The Nonprofit Communications Engine online workshop session 2: engagement
Part two of this four-part series focused on how nonprofit communicators and marketers reach and engage an organization’s target audiences. We focused on identifying who your audiences are, how to prioritize them, and other elements key to developing a smart communications strategy. We also talked about how to manage in a crisis or unpredictable time (such as this) versus building a longer term engagement practice.
To learn more about how to leverage communications, join us for the rest of our four-part online workshop series based on The Nonprofit Communications Engine: A Leader’s Guide to Managing Mission-driven Marketing and Communications by Sarah Durham. In these workshops, Sarah will break down the key elements of her book, and how your nonprofit can apply them.
This series is sponsored by Mailchimp and all times are Eastern Daylight Time.
Sarah Durham: Good afternoon everybody. I am very excited to be with you here again today to discuss The Nonprofit Communications Engine. Today we are talking about engagement. I am Sarah Durham. I am the CEO of Big Duck and Advomatic and we’re going to dig into our content in just a minute. Meanwhile, there are a couple of pieces of housekeeping I want to flag for you. there are two people listening to this call. Olivia who is [email protected] has already chatted out her email address. If you’re having any technical problems throughout this call with GoTo webinar, Olivia is going to be monitoring her email. She’ll also be monitoring the hello@bigduck address and she can help you by email with any technical issues. Also, Farra Trompeter is on the call and she’s going to be managing social media and she’s going to help me facilitate Q&A.
Sarah Durham: She’ll be paying attention to the Q&A as we go and chatting out some resources and links as we go. you might see she has already chatted out a request to you. If you are game, please share where you’re dialing in from and what organization you’re with. We see a couple people already starting to do that in New York City. Freedom To Thrive is here. We’ve got people dialing in from sunset park in Brooklyn which is near where I live. With Extreme Kids & Crew, people in British Columbia, people from Philadelphia, Denver, New Jersey, California, Pittsburgh, all kinds of people dialing in from all over the place and we’re expecting a few hundred people today. So I’m really delighted you could join us. We are recording this session and we will be posting the recording or sending you the recording in an email afterwards.
Sarah Durham: I don’t know that we’re going to be posting it online right away, but we will send you a link to this after the session. We’ll also send you any resources in that email that we have mentioned throughout the conversation. and we are going to follow a similar format this week to what we did last week, which is to say that I’m going to take you through a lot of information pretty quickly, but my goal is going to be to wrap up the presentation portion of this. Ideally 10 to 20 minutes left at the end to spare for Q&A. So along the way, feel free to chat in questions. I probably won’t get to them in the middle of it, but I will try to save time. And then at the end, Farra is going to facilitate Q&A with me and she’s going to try to surface the questions that are as applicable to everybody who’s logged in today.
Sarah Durham: So you all get the most value. So with that, let us dig in. So yes, this is me. I’m Sarah Durham. At the end of the webcams work, I will turn on my video. I’m the CEO of Big Duck, which is a communications agency that helps nonprofits develop strong brands, strong campaigns and strong communications teams. I’m also the CEO of Advomatic, which is Big Duck sister agency. Advomatic sturdy websites for nonprofits in Drupal and WordPress. And this is one of four webinars sponsored by the excellent people at MailChimp. And at Advomatic we use MailChimp. It’s an awesome product. If you are a MailChimp user, I hope you appreciate it as much as I do and we’re really thankful to them for their support. You can check out [email protected] as I mentioned earlier, this is the second in a series of four workshops. This one today focuses on engagement, which is a huge, huge topic and we will probably just barely skim the surface today.
Sarah Durham: But I hope that the goal for today is to, or my goal for today is to give you some inspiration, some new ideas and get you to think about how to engage your audiences, in all kinds of ways, not just in this kind of unusual digital moment, all digital moment we live in, but, any time. Next week we’re going to be talking about your organization’s voice and, we are going to also have a fourth session about creating momentum in your communications. And you might also see we’ve just, somebody just chatted out to, if you still see or if you’re still trying to chat in, feel free to do so. There’s also a question section, in your go to webinar panel. These webinars all derive content wise from a book that I wrote that came out in January.
Sarah Durham: It’s available on Amazon. It’s called The Nonprofit Communications Engine, a leader’s guide to managing mission-driven marketing and communications. And, our session last week was really an overview that kind of loosely did follow the structure of the book. today and in the subsequent sessions, we’re not really going in a way that maps to the book very directly. A couple people have asked me, should I read a certain chapter for this session? Not necessarily, but what we’re going to do is we’re going to take the content in the book and we’re going to put it through some different lenses. and the focus of the book really begins by trying to define what nonprofit communications is, and why it’s useful. How does it help advance the mission? So the definition that I use in the book is that nonprofit communications is the practice of creating and sustaining mindshare and engagement that advances the mission.
Sarah Durham: And today is all about the mindshare and engagement piece. If we aren’t getting our organizations on people’s minds, getting them to take action on behalf of our organizations, then communications is really just kind of, candy. So we’re going to dig into that. But there are two other outcomes that I talk about in the book and those are the topics for the subsequent sessions. So again, today we’re focusing on engagement and what that’s really about is making sure that in the communications engine at your nonprofit that the right people know, remember and connect with your organization and work and then take action on its behalf. So with that as backdrop, let’s dig in. one of the ideas that I have become increasingly kind of obsessed with is this notion of mindshare. And mindshare is a, is a term that maybe you’re not that familiar with, but it comes up a lot in my conversations with organizations when I hear people say things like, well, our work is so great but we’re a best-kept secret.
Sarah Durham: People don’t know us. Once they get to know us, they find we’re really incredible. or we’re a hidden gem. so why are you a best kept secret? You’re probably a best kept secret because you have not successfully been able to develop mindshare or maintain mindshare. mindshare is the level of awareness and understanding that a product, program, service or organization has in people’s minds. And so it’s kind of like the consciousness that people have about your work. If I were walking down the street and somebody intercepted me and they told me about an organization I’d never heard of and they said, I work for the Pencil Society of America, would you make a donation? Odds are good that organization has no mindshare with me. I’ve never heard of them. I don’t understand who they are or what they’re about, so I’m probably not going to be that inclined to make a gift or to take an action on their behalf.
Sarah Durham: But when I get intercepted by somebody from Greenpeace or the Red Cross or an organization that I might know and care deeply about, odds are good that I’m already familiar with them and I’m going to be more likely, I’m sort of primed through that mindshare to take an action on their behalf. But one of the challenges with building mindshare is that it has a shelf life. if you have ever been to an event for an organization that you don’t know very well, probably you’ve had this experience where you go to the event and right afterwards you’re buzzing about the organization. All of the great things you heard about it are very top of mind for you. Maybe you go home and you tell your friends and family about it and that very top of mind awareness and enthusiasm for the mission stays with you for some period of time.
Sarah Durham: But as a week goes by, a month goes by, many months goes by, years go by. That mindshare starts to fade because it has a shelf life. It has to be reinforced through repetition and through practice. And that is the job of the communications team. The communications team ideally is working closely, hand in hand with their colleagues in development, their colleagues in programs, their colleagues in government relations or other advocacy work to make sure that the audiences that they’re trying to reach and engage, keep them very top of mind. And as an organization grows and is able to grow its communications capacity, mindshare hopefully extends beyond that core base of supporters, the people who’ve been closest to the organization and starts to reach out to some of the outer tiers of other people who we want to reach and engage and acquire as donors or get interested in joining as members or program participants.
Sarah Durham: So mindshare, having a shelf life means it’s a constant thing we have to work at. We have to keep building our muscles around mindshare. And, Farra just chatted out I think an article that we’ve written about mindshare if you’d like a little bit more about it. It’s also written about a bit in the book. One of the things we do at Big Duck is we work with our clients who are all nonprofits to help them really define and articulate what the point of communications is and develop communications plans for their department for things like donor communications, for marketing and recruitment, programmatic outreach. And a few years ago we worked with an organization, to build their communication team’s capacity. And one of the things we help them do is craft a mission statement for the communications department.
Sarah Durham: And this was what they came up with at the mission of communications is to explode our base of support and make those people love us. Now that may not be the mission for your communications department, but I particularly love this one because really implicit in this idea is building strong mindshare. If we’re going to explode our base of support and make people love us, they have to know who we are. And they have to be, primed through that top of mind engagement to, to want to take action. And that’s where engagement comes in. engagement. it’s a word I don’t love. It’s a little bit jargony, but it is really the right way to say it, I think because engagement means getting people to take actions that advance the mission. And, I would challenge you, sometimes when I talk to people about what they want to do with communications, they will say, well we want to increase our visibility and I would challenge you if you hear that in your organization, to take the next step beyond visibility.
Sarah Durham: What does that visibility going to help you do? Hopefully what visibility is going to help you do is it’s going to help inspire action. It’s going to get people to make a donation, to sign a pledge, to join a program, to become a member, to renew, to sustain. Those are all engagement actions. And the job of the communications team is to support engagement that happens across the organization. So what kinds of engagement activities does your fundraising team produce? How about your programs team? How about your advocacy team and where does communications fit in to support all of those things. You may have seen in other Big Duck content, webinars, workshops, things we’ve written and presented this framework. It’s called the ladder of engagement. And it’s one of several, engagement ladders or visualizations that I talk about in the book, but it’s one that I think illustrates a point, that is, usefully applicable to a lot of organizations.
Sarah Durham: And the idea is that before people actually are willing to take action on your behalf, they come in as strangers and they have to move through a series of steps or stages where you start to build mindshare and then they’re ready to take action. So if somebody’s unaware of your organization, what are we going to do to reach and engage them to build that mindshare and get them to lurk, to check out your website, follow you on social media, maybe even sign up for your email. And then how do we get them once they’re lurking or beginning to build mindshare, to take an action, to show up, sign up, convert, fill out a form, do something that helps us really move the mission forward. we often find that the bottom of the ladder of engagement is often where the marketing and communications department or dedicated staff have the most control, the most oversight and the most, responsibility.
Sarah Durham: But as we move up the ladder of engagement, often communications moves away from marketing and communications oversight into the department that it is supporting. So we start to see the programs people or let’s say the development people who are talking the most or communicating the most or managing communications with donors. And oftentimes in a lot of areas, particularly in development, as you move up to the top of the ladder of engagement, communications gets very personal. It becomes a one on one conversation maybe between a development officer, a major gifts officer or the executive director and the donor. But there is this kind of important place of overlap where the chumming of the waters that the marketing and communications people do has to feed into and align with and kind of weave into what the departments do too. And in a lot of places the channels and tools that you use can be a little like who owns them can be a little murky.
Sarah Durham: Oftentimes we see that the website is increasingly the purview of the communications team. but email, it depends on the email. It might be the kind of thing that the communications team is responsible for might be an email that the development team or the programs team is responsible for. So making sure that the engagement is woven through the departments and it’s very clear who’s doing what and how they’re doing it is key to a smart engagement strategy. There are a number of other things though that I think are critical to making sure that your engagement strategy works and that your communications really support the outcomes you’re trying to achieve. You definitely want to have a clear and compelling organizational strategy. If your organization hasn’t done strategic planning or hasn’t sat down to have a real conversation about your vision and mission, it’s going to be very, very hard to be clear who you’re trying to reach and what action you want them to take.
Sarah Durham: So any great communications actually begins and emerges from a great strategic plan and a Big Duck. We some strategic planning work. We also inherit a lot of strategic plans from a lot of organizations and some of the best ones that we’ve seen are very clear who they’re trying to reach and how those people have to be engaged. And that really sets forth the map for engagement for the communications team. Definitely you want to implement a deliberate approach to connect with specific audience and you’ve got to think about the experiences those audiences are having with you. Sometimes in communications we have a tendency to think of the experiences happening, only in a few places. Like, maybe it’s happening largely in social media or it’s happening, perhaps in, in Facebook, these days, what we are seeing is that the experiences people have on your website, the experiences they actually have with you in Zoom, if they are, meeting with you or they’re in a webinar format with you.
Sarah Durham: And certainly in times when we’re not sheltering, the experiences that they have when they actually come in for programs and services are critical. oftentimes what I see in larger organizations is that they promise a very engaging, warm opportunity for a donor or client to connect. But when you come in, sometimes the voicemail system is impenetrable or the office is really cold. And all of those things actually do sometimes affect the ability that people have to connect and engage. Definitely engagement means thinking about campaigns and thinking about tactics in holistic ways, not just one off kind of ways and creating plans and other tools that keep your team focused. So let’s talk about how you actually bring all of that to life. if you participated in last week’s webinar or if you have read the book, you, you might recall that there are six elements that I mapped out in the book that are, that can be used to create and sustain mindshare and engagement.
Sarah Durham: And I like to think of these six elements as sort of ingredients that help you, bake the cake. That is the outcome you’re trying to achieve. In this case it’s mindshare and engagement. And the six elements are the strategy that you have set forth for this project or for your organization. The team you’ve got to work with, whether that’s your in-house staff or volunteers or external consultants, the tools that they have to work with that might be brands, assets, technology, the processes that bring those things to life, the culture that defines how people connect with each other, the sort of norms or practices they use to connect. And then how you reflect and learn as an institution. And many of these things are, are things that you as a communications person may have control over, but a lot of them are dictated by budgets.
Sarah Durham: They’re dictated by realities like the size of your organization. And so as I was writing this book, I was trying to really be careful to focus on things that are relevant and appropriate for all types of organizations, no matter how big or how small and what kind of mission they have. So what I want to do right now is I want to map out some of the steps that it takes to do effective engagement work. Again, regardless of how big or small your organization is. And as I go through this, I’m going to be talking about a sort of universal best practice approach, but I’ll do my best along the way to adapt some of these things if I can, to talk about this particular environment where we are both dealing with an unusual, COVID-driven culture. And also by the, financial realities that a lot of organizations are facing where they’ve got, staff, staff cuts or staff challenges.
Sarah Durham: Okay. So, let’s dig in. First to get started with any kind of engagement. You want to be clearly starting with a strategy that is anchored in an understanding of your audiences and you want to be clear not only who those audiences are, but what actions you want them to take and what’s in it for them. I wrote a book about 10 years ago called brand raising. And one of the, one of the terms that I use a lot in that book that I still find is helpful and it’s very relevant here is the idea of being audience centric, not organization centric. A lot of times when we try to reach and engage people, we do so in these organization centric ways where we talk about why we need your support, why our programs are great, but what’s in it for your audiences and what action do you want them to take?
Sarah Durham: The more you make it obviously something that they’re going to want to do for themselves, the more likely they are going to be to be engaged. So, as I mentioned earlier, a strategy in communications means you’re clear who your targeted audience is. You have strategy to reach and engage them and you have solid plans to implement that strategy. And I think that it’s quite often the case that organizations think about their target audiences in these very, very broad terms. Like they think, well, we need to reach donors or we want to reach major donors. But really who are those people who, who are the actual personas or the mindsets behind that sort of broad umbrella term, of who those people are. In your ladder of engagement in the book there is this little illustration and this is an exercise I would encourage you to do at your organization if you’ve never really done something focusing on, on your audiences.
Sarah Durham: Start by asking yourself who is intrinsically essential to advancing your mission. So one example, I will share with you is I was a volunteer, I still volunteer and have volunteered for many years, probably about 25 years for an organization called the National Brain Tumor Society. Who must you engage with? If you are a part of that organization, you must engage with people who are affected by brain tumors. And that’s probably patients. It might be their care partners. It may be the clinicians that work with brain tumor patients, but if you’re not reaching and engaging that audience in an organization whose primary mission is about brain tumors, you’re probably missing the mark, right? Who in your organization must you engage with who is essential to the success of advancing your mission? Start by writing that audience down and draw the, draw a circle around it. That’s the bullseye audience you need to reach.
Sarah Durham: Then outside of that, from a mission point of view, who should you engage with? Who’s sort of in the room but may not consider your work their number one priority? In the National Brain Tumor Society example, that might be scientists who are in the cancer space. That could be, that could be, people who work in federal agencies like the CDC or the NIH. It might be policymakers, right? These are people who might have some interest in the mission but they are not essentially, primarily focused on that one mission. That’s the second layer outside of the core. And then the third layer is who could you engage with? Who do you wish would be interested in and support your work? Well in most disease and disorder organizations that might be the general public. You might want anybody who could potentially be at risk for cancer, let’s say, to be aware of that cancer and take some preventative actions or follow some best practices to make sure they stay healthy.
Sarah Durham: But that outer layer audience of the people you could engage with is not necessarily going to be highly motivated to connect with your mission because they don’t always have an intrinsic reason to do so. Now you could draw these bulls eyes in a few different areas. You could draw them in terms of mission delivery, which is the example I just used. You could also draw them from a point of view of fundraising support. You could say, who are the donors? Who you must engage with, people who might have been directly affected by your mission or people who work at foundations that explicitly support the type of work you do, who should you engage with? Who could you engage with? These are, these are simple frameworks that help you start to identify who, who the people are and whether they are a, B to B business to business audience meaning they are a professional audience or whether they’re a B to C audience, the consumer audience or the personal individual audience that are in your ladder of engagement.
Sarah Durham: The people who are most likely to reach and engage you. And my recommendation to you on this earlier slide, I’ll just go back to it, is that you start with a strategy that makes sure you’re clear who those people are and what the action is you want them to take. So define your audiences first and if you need to, you might need to do a little bit of research here. And this is something that I’m kind of loathed to suggest right now because I think this is a place where if your organization is feeling really hard hit by the pandemic and the financial implications of this looming recession, it can be hard to spend money on research. But when you do spend a little bit of, of time and money to talk to your donors or talk to your clients, survey them, and create personas and mindsets for who they are, you’ll be amazed how nuanced and multidimensional, that information can be.
Sarah Durham: And the insights that it will help you surface are going to make you a much, much better communicator. So where you have the budget, get to know these people as people and stop just calling them donors or, or clients and start to really get to know what makes them tick and what’s in it for them, why they care about your work. With that as backdrop, the next step is to write a brief that defines that audience, defines your engagement, goals, objectives, strategies and tactics. And about, I don’t know, maybe it’s two or three years now. at Big Duck, we decided that we were hearing a lot of confusion from organizations about the difference between goals, objectives, strategies, and tactics. People use those terms interchangeably. And actually in particular communications, people spend so much of their time in the day to day work, just doing tactics focused on tactics because tactics are very time consuming that we wrote an ebook on this topic.
Sarah Durham: So if you are a little bit confused about the difference between a goal objective, a strategy or tactic, you can download this ebook. I’m sure Farra will chat out the link, and we’ll send this as a follow-up. but understanding what your goal, objective, strategy and tactic is, we’ll help you write that brief. And your brief can be very simple. Your brief does not have to be a multi page document. It can be as simple as writing a sentence, for instance, such as we want to reach X audience, get them to take Y action. We will know if we were successful, if such and such occurs by such and such timeframe. So, for instance, we want to reach, donors who live in a particular community and are interested in a particular issue and get them to make their first gift.
Sarah Durham: We will know if we are successful, if we engage 100 new donors by July 1st, that would be a simple brief. If you wrote something like that down, you will actually be putting kind of a stake in the ground about what you’re trying to do. And as you have to make decisions about your engagement campaign, you can come back to that brief and you can use it as a litmus test. You can say, will this actually help us acquire these new members? Will it help us increase our support? Will we be able to, does this thing really help us move the needle towards hitting the goal that we have set forth in our brief? And that brief is also going to be important because as we get into the tactics of communicating, it can be a little easy to lose sight of what is really happening, what we’re really doing this for.
Sarah Durham: So, I encourage you to take the time to write that brief, even if it feels like it’s, not something you have a lot of time for. It’s going to pay you back in dividends with your brief and your clarity of your audiences behind you. It’s time to design finite and evergreen mindshare and engagement campaigns. So what do I mean by that? Evergreen campaigns are things you might do all the time. You might find that there is a kind of a season to the way you need to conduct your marketing and communications outreach. but you might also find that sometimes it’s appropriate to do very finite campaigns, things that happen just one time to achieve a particular goal. So here are a couple of examples from the Big Duck portfolio. Years and years ago, we were hired by an organization, that is, working in a kind of an aggregate way to try to, reach the same audience.
Sarah Durham: So this is a project called find your summer.org and it was jointly funded by the UJA Federation of New York. the Jim Joseph foundation and operated by the Jewish education project. And the point was to bring fun and meaningful summer experiences to Jewish teens in the New York City area. So the idea is that these teenagers would go to findyoursummer.org and they can search by interest and the website would, sort of, deliver to them a whole bunch of options for programs. I think it was over 350 different programs that appeal to different passions, interests, and backgrounds. And then kids could say, Oh, I want to do this program or that program this summer. So this is an evergreen campaign. This is a website that was built, years ago, still exists. The programs behind it might change and there’s other communications and outreach tools to support it.
Sarah Durham: In order to build this website, one of the things that had to happen was these organizations had to really understand what, what makes a kid interested in a summer program and what they were looking for. So you can see that this is called find your summer.org. The Big Duck team collaborated with our clients on this to come up with a name that spoke to the audience in their language. It isn’t 350 different summer programs you and you or your child can do this summer. That would be organization centric language and something like this can be maintained by the communications people but involves a lot of collaboration with the programs teams at multiple organizations and the communications people end up being the central hub for the activities. This is an example of a more finite campaign. it is for an organization called the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice and this is one of many, slides.
Sarah Durham: If this were, able to animate now you’d see it would rotate through, but Yo Te Apoyo was an abortion advocacy campaign that we worked on and this campaign was finite. It ran for a specific period of time. The goal was to reach and engage Latin X people who lived in particular communities in South Florida and get them to show, to take an action to show support for advocacy by self identifying as people who would support their sister, their mother, a friend, family member who had had an abortion. and it was finite because it was, it was a test to see if this campaign was effective at moving the needle on this issue over a finite period of time. We also do a lot of work at Big Duck on capital campaigns and capital campaigns are another example of a finite engagement campaign in a capital campaign you’re trying to reach people, typically major donors in the quiet phase of the capital campaign and maybe a broader audience, the outer circles of the engagement audience in the public phases.
Sarah Durham: And you’re getting them to take a specific action, which is to make a gift above and beyond their annual appeal giving to support usually something special, maybe a new building or supporting a new type of research or something else. So all of these are examples of campaigns. And the campaigns can be finite, have a short shelf life, or they can be evergreen, they can go on and on and on and on. And the key to all of them is communicating in a way that balances what that individual wants, what’s in it for them, with what the organization wants. And what the organization wants is to move people up the ladder to take an action. The next step in an effective engagement campaign is to turn that plan, that sort of conceptual idea you have of who you’re trying to reach into an actual calendar with clear accountabilities.
Sarah Durham: And this is another place where I think, communications work, gets a little less glamorous and it requires some planning and some documentation that sometimes people are loathed to do, but it really, really yields dividends, particularly if you’ve got a campaign that’s going to go on over a long period of time and have a lot of different moving parts and essential to putting a great plan together is being really clear who the team is, who’s going to bring that plan to life. So, let’s talk for a moment about who does what in your engagement plan. first somebody’s got to set the strategy plans and calendars. We’ve already talked about that. Then somebody has got to be clearly accountable for making sure that the work is moving forward, whether it’s tweeting, writing the email, designing the pieces, buying the ad space, pitching it to the media, whatever the work is that is going to be essential to your plan to reaching and engaging your audience.
Sarah Durham: Somebody’s got to be clearly accountable for moving it forward. And oftentimes that same person is also coordinating your internal team to make sure that the right people internally are bought in. They are seeing the work when they need to see it. They are approving it and they’re getting updates. And that might just be your leadership team or your executive director. But in many cases is as a communications person, you’re also coordinating with your peers in the departments that the work supports. So your peers in the programs department perhaps or in the development department, of course, all the things have to be made. And this is where, the day to day of the communicators life is full of tactics. Things have to be written and designed and videos have to be made and all kinds of stuff has to be produced. Ideally the results of all of that are tracked, the data is tracked and finally the lessons and the data are captured and integrated for the future.
Sarah Durham: The reason that I have bolded three of these, I don’t know what is it six different bullets is because there’s three things that are bolded here really cannot be outsourced. No matter how small your team is. It really is essential that somebody in-house on your staff is doing the things that are in bold. But the whole campaign, the whole project itself theoretically can be either outsourced or worked on collaboratively with, with freelancers, with volunteers, with agencies. There’s a lot of ways your team doesn’t have to do it all. And typically what we see is that where teams are small and these days as some teams have been cut, that setting strategies, plans and calendars is a great thing to outsource to an expert. Sometimes an expert is going to be more able to integrate best practices or think about strategies and tactics.
Sarah Durham: Your in-house people may not be able to, they can also do a great job writing and producing things that you may not have the right skillset for in-house and helping you track the results. But at the end of the day, somebody on your team, even if it’s not a communication staff person, probably needs to kind of weave the threads together and make sure that your organization grows through these campaigns. That it doesn’t just sort of end up being something you outsource and you lose the institutional knowledge or growth from it. There is definitely a culture piece around engagement campaigns and oftentimes, that kind of is like preexisting, like people already have an idea about how their department influences mindshare and engagement. If your staff are not particularly collaborative or there is a silo culture in your organization, it can be very hard to get people on the same page about the, what your objectives should be or to get people’s approvals.
Sarah Durham: That’s going to be a barrier for building mindshare and engagement. It’s particularly a barrier if you have a culture where your leadership wants to approve everything down to micro communications like tweets. so, the converse of that is a team who views themselves as working in harmony and where departments collaborate really fluidly and with a lot of trust and support. That’s really the ideal culture for advancing communications. and that’s particularly true if you have an organization where, people are encouraged to innovate and there is not a punitive culture around it. So one of the examples I love was, years ago there was a communications person at HRC who encouraged supporters, during a particularly important moment to go in and change the HRC logo and post it on their Facebook profile. And that is if you were a branding person like me, that is such a don’t, you never encourage people to take the logo and change it.
Sarah Durham: But she had this great idea to use it as a way to democratize their brand encourage people to own it and make it their own. And she was, she had this idea in the morning and the shower, she got the executive directors’ quick okay on it. And by the end of the day I believe that this initiative had launched and it was huge. It really, really worked to engage their target audience and get them to take an action on behalf of HRC. So doing something like that means you have to have a really supportive, collaborative culture and great support from your leadership. So, next step in engagement is to implement your plan capturing the lessons and the data along the way. You might capture those lessons in the brief that you originally wrote because hopefully if you were very explicit about what you were trying to achieve at the beginning along the way, you can capture the data to see if you’re on track.
Sarah Durham: If you’re actually able to do what you set out to do. You might capture data in the plan or in a Dropbox or really anywhere, but the point is to make sure that you don’t lose all those lessons learned because that’s the thing that’s going to help you get smarter next time as as you do it again or as you design future campaigns. You also want to make sure that in an engagement, a campaign or a mindshare campaign, you are using tools strategically and one of the challenges I think with the last 10 or 15 years is that we have seen this vast proliferation of different communications tools and tactics and they can kind of eat you alive. So I would encourage you to think about three types of media when you do engagement work and mindshare work. The first is you have owned media.
Sarah Durham: These are the things your organization owns or controls. That’s your website, your social media, your email, anything you actually create and wholly control. There’s earned media. That’s when you get press coverage or media coverage in some way. So that’s not necessarily up to you, you can pitch it but you don’t know if you’re going to get it. And sometimes earned media is not always favorable. And lastly, there’s paid media. That’s when you buy ads or keywords or other forms of media. And in my experience, the vast majority of mid-size and smaller organizations rely on earned media. I mean, I’m sorry, owned media. Earned media comes in more so with advocacy organizations, organizations that are trying to change beliefs, are more likely to use earned media. And paid media is used more by organizations that have traditional marketing functions where they have to actually promote, events or get people to join or take an action where there’s usually some fee for service or some revenue generation in the program space.
Sarah Durham: So three types of media owned, earned and paid. All of the tactics that you are going to use to build mindshare and engagement are probably going to fall pretty neatly into one of those categories. The most common being the website and the content you produce on your website. Yesterday for Advomatic I gave a webinar about content planning and management. We talked a lot in that about how much content you have to post in order to actually pop up to the top of search engine rankings and a lot of times that’s very important for mindshare building a strong search engine culture. how you use email for your newsletters or print newsletters if you still do one, how you blog podcasts, do you know videos or webinars, social media, all of the things on this slide are very, very common tactics and there isn’t necessarily a kind of a one size fits all or best one.
Sarah Durham: The really the question of which tactics you should use for mindshare and engagement depend on where your audience is. If your audience is on Twitter and they’re very active and talking about the issues that you’re trying to engage them with, then you should be on Twitter too. Don’t go creating your own, your own channel or your own tool and ask people to come to you. Your job is to meet them where they are and hopefully, join them in the conversation that they are already having. Processes are also important and not always particularly glamorous. They’re important because they help you make sure that you are able to, to, to capture what you’re doing and not forget a critical step. So you want your communications team to have useful written workflows that help you achieve outcomes predictably without relying on memory. And this is something we’re going to focus on a lot more in our fourth webinar about momentum in a couple of weeks.
Sarah Durham: As your campaign is going along, you want to check in along the way and assess the progress and refine the strategy and plans if needed. One of the things we do, a fair amount of at Big Duck is we help organizations with digital fundraising like multichannel year-end appeals for instance, and many years we will begin a campaign by setting a financial target and a goal maybe let’s say a list acquisition target or something like that. But as the campaign goes on and something is going on, like let’s say, if you’re lucky, you get a big donor who steps in or you have a matching gift and somebody offers to match the gift and exceed it. You can’t just sort of, be on autopilot. The person who’s accountable for that campaign has to really be monitoring and saying, okay, should we extend our goal?
Sarah Durham: Should we try to do something more ambitious? Or if we’re really off track with hitting the numbers, why is that? What else could we do that we haven’t thought of that we should try to layer into this campaign to make it more dynamic? And that really leads us into the point about reflection. Making sure that somebody on your team is consistently gathering data and using the insights that get data, inspires to get smarter so that as you continue to either run that evergreen campaign or those evergreen tactics, you can do so in a smarter and more efficient ways. Or the next time you do a finite campaign, you learn from the past, you’ve got some notes about how great a certain technology was or how problematic something might have been for you. So be sure that at the end of any kind of mindshare or engagement project you engage in that you capture the data and the lessons learned so that you can do it better next time.
Sarah Durham: So we’re going to pivot into questions in a minute. I just want to share one example of a campaign that I think brings all of these practices together pretty quickly. And this is a campaign for an organization called math for America, which is a, run by a foundation that is trying to recruit public school math and science teachers in New York into a program where they basically have a cohort, they get a lot of professional development. They may even get some funding. It’s a pretty awesome thing. And the point is to help public school math and science teachers get even better at what they do to grow as professionals and strengthen their professional skills. So you would think that recruiting teachers to a program like this would be kind of a no brainer, but it turns out that the application process is pretty rigorous and it’s a pretty big commitment.
Sarah Durham: So at this or this organization at the point where they engaged Big Duck was just struggling to get enough great qualified teachers into the pipeline. And when we began this project, we started by defining the audience, who are these teachers? What makes them tick, what are they really looking for? We did a bunch of research and we formed some focus groups that we could use to test creative ideas. And one of the ideas we came up with was doing an evergreen campaign called practice. What you teach. We found that this notion of, not just being a teacher, but learning being a student and practicing what you teach about learning and growing was a concept that resonated with the target audience. And out of that idea of practice, what you teach, we created a campaign that had some paid media, there’s subway ads, or ads that showed up on blogs and things like that.
Sarah Durham: And then we also used some owned media. We created brochures that could be dropped off in public schools or used at different educational events. We, we worked on a new website. We worked a lot on the application form. I think one of the things that sometimes gets overlooked with marketing and communications is sometimes just things like the technology of how easy it is to fill out a form, have a profound experience on the impact of a campaign or the efficacy of a campaign. So, producing print pieces, digital pieces, all of the things that need to be put in front of our target audience so that they get, they get the right messages at the right time to move them up that ladder of engagement. this organization actually launched this campaign at a point where they were really struggling to get enough qualified teachers into the application process.
Sarah Durham: And after about three years of running it consistently, they stopped running it because they had such an overflow, such an abundance of teachers who were in the pipeline and in the program, they no longer needed it. In other words, they were able by maintaining this program to build the mindshare they needed about the program and get the levels of engagement that they were looking for to make sure that the program was successful.
Sarah Durham: So I want to just pose a couple of scenarios that come up a lot as we give Farra a second to look through your queue, your questions that you’ve chatted in. And I also want to encourage you to chat in questions because we’re going to pivot into those in one more minute. but here are a couple of common ones. What if my board members think I should be on Tik Tok?
Sarah Durham: This is sort of the flavor, the flavor of the month. and one of the things that we see a lot is that organizations are often getting suggestions from well-wishers about tactics. There’s a sense of, we should be on this thing. It’s the new cool thing, but what our advice is always start with the audience and start with the channels and tools they are using. If you are a, an organization that offers, after-school dance programs for high school students, you probably should be on tick tock. There’s a lot going on on Tik Tok with your target audience and that’s a great place to find them. But if you are an organization that is a research based think tank, tick tock is probably not where you’re going to find your pupil. So make sure that the audience leads the tactics, not the tactics leading the audience.
Sarah Durham: Okay. How do you do this kind of mindshare and engagement work if you don’t have dedicated people who do this stuff? That’s a very common question and I think right now in particular, there are so many people spread, so incredibly thin. It can be hard to build some of these new muscles and practices in. My advice to you is that you start, if you don’t have dedicated communications people, you start with the people in the that need to drive engagement. So ask your development people to try to follow these kinds of processes to build mindshare and engagement or ask your programs, people to do it. But one of the things that’s particularly challenging about mindshare is that sometimes mindshare is about frequency. It’s about being, being top of mind, being visible. it might be that billboard or that paid media or that earned media ad that that really keeps the target audience thinking about you.
Sarah Durham: And somebody has to be responsible for making sure that all of your different departments aren’t being too noisy or too quiet, that they’re not communicating sort of asynchronously. So if you work in an organization where you don’t have dedicated communicators, I strongly encourage you to appoint somebody as at least the communications coordinator, the person who has to coordinate the calendar to make sure that three different people aren’t sending out emails to the same audience on the same day, let’s say.
Sarah Durham: So, I hope you’re chatting in your questions, insights and takeaways and, there are a couple of resources I’ll share in a minute, but let’s maybe pause here for a few minutes and just take a couple of questions. Farra are you with me, Farra will unmute herself.
Farra Trompeter: I’m here. Hello.
Sarah Durham: So let’s, yeah, let’s do a couple of questions and then we’ll just share a couple of resources. Does that sound good to you?
Farra Trompeter: Sounds good. And folks can keep submitting. We’ve got a lot of questions about research. We have on a number of different topics, but a lot coming in on research. So we’ll start with a few related to that. so one of the questions we had from Lola was, how wide should you open the feedback funnel for defining an organization’s audience? Should it be top down or bottom up?
Sarah Durham: Well there are some great articles we’ve written on the Big Duck blog and some terrific podcasts we’ve done about research. And, so I want to kind of tackle this question in two different ways. First, I think with doing any kind of research, I don’t know if top down or bottom up is the way I would traditionally think about it. I think the first question I would ask is how formal or informal can you, can you, can you get away with doing your research if you are an organization that, for instance, when we work with organizations where the work is funded by somebody and it really needs to be done flawlessly, it needs to be airtight. We might commission a market research firm who has all kinds of, best practices and tips and tools and things and do it very, very formally.
Sarah Durham: If it doesn’t have to be quite so rigorous we often facilitated ourselves using a mix of qualitative and quantitative tools, focus groups, interviews, surveys and things like that. There are a lot of best practices around how many people you have to interview or how you make sure you’re getting statistically viable numbers. So you probably want to work with a pro if that stuff needs to be right. And there’s a great podcast I did with Laura Fisher, who’s a senior strategist at Big Duck where she talks a lot about this. So maybe we can find the name of that podcast and send it out with the resources. but, but generally what we, what we try to do at Big Duck is we try to identify the types of audiences and then we try to talk directly to people who are representative of that audience or survey a list that includes people with that audience and let them self identify. And I guess if I had to say, is it top down or bottom up? I would say it’s bottom up. but, but the, but certainly the perspectives of the people in your organization about who those audiences are and how many of them there are, that that’s sort of what gets the ball rolling. Farra, would you add anything to that?
Farra Trompeter: Yeah, I would just add to that that can be really hard when, if you start asking everyone in your audience who, what are everyone in your organization who are the most important audiences for us, you will wind up with a list with at least 20 different, names, categories on it. And, one of the jobs I think for communications to do is help bring focus to bring priority to that, who’s the primary audience, who’s the secondary audience really coming back to either those circles of influence that Sarah shared earlier or the ladder of engagement and really thinking about based on who we are right now based on where we’re going in our strategic plan, based on our mission, who are the most important people. So not just have heard of us and like kind of know who we are, but for us to use that concept Sarah shared, really of mindshare with who really needs to know and understand what we’re about and really push. And there’s that annoying exercise where you ask why five times or something and then you finally get a more defined answer. So just really push on that and bring in priority to it. And then from there, yeah, there’s lots of different research methods you can, you can use to get to know them.
Sarah Durham: I’m just
Farra Trompeter: Another one.
Sarah Durham: I’m thinking before we go to the next question, I want to add one other example and share a couple of resources. we did a project, last summer for an organization.I can’t share who they are because the work hasn’t gone public yet, but there are a large organization with chapters all over the country where they, we were working on helping the national organization arrive at a new vision and mission. And in order to do that they wanted to, to really hear from the voices of people throughout this organization all around the country. And so we had members of Big Duck strategy team flying all around the country, I think to 37 different locations, facilitating focus groups with all kinds of people and through process like that we actually heard the voices of hundreds of people, in the organization outside of the organization and the work was much, much richer for doing so.
Sarah Durham: So I think when you have the capacity to go through an exercise like that and really hear a lot of voices, you you get a much better outcome. I want to also flag next week, the next webinar is about your organization’s voice. If you haven’t registered for it, you do have to register for each webinar separately. We’ll send out a link to that one. and please log in early cause we have a lot more people registering for these things than we have actually seats on Go To Webinar. Also on our website, if you click on work, this is at Bigduck.com and then you click on work, you’ll see a bunch of case studies and there are a lot of it campaign and engagement case studies there. So if you’re looking for more inspiration beyond what I covered today, you can definitely check out these case studies. and also there is a piece on the website that’s a free self assessment for your communications. You can download it as a PDF and complete it. And it’s one of the great ways I think you can start to determine whether one of these six elements is your strength to build on or maybe some areas you need to grow. what’s our next question Farra?
Farra Trompeter: Well, we actually have three different questions about one of my favorite topics, so I can’t help but want to elevate those and that’s managing the board. Sarah and I have both been board members. We like to think about this. So I’m not actually going to ask you all three of them, Sarah, see if you can keep them in your brain because I think they all hint at the same, the same question around managing up as it relates to the board. So the first one comes from Chavon. How can a professional staff convince a board that this is all important, most don’t get it. Tik Tok aside. That’s the first question. The next one is how from Stephanie, how do you explain to your board why you can’t implement all of their ideas without offending them? And then finally, are results immediate and if not, how do you convince leadership of a long game? So I think thinking about both convincing the board and executive directors, frankly, who, an executive director might go to a meeting, here’s something great that a peer organization did and then come right back and say, we should do that. And you’re like, whoa, there’s a reason why we shouldn’t do that. Here’s why. So what do you think about that? How do you manage that situation?
Sarah Durham: Yeah, definitely have seen those movies many times. And I agree, Farra, that it’s not always just the board who doesn’t get it. Sometimes it can be other people on the organization’s leadership team. So here are a couple of tactics that we have, we have used with our clients and we have experienced in different places. First, how do you get your board to understand the value of communications or to fund this work or to understand it’s important? Well, one of the best ways to do that is to provide them with a steady stream of things that educate them about nonprofit communications in whatever way you can. Most board members don’t work in nonprofits or very many of them won’t. And very often they’re used to having resources that may not be realistic for your organization, which sort of goes to this your second, second question about, they don’t understand why you can’t do it all.
Sarah Durham: Part of that is that board members, especially if they work in larger corporate environments, they’re used to just having so many more resources for marketing and communications and you probably have. So I would definitely encourage you to, find and share with your board, through your executive director with their blessing articles about nonprofit communications. You might share with them if they have the patience, something like a recording to a webinar like this or a case study or an article or something you clip out of a paper about an organization’s communications. In actual board meetings, if you’re given the airtime to do this, one of the things that can be very, very persuasive is to bring up websites or campaigns of organizations that you either, operate in the same space as, or that you consider aspirational organizations. So let’s say for instance, you work in a community food bank and you’re trying to get your board to invest more in communications.
Sarah Durham: If you bring up food bank websites for other food banks around the country, maybe some that are local but, but maybe some that are bigger and national, doing, doing work on a national stage, you’ll start to elevate their consciousness about what great communications looks like for a nonprofit. And those, that perspective will help them make better decisions because I think it’s a lot easier if they can contrast what you’re doing with what somebody else is doing for them to see whether they’re putting an adequate line item in the budget for what you’re doing. In terms of convincing them why you can’t do it all, I think it’s really important to keep reminding them how big the communications team is and what some of their responsibilities are. And in a kind of a gentle way. One of the ways that I think is most effective to do that is, to every year create a clear communications plan to be really clear what your marketing and communications team’s priorities are for the year.
Sarah Durham: This is something that Big Duck could help you with if you need help with it. and to make sure that that plan not only is blessed by your executive director, but is given to the board. If there’s a committee that works with marketing and communications so that when they say, how about you do X? Or why aren’t you on Tik Tok? You can, you can say, okay, which of our communications goals for the year with the support. and if necessary, you can, you can talk to them about the sort of, if your comms team, if their time is like a pie chart, how much of that pie chart gets spent in which activities and which activities might have to go away or be reduced if you were going to take on something new. and finally in terms of the last question, which was about, how do you, get board members to understand, that it was a worthwhile investment even if they don’t see that result right away?
Sarah Durham: I think that goes back to my earlier point about education. The more you educate your board, the more likely they are going to understand that things like, donor acquisition is a long game. A couple of quick resources to, before we run out of time, we can take one more question if you don’t mind going over a minute. But I want to just share, the book is available on Amazon.com. I also host a podcast and Farra is a regular contributor and guest called The Smart Communications Podcast, which has a lot of resources. we’re doing some Q&A now. I definitely want to encourage you to contact Farra or me at Big Duck. We’re [email protected] and [email protected]. If you’d like to hear more about how we could help your organization or contact me, [email protected] if you want to learn more about how Advomatic could support your organization’s website. Farra, can we take one last question even though?
Farra Trompeter: Yeah. And I’m sorry we didn’t get to everyone’s question. And if you still have questions you can always email us. But one question from Colleen, which I think is almost the reverse of the question we were just talking about, right? There’s the challenge when people keep coming at you to do things and it’s tactics or ideas that don’t make sense. The reverse is happens when people are resistant. So Colleen asks, how do you combat best combat the quote unquote because we’ve always done it this way response, especially in the current environment, right, where there’s need for constant change and adaptation and people are really hesitant to do things differently.
Sarah Durham: Yeah, I love that question. And it’s the sort of, reticence to let go of something, something old because you don’t know about the new, I think these days we’re seeing a lot of that with virtual fundraisers. people are very nervous about pivoting away from the gala and more inclined to postpone the gala than to try doing a virtual fundraiser, let’s say. definitely I think that’s a place where reflection can help. I would encourage you to go back and dig out the data on the things you’ve done in the past. One of the or two of the examples where we’ve seen this a lot is in reports organizations who are hesitant to stop producing a fancy expensive printed annual report and newsletters when organizations were, loathed to move away from printed newsletter towards something more discrete, like an email newsletter.
Sarah Durham: Definitely if you can look at the data, how many people opened and clicked through how many people visited, how many people took action, you’re going to start to get a sense of the results you’ve had for the things you’ve done in the past. And the best way to know whether or not it’s worth changing is to do a test. If it’s digital, you might do an AB test. So send half the list, the old thing and half the list or a slice of the list, the new thing, see if the new thing actually outperforms the old thing. If you get better engagement. but if it’s not digital, it’s pretty hard to do the best. My best advice to you is be really clear what the data is from the past and what you’re trying to achieve in the future. And if you conduct a test and you measure the results, you should have a pretty good sense pretty quickly of if the new thing could work. All right. What do you think? Should we wrap up Farra?
Farra Trompeter: I think so. This was a another great conversation, Sarah, and I look forward to seeing everyone again next Wednesday at three o’clock Eastern and we dive into voice.
Sarah Durham: Yeah, I’m looking forward to seeing you all too. Thank you, Farra. Thank you Olivia. Thank you everybody who took time to participate today. These are challenging times and I appreciate you generously spending one more hour in front of your computer today that you didn’t have to spend and joining me to do it. So, don’t hesitate to drop us a line. Let us know what you think about the series. Let us know what you’re working on. We’d love to hear what you hear from you and we wish you the best. Be well.