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Episode 46 – Telling human stories on the cheap

My guest on the show today is Brooke WilsonBrooke is a problem-solver and dot-connector who has worked in marketing at agencies and companies in Atlanta for 18 years. She also has been volunteering her time for 27 years with Camp Carefree, a free summer camp for ill and disabled children in North Carolina. What began as a fun teenage summer activity has developed into a passion. She now serves on the Board of Directors, and manages all marketing efforts for the small nonprofit.

Highlights from this Conversation

  1. What has worked well for you?
    1. Social Media
      1. Facebook – overly ask followers to share and like things to spread further organically
      2. Instagram
      3. Great platforms for engagement and asking people to help
    2. Free Tools overall
      1. Making the tools work together
      2. Google Sheets to share information
      3. Google Products are all connected and work together
      4. Best Tools
        1. Switched from Wix to Squarespace
  2. What hasn’t worked well that we can learn from?
    1. Email hasn’t been that effective
      1. Not worth the effort overall

Interview Transcript

Adam: [00:00:02] Hi and welcome to the Good People Good Marketing podcast, a podcast about nonprofit digital marketing and how to make it better so that good people at good organizations can have good marketing as well.

 

[00:00:11] I’m your host, Adam Walker, co-founder of Sideways Eight, a digital marketing agency that specializes in nonprofit work, and 48in48, a nonprofit dedicated to hosting events that build forty-eight websites for forty-eight nonprofits in forty-eight hours.

 

[00:00:24] My guest today is Brooke Wilson. Brooke is a problem solver and dot connector who has worked in marketing at agencies and companies in Atlanta for eighteen years.

 

[00:00:34] She has also been volunteering her time for twenty-seven years with Camp Carefree, a free summer camp for ill and disabled children in North Carolina. What began as a fun teenage summer activity has developed into a passion. She now serves on the board of directors and manages all marketing efforts for the small nonprofit. Brooke, thanks for joining me on the podcast.

 

Brooke: [00:00:55] Adam, thank you for having me.

 

Adam: [00:00:58] By the way, that’s amazing. Twenty-seven years volunteering for the same – I think that’s got to be some kind of record. That’s unbelievable. I’m really impressed by that.

 

Brooke: [00:01:07] Thank you. I was brought in to Camp Carefree by my middle school English teacher, who kind of blew my mind. This is one of my favorite stories. She was also a leader at my church and she saw something in me to get involved in this nonprofit and she told me to fib about my age so that I could start when I was fourteen, you were supposed to be sixteen, which kind of blew my mind at the time that she was telling me to lie.

 

Adam: [00:01:31] That’s amazing. Well, sometimes things work out in unexpected ways so that’s really exciting. Well, I’m really looking forward to this. I know you’ve got a lot of perspective from the agency side, a lot of perspective from the hands-on managing marketing side for a small nonprofit, so let’s dive in because I can’t wait to hear what you have to say.

 

[00:01:53] Related to digital marketing or specifically nonprofit digital marketing, whichever you prefer, tell us something that has worked well for you.

 

Brooke: [00:02:01] Sure. Well, there’s a few things that have worked well for us but I think I’d like, if you don’t mind, to backup a little bit and tell you about my experience working for, today I (unclear 02:11) Moxie, which is we call ourselves a modern marketing agency that’s pushing our clients forward in digital marketing. Then on the flip side, working for a non-profit that literally has a budget of zero.

 

[00:02:24] In my daytime hours I’m doing extremely advanced data-driven, digital marketing for the likes of Wal-Mart, and Verizon, and Coca-Cola, and Delta Airlines. Then in my nights and weekends I’m trying to figure out the free tools on Google and Facebook that allow me to reach our followers that are interested in Camp Carefree in what is a pretty rural area of North Carolina.

 

[00:02:50] That leads me to the actual answer of your question, which is social media, which is probably the answer you get all the time, but also free tools overall and really making those tools work together.

 

[00:03:02] I think this is where my day job informs what I can do for Camp Carefree because I have a little more familiarity than maybe some nonprofit marketers around what these tools can do for you and how when they’re connected they can be more powerful.

 

[00:03:19] For example, we’ve been using Google Sheets as an organization to share information for quite a while, but once I understood that the YouTube platform where we keep our videos for free is attached to search results, which is attached to our location data on Google, which is also attached to the entire Google suite for nonprofits. Once you realize that all those things are connected and they work together and really the basis of Google is connecting information and returning great responses to people searching online, you can really make those tools work well for you.

 

[00:03:55] I’m not going to lie and say that it’s always easy. For nonprofits like ours that have been around for thirty years, sometimes you have what I call digital dirty laundry, meaning that well-meaning people have set up accounts on different platforms. It’s a lot easier to set everything up fresh with one Gmail account than it is to try to go back and reconnect. I think we still have two YouTube pages for Camp Carefree. We can’t figure out how to kill one of them and connect it to the other.

 

[00:04:28] But what I do understand from my marketing background is that those things work better together. In terms of what’s worked well it’s using the tools that are at your disposal and trying to understand enough about how they work together to get the most value out of them.

 

[00:04:42] That (unclear 04:44) of concept leads over to especially Facebook and Instagram and how we use those platforms and really with no marketing budget, how do you try to get your message out. I think it’s really all about engagement of your followers, your audiences, your stakeholders and asking them to help because within the Facebook algorithm today, as many of your listeners probably know, you reach about 2% of organic followers with any post. Don’t put any money behind it because that’s now their 100% business model.

 

[00:05:18] So how do you counteract that as a nonprofit? I’ve never been able to find anything that says they give any kind of concession to non-profit and allow us to reach more people. But you really (unclear 05:29) overt in asking your followers to share, to like things so their friends see it, and to try to spread your message in your posts organically that way.

 

[00:05:40] Luckily, like I bet a lot of other nonprofits, we have pretty passionate folks who are in our community. We have a pretty good take rate, if you will, of people engaging with posts and trying to share it to their networks.

 

Adam: [00:05:53] Yeah. Wow, that’s fantastic. I think that’s really smart, I think too often we put out information on Facebook and we just sort of put it out there. Why not just say, “Hey, please like this. Please re-share.” Why not? People like our pages for reasons, just re-share it. No big deal.

 

Brooke: [00:06:10] That’s right. You just need to remind them.

 

Adam: [00:06:13] Yeah, I think that’s great. On the free tools side, I have to ask, you mentioned Google. Obviously, Google has a lot of free tools that are really great. Are there any other free tools that kind of would reach the top of your free tools list?

 

Brooke: [00:06:26] Yeah, in terms of our website I switched from Wix to Squarespace not too long ago. Maybe it’s personal preference and maybe it’s where we were in terms of what we were looking for, but to me Squarespace has been a great tool for us. I have ended up paying the, what I consider pretty minimal, about a hundred dollars a year to take ads off of our website because that was important to me that we keep our site clean and our message clean and not have to worry about ads that aren’t related to our message or that kind of thing. Squarespace has been a great tool. I find it very easy to use. You can have social connections, you can have links out, you can save documents so that that one has been really key to our little marketing budget as well.

 

[00:07:13] We’ve dabbled in email platforms, but ultimately, and I’ll kind of lead into your next question if you don’t mind, but for our audience at least we found that e-mail was not that effective. People really didn’t want to get e-mails from us except for the kind of functional, call it transactional, but e-mails about their relationship to Camp Carefree. But in terms of like a newsletter or that kind of thing, I’ve found that the effort that it takes to build those kind of things, and get content together, and send it out was not reciprocated in terms of return, so I stopped that program because efforts are better put in different places I think.

 

Adam: [00:07:53] Right. That makes sense. You’ve got to know what’s working and what’s not working. I think e-mail can be powerful for some nonprofits, but I think you’ve got to know your people and if your followers, and donors, and supporters are not interested in e-mail, then stop sending it. Put your effort into something more important for sure. That’s great. That’s great.

 

[00:08:11] Yeah, you’re right that that does move into question. Is there anything else that has not worked well that we can learn from?

 

Brooke: [00:08:19] Yeah, again, I’ll just say that know your audience and know what platforms work for them. I also tried to make Twitter work for a long time because it worked so well for my corporate clients and is such an integral part of their digital marketing. But Twitter just did not stick. That’s just not where our audience is. It’s not what they’re looking for from us. We don’t have a lot of breaking news or what’s happening in the moment with our nonprofit. Again, I’m not going to put a lot of my effort there if my audience isn’t there.

 

[00:08:53] I still keep the channel open because, again, for my day job I know that having platforms like Twitter are important for our SEO value. I do post things there occasionally just so the channel doesn’t get completely stale, so if somebody goes there it doesn’t look like we’ve completely abandoned it. But I’m not relying on that to be a communication device to our audience.

 

[00:09:16] On the flip side, believe it or not, but we still send an annual physical paper letter to our donors and supporters. That is one of our biggest fundraisers of the year. We do it usually just before the holidays. I know a lot of nonprofits do that because of the tax season but we found it very effective.

 

[00:09:38] It serves as our kind of year wrap up as well. Most of our activity and programs are during the summer months and so sending it at that time allows us to talk about how many kids we served this summer, how many volunteers. We like to talk about where they come from around the country. People seem to really find that information interesting. And then we ask for their annual donations so that still work for us as well.

 

Adam: [00:10:03] Well, paper letters, they’re the new e-mail. That’s the whole thing.

 

Brooke: [00:10:08] (unclear 10:08) Twitter.

 

Adam: [00:10:09] It’s shocking really, but it’s (unclear 10:13). In all seriousness, there is some degree of a comeback of some really old school marketing techniques because they had been so widely abandoned. I continue to hear more and more rumblings about exactly what you said, where we’re moving towards sending out physical newsletters because no one’s doing that anymore and it makes sense. For certain audiences and for certain targets and certain nonprofits, I think it makes a lot of sense.

 

Brooke: [00:10:39] Right. Along those same lines, we do a lot of speaking at events and at our donors’ events and that has been very effective in terms of rallying the base, if you will, and in terms of getting our message out and gaining donations. That continues to be something that we put effort into.

 

Adam: [00:11:02] Wow, that’s fantastic. I think that’s really, really smart. I mean it always comes back to knowing your audience, know your audience, know what they like and cater to what they like and how they want to be communicated with, not how we want to communicate to them. That’s really critical. I love that.

 

[00:11:15] Last question, related to digital marketing, tell us something you’re excited about.

 

Brooke: [00:11:21] Well you know, Adam, it’s funny. I get excited in some ways at work every day and then again I have to temper that excitement as it relates to Camp Carefree in the nonprofit world primarily just because of budget. So much of what I see in the marketing world today is pushing toward data-driven personalization buzzword, buzzword, buzzword. But everything is going to one-to-one marketing and using the data that we know about our audiences to personalize messages directly to them to get better return.

 

[00:11:52] Whereas with my Camp Carefree hat on that’s just not feasible. I can’t afford an Adobe Suite. I can’t afford a DMP to manage our data. Our donor information is in Excel. You have to work with what you’ve got. And so without a budget and without data, we have to do what we can to still recognize that trend of personalization, so what I’m doing in that space instead is trying to make our content very human and very personal.

 

[00:12:31] Luckily for the past couple of years we’ve had volunteers at our summer camp programs who are handy with the camera and have done way better job of capturing what’s happening every day with the campers and counselors and llama’s that we have at camp and posting those pictures nearly in real time. At least on Facebook, during the program we’re posting up to sometimes fifty or a hundred pictures per day.

 

[00:12:57] What that does and how we translated that is because now it’s become, for good or worse, it’s an expectation that parents go on our Facebook page and look for their child every day. That’s what I think of when I think of personalization for Camp Carefree. It’s really telling the stories of our campers and counselors, and why they’re with us, and how they’re enjoying the facilities and the programs, and really telling those stories as opposed to talking about we’re a physical location, we’re a camp in Stokesdale, North Carolina, and instead talk about the people that are impacted.

 

[00:13:32] Last year I did a fun thing where we were celebrating a milestone year, so I went through all of our old photo albums and I found pictures of some of our current counselors who started with us twenty years ago when they were little kids and (unclear 13:48) this whole series of photos of kind of before and after, kids when they were like six years old and now they’re twenty-six years old or thirty. That got some really great response. I think it really goes back, again, to that personalization and telling human stories.

 

[00:14:04] When I think about what I’m excited about, it’s really that. It’s taking it away from it’s about this organization. Really what our mission is all about is creating joyful experiences for these kids, so how do we make our marketing express that and tell that story.

 

Adam: [00:14:20] I love that. I love that. Telling human stories, we get lost in that sometimes. We’re telling the story of our mission. We’re telling the story of the work that we’re doing. We’re telling the story of this or that or this data point or that data point, but at the end of the day, human stories. We have to be human. We have to really humanize our brands to connect with people so that they can really understand more fully, more holistically, what we’re trying to do, what we’re about.

 

Brooke: [00:14:46] That’s right. That’s ultimately what’s going to entice them to get involved, volunteer their time, or write us a check. It’s going to be that connection not to a thing or a logo or even a brand but to people.

 

Adam: [00:14:59] Yeah, I love that. I love that. Well let me see if I can summarize our conversation to this point just to make sure that our listeners have some good takeaways.

 

[00:15:09] For what has worked well for you related to digital marketing you said social media. I mean low budget. Social media is a slam dunk. On Facebook, you specifically mentioned asking followers to do things like share the post or like the post or in other ways interact with the post in order to get them to actually do things that you don’t have to pay to do now. It’s like getting a post boosted without paying to boost the post, which is fantastic. I don’t know why I would have never thought of that.

 

[00:15:38] You also mention a lot of success on Instagram and that they’re great platforms for engagement and for asking people for help. Your other thing that’s worked well for are free tools, you mentioned the Google suite, in particular, which has a lot of free tools for nonprofits and making those tools work together.

 

[00:15:53] One of the specific best tools you mentioned was moving from Wix to Squarespace, which I have heard is a fantastic platform. Though I am obsessively biased towards WordPress, but I won’t hold that one against you. But that’s great. I think it’s great that you’re having a lot of success there and that’s really all that matters is that you’re having success. I have heard good things about Squarespace. That’s great.

 

[00:16:13] For what has not worked well for you that we can learn from, you said e-mail really hasn’t been that effective, so you killed it. I think honestly the biggest takeaway there is when something’s not working well, even if it’s something that every other nonprofits doing because every single nonprofit is doing an e-mail newsletter, but if it’s not effective, don’t do it, just give it up. I think it takes a lot of bravery to do that, a lot of boldness to do that, but I think it’s really worthwhile.

 

[00:16:38] You said you must know your audience and what platforms are going to work for them and then work within those platforms. And that you tried to make Twitter work but it didn’t stick either, but you did keep it open with just very little support, so that it is not a dead service there. And that you still send physical paper letters to donors. I think that’s great. You know that it works. You know you can send it and that it’s going to be effective.

 

[00:17:00] For number three what are you excited about related to digital marking, you said data-driven and personalized marketing, but that that’s hard to do on a low budget and so that instead trying to humanize your brand through telling human-centered stories has been really effective. I really think that’s fantastic. Did I miss anything or do you want to add anything to that?

 

Brooke: [00:17:20] No, I think that’s great. I would just add, again, really dig into what the tools have available. On Facebook you can get certified as a nonprofit which allows you to put a donate button on the page. There are just little things like that that can really make the tool work hard for you.

 

Adam: [00:17:38] Yeah, yeah that’s fantastic. Well, Brooke, this has been great. Do you have any sort of final thought. You just gave a final thought. Do you have any additional final, final thoughts that you want to share before we go?

 

Brooke: [00:17:49] No. Go to CampCarefree.org and I always welcome feedback, so if any of your listeners want to give me their advice, I’d love it.

 

Adam: [00:17:56] Well, I’ve been to the site and it looks good, so well done there. I think I would encourage everybody to check that out. Brooke this has been so great. Thanks so much for being on the show. Really enjoyed your take on this and I look forward to having you back again sometime.

 

Brooke: [00:18:09] Thanks for having me Adam.

 

Adam: [00:18:11] Thanks for listening to the Good People Good Marketing Podcast. To get more resources about nonprofit digital marketing, make sure to go to goodpeoplegoodmarketing.com, where you can find more podcast, blogs, and other fun resources.

 

[00:18:22] Also if you want to find me, Adam, your host, you can find me on Twitter @ajwalker or on my blog at adamjwalker.com, where I blog about leadership, productivity, habit building, and the craziness of having five kids. Thanks for listening and tune in next time.

 

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