Hello. I’m Jane Pfieffer, founder and president of Fieldtrip. We’re a marketing and branding firm that specializes in helping nonprofits and mission driven organizations reduce their largest expense. It’s the cost of “idk’s” the I don’t know you, I don’t know why this issue matters to me, I don’t know how to help, I don’t know if you can help me. Those “idk’s” create the cost of lost opportunities because people simply aren’t interested in getting to know you. That’s our work- reducing those “idk’s” and multiplying your mission. Last week, we talked about one of the three challenges in self-diagnosis of marketing pain for nonprofits and purpose driven organizations. It was about the danger of not being able to read the label when you live inside the bottle, so that can look like blindness, bias, and not bringing beneficiaries to the table to make the decisions or at least influence the decisions.
Now, those things when I say them, are kind of loaded words and they might sound like negatives or accusations. It’s not. I’m bringing this from a way of reality that we all become accustomed to the things we see every day or the way in which we think. Today we’re going to talk about that second need. You know, when clients come to us, they often begin the conversation with, “We need a website/a brand/a campaign to help increase utilization of our services.” That self-diagnosis is usually in the right direction. The challenges that need it have an element of “want” to it, and that want can be dangerous. It can get you to almost right, and sometimes that’s good enough- but most times it isn’t.
My example for today is let’s say you’re hankering for my favorite treat, which is chocolate chip cookie dough. I say dough because baking them is an absolute crime and you make the recipe, you almost know it from heart, and are going through the motions and you get everything almost right. There’s just one teaspoon of error, and that’s because you accidentally picked the anise extract and not vanilla extract. Well, for me, any type of cookie dough that’s going to taste even a hint of black licorice is not worth the calories, the time, or the ingredients and it’s all going in the trash. The recipe and the making of it was almost right. However, the results are disastrous. That’s the problem of self-diagnosis. Yes. Go in the right direction. Trust your gut. However, remember that you do need an outside perspective and a professional to truly self-diagnose. The pain that you might think is the issue might not actually be when observed by outside sources.
We tend to focus, as humans and especially as executive leaders of nonprofits, to focus on the pain of our problems and therefore the medicine or the treatments (a brand or a website) rather than the root problem. The pain can’t be solved with Band-Aids if it needs stitches or surgery, it’s just not going to do the job. The first sign of this is the focus on the pain where leaders and drivers are used to jumping on a problem and fixing it and moving on. Sometimes they can just miss with the best of intentions the fact that this problem continues to reoccur.
An example of this is that we were working with a nonprofit who came to us for advertising to increase utilization of their recovery services. Advertising does just that. It increases awareness, and it will generate more interest, but interest alone will not increase utilization. You have to have your referral sources, your website, your outgoing voicemail. All of those touch-points have to support that advertising or awareness effort. In this case, it didn’t. The advertiser could hold on to their funds (their rare advertising funds) and actually just fix the touch points; how they showed up on the Internet, how they showed up when they called, how people talked about them that they were serving in those moments of crisis (when people had an opportunity to say, “Yes, I need help fighting this addiction.”). That alone is what changed the utilization. It wasn’t about we need to increase awareness. It was about fixing the alignment. That was the root problem. No amount of spending on top of it would have really changed it. We got to the root problem and made the difference.
The next example of this is same yield, same results. We are so often to share credit with others in terms of the work that we do. We wouldn’t have gotten here alone. Well, unfortunately, that expectation is true when there’s a problem. How can you expect to have the same people, the same resources, the same annual budget, the same communications plan, and yet expect different results? We started working with a individual division of a well known global nonprofit, and they had expanded their services that required a doubling of their fundraising goal. Yet they had made a modest increase in their annual advertising budget. It was significant for them and brought it to 50,000. Their goal was to do the same things, to use that advertising to promote their fundraising events throughout the year and their gala, all these things that they had done in the past. Well, doing the same thing and expecting twice the result, it’s just not possible.
After looking at the data/the trends/the sources of where the money was coming from, we recommended moving all of that investment (that advertising investment) not the events which stayed the same towards an annual giving campaign at the end of the year to push this really heartwarming benefit that they provide to families with young children in crisis.
As a result of that, we lifted the individual and new donors by 350,000 and the total giving that year by $500,000. We got there because we changed something different. We did something radical. Yeah, it was uncomfortable at first. You have to change if you want different results.
The third point is denial. Boy, I really like that blanket of denial sometimes. We’ve we’ve all been there. Before COVID, if we would get symptoms of a cold, you know, as leaders, we just think we have to power through, right? Because we’re too busy. We’ve got too much to do. And so what became, or what started as a simple cold became two weeks of feeling crappy and slowing us down and clouding our thinking. If we had just in the beginning, given at the time that we needed, said, yes, I can’t come into the office, yes, I need some downtime. We probably would have been over it in just a few days. Hopefully we’re thinking better about our bodies today, but that is just an example of how denial is working against us. Nonprofits live in a chronic state of denial when it comes to marketing and funding it.
You are told and conditioned that marketing takes away from the mission. It increases our operational overhead, and nobody wants to pay or donate or give to overhead. They want to give to the mission. Well, we have to change as an industry, as humans, and think about marketing as a forward facing proactive investment and not an occasional operational expense. That’s what’s going to change our future. We have to change that mindset and evolve from being caught up in that belief that marketing dollars take away. Retail businesses had known this from the start. It’s time that we start to think in that one capacity more as retailers who are in charge of bringing people to our mission, not our doors, and engaging and changing the way they think.
My hope is you recognize yourself in what I’m saying, not because what I say is radically new information or that I’m accusing you of doing something wrong. It’s that we as leaders always try to fix things in the quickest, most efficient and effective way possible. However, we need to pause and take time to make sure that we’re solving the root problem and not the pain that lays on top of it. Avoid quick fixes and the placebo that they bring. Avoid denial, thinking that you can do this yourself or that the problem doesn’t really exist. Focus on the problem, not the pain. Yes, trust your gut when it comes to what you think your organization needs; but don’t rely totally on self-diagnosis. Seek professional help. Because when you do, you’ll multiply your mission.
Thanks for watching visit and find more at wearefieldtrip.com/nonprofits. See you next week.