on board, we had this policy of not bothering the volunteers with too much other stuff because we already asked them for so much. It was interesting because I felt like we were looking at it the wrong way. So, we were looking at it as, okay, we shouldn’t invite them to this event because they’d have to purchase tickets and they’re already spending their money to go out on outings with their little. But then, they have no idea what’s going on and they’re our most engaged stakeholders. Not only do they want to be engaged with us and they love what they do, but they want to share it and they want to meet other volunteers. They are potentially our biggest ambassadors, so it was a huge missed opportunity.
Now, we have a cadence of communication with like inviting them to our events or providing special discounts to our young professionals’ event. We do social media contact with them with particular hashtags where we’ll have different incentives for them to share things because they’re going on outings and it encourages them to share what they’re doing for others. We provide them with social media assets, tools and fundraising platforms that they can use to spread the word and help us either find more donors or recruit more bigs.
Conrardy: On the end-user end of this, I’ve noticed it and it has an impact. I feel more involved and engaged in the organization than I would otherwise by far. I think I still could do a lot more to promote the great work that you’re doing and use my match as an example, but I know I have the tools.
That’s what I think this gives people, who really are all of your donors, your volunteers, your staff, and your board the tools and create those connections.
How do you distinguish between marketing and communications?
This is something that I still scratch my head about so I’d love to hear your take. There’s no perfect answer. Dani, you and I have talked about this so I’m going to go to you on this one. How do you distinguish between marketing and communications, or do you?
Viera: Growing up in the communications world, we did. I feel like I always felt I was more strategic communications that marketing until maybe two years ago when it just seemed like everything was merging. I do believe that marketing tends to be aligned with the idea of sales, which is why this whole idea changing this in the Nonprofit Marketing Manifesto is perfect, because I do think people think marketing aligns with sales and aligns with data. You’re following that user through “How did I get you to purchase something?” and “Are you going to purchase it again?”
I always thought of communications, and thought of strategic communications particularly, as an integrated process. Now, you’re talking about how to get somebody to do something, whether it’s advocate for something, volunteer, donate or whatever that move is, and how you’re going to engage them throughout your relationship with them. Then layering on to that, under media outreach, it’s the typical communications role, including social media, digital marketing, etc. It’s very interesting because I think even organizations outline communications and marketing differently on their teams, and it’s hard for me to stop changing the way I talk about marketing versus communication.
But, I have to say, they’re kind of merging into the same thing right at this point. Even digital marketing is really nothing. All marketing is digital. It’s really all about the strategy of communicating into an external world and then also to your internal stakeholders. How you communicate to the rest of your team and how you communicate to your board and your governance is all pulled into one team.
Conrardy: I’ll just add a quick thought to that. It’s my personal opinion, we’ve struggled with this a lot, just in terms of describing what we do, but my personal opinion is that marketing is the broader-reaching umbrella term, and that communications falls under marketing. We have made a deliberate decision at Prosper to use the marketing language for that reason. But also because of what you just said, that marketing feels a little more tied to outcomes and impact. Whereas, communications sometimes has a connotation as a little bit softer, more nebulous, less data-driven. So, we like the idea of using marketing as an umbrella under which communications is probably the most important piece in the nonprofit world.
But, I will say, we see everything at the organizations we work with in terms of how they title their departments and the structure they use to title their staff. There’s no wrong answer. It’s more about how you talk about what each of these functions does. I think communications can play more of a marketing role, and marketing can play more of a communications role. I wouldn’t worry too much about the language, but I would worry about whether people understand what the impact of those two functions could be within an organization.
Are you ready for your own marketing revolution?
I hope your answer is yes. If you aren’t feeling ready yet, you can keep up with our discussion about the commitments in the manifesto in our webinar series.
Thank you to Dani and Kristine for being here with us today. I hope the audience learned as much from you as I did. You were fantastic and shared some great insights.
You can view past recordings of our webinars and register for our upcoming webinars here.