July 28, 2017

What the heck is marketing anyway?

Joan Garry

When Joan Garry, author of the terrific book, “Nonprofits are Messy”, consultant, and host of a podcast by the same name asked if she could interview me I jumped at the chance.

Joan consistently offers pragmatic, smart advice for nonprofit executive directors, board members, and others. She also teaches communications too, so she’s no slouch on this topic.

You can listen to our interview via Joan’s site here, or subscribe to her podcast via itunes. But in case you prefer to read, we’ve transcribed the conversation here, too. – Sarah

Joan Garry: It’s time to get out my soapbox. Communications at a non-profit is not just about getting press. It’s not just about whether your website has great images and is easy to navigate. It’s not just about whether you have a logo that wins awards. It’s not about your annual report. And, communications is not over there, it’s not something you do or don’t have the money to do. Lastly, its something you’ve actually got to do. You cannot say quote, “I would focus on this if only I had enough money.” End quote. Trust me, I’ve heard that quote.

I teach a class at the Annenberg school at the University of Pennsylvania called Non-Profit Communication Strategy. I talk about what communications really is in the non-profit and its centrality to a thriving non-profit. Today I am joined by a woman who makes her living helping non-profits to be more effective and in this we are indeed kindred spirits. My focus is on leadership, my guest and her team are all about communications. Branding, positioning, and all of that as central to the success of your work. She says that non-profits need to think about communications as a utility, like the electrical current that runs through your ho

Joan Garry: Sarah Durham founded Big Duck in 1994 to help non-profits increase their visibility, raise money, and achieve their missions. Today she uses her deep experience in non-profit communications to guide the entire Big Duck team. The author of, “Brandraising: How Non-Profits Raise Visibility and Money Through Smart Communications.” Her expertise has been borrowed by NPR, The Chronicle of Philanthropy, GuideStar, and many more. She’s a sought after speaker on topics such as branding, fundraising, and other non-profit communications topics. Her book Brandraising is a good one, I’ve read it, you can find it on Amazon, it should be in your library.

Sarah is a total non-profit communication nerd. She was named one of the most influential women in technology by Fast Company in 2010. An adjunct professor at NYU’s Robert F. Wagner graduate school of public service, Sarah teaches strategic communications to other aspiring non-profit nerds. Sarah also serves as the vice-chair of the National Brain Tumor Society’s board of directors.

Sarah, welcome to my kindred spirit and fellow non-profit nerd.

Sarah Durham: Thanks Joan, great to be here with you.

Joan Garry: I don’t know why I ask this question but I do to every single person that I bring on my podcast. I like to begin by asking all my guests, okay you’re 13 years-old you’re at a family dinner party, it’s a big group, it’s relatives, it’s annoying aunts and uncles, cousins, and they ask that question, “So, Sarah, what do you want to be when you grow up?” And, a follow-up, would they be surprised that your life has taken the path that it’s taken? Starting your own business, and this business in particular.

Sarah Durham: Well, you know, if I could go back in time to when I was 13, I’m the daughter of two people who were in advertising, and I grew up in advertising and communications in the sort of, you know, the ’80s when it was just post Mad Men era. I don’t think I would have said I want to be in advertising, but I probably did know I want to be communications and I don’t think it would be that surprising. I think my journey has been a somewhat windy one, as they are for all of us, but ultimately I love the power of communications, that’s what fires me up.

Joan Garry: Would they be surprised that you run your own business, that you went the entrepreneurial route?

Sarah Durham: I don’t think so. Both of my parents were entrepreneurs, and I’m a native New Yorker and you know New York tends to be an entrepreneurial town, so probably not.

Joan Garry: I think it’s probably important, your organization has an usual name. I actually interviewed a really interesting guy named Michaell Bungay Stanier from Toronto who runs an organization, a company called Box of Crayons, and I love the name. It evokes lots and lots of different things about creativity and possibility, and we talked on our podcast, in that podcast, about coaching and managing and coaching, it was very interesting actually. Would you talk for just a minute about Big Duck and sort of why is your organization called that, and just a quick, your quick elevator pitch about what your organization does?

Sarah Durham: Yeah, sure, okay so why are we called Big Duck, well when I started Big Duck in 1994 communications and branding and all that kind of stuff was really not something the non-profit sector thought about a lot, but in the for-profit world we saw all kinds of interesting, creative firms. At the time I remember one called Mad Dogs and English Men. Using these really creative names to communicate that they were going to be different and help you tackle problems in different ways, and so I started my business with a branding exercise that’s not unlike some of the ones we lead today and people like Shaun Gibbons at the Communications Network who you’ve interviewed talk about, about personality. We articulated the personality we wanted, it was fun and friendly and creative, and the name Big Duck emerged from that.

Here we are over 23 years later and essentially we work only with non-profit organizations and the focus of our work is helping them do three things. Build strong brands, strong campaigns, and strong communications teams. We think all three of those things are essential ingredients for an organization to use communications as a strategic tool to achieve its mission.

Joan Garry: I remember in that podcast with Sean Gibbons, which is also available on iTunes and also on my website at, and that’s with two R’s in Garry. Shaun talked about how he actually gave, they actually talked about their website as having a personality and they came up with a celebrity to best.

Sarah Durham: Right.

Joan Garry: … sort of.

Sarah Durham: They talk about Helen Mirren and actually that’s an exercise that I think is not just applicable for your website, it’s applicable for the voice of your organization, right? So many organizations focus on the brand or the personality or the tone and style of an initiative, but actually neglect the organizational voice, and I think that whole personality exercise is really helpful and useful at the organizational level, too.

Joan Garry: I totally agree, so let’s not bury the lead. Non-profits, especially smaller organizations, see communications as something you do if you have enough money, and you talk about as I said in the intro, you talk about communications as a utility essential to non-profit success and as central to success as electricity is central to your home. These are two different constructs, right, I do communications if I have enough money versus communications is like current in your organization. Help people understand your paradigm

Sarah Durham: Yeah, well, I think it’s really important to remember that we’re living in, we are a generation and we’re living in a time when communications is undergoing radical changes. We’re in the middle of a digital revolution and what it means to communicate both internally and externally is changing really fast, and if we went back in time 20 years and we looked at communications in most non-profits, what we would probably find is, is what today would be called a PR team or a media relations team. We’d see people writing press-releases and trying to get coverage if they had that kind of a role at all.

Joan Garry: I think we still see non-profits like that, don’t we?

Sarah Durham: We do, and I would say that’s just a hangover of an old time, it’s not necessarily a particularly effective strategy. What we see more often in, I think in these organizations you’re talking about who say, you know, “I don’t really have the time or the capacity to do communications right.” Is kind of tactics driven way of thinking about communications. I think those are people who are thinking about communications as getting that newsletter done, getting that end report out, making the flyer for the thing, producing collateral for an event, and yes those are important things to get done but I wouldn’t say that that’s all communications is or really even the most valuable part of communications.

I think there’s a lot more to it, so this idea of communications as a utility is really about thinking about how you can kind of literally light up your organization from the time you get together around a strategic planning process or an organizational development process, to how you communicate with each other internally to bring that to life, and how you get people outside of your organization to become aware of your work and then move systematically into the organization. Get to know you, find a home for themselves in your organization, and at the sort of top of the ladder of engagement become advocates for the issues you work on and ideally for your organization as their home within that issue.

Joan Garry: Right, and I generally find that people use a ton of different terms when they talk about communications, and there is not a shared understanding of those terms at all. I have been—

Sarah Durham: Amen.

Joan Garry:… I have been a board member that has said, “Our organization needs to do a better job marketing.” But, when you tease that out and you ask six different board members what that means, one of them will say, “We’re not quoted in the press enough.” One of them will say, “I think our website is really ugly.” One of them will say, “Our logo looks like two skiers.” You know?

It’s like, it’s, and so I think, you know I like to try to be really practical for listeners who take a half hour or so to listen to these podcasts, so I feel like I have you for this half hour I think we should treat you a little bit like a live glossary. I don’t think that if somebody asked at the age of 13 if I, I don’t think I would have said that I wanted to be a game show host although it probably would have been in the back of my head. So, let’s think about think as kind of a lightening rod, a ground on a game show, and let me throw some words out at you and see if your definition resonates for the listeners, how’s that?

Sarah Durham: Great, and can I riff a little bit on each definition?

Joan Garry: You totally, yeah, yeah, there’s no like buzzer or anything like that.

Sarah Durham: You’re not going to gong me out?

Joan Garry: No, I’m not.

Sarah Durham: All right, all right, let’s do it.

Joan Garry: There’s no time limit on this, although if we run out of time I’ll be the first to let you know. So, let’s talk about what do you mean when you talk about branding?

Sarah Durham: I would say branding is about your organization’s voice and how it’s perceived, and there’s been some good changes in the non-profit sector most organizations don’t just associate brand with logo anymore, it’s a lot more than visual elements. It’s your organization’s voice and how it’s perceived.

Joan Garry: Okay and voice– what do you mean by an organization’s voice?

Sarah Durham: The cumulative way you express who you are, so that may be your voice as an organization may be composed of messaging or story-telling devices you use, visual components. Your voice might also be defined or expressed through other assets you have, like a very dynamic leader on your team who represents your organization as a spokesperson. All those things together become a kind of a voice, tell the story of the organization.

Joan Garry: I’m, now I’m riffing aren’t I. When we talk about voice is there a connection between voice and authenticity?

Sarah Durham: Yes. There absolutely should be.This question of authenticity comes up as a concern, like, “what if my organization creates a brand identity or articulates its voice in a way that’s inauthentic?? Generally I don’t see that happening a lot, where I do see it happening is organizations that are decidedly un-hip or un-edgy trying to be hipper and edgier, but your voice should be an expression of who you really, truly are. That’s one of the reasons I like that word is that, you know, you don’t want to pretend to be somebody or something you’re not.

Joan Garry: Right, and we will come back to it in a minute because I think, I mean, you must think about this as it relates to your own business, right, and your own brand, and I do the same with mine. But, I also feel that I have a very, very clear sense of who my audience is as I think you do as well, and let’s put a pin in audience and come back to it because I do think that the clearer you are about your audience, the more capably you can brand and the next word that’s coming up, which is position your organization.

Let’s go to positioning for 400, Alex.

Sarah Durham: A lot of people think of positioning as how you fit into a peer landscape, in other words other people in your space are over here and we’re over there and that’s our positioning. I would say that’s a part of positioning, but another really key part of positioning is defining the big idea you want to own in the minds of your target audiences. When I, I often use examples from the for-profit world that people are really familiar with. If I say staples most people think office supplies, if I say Starbucks people think pricey coffee. When I say FedEx you think overnight delivery. That’s positioning, it’s about owning an idea in people’s minds that you constantly or consistently reinforce.

We’ve seen some organizations in this sort, when you look at the big blue chip non-profits in America or internationally, many of them are doing a really good job establishing positioning. Organizations like Red Cross who conjure up a quick association with disaster relief generate millions of dollars a year because that’s what pops up in our mind when there’s a disaster. Or, organizations like Make a Wish or Mark of Dimes, they’re strongly allied around a very simple, big idea.

Joan Garry: Although actually, March of Dimes is a case study in and of itself as a complete and utter pivot, right? There’s an organization that started specifically to find a cure for polio and has managed, it’s a remarkable story actually about how March of Dimes has pivoted and still maintained a real relevance in the work that it does.

Sarah Durham: Yeah, with low birth weight, absolutely.

Joan Garry: Yes, it’s really admirable. Okay, so here’s the bigger word, marketing.

Sarah Durham: Yeah, and I’ve had some really fun conversations with people and I’d love to get into this with you about the definition of marketing versus the definition of communications, when I teach at NYU I have a half a class on this topic alone. I would define marketing as a function that’s mostly outbound oriented, that is largely in service of generating new relationships or shallow relationships. If we were in a for-profit company today, we would probably describe activities in terms of outbound or marketing and inbound were sales. Usually those two functions are distinguished from each other in a for-profit.

In the non-profit sector I think we often use the word marketing though interchangeably with communications, and I see communications as bigger than marketing and including marketing. Communications to me is bigger and more valuable because it, first of all it includes internal relationships, interpersonal relationships, communications are central in those places. If you’re not communicating well inside your organization chances are you’re not communicating well outside your organization, so I think that internal piece is key, and you know I think there is also a component in communications about, or maybe it’s just in the non-profit sector, about, it’s a little more inclusive. Marketing to some people smells like sales, and non-profits tend not to identify with that term, so communications can be a little, you know, socialize is better I think.

Joan Garry: I actually think I have seen organizations sort of shy away from this notion of marketing, right. This word I think is kind of loaded. I’ve been on boards where people have said, “This organization needs to be more focused on marketing.” And, the non-profit staff feel like the corporate board members are shoving something down their throats that is …

Sarah Durham: Salesy?

Joan Garry: … inauthentic to what non-profits are about, maybe that’s what you mean by salesy, right. You look at, and I think, and I have seen this in, you know, we see this in each sector but I can, for example I can, I certainly saw it when I was at Glad in the LGBT sector. Larger organizations had the capacity to market more effectively, and that was looked upon by some with a certain amount of disdain. Is, why are you spending so much money marketing your organization and less, it would, you know, isn’t that money better served by investing it in program work? The way that I describe it, if I can just to digress for a second, is kids in high school who hand in book reports.

There are some non-profits that hand in book reports that are beautifully written, they are spot on, they are A plus work, but they actually don’t believe that time and energy should be spent on the cover. Then, you have a classmate who has written, it’s not a bad book report it’s a good book report, but it’s probably not A plus work, but the cover is outstanding. Right? And, the grades come back and they are not terribly dissimilar, and I feel like sometimes that that’s how the non-profit space and leaders, and I think it’s changing, but I do think that this notion of marketing feels loaded. It’s like, why should I spend time on the book report cover when I should spend more time doing research to make sure that my book report is kick ass?

Sarah Durham: It’s the concern that you’re putting lipstick on a pig, perhaps.

Joan Garry: Yeah, something like that.

Sarah Durham: I would say that the best place to start, whether you like the word marketing or you like the word communications, is with a robust conversation whether you’re a board member or staff member about what the work is in service of. What’s the goal or objective specifically you’re trying to achieve with your marketing or communications, and I believe non-profits must communicate for, as I think you do, for three essential reasons.

The first is to raise money. Communicate, fundraising is a communications function, we tend to not think of it as under communications and typically the fundraisers are in charge of communications, but raising money is an important communications function. So are programs. You have to recruit people into your programs, you have to raise awareness about those programs, you have to make sure people understand what the mission is. That’s a communications function. And then, the third area is advocacy, and for some organizations’ advocacy is legislative or political, for others it’s just being sort of a go-to resource on their area in a community, or you know, the place the media calls about a particular topic.

I think if you start by saying what is the function of communications within your organization, or the function of marketing, what’s it in service of, and what are the specific objectives or goals we hope to achieve by getting better at it? Then, and you know it doesn’t matter what you call it, and you know, your book report story is interesting to me because while I think everybody would agree that the substantive, well written report should get the better grade, there is a reality to the fact that we live in a world where we need to make things palatable to the audiences we’re trying to reach. Whether we like it or not, we have to get their attention and hold it.

Joan Garry: Right, I mean well it’s from Field of Dreams, if you build it—

Sarah Durham: If you build it they will come!

Joan Garry: Right, that’s not necessarily true.

Sarah Durham: In fact, it’s decidedly untrue with rebranding. Think of rebranding as renovating your home. It’s going to be messy and disruptive, it’s going to take longer and cost more than you want, it’s challenging. But, where you start to raise money, raise awareness, recruit better, where you reap the benefits of that rebrand are in the campaigns that follow or the communications that follow where you get to invite all these people into your home, and now your home is gracious and welcoming and looks and feels the way you want it to look and feel. It’s easier to make those people not only come into your house but encourage them to stay and feel a genuine connection to you. So, you can’t just rebrand and think you’re done, you have to connect the dots and use that brand.

Joan Garry: Agreed. I also teach a class, as I said, on non-profit communications strategy and in one of the early classes I select five to six websites, and trust me I don’t have to look very hard, and together as a group we look at the homepage. It’s a seminar class so there’s about 24 kids, and the students are given the opportunity based on the homepage of the website to explain what each of these organizations does and why it’s important. The process is not just instructive, like we actually end up getting like giddy, like silly laughing, because in some cases it’s actually unintelligible. You see some of this I guess and what do you think makes it so hard for non-profits, it’s not really just about money and resources, is it?

Sarah Durham: It’s not necessarily about money and resources. I mean, I think it does come back to kind of a misunderstanding about what communications means or the power of communications. I’d say that happens for a couple of reasons. If you’re not communicating well on your website one reason is that you’ve been so busy tending to your programs that you are not tending to the organization. A lot of times people in an organization find it a lot easier to tell the story of a program or an initiative or an event than to tell the organization’s entire story. That’s especially true in certain sub sectors like the human services world for instance.

I think another reason that happens is that a lot of organizations don’t have a healthy practice of strategic planning and self-reflection. In my experience and also in some research we’ve done, the most effective brands are the ones that are expressions of a clear strategic plan and organizational strategy. If you’re not clear where your organization is heading it’s very hard to articulate that well on your website.

Third reason I think it sometimes happens and least common is lifecycle, you know, that that organization’s just in early years really they’re kind of murky, they’re sort of mucking around and you can feel it when you look at their websites.

Joan Garry: Yeah, I think that’s right, I think that’s right. So, let’s bring some of this to life for the folks that are listening. What does it look like when it’s working? Can you give me an example of work you’ve done with a client that sort of turned their communications from messy to thriving? And, as a follow-up to that, and I’ll remind you, how do you know when it’s working and how do you measure the success and impact of it?

Joan Garry: An example, a client that where it’s clearly working and you had some success.

Sarah Durham: To answer the second part of your question first, I think you know in any important communications project or function or rebrand, you know it’s working when you’ve defined your goals clearly upfront and you achieve them. If your goal in rebranding or your goal in launching a new initiative is to attract a new audience or build a deeper donor base with individuals or attract millennials and get them to make a first gift, or, the more you articulate what you’re trying to do, why you’re trying to do this, the more you can know if you’ve done it.

There are a lot of examples I’ve seen out there in the world, and we have a whole bunch of case studies on our website, but one that I really am proud of is a small organization that we worked with a number of years ago. When they came to us they were called Families of SMA. SMA is a rare disease, and they had some very specific reasons they needed to rebrand, the biggest of which was that they were trying to attract audiences who were not necessarily directly affected by SMA and encourage them to support some groundbreaking research they were undertaking.

The reason I love this case study is that over the period of time we working with them on a rebrand, we also helped them with a year end fundraising appeal and so we were able to kind of use the old brand and do some fundraising and see what kind of results they got with the typical year end appeal. Then, the following year after the rebrand we collaborated with them again on a new appeal that used the new brand, so that the two appeals were very, very similar structurally, but one used old visuals and messaging, one used the new visuals and messaging specifically designed to reach and engage this broader audience, new audience.

Not only did the new brand campaign significantly outperform the first campaign, I think it might have doubled the results or it was a really significant growth over the previous year, but I think most importantly when they dug into the data about who gave there were a lot of new first time donors and many of them were not connected to SMA. That was a real metric of success in terms of the point of building the brand, but what I think is most exciting with Cure SMA and with a lot of organizations is not necessarily one initiative, it’s sort of how the comms team, the in house team, or the leadership, takes the new brand and brings it to life in everything. Does what we talked about earlier in terms of lighting things up as if communications is a utility, and with that organization and with others I’ve seen some really exciting staff led initiatives to, you know, make things feel consistent, create experiences for donors and clients that are sort of really transformative and on brand that deepen those relationships.

What I always love is when it’s not just the work that they did with us or any consultant but more so the work they do themselves, that’s the magic.

Joan Garry: Right, sort of teaching them how to fish, right?

Sarah Durham: Yeah, exactly, exactly, and helping people feel like they can have fun and do creative things that really benefit the organization that are not disruptive the way creating an anniversary year logo is actually really disruptive, you know, don’t do that.

Joan Garry: Don’t do that, write that down, unless you’re driving then don’t write it down.

Joan Garry: I need to ask, because I do think that there are a lot of organizations that look to try to reach outside of the usual suspects, whether it’s a, you know, so I’m working with a client now that is their lion share of their donors and stakeholders are attorneys, right? How do you reach outside of, it’s an impact litigation firm, and so they do legal work. I’m intrigued by Cure SMA, what was the secret sauce about, what was the messaging that in, so I don’t even know what SMA is, probably I’m lucky that I don’t know it, but what’s, how did you, what was the secret sauce of engaging somebody like me to give to a cause that I’m not touched by personally?

Sarah Durham: Well, this goes back to something you planted a teaser about earlier in this conversation, which is audiences. Prioritizing audiences and understanding your audience. In that example and in many examples I would say the key to reaching and engaging a new audience is first really being clear who you are reaching and why you’re reaching them, and then secondly identifying the audiences that are mostly likely to be receptive to your messages.

In the digital world there’s a common practice of creating audience personas or user personas, and a lot of the organizations we work with or we see out there doing this well create donor personas, create client personas, and also do audience research to identify the type of persona who might be most receptive. In the Cure SMA example there was some indicator that a prospective new audience for them would be people who are not connected to SMA but actually were very motivated to give to scientific areas that were on the brink of breakthroughs.</p>

Joan Garry: Oh, okay.

Sarah Durham: So, you might not be the target audience for Cure SMA, the rebranded organization, but if you were somebody who was really into funding breakthrough science you might fit a persona of the person we were trying to reach and the messaging and a lot of the creative work was designed with that person in mind. It’s not always so one size fits all, I think it’s really understanding the mindset of the target audience.

Joan Garry: Very, very interesting.

We are talking to Sarah Durham who is the founder of Big Duck, it is a organization that helps non-profits raise money, recruit for programs, and increase their visibility through smart communications. Sarah’s the author of, Brandraising: How Non-Profits Raise Visibility and Money Through Smart Communications. And, she is a self-confessed total non-profit communications nerd.

In this book, which I enjoyed very much, you talk about communicating on their terms and not yours. I can tell you then in my four or five years of blogging I’ve really, really come to understand that. It’s not about what I want to say but it’s what about non-profit leaders really are looking to hear. I wonder if you could sort of tease that out for non-profit leaders, how do you communicate, because I think very often communications is seen as how do I tell people about the great things we are doing?

Sarah Durham: Exactly, yeah. Yeah, first of all I’m glad you liked the book, and I think that that’s exactly, where you’re starting from, telling people about exact, you know, what we are doing, is exactly the definition of what I would call organization centric communications as opposed to audience centric communications. An organization centric way of communicating would be to say, “We are a workforce development organization that helps, you know, 150 people a year do x, y, z.” An audience centric way to say it would be, “Every year we help 150 amazing people, you know, find the job of a lifetime.” Right?

The difference between those two things is typically about speaking to the value of what the target audience wants from you, as opposed to describing the activities that you do. A lot of organizations use language that basically just describes activities. We do this, we do that. They miss connecting the dots to the value or the outcomes of that work, and particularly if your target audience is a perspective donor, you know, why should that perspective donor care? What’s the value that they find in your work, what’s the thing that fires them up to support you? That’s what you should be writing about.

Joan Garry: Yup, I learned about this when I, digital guru Scott Paley who’s the principal of Abstract Edge, we started my business Facebook page and we began to curate content that was not mine so that in the news feed it became something people wanted in their news feed because it offered information, curated content that included some of mine, but also articles that someone might have missed about something going on in the sector. If you start to think about what it is your target audience is needing and looking for, then they’re much more likely to like your Facebook page and be engaged in your work.

Sarah Durham: Absolutely, and I think also in the non-profit sector when you’re an expert in something, if you’ve been deeply embedded in your work thinking about your stuff for a long time, it can be hard to remember what it’s like for people on the outside, you know? I think it’s one of the real value adds of working with a consultant or a freelancer or an agency is that it’s somebody on the outside helping you translate all this like really in depth stuff into something more accessible and more value driven, for the audience.

Joan Garry: The Heath brothers in Made to Stick they call it the curse of knowledge, that when you—

Sarah Durham: Exactly.

Joan Garry: … is that you know so much it’s hard to imagine not knowing it and that impacts how you communicate. We’re just about out of time and I want to just play one more game with you. I want you to imagine that I’m a brand new executive director, and I’m really glad I’m not a brand new executive director because sick of it.

Sarah Durham: You’ve been there and done that.

Joan Garry: Been there, done that. Not a lot of money, my bills are getting paid, I have very few staff, I do not have a communication’s director. Maybe I even have one of those websites that my students laughed about in my class. As some last words of advice for me, how do I get started? My board is convinced that this is the biggest priority, are they right? What kind of steps might I take first.

Sarah Durham: Well, I want to give you a resource if you’re that new executive director or if you’re a board member, or even if you’re at an organization with more capacity and you’re rethinking how to manage communications. A few months ago we released an ebook and it was the result of some research we did collaboratively with Kivi Leroux Miller who is the powerhouse behind the NonProfit Marketing Guide.

NPMG and Big Duck collaborated on some research about why organizations who think they’re good at communications think they’re good at communications. What’s going on in these organizations. We identified five success factors that strong organizations or strong comms teams have, and you can download the ebook for free on the Big Duck website, which is But, one of the biggest things was hiring pros and setting clear priorities. There were five success factors but those are the two things that if you are that executive director with limited resources you should do.

The first is priorities, right, what does communications need to help you with? Is it in service of fundraising, is it in service of recruitment, is it about getting better known in a particular issue area from an advocacy point of view? Clear priorities is the first thing everybody can do, and that can be E.D. led.

The second is hire pros, and what I mean by that is even if you don’t have the capacity to hire full-time staff, odds are good you’re going to be maybe working with some pro-bono consultants, maybe you’ve got somebody on your board who’s going to bring some resources to the table, maybe you’re going to hire a freelancer or consultant. Don’t hire people just because they say they can help. Hire people who have a track record of success in non-profit communications.

If you’ve got a great board member who’s got a wildly successful for-profit business and they’re willing to donate some resources from their in house comms team to you, that’s awesome, pare them with a freelance consultant who is a non-profit communications and marketing expert who can help layer in that perspective. Non-profit communications really are different. The audiences are much more diverse and complicated typically than in a for-profit setting, and I’ve seen over and over again projects go wrong where a very for-profit way of marketing just kind of doesn’t work in non-profit communications.

So, hire pros, and priorities.

Joan Garry: There you go, excellent.

Sarah, I just want to say we are sadly out of time, but I want to thank you for helping our listeners think about communications in a really sort of different and powerful way. It is not a surprise that you have a thriving business and that your wisdom is in high demand.

Sarah Durham: Aw, shucks.

Joan Garry: Thank you very much for joining us.

Sarah Durham: Thanks Joan, back at you. Also, I want to before we wrap up, I also really do want to encourage listeners who like this topic if they haven’t done so to go back and listen to your podcast interview with Sean Gibbons of the Communications Network. When I listened to that podcast I was thinking about philosophically how aligned I think our perspectives are, and he cites a number of great resources in that podcast so that’s a nice tool, too.

Joan Garry: Yes, absolutely, and on my blog when we post the podcast we always put links to any resources that are mentioned during the course of the conversation so you have access to those as well. Again, Sarah’s website or firm is called Big Duck, her website is at We will definitely put a link towards that ebook on our blog, and I really hope that Sarah’s insights will add value to the important work that you as non-profit leaders do.

Last thing I just, as always, really just want to say thanks for the work that you do. There are just way too many people who are sitting in the stands, is one of my pet peeves. You’ve actually chosen to do something to get out of the stands and onto the field, and for this we’re all very grateful. So, take care, we’ll see you next time.