My guest on the show today is Rebekah Closs. Rebekah is the Program Marketing Manager for UMFS, a private child welfare agency in Richmond, Virginia, with specialty services in treatment, foster care, residential treatment and specialized education. Rebekah is a creative problem solver who believes active listening serves as the foundation for developing holistic solutions. Experienced in market research, strategic planning, and client services, Rebekah has evolved behavior, perspective and approach for local, national and global brands as well as nonprofits throughout the state of Virginia.
Adam: [00:09] Hi, and welcome to the Good People, Good Marketing Podcast, a podcast about digital marketing and how to make it better so the good people and good organizations can have good marketing as well. I’m your host, Adam Walker, co-founder of Sideways8, a digital marketing agency and 48in48, a nonprofit dedicated to hosting events that build forty-eight websites for forty-eight nonprofits in forty-eight hours.
[00:30] My guest on the show today is Rebekah Closs. Rebekah is the Program Marketing Manager for UMFS, a private child welfare agency in Richmond, Virginia, with specialty services in treatment, foster care, residential treatment and specialized education. Rebekah is a creative problem solver who believes active listening serves as the foundation for developing holistic solutions. Experienced in market research, strategic planning, and client services, Rebekah has evolved behavior, perspective and approach for local, national and global brands as well as nonprofits throughout the state of Virginia. Rebekah, welcome to the show.
Rebekah: [01:16] Thanks for having me.
Adam: [01:18] I really liked the part of your bio that says you— Wait, wait, where was it? I had it just a minute ago. Oh, there it is: who believes active listening serves as the foundation to developing holistic solutions. I kind of feel like that statement is basically true for all of life. Right?
Rebekah: [01:35] For sure. Absolutely.
Adam: [01:36] I read that and I’m like, “That’s my whole approach to digital marketing right there. It’s active listening and understanding and then moving from there. Forget all this other marketing mumbo jumbo stuff,” right? And then for parenting, it’s kind of true too, in a lot of ways. So I love that. I’m going to have to steal that maybe and sort of modify it for my own needs. So hope you don’t mind.
Rebekah: [01:55] No, not at all.
Adam: [01:57] That’s great. That’s great. Well, Rebekah, this is going to be so much fun. Really appreciate you joining me on the show. Let’s go ahead and dive in. So first of all, can you tell us something that is working well for you?
Rebekah: [02:10] Sure thing. So with UMFS, we have recently, probably in the last year, which is actually right when I started and came on board, we have worked to restructure and relook at how we approach marketing and we’ve done that in a couple of different ways. First, starting with the way our teams are split up. So as anyone that’s listening that works within a nonprofit, we all have an understanding of how many people internally need our support as a support function within an organization. And there’s often just this constant challenge between who do we give the attention to? Is it to development and folks that are bringing in that sustainable income into the organization or developing community partners or working on grant writing and that type of thing. Or are we giving attention to the folks that are on the front line, who we call those folks, internally, our program staff?
[03:19] So the challenge in anyone’s plate is to decide how you balance that. So what UMFS did was acknowledge that was a challenge and we’ve been in a fortunate place to be able to actually flip the focus. So we have a development and marketing manager who works with our volunteers, our donors and supports that side of our outreach audiences and as well as with the team that oversees corporate partnerships and just fundraising as a collective.
[03:59] And then we have myself and our business development representative that work hand in hand with our program staff. So our main role is to support our program folks with getting the word out to our customer base, which are referral sources in our world, to understand all of the programs that we offer, our outcomes and why they should be using our agency and referring children and families our way.
Adam: [04:30] Wow, that’s kind of brilliant. So let me make sure I’m understanding what you said. I think what you said is, typically, nonprofits have this struggle about do we market for development, which is fundraising; nonprofits speak for fundraising, of course, right? Do we market for development or do we market for programs? Do we market for the money or do we market for the programs that are serving the people. And I think what you’re saying is you divided your team and there’s a marketing team for development and there’s a marketing team for programs and they can both sort of run free. Is that what you’re saying?
Rebekah: [05:04] Yes. Yep, absolutely. And we meet every other week as a collective team and collaborate on certain projects or identify where there might be crossover and say — It’s only been a year and so honestly I don’t want to make it sound like it’s running perfectly. We’re still working out some kinks with it and that is why we meet every other week to really work through that. And it’s really been incredible and it helps both of us, both of our teams, really focus on intentional messaging and really targeted audience and marketing tactics and be able to really drive return on our investment in what strategies we’re choosing to pursue.
Adam: [05:54] Yeah, I love that. And even for smaller marketing teams, I mean there are ways to think about it where maybe the nonprofit’s so small that they can’t have a dedicated team for each one, but you said maybe dedicated time for each one or something like that. But I think it’s really clever to try to divide and just have a very clear divide between the two so that you can sort of really know where you’re allocating your time and your budget and you can make that strategic decision upfront rather than sort of as a byproduct of the craziness of marketing. Right? Whatever, switching sides in the long run.
Rebekah: [06:25] For sure. Absolutely.
Adam: [06:26] I love that. I love that. That’s brilliant. Brilliant. Okay.
Rebekah: [06:32] (inaudible 06:32)
Adam: [06:33] Yeah. I think it’s really fantastic and I think it’s a really helpful thought experiment for people to really consider that. So question number two, related to digital marketing, can you tell us something that has not worked well that we can learn from?
Rebekah: [06:47] Sure thing. So it kind of also goes with what hasn’t worked has actually yielded us and moved us to something that has worked really well. We have not found great success in display advertising. And a lot of that is because I think we’ve just found the cost per conversion is incredibly high and we’ve tested user groups. We’ve done regional targeting, we’ve done targeting towards interests, targeting towards types of jobs and careers based on trends and patterns we’re seeing within our audiences but we’re not seeing a conversion happening. And as probably many folks listening, no, it’s critical that our dollars are put towards something that is yielding a return and we don’t have the luxury of spending money for awareness, and impressions and click throughs are awesome but when that conversion count gets low, it’s just not feasible to keep doing it.
[07:57] So with even remarketing, we tried that and that hasn’t really worked either. So we’ve moved away from display ads and moved towards search engine optimization and search engine marketing and that has been pivotal in our marketing. In the last year, the traffic towards our Become a Foster Parent page, which is a large part of my B2C marketing outreach, has increased 1,200% and our inquiry—
Adam: [08:30] What?
Rebekah: [08:32] I know, right? Our inquiries that we’ve received have gone up over 300% in the last year. So we are beyond thrilled with the way that is working. And truthfully, I think the difference between those two is we are reaching people where the intent is already there with search engine. So your cost per conversion is so much lower and right now, we’re at about $38 per conversion, which we’re working every month to lower. And our display ad conversion was $300 to $450. It’s not feasible for a nonprofit. That’s like what large corporate brands pay so that’s just not feasible on our end. And so the display piece, I think— Don’t get me wrong, I think display advertising is wonderful for awareness; and I think for specific types of audiences, I think it’s very effective. But with more of the emotional type of connection that we have to form with our audience, it’s just not there. I think what we’ve heard is people saying, “I saw your ad. It was beautiful and then I moved on.” We’re not asking people to buy a can of coke. We’re asking people, with foster parent recruitment, to open their homes and it’s life-changing in many ways. And so we just haven’t found the space in a display ad to get that message across. (inaudible 10:14)
Adam: [10:17] Yeah. And I mean, I think you hit the nail on the head. I mean, you said with search engine marketing, with SEO and SEM, the intent is already there and so people are ready to convert. And I mean, you’re spot on, right? I mean, if people are searching for your keywords, obviously, there’s some intent behind that search; meaning that when they find your ad, they click on your ad, they’re much more likely to convert to kind of connect with you in the way that you’re looking to connect. So I think that’s kind of brilliant and really excellent. So I love it. I love it. Man, those numbers are astronomically amazing.
Rebekah: [10:50] Thank you. We’ve been really pleased with it. And full transparency, we have partnered with an external team on that that’s really guided us in strategy and we support them with the content creation and we’ve added a lot of pages to our site that the average person clicking through wouldn’t be able to find them, but you served them based on what you’re searching. So we looked through the most commonly asked questions that folks ask when they’re looking to become a foster parent and some are like, “How much does a foster parent get paid?” or, “Foster care versus adoption? Which way should I go?” So we’ve built content pages on all of that and it’s increased our search ranking from being on pages two to four in some of our regions to being number two on page one, second to the .gov, to the Department of Social Services, which I doubt we’ll ever be able to surpass. But, again, that’s also been really effective. So for us, that spend has just been a much wiser spend that we’re seeing return on than doing more of your traditional display and remarketing.
Adam: [12:04] Yeah. That’s fantastic. All right. So question number three, excited about this one, related to digital marketing, can you tell me something you are excited about?
Rebekah: [12:13] Yeah. So can I tell you two things?
Adam: [12:14] Of course. Yeah, I’d love to hear two things.
Rebekah: [12:18] So the first piece is we have switched our CRM and we’re launching that in January and we’re really excited. It’s called — we’re moving from Salesforce actually to ActiveCampaign.
Adam: [12:33] I love ActiveCampaign.
Rebekah: [12:36] So great. It’s amazing. It’s the user experience in terms of managing a pipeline. It’s incredible. You’re literally dragging and dropping names and it feels so much more real. And what we’re building there are automations so our recruiters and our trainers of foster parents don’t have to do the work of emailing this list of, hey, when you’re coming to this event, prepare all of this stack of paperwork before you come in. They don’t have to type that every time. So that automation piece happens and then we’re building campaigns with video content that will encourage people as they’re dropping off. So anyone that’s out there running a pipeline, whether that’s with donors or volunteers or referral sources, we understand that we only convert about 10% from the top of our funnel down and we’re trying to improve that percentage. And one way is by helping coax people throughout the process with some more personalized video messaging.
[13:47] So we know a lot of folks that drop off from the approval process to become a foster parent are often just they don’t think they can do it. They don’t think they’re a good enough parent or they don’t think they have a big enough house or enough money or they’re just simply overwhelmed. And so we’re going to be building out different videos that are speaking to those exact barriers to entry in a hope to convert more folks through the funnel.
Adam: [14:20] I love that.
Rebekah: [14:22] So we’re excited about that. And in that same vein, with video content, we’ve seen a huge success in sharing stories through video on our Facebook page already. That content gets shared 80% more often. But what I am really jazzed about, and this started, this passion started of mine back when I was on the ad agency side doing work with larger brands is experiential marketing. And by no means is that a new tactic or a new technique to more of those corporate brands and CPG, but it’s newer. I don’t know many nonprofits that are using that as a method of marketing. And for us, so many people don’t become foster parents because they just don’t know what it’s going to be like and that fear is such a big barrier for us. We’re really excited in the next year to explore different ways we can bring folks in to help them experience what becoming a foster parent might feel like. So we’re going to be building up a YouTube page with different types of categories of videos to talk through what the experience is like as a foster parent from both the youth and teen’s perspective as well as a family member’s perspective. But we also are brainstorming things, like how do we get potential foster parents in a home where they can have dinner with a family and experience what a night looks like? And those youth in foster care, they aren’t scary. They’re great and the parents aren’t perfect. So I’m really excited to look into more ways we can bring the experience to life for our audience and not just putting out messaging towards them.
Adam: [16:26] Wow. I love that. I love that. That’s amazing. And the way you paint the picture about having them sit down at the table with current foster parents I think is really fantastic. So Rebekah, let me see if I can recap what we’ve learned so far in this conversation. So question number one, related to digital marketing, what has worked well for you? You said you restructured how your teams or how your marketing teams are set up and so rather than having one team that is constantly divided and being pulled one way to do marketing for development, which is fundraising, and pulled the other way to do marketing for the programs, instead you just have two marketing teams—one for development, one for programs—so everybody’s happy and then you collaborate amongst yourselves to make sure that you’re complementing one another’s efforts, which I think is just kind of brilliant and really, really amazing.
[17:12] Question number two, what has not worked well that we can learn from, you said display advertising has not worked well. The cost per conversion is just too high. I think it was in the $300 per conversion, roughly area. Spending money for awareness is a luxury that nonprofits just don’t have and even remarketing has not worked well. So, instead, you move towards SEO and SEM. You mentioned that traffic has increased by 1,200% and inquiries have gone up by 300%. And specifically, this is because with SEO and SEM, there’s intent already there. When somebody’s doing a search, there’s already intent behind that search to make an action. And so because you’re marketing where there’s already intent, you’re able to get a better bang for your buck, which is fantastic.
[17:53] For question number three, what are you excited about, you said you’re switching CRMs to ActiveCampaign, which I am a huge fan of. I’m logged in to ActiveCampaign for two different companies right now on my computer. So big fan of ActiveCampaign, super user-friendly, very inexpensive compared to most of the other products out there on the market and really just an amazing product all around. So I’m a big fan, really excited to hear you say that. You said you’re building marketing automations around that to save your volunteers’ times, so they’re not having to constantly send out the same email and retype things over and over again. You also mentioned that you’re building campaigns with video content to keep people from dropping out of your funnel and help retain them. You also mentioned just video content in general is working well for you, that sharing video on Facebook gets shared 80% more often, which is kind of amazing. And then lastly, you mentioned experiential marketing; you’re excited to help people have an experience and really understand what it’s like to be a foster parent in order to get them to sign up and sort of join the cause. Did I miss anything from our conversation there?
Rebekah: [18:55] No, no, it was great. Thank you so much.
Adam: [18:58] Fantastic. Fantastic. Well, do you have any final thoughts you want to share?
Rebekah: [19:04] It’s a great last question. I think another thing that maybe other folks might already be doing but can incorporate digital marketing is word of mouth advertising. We’ve built a strategy around word of mouth and are launching that in each of our regions over the last six months. And we all know that there’s the marketing statistic of consumers trust their friends and their peers much more than they trust ads. And so we’re finding ways to do word of mouth online and we’ve created a reward system where if folks are sharing our content or creating their own and posting it, they get swag if they keep doing it each month. And that’s a way to engage our foster parents and keep them aligned to our mission and sharing that with their friends. So that’s just a final thing that I wanted to add in that we’re excited about and that we’ve seen some traction on as well.
Adam: [20:11] I love that. I mean there’s nothing better than someone that is passionate about what you’re doing, sharing what you’re doing with somebody that they care about. I mean, there’s just a lot of power in that. So that’s really fantastic. Well, Rebekah, this was great. I really appreciate your time. Thanks so much for joining me on the show.
Rebekah: [20:28] Absolutely. Thank you for having me.
Adam: [20:33] Thanks for listening to the Good People, Good Marketing Podcast. To get more resources about digital marketing, make sure to go to goodpeoplegoodmarketing.com where you can find more podcasts, blogs, and other fun resources. Also, if you want to find me, your host, you can find me on Twitter @ajwalker and on my blog at adamjwalker.com, where I blog about leadership productivity, habit building, and the craziness of having five kids. Thanks, and tune in next time.
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