Learn how to make your nonprofit stand out when you have a limited budget and/or limited staff capacity.
Ken: Happy Give STL Day, everybody. For those of us in St. Louis, like Paul and I and Ben it’s a big day for nonprofits. Though I couldn’t think of a better way today to talk about that and nonprofits and how to help nonprofits more than having our guest today.
It’s my pleasure to say hello to my good long term friend Ben Chambers, who is a marketing slash fundraising consultant for Team Kat and Mouse. And I’m sure you have a lot of other things that you do as well, Ben. Welcome and we’re excited to have you on.
Ben: Thanks so much, Ken. I appreciate the warm introduction.
Yeah, it’s great to be here and talk about all this, like you said, especially in a big day for the nonprofit community.
Ken: Yeah, absolutely. So nonprofits are just like many other small businesses. They still need to get the most out of limited marketing budgets. Today we’re gonna talk with Ben to see and get his ideas on how you can make a nonprofit stand out and take advantage of the, and maximize the limited budget and limited staff capabilities that you have.
So I will get started. Ben, what is the biggest flaw that you see that most nonprofits have in the way of marketing themselves?
Ben: So the flaw is, it’s an easy one to point out, a glaringly obvious one. It’s that a lot of nonprofits don’t market themselves. There’s a lot of focus on marketing programs or marketing with funders.
But in terms of having an outward facing public image where people can learn more about you, learn about your mission, connect with your impact on the community, there’s a lot of people who just don’t know how to. Maybe it’s they don’t have a Facebook page or have an email campaign or have any kind of consistent branding or anything that they can use to repeat over and over again when they need to get a message out. What we really encourage people to do is even if you have all the stuff you have to do to really get to where you wanna be, you have to start somewhere.
And the starting somewhere is such a challenge for people. If you’re out there and you’re in the nonprofit space, and that’s a struggle for you, it’s not insurmountable. It’s something that it can be done with diligent, deliberate effort in a way that’s relatively cost effective, which is frankly the biggest barrier I think most nonprofit leaders have when they think about doing anything in the marketing space.
Ken: It really gets down to what is your core message and crystallizing that and being able to effectively communicate it to people so that they can understand what your mission is and what you’re all about. And you’ve gotta ask for their help.
Ben: Yeah, exactly.
And I would add to that too, knowing today’s mediums that you can use to share that, to have that core message, to have that thing that you wanna put out there, but then to know how it’s done. Because I’ve talked to people, their idea of marketing is going out, passing out leaflets or hanging up posters somewhere or things like that, which not to knock that as a marketing strategy, but when that’s the only thing we’re doing, it’s 2022, and that’s not how people are accustomed to finding things or learning more about things.
Even if the digital space is not something where you are as savvy as you are with others, you’ve just gotta be willing to get in there to do those things you talked about, Ken.
Paul: Ben, for the nonprofits that do market themselves, aside from money, what are some of the biggest challenges they face?
Ben: So staff time is the biggest challenge. So anyone who’s ever worked in a nonprofit or been on a board or been heavily involved in a nonprofit knows that this sector is chronically understaffed. Where you go into most especially development offices, which is where marketing tends to fall, you have people who are responsible for raising money, managing volunteers, setting up events, also doing marketing, like it becomes a catchall space in the sector.
Having someone that you can go to who dependably is responsible for putting out your message is a real hurdle people find, and what happening is when they do market themselves. Messages are inconsistent, channels are utilized or not utilized in a way that’s not super consistent. It ends up creating an image that can be somewhat unprofessional and something that doesn’t build a lot of trust with donors and community partners.
And it gets to the root of a lot of systemic challenges we try to work with nonprofits to address. That staffing piece. It’s the two things it takes to really market effectively is time and money. We know money’s tight in nonprofits, but time is also tight. So finding a way to get that piece in place can be a real trick.
Ken: I’ll just add to that, one of the things that happens as a result of that, a big consequence is that whenever there is marketing done, it’s usually done late in the game. If you’re doing any kind of an event, if you’re starting your marketing campaign less than six weeks out from that campaign, you’re missing a big opportunity for a whole lot of reasons.
People are pulled so many different ways. The marketing that they do often starts too late to carry the full impact. We see it. I work with a nonprofit. It’s a struggle. It’s not for lack of trying. It’s not for lack of desire. It, like you said, Ben, it’s due to limited time and limited money.
Ben: And that’s a great point about marketing events, and it also speaks to where people have their most success in the nonprofit space, which is individual relationships.
So you have an event coming up, usually you call your donors, you call your friends you send an email out to people who really care. And that’s where a good percentage of your engagement and your attendance and everything comes from, but then you do that, then you realize three weeks out, oh my God, I haven’t posted on Facebook or sent an email blast about this.
And you’re right at that point, it’s way too late in the game and it gets, builds in this inertia where you speak to your core audience really well, but that core audience never grows because you’re under utilizing the tools that would add to that over time.
Ian: That’s interesting too, cuz I see a lot of commonalities with what you’re saying, Ben with not for profits and I have sat on a couple boards and I’ve definitely witness that. But also with small businesses who maybe aren’t ready or they’re reluctant to hire an agency to help them, they try to do it in house and it’s the exact same symptoms. They just don’t have the bandwidth to get the work done or to do it.
Ben: It’s that issue of Facebook is free, so why should I pay anyone to do this for me? And you pay in other ways.
Ken: Right, yeah. Absolutely.
Ian: Of course, one of the big questions we wanna ask you is what should a nonprofit focus on when setting marketing goals for themselves?
Ben: That’s a great question. So a place where a lot of nonprofits get really frustrated is they go out and they try to implement this marketing strategy and it doesn’t raise any money because that’s where a lot of, especially when I talk about, it ends up being the development office that’s responsible for marketing a lot of times. The biggest goal is how are we going to increase revenue ,funnel more resources into our mission? The trick is there, there’s a fundamental mismatch between how fundraising is done and how marketing is done, because fundraising is so deeply relationship driven. It’s so hard to get someone to give to a cause just because they see a great post on social media. So marketing is a first step though, where you can see that universe of people who are interested in your cause and then over time start moving them up, what we call the donor pyramid, where you start the bases, the universe of people who are [interested in, further upper people to give more and get more involved and all that.
So marketing is your tool to find that base of the pyramid. When you’re thinking about being effective and having a good strategy, it really is about how are you are reaching a critical mass of people who have an interest in your mission, who would want to engage with you. Not necessarily writing a check with a couple of commas in it, but signing up for newsletter, coming to an event, sharing a post, wanting to learn more, because if you’re then executing a good cultivation strategy which every fundraiser should be doing over time, and it’s going to take time.
That’s going to come in as revenue, but to not focus on that end goal, that’s pretty far down the road. But to think in the here and now in terms of what are the benefits of an expanded audience and how many more people can we bring into the fold that over time will fuel organizational growth.
Jen: With that, Ben, what channels should nonprofits be using to market themselves? And I know that does depend, so if you want to pick a couple different sectors and walk through that would be great.
Ben: Yeah. Absolutely. I encourage people to think first and foremost who are your people? Where are they and what platform do they tend to use? For most nonprofits, it’s gonna be Facebook. That’s gonna be where things really begin because just being where in terms of who gives, and the age group on Facebook, you’re more likely to connect with people who are going to be advocates, evangelists for your cause.
That’s where you’re likely to find them. Instagram is also really good, especially if you have a mission that’s very visually compelling, for lack of a better term. I have to shout out to The Great American Dance Company, where Ken is board president. The dance that they do is just visually stunning in their photography is incredible and that you can get lost on their Instagram page.
It’s just so great and that’s not a tool where, new person finds their way to Instagram and says, Oh, I’ve gotta give them money. It’s a tool where you find ’em on Instagram and say, I wanna learn more about them. This is really cool. I wanna see what these shows are like. I wanna see what they’re all about.
And then that begins a journey that hopefully leads to something bigger. Thinking beyond those two, Twitter’s hit and miss. I haven’t seen a lot of nonprofits that [are huge, engage all that successfully on Twitter. It can be done, but you really have to have the resources to put a lot of time into it.
So I’ve talked to a few people lately who are working with nonprofits that are getting in more of a web three space who’ve talked about NFPS and crypto, and I know Twitter spaces can be big for that. That’s something I think we’re all learning very quickly as it happens. So if that kind of touches your mission to think about that.
And then TikTok is something along the same lines of Instagram. If you’ve got that visual movement type of piece, that can really be compelling on there, along with staff and just leadership, whoever that might be in the marketing space, who understand TikTok, because you don’t wanna embarrass yourself.
It’s easy to. I’m on TikTok. I probably consume too much of it, but I know I don’t have the creativity to make things for it. It wouldn’t go well. Knowing that you’ve got people who can make things, but make the right things to really put a positive face in your organization out there.
Ken: One thing that I didn’t hear you say is marketing or sms, text marketing. Talk about those important channels for them.
Ben: Thanks for bringing that up. Email. Yes. Email is so versatile and such a platform where it’s so easy to engage people and if you’re gonna have fundraising success as part of your marketing strategy, email is gonna be where it happens because you think of scrolling through, let’s say Facebook, the amount of information you consume just in the course of a few minutes on there is overwhelming, and you’re unlikely to get that intense emotional connection that has to come in to drive someone to make a gift. But email, you’ve got, people are still parsing through information quickly, but you’ve got more of a captive audience and more of a chance to really make a case to say, We’re looking for your support because we wanna have X, Y, Z impact on the community.
So it takes time to build an email list. It takes really having successful events, successful newsletters, the types of things that compel people to give you their email addresses. It’s a really effective tool and something that should be right up there with Facebook and Instagram as your primary platforms. And with text messages.
It’s an interesting question. It’s something nonprofits need to do more of, but so few are actually doing effectively right now, at least the ones that aren’t the big players, the multi-state, national level organizations with huge budgets, they’ve gotten that space and done it well, but as you get closer to the grassroots level, it’s an underutilized tools.
I can’t say I have the knowledge on how it’s done effectively, but I can say, It’s something that if you’ve got the resources and if you’ve got the right people, like Ken in your corner, who know how to do that stuff, it’s certainly an innovative and probably effective way to reach people.
Ken: I remember back in the early days of Twitter where it was a game changer for nonprofits.
As a matter of fact, I used to be a chapter leader for a local chapter of this organization called Room to Read, which is a fantastic organization. They’re still around. They actually had partnerships with Twitter. In the early days, Twitter was very active. I think there was even a Twitter wine that was available where if you purchased the wine from Twitter, you got a donation.
As a part of that purchase went toward a donation to the organization that in this case, Room to Read, which is pretty cool. So that kind of leads me into one, I wanna make sure we talk about partnerships because I think that’s an important marketing channel that everybody needs to be looking at.
But before we do that, what are maybe like some of the more underutilized marketing tools that nonprofits are using?
Ben: It’s a great question. So I think the biggest thing that’s, I shouldn’t, it’s not underutilized in the sense that people aren’t doing it, but underutilized. In terms of its ability to reach its full potential as email marketing. Touched on it a little bit before, it’s such a versatile tool. People don’t have a strategy with email. They decide they’re gonna send something, they throw it together and they put it out. But having a schedule of saying, Okay, we have this event coming up in July, so we’re gonna do an announcement email in May, then a couple in June then we’re gonna, something to really close sales leading up to it, those first few weeks of the month. Using it as a resource that can be deployed strategically in that way, to market, to ask for money, to connect with people in the community.
So that’s something that people don’t really get enough use out of. The other one is scary for nonprofits and that you really do need some help with, but really is something where they can gain a lot of ground quickly, is paid advertising and paid search, especially if you’re doing paid search, need an expert in your corner to help you out.
But having the tools to not just throw things out there, but to reach the markets, to reach the people you really wanna reach in a way that’s super cost effective. Because a lot of people think of paid advertising, they think they’re gonna go buy a spot on TV or radio or buy a block in the newspaper and it doesn’t have to be that level of engagement. You can really cost effectively use a tool like that. So that’s something where email is underutilized from a strategic standpoint, the paid search and paid display advertising are really just not touched at all by those grassroots organizations I don’t think, realize it’s not completely out of reach for them.
Ken: We talked about text messaging marketing just a few minutes ago. Email absolutely is the driver. When you look at the performance of the different channels. Email marketing drives more sales typically for most businesses, and probably nonprofits as well, than Facebook or any other social media channels by a lot.
The engagement levels, the open rates, the you look at. Email wins. Over and over again. Text message marketing from an open rate perspective is off the charts compared to anything else. So if a nonprofit can find meaningful ways to get people to want to opt into a text list to learn more, you obviously have to be very respectful and not abuse it needs to be done in a legitimate business texting system where people can type in stop to opt out. Your open rates, a text message is opened typically within the first three minutes from receipt and 45% of text messages that have links, get those links clicked. Nothing else comes even close. So if you have events, text message marketing is a super powerful channel because it’s a great way to send reminders to people, Hey, it’s only a couple of days before this happens. You have to be careful with it, but text message marketing, I think is something that everybody needs to be taking advantage of.
Ben: I think you’re absolutely right and I’m excited to see where this sector goes. There’s a joke that nonprofits tend to not always be on the cutting edge of technology.
And I think that’s the case with text message marketing, but I think you’re right. And I think it’s something that we as a sector need to really take a hard look at something that we add to our tool chest.
Paul: So Ben, you already mentioned that money and staff are the biggest challenges. So how should a nonprofit prioritize their resources?
Ben: The thing you wanna do, you just sit down and figure out before you really embark on implementing a clear marketing strategy. The two things you have to figure out are how much money do you have to spend on this, and how much time do you have to put into it? So that might be having a staff member say, I can spend one hour on this a week.
Maybe you have a few hundred dollars a month to spend, maybe you don’t. But once you know that, once you have a clear commitment to do it, which is the important piece, because a lot of times we dream up these great ideas. Like we’re gonna go put things on every platform and we’re gonna do all the stuff.
And then you realize, oh, other things are gonna come up along the way, and then three months later the project is dead and nothing’s getting posted anymore. So having that robust commitment, then developing something that you know can fit within those confines of, Okay, we have one hour a week to put into this.
We’re gonna post on Facebook and Instagram and we’re gonna make sure we’re responding to all of our comments and that we’re replying to messages that come in. We’re gonna do that effectively, and then maybe next fiscal year we’ll think about whether we can hire some part-time help to expand this. Like knowing what a sustainable starting point is a conversation that has to happen and not pushing too far and not that you don’t want people to be ambitious, you don’t want people to aim high, but knowing there can be a downside to that because just life in a nonprofit is chaotic and energetic, certainly, but things have to be sustainable. Tasks have to be sustainable to survive within that ecosystem. Along with that, once you know what you can do and what you can’t do dependably, then have those aspirations, and so once you’re able to really effectively build your audience and build your engagement on one.
Then be able to say, Okay, we can take this to another one. It’s gonna take some investment. It might take adding some staff help, but we can get there if we get the resources we need to push ourselves across the finish line. So just being as strategic as you possibly can on that front. Good intentions don’t end up weathering on the line.
Ken: I would think that this is a real challenge for nonprofits, but it’s also a massive opportunity, and that is marketing automation. If you used a social media scheduling tool, you can get in and get out. You could schedule out a week or two weeks worth of social media posts across multiple platforms in a matter of minutes using a social media scheduling tool.
Now, you always have to be sensitive to what’s going on in the world. Make sure that if you’re scheduling posts, you’ve gotta monitor what’s happening, just to make sure that you’re not posting something that comes across as insensitive. For email nurture series for some text message marketing automations, all of those kinds of things.
It’s gonna be hard for a nonprofit to probably bite the bullet, maybe make an investment in the right tool set to make this happen, and maybe even map it out initially and build those automations so that it’ll be a time saver down the road. But I think that’s another great opportunity.
Ben: That’s a great point.
Yeah. And that’s something that, I’ve seen nonprofits moving more and more into is even just simple scheduling tools that are free or very low cost. But you did hit on a really important point that is especially important in the nonprofit space about keeping an eye on the news cycle and what’s going on.
I worked for a nonprofit where, we did take advantage of scheduling tools. It’s important that we have an eye on those things, but we worked in the mental health space, had to be really watchful of news around mental health especially sometimes people lost their lives to mental health struggles and it was in the news.
And if we had a post that was a little more upbeat, we hope, see it trivia night next week. We really had to be hyper aware of, okay, somebody get in there and delete all those posts and let’s shift gears quickly. But not every nonprofit carries a mission that’s that heavy to make sure that’s something you’re aware of, but something that also somebody owns, that you have a person in the organization that their job is to be that quick response.
Because if something gets pushed out at a time that’s inappropriate, and then you have four people sitting around thinking somebody else at the table was gonna be the one who did it and then nobody did it. And everybody’s upset with everybody and it doesn’t go anywhere positive. So, make sure you have clear lines of authority. People who know that this is very clearly their job to manage that when it comes.
Ian: I think what you were just talking about, Ben leads into very nicely actually this next question, which is, can you depend on a volunteer to manage your social media? And I would even suggest, this is a broader question about marketing, is can you leverage the volunteers within your organization to get your marketing done, or is that realistic or is it not realistic? Maybe speak from your experience.
Ben: I always discourage people to do that. It’s a real temptation. Like we’ve talked about, budgets are tight in the nonprofit world, you wanna do as much as you can with as little as possible. And most organizations have that super volunteer or board member or whoever that has a knack for these things, and that could be great.
But the two issues you run into are, first of all, nobody’s been as trained as thoroughly and as deeply invested in the success of the mission as staff. They live the work. Even your most committed volunteer isn’t, working on it nine to five and just living that mission, which is to say that for all their good intentions, volunteers can go rouge sometimes. I’ve seen it happen where you have someone who isn’t on the payroll, put something on social media, and then everybody is in a panic and then you don’t really know how to reign it in and it can create a messy situation. But the other piece of it too is that volunteers come and go and you really wanna have a consistent voice.
So I was really involved with an organization that we had an intern do the social media who did a phenomenal job, but it was an intern who was there for a semester and then they left. And then you can see, and if you go back through the timeline, those point where things are beautiful, engaging and wonder and then nothing happened for a while. There’s an element of consistency you don’t have when it’s a volunteer or an unpaid intern doing those things. As much as you can keep in house with people on the payroll, the more likely you are to see consistent, successful, on-message content getting posted out there.
And the same is true for email, I’d say especially true for email because that’s where you’re not just sharing little bits of information, but you really have a canvas to make your case to people, to tell stories, to move them emotionally in a way that is maybe a few paragraphs instead of a few sentences. Like you talked about Ken, we’re gonna have the highest open rates and you’re gonna have the best chance among all those platforms of really capturing people’s attention and moving them some levels. So that’s gonna be something we’re really gonna wanna have someone who’s in house responsible for that.
Ian: And quick, quick question for you, Ben. You talked about the difference between a volunteer and staff.
What about volunteer staff? Or outsourcing it to a team like yours? Yeah, because you have the expertise. Maybe you can talk a little bit about that. I think that would round out this question.
Ben: Absolutely that’s an option that definitely is preferable to having a volunteer do it because if you’re contracting outside help, you’re getting people trained in your mission, you’re getting people who are experts in the process and you’re also adding that layer of accountability because when someone is contracted to do this and something goes wrong, don’t introduce that ambiguity of it. Your biggest champion in the community managing your Facebook page .
They in a certain sense functions like an employee because there is that dynamic between you and whoever you’ve outsourced to, so that’s definitely a good option. I encourage people to really do their homework when they bring in someone from the outside to know not only their character, but who they’ve worked with before, what they’ve done to make sure that if you are a nonprofit is speaking to a sensitive issue or is something that really takes a lot of care to talk about that you’re handing this off to someone who understands the gravity of your mission and the importance of your work.
But it’s certainly a strong option if you don’t think it can be done reasonably well with the staff resources you have in house.
Jen: Ben, if a nonprofit is ready to pay for advertising, which channel should they look at first and what would be a good first step?
Ben: Facebook is always my go to. Advertising, I should say, is cost effective.
There have been some interesting studies that have been done that I’ve tried to replicate over the years. Several years back there was a public radio station. I worked in the world of public media for a long time. During a fund drive, they did an AB test where they targeted ads on Facebook to one of the email lists, and they didn’t target ads to the other list.
And the Facebook ads didn’t generate any revenue, which was not a big surprise, but the email list that received Facebook advertising gave more than the list that didn’t, which goes to show that it wasn’t a big investment. Probably wasn’t more than a few hundred dollars that they spent to do that.
This has been six, seven years ago that they did this, I think. But there are ways there can be secondary effects that drive fundraising. But also goes to show that that’s a tangible demonstration of the impact, a little bit of investment on Facebook can have, especially if you know where your supporters live, what their age group is like, what their interests are, because you can really on a granular level, target that advertising and get in front of them.
You can put the thought in beyond just, here’s $50, boost the post. But how are we really gonna set this up as something that is targeted well to them? The other thing too, from a paid standpoint is, paid search, which is a lot more complicated to get into than Facebook advertising. You can teach yourself how to do Facebook advertising, at least some of the basics, but you really need an expert help you with paid search. But that’s something where if you’re willing to make the consistent investment, you can really move the needle and bring a lot of people into see your work, see your organization, and connect with you, who wouldn’t have otherwise. So there are other tools, but those are the two where most nonprofits are gonna wanna really dive in and start the conversation.
Ian: And what about retargeting? I heard the example you gave was about that layering effect that can happen. Do you guys use retargeting a lot in the nonprofit sector?
Ben: Yeah. So that’s one where the organizations that are doing it effectively are a little bit larger. When I worked in the world of public media, we used nonprofit or we used retargeting pretty effectively.
It’s another one where I’d caution, you really need outside help to make it work because most people who are A, not experts in it, and B, juggling a whole bunch of other priorities, probably don’t have the ability to execute that effectively. But if you can find the right place to outsource or hire full-time marketing director, let’s say, best case scenario, that’s another really effective tool to stay in front of mind for people.
Ken: You can also take your email list and turn that into a targeted Facebook advertising list as well, like I said, so that it’s an amplification process. Because we talk a lot about omnichannel. We’re all big believers in omnichannel. Meaning you need to use several different channels and you need to have multiple touches to be able to reach people.
It’s not a one and done, that’s another mistake a lot of nonprofits probably make. They send out that one email blast and they don’t get the results and they’re like, What the heck? Which really kinda leads to a question. We haven’t really used this word enough in this conversation, but the word strategy.
We’re also all big believers in strategy here. Spending some time to develop that marketing strategy and laying it out and making the assignments, figuring out the channels, identifying the ideal customer. In nonprofits, you have to identify both program recipients, but also donors. The nature of what you do actually makes it a little bit more complicated from a marketing perspective, because you really need to have a two pronged approach.
Having said that, let’s talk specifically about PR. What’s a good strategy for a nonprofit in regard to public relations?
Ben: So it’s thinking about it the exact same way you just laid out with social media. When do we need to have visibility? When do we wanna have someone in front of a TV camera or something printed in the newspaper?
And then building up backwards then, when do we need to get the press release together? When do we really need to make a push? And I encourage nonprofits to leverage that inherent skillset to build relationships that you use with donors and partners to also network with the media to know who are the people in town who have an interest in your mission.
And if you have something really compelling, you can shoot them an email and there’s a good chance they’ll send a camera crew over to give you that visibility. It’s also another place where I really encourage people to think about outsourcing. We did that in a previous job where, we were an organization that was doing tremendous work, but we just didn’t have the visibility we wanted, like we knew if this was out there enough, it might catch fire and people really wanna get involved with it. So we contracted with someone who really worked the phones for us. They called up recorders, they called up TV stations. We got our executive director on TV several times, and it really paid dividends. So don’t be afraid to go that route because it’s gonna be an investment, but it’s going to pay off because earned media does so much to add legitimacy to your organization and to open the door to new markets for use. Develop a strategy. Think through what you need to do, think backwards from the end date and what you need to do to get things implemented effectively. But when all else fails, don’t be afraid to ask for help because it will pay off in the end.
Ken: Yeah. So you used the phrase I was hoping you would, which was earned media . Obviously you have to put a lot of hard work into it, but this is something that if you do it right and you do it with the planning and the forethought that Ben just talked about, can be largely a free resource for you. Ultimately, marketing is about transformation.
Nonprofits are about transformation and solving a problem that exists and providing a solution to that problem and showing that transformation. So I would think that there’s probably a good likelihood that a lot of media, in the day and age that we live in where there’s so much bad news, they’re looking for opportunities and maybe they can’t donate the amount of time that we all probably would like to it, but they’re always looking for and probably very receptive to talking with nonprofits who have a great story to tell and a great solution that they’re providing, and helping the community.
Ben: Absolutely. And cause you’re right, cuz most nonprofits. No matter the issue area their stories about, because if you’re working on hunger or gun violence or just name any of the dark, depressing issues, usually those nonprofits have a solution. It may not be enough to fully fix the problem on a large scale, but it’s enough to make people stop and say, Okay, there’s positive momentum towards stuff.
Things are being done in our community that we can really be proud of, and new stations wanna show that. And internally at an organization. There’s so many secondary and tertiary benefits that you can take advantage of. Thinking about it as a fundraiser, the big thing I would always do when we got on the news is I’d take that link and I’d send it to whatever foundation we’re talking to or whatever per perspective donor that we’re hoping to close a gift with and say, Hey, I just wanna make sure you saw we were on the news yesterday.
Because those things just, they inspire people, they fill them with hope, and they really make them want to be more involved. It gives you that benefit of reaching that wider audience that you wouldn’t otherwise have access to, but you can then take that tool and really leverage it to get people who are either already involved or you’re hoping to get more involved and drive them deeper into that process with you.
So the benefits are just huge in that way.
Ken: Especially from a partner perspective or a corporate donor perspective. They want to know that they’re supporting an organization. And I don’t mean anything negative about this, but they wanna work with somebody who’s helping them to get eyeballs and ears and be known out in the community as well. And they like to align with those organizations that have that visibility.
Ben: Absolutely. And there’s nothing wrong with that. There is a level of interest in having coverage that is compelling and places them in the community and a place they wanna be. And yeah, nonprofits can absolutely help with that.
Paul: You had talked about TikTok a little bit earlier, so are there any sectors in the nonprofit that should really consider using it or that should avoid it? Along with that, any thoughts on what they should absolutely not do to avoid embarrassing themselves?
Ben: Yeah. I think, like I talked about earlier, I think of the nonprofits like The Modern American Dance Company where Ken’s involved where if you have something that is, where there’s movement in visuals and things that you can present in a medium. That’s defined by quick consumption of high energy, visually and visually compelling and compelling from an audio standpoint, TikTok can work for you, but to your point about not embarrassing yourself, you have to have the right mission. Some missions just aren’t a fit for it, especially, I always like to think about, it’s always a challenge if you’re working with a nonprofit that works primarily with kids because you have to get releases.
There’s so much legal stuff that goes into putting anything on social media. Every medium has an extra challenge because of that. But TikTok especially, it can be really tricky to have the right things go on there, but also making sure you have the right person with the right resources and the right amount of time to dedicate to it.
Because like I said, if someone told me to go make TikToks, I would do it, but it wouldn’t go over well. It wouldn’t put a positive face on anything. You have to know, because there’s a certain type of savvy and expertise that goes into that because it’s such a departure from how other platforms work.
Very little is written, everything is performance in some sense. So you almost have to think about the people who are producing them, being performers, or at least having that kind of talent for performance to really do it effectively. So it’s a tool that isn’t utilized much yet. I think it will, but I would also tell people just to proceed with caution.
Ian: Yeah. It’s funny when Paul asked that question, everybody smiled, and I think it’s because anybody who’s been in the industry long enough is predisposed to see so many flash in the pans, right? But TikTok is a legitimate platform now. And it is a legitimate ad platform. Like I’ve been looking at stats recently and it’s, some of them are really strong, especially with the younger generations.
Ben: I laugh cause I’ll scroll through TikTok and sometimes I don’t notice some things in ads. So that goes to show just the effectiveness of ads on there. Cause when you’re doing it right, it just integrates. But to the point with fad is, that’s really important because the thing that was really big that I heard all the time in the nonprofit spaces, what’s our ice bucket challenge? Like how can we do that? If you’re trying to create the ice bucket challenge, you’ve already lost. That was something that was done so effectively and raised so much money, but it was so organic and there was so much, you never want to call it luck because there was strategy behind it, but there’s so much good fortune that went into that being what it was. In trying to recreate that you’re it’s like putting your life savings in the lottery.
There’s someone out there who’s gonna hit it big and they’re gonna make a lot of money. But all the rest of us are gonna be broke. It’s finding the things where it’s, I don’t wanna say boring, but it’s a little more just deliberate, scalable, consistent growth with consistent new audiences, with consistent messages, that’s gonna lead to the most dependable success over a longer period of time.
So trying to really parse out what’s the fad. And TikTok isn’t. TikTok is here to stay, but also what’s durable and what’s most likely to lead you to a place that’s gonna do your organization a lot of good.
Ian: Grants are often a big part of what, of fundraising for nonprofits. It really depends on the marketing it seems. What advice do you have for nonprofits to get grants and to go through that process as well?
Ben: That’s my favorite question. I do a lot of grant work. Grants our my favorite part in a nonprofit space, so I’d like to think there are two components to that. Everything we’ve talked about up to this point, your outward facing image being consistent, appropriate, compelling is gonna do something in the grant space because, people are gonna look at your social media, they’re gonna evaluate you because a grant is an investment and they’re gonna wanna see who they’re investing in.
But in terms of going out and actually securing grant funding, it’s much more granular and relationship driven process. You’re gonna want to go out, first of all, and assess who in the community is giving grants and who in the community is receiving grants? Look at the organizations that are like yours.
Try to see if you can find their annual report, find anything they’ve published, and see who’s funding them so you can see who’s got an inclination to fund the kind of work that you’re involved with. And then it really is about finding those funders, doing the research and building relationships with them over time.
I always tell people, the vast majority of the time you submit a new grant application, you’re gonna be told no. But it’s not no forever, it’s no for right now, because then you have a chance to get feedback. You have a chance to build a relationship to pull them in. And as you’re doing those other marketing things, as they’re seeing your social media, as you are getting a feature on the nightly news that you can then email to that program officer, those things are gonna build upon themselves to get you to the point where that no becomes a yes, then that first yes becomes a bigger investment year over year, that takes your nonprofit to a new level. So grant funding is about patients first and foremost, and it’s about having that kind of just savvy to see who out there is in the community, who is inclined to do what I do, and then being persistent enough to not get discouraged when the answer is no, and then to stay in front of them with the right message and the right information over a period of time until they end up in the fold for you.
Ian: You’re really talking about a strategic marketing plan. Focused on a different audience, right?
Ben: Yeah. This is exactly right.
Ken: When you were talking, it reminds me of the days when I used to manage government business for a company that I worked for, and it was all proposal driven. We were trying to get IT contracts with the state and local governments. This is how I got into marketing. I actually created a marketing department that did nothing but build reusable assets that we found we needed all over and over again. Every time we submitted a proposal to the government, and that’s really what you’re doing with grants. You’ve gotta have stories of transformation. You’ve gotta have testimonials, you’ve gotta have impact statements, mission statements, all of these things.
Instead of reinventing the wheel, which no nonprofit has the time and energy to do. Build these assets so that you can reuse them over and over again and maybe you have to modify ’em, but if you’re only modifying 20% instead of a hundred percent, it’s such a time saver and it’s gonna improve your ability to respond and also probably your close rate. Now that doesn’t have anything to do with the relationship building like Ben talked about. One of the things that I also learned doing a lot of bidding on government contracts, you don’t win most of what you submit bids for. Where you earn that trust and you improve your opportunity. If they give you an opportunity for a debrief ask them, talk to them, learn why was your proposal deficient? So that you can address that and incorporate that and respond. And you know what? When they see that you care enough to do that, they’re gonna give a better opportunity for consideration the next time. So the challenge is can you survive until that next time?
It’s an important part of the game that I think everybody needs to understand and it is ultimately all about relationships.
Ben: Ken, you just said on some of the most important principles in grant funding, and I would even go so far as to say if to ask for the opportunity for a debrief, cuz most of the time you just get the form letter of thank you so much for your application, unfortunately, we didn’t fund you all that stuff. To reach out and say could we set aside even 15 minutes just to get some feedback on what we said, to thank them for reading your application, just the chance to submit this was something that was meaningful to us. And to start that off and to your point of having assets that can be reused.
I always tell people that when I work with someone to set up and to really sustain a grant program for them. That’s not a short term engagement. Like that needs to be a long term thing because as you submit grants, as you do new things, you build such a repository of information, it becomes easy to scale up because you’re right, like everything has to be customized at some level.
But there’s an amount of boiler plate where I think the clients I’ve worked with for a year or so, most questions Like, Oh yeah, I answered this a few grants ago. And I go back and I pull what I had. And yeah, I adjusted a little bit maybe to it within character counts or to update some information. But it cuts so much work out, which means you can do more, you can apply more, and you can get that momentum over time. Those are very valuable pieces of advice you just shared.
Jen: I have a question for you, Ben, here, a two part question really. Yeah. So the first one is how important is it for nonprofits to create a strategy? And I think Ian alluded to that, it’s super important. What in your opinion is the percentage of non-profits that actually have a defined marketing strategy, as in written down that they follow?
Ben: Boy, putting a number on this top, definitely a minority. Definitely. I’d say probably no more than 25%. It’s a sector that as a whole knows collectively marketing is important and more of it needs to be done, but really struggles to get that off the ground and get something either on paper, but then consistently executed once it’s on paper. Because it’s the same joke that we have with strategic planning, that you make a strategic plan, it looks great, and then it sits on the shelf and accumulates dust and nothing’s done with it.
The same thing happens with the marketing plan a lot of times. It’s definitely a shockingly small percentage of nonprofits that I’d say have that written down and well executed.
Paul: That sounds like the for profit world.
Ben: We’re not so different after all.
Ken: I think almost everything we’ve talked about today is really consistent between nonprofit or profit.
It’s just, one of the things that the nonprofits have to be really sensitive about is the majority of the monies that they bring in really need to try to go to the mission. And so staff sizes are obviously always gonna be scrutinized. The amount of money that you’re spending on advertising is gonna be scrutinized because you’re gonna have to be able to justify that you’re bringing in money for that money that you’re putting out for sure. And things too that, that popped up. So I gotta give a shout out to the Modern American Dance Company. I love those guys. It’s so fun to work with them. And Ben, you’ve been such a big help for us. Right now, they’re actually doing a Facebook Live. Because it is Give SDL day. So Facebook Live is, I think, really a channel that I think certain nonprofits should consider taking a look at.
The ability to go live gets favorable reach on both Facebook and YouTube while you’re doing the lives. It’s an important channel from that perspective, and so I wanted you to talk about that, but I also wanted to maybe talk about the importance of user generated content for nonprofits as well. Those are two things that kind of popped into my mind as we were having this great conversation.
Ben: Facebook Live is what you talked about with The Modern American Dance Company, is so well done. You can use a platform like that to show off something visual in a way that’s in real time. And a lot of nonprofits during the pandemic really transitioned well into that space.
I’ve been involved with and seen a lot of peer-to-peer campaigns that leverage Facebook Live where you say, we need to raise this amount of money in 24 hours. And then you have tools where, groups live over the course of the day where you can see this interactive component where you’re making donors as they come in.
We’re big fans of putting together a social media toolkit for volunteers, leaders, board members, all those people. So they have pre-generated content they can just put out there to engage people and start leveraging their networking to get involved in an organization. It’s important to think about it from that standpoint and the kinda training you provide along the way to make that a reality.
Ken: Yeah. Ian and I’ve talked about this, and I think we’ve talked about it on the podcast as well. Video testimonials. This can be super powerful. You can coach people and there are tools that both Ian and I have that we make available to many of our clients that are always underutilized.
But again, the power of when somebody can share their experience and their transformation. You don’t get any better than that, so right. You can find ways to stimulate users, supporters, program recipients, audience members. In the case of The Modern American Dance Company, sharing their thoughts, their experiences, and how the performance transform them, or how being in the program transform them. That’s as powerful as it gets.
Ben: Absolutely. It puts a face on the mission. And I always go back to the world of public media where if you ever listen to the pledge drives, first of all, I’m sorry, but second of all, like you’ll notice it’s a tool that’s really effectively used as they always play clips of people talking about times that a story moved them or a way something impacted them. And it’s a really tried and true tool and you’re right in that way. These newer technologies open the door to a lot of that stuff and for every nonprofit to take advantage of it in some way.
Ken: Awesome. We’re coming up on our hour, so Ben, thanks so much.
Ken: It’s always great to talk with new people and have the opportunity to talk for hours and hours about a variety of things.
Ben: Always fun.
Ken: Yeah, this is exciting. So tell us how can people find out more about Team Kat and Mouse and just talk a little bit more about what you guys can do for nonprofits.
Ben: Yeah, absolutely.
The website is teamkatandmouse.com. It’s Kat with a K. You can also find us on Facebook or LinkedIn or just look me up Ben Chambers on LinkedIn. We’d love to hear from anyone in the nonprofit space who needs help. We like to say we focus on three Ts. Training, tactics and tools. We’re not focused on high level things like mission statements, vision statements.
We really like to get in and give people the things they need to do to turn their strategic goals into a reality. Whether that could be anything from building an effective grant program, which is something where I really specialize, to getting some marketing materials together, to conducting a major giving campaign.
Any kind of individual or corporate giving campaign, just anything that falls within that fundraising space. We don’t wanna come in with the big ideas that aren’t actionable. We wanna come in with the effective ideas that will get you where you want to go in the timeframe you need to get there.
We work with people across the country. We’d love to talk to anyone who is interested to learning more about us.
Ken: Awesome. Thanks so much everybody. It was great as always. If you like this podcast, please subscribe on your favorite podcast platform. If you’re on social media, feel free to share these recorded videos on Facebook.
They’re all also available on YouTube as well, so thanks everybody. Have a great week.