Best Quote from this episode:
Stick with something long enough to see it be successful, long enough to get good at it.
– Jesse Lane
Adam: [00:00:09] Hi, and welcome to 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. I’m your host Adam Walker, co-founder of Sideways Eight, a digital marketing agency that specializes in nonprofit work and 48 in 48, a nonprofit dedicated to hosting events that build 48 websites for 48 nonprofits in 48 hours.
In this episode today I’ve got Jesse Lane. Jesse is a storyteller since elementary school, but the labels keep changing. From photographer to designer, filmmaker, marketer, entrepreneur, creative director, V.P. and most recently Marketing Director. Jesse has led digital marketing and creative teams at Dayspring Seed Company, 5Q and now Pure Charity. At Pure Charity, he is a part of a team supporting over 1300 nonprofits with technology and strategy. You also might find Jesse directing virtual reality films, which I’m going to have to ask him about later, dancing to Disney songs with his daughters or calling the hogs. Jesse, do you want to fill in any details from that?
Jesse: [00:01:10] I think that’s more than you could ever want to know. But yeah, sounds like I change jobs a lot with that info, now that I hear it out loud.
Adam: [00:01:17] No, it sounds like you’re amazingly productive and helping a lot of organizations in a major way is what it sounds like to me. I love that.
Jesse: [00:01:25] It’s a lot of fun. I love it, yeah. That’s what I like to do is, I just surround myself with people that are making change and doing good work and just hang out with them and help if I can.
Adam: [00:01:38] Man, that’s fantastic. Well, that’s what this podcast is about, is helping out. We’re trying to help digital marketers that market for nonprofits in particular. And so with that in mind, we can dive into our discussion. So, related to digital marketing, first question is: what has worked well for you?
Jesse: [00:01:56] Yeah, it’s a great question, and I was thinking recently — and then kind of broadened that thinking to like, in my career, what has been working — and so there’s a lot that hasn’t been. So when we get to that, that will be a long question, but —
Adam: [00:02:14] That’s great.
Jesse: [00:02:15] Failing a lot. But that’s actually pretty important to success. But the three things that kind of I bucketed these into was: one, convictions; two, relationships; and three, perseverance. And I’ll kind of unpack each of those if you want.
Adam: [00:02:34] Great.
Jesse: [00:02:35] Yeah. So number one: convictions. I mean, for me, I think — and nonprofit leaders and marketers know about this — I mean, they’re in this space, but they’re coming from a place of passion, coming from a place of conviction and belief of something: a goal, a vision. They’re not just there for a paycheck or for a job or clocking in and out. They’re doing something that matters, that they care about. And to me, that’s just critically important for all of us. And in marketing too. Because as marketers, if you think about it, we have to kind of be the mascot if you will. We have to be the face of an organization. And talk about burnout, if you’re doing that day in and day out for something you don’t believe in, something that you’re not passionate about.
And so to me, for a marketer, it’s more important than anybody to really be at a place that you believe in. And maybe that’s true for you, maybe for a non-profit marketer they’ve joined an organization that they’re passionate about, but it fades, or it just feels like work some days and they struggle and it’s tough to produce content. It’s tough to write an article or do a podcast or a webinar or write an email appeal if you’re not feeling that passion. And so I think one thing that I would say is, coming back to those convictions, reminding yourself daily why you’re doing what you’re doing, why you’re there. And sometimes it takes more than just a quick reminder. Sometimes it takes a trip to the field to experience the impact of the work, if it’s global. That’s a big investment but it’s worth it. Maybe it’s down the street if you’re a local nonprofit, but just kind of getting exposure to the impact of the organization I feel like is extremely important for nonprofit marketers, just to reignite those passions to really avoid that burnout. They need that. And so I’d call that perspective, it’s like stepping back and reminding yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing. And then it’s priorities. I mean, setting your priorities straight, taking care of yourself. And if your convictions lay in one place, but your work every day isn’t lined up, then if there’s not alignment there you’re risking burnout, you’re risking doing something that you’re going to look back on with regret or just kind of you’re going to fade from that passion maybe that you started with. I think that’s really important.
Adam: [00:05:30] I love what you’re saying. Just real quick, about priorities in particular: I find it so easy to say, “Oh yeah, our goal for this year is this,” and then by March, the things that you’re working on daily have nothing to do with that goal and have nothing to do with your convictions really, and it’s easy to get bogged down into the minor day to day things. But rising up above that or looking and saying, “What do I have to do to drag this organization forward?” That’s critical.
Jesse: [00:05:54] Yeah, that’s right. And it’s fun to talk about it at the beginning of the year, in 2018, starting off, but I think priorities, just keep it simple. Maybe you only have a few.
Adam: [00:06:07] Yeah, absolutely.
Jesse: [00:06:09] We try and do too much sometimes. But I think coming back to those as a rhythm, as a routine; habitually coming back all the time to those priorities and making sure that you’re spending your time on what’s most important to you and to your organization is pretty important.
Adam: [00:06:28] That’s critical. That’s great. And your next one is relationships, right?
Jesse: [00:06:33] Yeah this is huge. I mean, I just always find myself reflecting on this, thinking about this and really recommending this focus for other people and nonprofits and really any kind of job or industry. But I think it’s really true for non-profit marketers too. And that’s just intentionally investing in personal relationships, one on one with any kind of person. I’ll come back to that. And then also just having that relational, human voice in your marketing. I think that’s key. And then treating even your marketing funnel — as a nonprofit hopefully you have considered the funnel of bringing someone along the journey, if you will, into a partnership or investment with your organization and then treating that funnel like a relationship. And it’s really, I think, a framework that is super helpful.
So let me kind of walk through each of those. So just relationships as a one on one investment I think is just one of the most important investments we can make. I mean, not just with co-workers and partners, those may be obvious, but connecting with donors on a one on one level. And some organizations out there, you have tens of thousands of donors, and you think, “Well, that’s not scalable.” But as you build those relationships, you develop empathy and understanding for your donors and for maybe those who aren’t donors yet, but you start to understand their goals and their challenges and their needs. And really that’s the most important thing as a marketer, is to be able to communicate to the heart of our audiences. And if you don’t have a face and a name — personas are great, but real people that you know and that are kind of every day, just that you’re trying to speak to as a marketer. And I think it’s a challenge; it’s difficult sometimes. So I think investing in those types of relationships too, and even with competitors. And really there’s no relationship, I would say, that’s a waste of time. And so just throughout my career I’ve found that time and time again, relationships have been just not only rewarding personally, but beneficial as a marketer.
Adam: [00:09:14] Fantastic.
Adam: [00:09:16] And then we talked about the human voice and a relational voice and tone in your messaging. And I think, especially maybe for smaller nonprofits that marketing isn’t your background or for new marketers, maybe you kind of come in and you feel like, “Okay, I’m writing and designing and speaking on behalf of an organization, so I have to be buttoned up. I have to be formal.” And maybe that’s true for a few organizations, but I think by and large, oftentimes we make a mistake when we go that direction with our voice for our brand. And the reason I would say is because people like to connect with people. They don’t build relationships with brands as naturally. And so if you’re representing an organization in a corporate tone, it’s so formal. It’s really just not very approachable; it’s not very accessible to your audience. They don’t feel like they can connect and build a conversation with an organization that really has a tone like that.
So for me at least, I think that’s another way to think about relationships, is building relationships in a broad way through your social media platforms, through your website, that your writing and even your tone of design and everything you do is meant to be approachable and relational, and it just invites people in. And there’s some really practical ways that you can do that too that I’ve seen.
I seem to be working out there in this space that’s like, for your e-mails, most nonprofits have these well-designed, polished HDMI emails that they’re sending out and that’s great. Maybe they worked hard on that, and they have to have — each time they sent out an email, two or three people touch those to design them and then someone codes those emails and then someone else is actually setting that up. And I’m not ready to say, “Don’t ever do that,” because I think there is a place for that and there’s some beautifully designed emails out there that really have an emotional effect on the end user. But I would encourage nonprofits to strip that down and just send plain text, relational written emails once in a while. And yet it feels almost counter-intuitive too. “But everybody wants visuals, and they perform better and” — but the truth is there’s been studies out there that have shown that plain text emails actually outperform the HDML designed emails sometimes, and we’ve had success with that. I’ve found success with that in a number of different places. And I think the reason is, like, back to the principal, it’s just you feel like you’re connecting with a person that’s writing you an email as if they’re a friend. And how much more likely are we to open an email that it looks like it’s from a person or a friend and it’s written that way too. We open those emails.
Adam: [00:12:45] Well, as far as the email newsletters go too, when I get a super highly designed email newsletter, it’s usually like four or five sections long, and each section has an image — like, I don’t read that. I mean, I don’t have time to read that. But if I get a plain text, simple, short, to the point email, maybe sharing a success story and, “Hey would you consider giving ten dollars,” or whatever, like, that will actually make it onto my radar. It doesn’t get discarded immediately like all the other ones do. And I’m a lot more likely to engage in that scenario.
Jesse: [00:13:17] Exactly, yeah. It’s so funny because we’ve spent all this time on these emails but then it’s like we’re sending this big flag when they first open it, and sometimes even before they open it, saying “this is a mass email. Lots of people got it.” And you just immediately — you just don’t even open it or read it, or maybe you say, “I’ll read it later,” and you actually don’t.
Adam: [00:13:40] It’s like permission not to pay attention, basically.
Jesse: [00:13:44] Exactly. It seems a little counterintuitive, but I think more and more marketers are headed that direction. And so, if you are uncomfortable with that, then maybe just try it out a couple of times, and maybe AB test that: send one plain text email, one of your normal template, and see which performs better. And kind of ease into it there. And related to that, in a kind of different channel, is advertising. And I would say that advertising is moving into this place more and more too. Some of the best advertisers that I’ve seen out there, even with Facebook ads and Instagram ads and on search engine platforms too, they are doing it in a way that feels almost — it’s less formal, it’s more relational. It kind of catches you off guard.
So for instance, I’ve seen recently, pictures on Instagram and Facebook that when I first look at them, I don’t even know that they are advertisements. And it’s because they’re not polished designs, they don’t have graphics and banners and text across them. Maybe they’re just a picture of a person or a team or something that you would expect to see on your social media channels. And then they kind of get your attention and then you look into the copy below, and the text, and it reads as if a person wrote it. You know, it’s a story. It’s not, “Two hours left to buy this product or– ”
Adam: [00:15:24] Right. It’s not a hard sales pitch.
Jesse: [00:15:27] Exactly. “Donate now.” You know, it’s very relational. And I think that is just one way to break through the noise these days, just that relational voice. I think nonprofits would benefit from kind of heading in that direction into all channels.
Adam: [00:15:47] I one hundred percent agree. The more personable, the more human you can be, the better, for sure.
Jesse: [00:15:51] And then, the other one I would say, again, in the same mindset of relationships, which I think just applies in so many places, is treating your relationship with your prospective donors and your existing donors as thinking of it like a relationship. So what I mean by that is: think about a marriage. For instance, my relationship with my wife started back actually in like middle school, and we met in fifth grade.
Adam: [00:16:26] Fifth grade sweethearts.
Jesse: [00:16:30] Well not quite, so that’s the funny thing. When I first approached her in fifth grade, I got denied. She shot me down, and we still joke about it today. And then in eighth grade, we went to a dance together and then she broke it off like the next day, broke my heart. And then eventually in the 11th grade, in high school, we started dating, and we’ve been together ever since. So it’s funny, but if you look at your relationship with your potential donors as — think about a relationship like that, like a marriage, and it takes nurturing, it takes a lot of time and investment and a lot of touch points. And for me, it took a whole lot, I mean, years of kind of this pursuit, and it paid off. But one thing I like to say is: everybody always jokes about communication, right? Communication, communication, communication. It’s like, so important to relationships. Well, the same is true for nonprofits and marketers who are trying to build a relationship. For instance, don’t assume that your audience read your last e-mail or have seen your social media posts.
Adam: [00:17:47] Right. They haven’t. Almost definitely they haven’t.
Jesse: [00:17:51] Exactly. We tend to think that though. It’s funny, because we’re like, “Oh, I already said that, I don’t want to repeat myself. I don’t want to say it again.” Or it’s like, “They all know this because I sent it in an email.” We forget that it takes multiple times to really get a message in the minds of our audience. But also, just the funnel. You think about a funnel, and taking someone who’s never heard of your nonprofit, they couldn’t care less about what you do. All the way down the funnel to a donor who is then passionately advocating on your behalf to others and telling others about fundraising for you in peer to peer. So I think that’s the goal, right?
Well, I think one of the biggest mistakes I see out there is again, not thinking about those like a relationship and you’re just trying to immediately get someone to that donor state. And so in your first touchpoint in your communications, you’re already asking people to donate and give. And that’s a huge mistake, because they just met you. So that would be like in fifth grade, or maybe eighth grade me getting down on one knee and asking this girl Stephanie to marry me.
Adam: [00:19:07] Yeah, it’s a little premature.
Jesse: [00:19:11] Yeah, a little premature. And so, practically speaking, for nonprofits, I think that looks like: first, just getting on their radar, getting their attention somehow. This is the fun, creative part of marketing: building awareness out there with storytelling, with really creative ways, whether that be video or some kind of guerrilla or viral marketing. Your social media content out there that’s something different, getting their attention. Not trying to ask them to give or really do much at all at that point. Just getting their attention. And if you’re doing that on social media, what’s really cool, is Facebook’s tracking all of the engagement you get. And so one thing that I’ve seen is, you get people to like or comment or click on a Facebook ad or Instagram ad, and then you can use that engagement to go back and then show ads to them. To just the people that have engaged.
Adam: [00:20:15] Yeah, you can take them and nurture.
Jesse: [00:20:16] Yeah exactly, yeah. That’s the keyword there, nurturing. And so you’re nurturing that relationship and then now you know that they’ve shown some interest and so maybe you’re asking them to go one step closer. Maybe that’s to join your email list and give them a good reason to do that. Maybe they get something in return: free download or an assessment or something, and then they’re a little bit closer. Now in your email list, you can start to tell more stories and start communicating more often and engaging them and then eventually they’re going to get more and more likely to make that first gift. And then you’ve got those who’ve given before who are more likely to give a larger gift and invest even more. So I think if you just have that mindset, it really helps avoid the mistake of on every advertisement, every social media post, trying to get someone to give.
Adam: [00:21:13] Yeah, yeah. A hundred percent agree with that. And I think that’s your word: perseverance. Like, you have to look at these relationships as things that you have to persevere through and develop over a period of time, not something that’s just going to be instant. I mean we too quickly go for the easy wins in nonprofit marketing, and the easy wins are fleeting. And they’re not as beneficial either, it’s the long-term nurturing, really building a person and building a relationship with a person that’s going to make a big difference. So that’s fantastic.
Jesse: [00:21:45] Yeah exactly. And that’s right, perseverance. I mean, that was the final thought on what’s working, is just sticking with something long enough to see it be successful. And sadly, I guess kind of leading into that next question: what’s not working? I see that all the time: nonprofits chasing the next shiny thing out there. And founders and executive directors are famously bad about this.
Adam: [00:22:16] I don’t know what you’re talking about. What do you mean?
Jesse: [00:22:20] Oh yeah, whoops, you’ve got founder by your title.
Adam: [00:22:20] I’ve never done that.
Jesse: [00:22:26] Well, and then marketers are stuck chasing whatever the founder of the organization is telling them to do.
Adam: [00:22:33] That’s right, yeah.
Adam: [00:22:33] But it’s just like, sticking with something long enough to get good at it, because we are going to fail at first — and so that’s why we should fail fast and be okay with failing, plan to fail and just fail several times until you get to that moment when you actually know what you’re doing in that thing. And so I think just when you have an idea, when you have something you’re passionate about, stick with it long enough for it to be successful. And a lot of times what that takes is just someone that’s not a visionary, but more of an operational minded person that can just see it through to the end.
Adam: [00:23:10] Yeah, I love that. I mean the words you said there: “Stick with it long enough to get good at it.” I mean, I feel like that’s the thing that I see people not doing consistently. I mean, they come out with, “Oh blogging is a big thing. Oh, we have to have a blog.” Okay, let’s have a blog. And for two months they blog and then they’re done. But all the stats show that you have to blog consistently for more than six to eight months before you see any kind of real return on that. But they’ve already lost it by that time. They’re already onto the next shiny thing and the next shiny thing and the next shiny thing.
Jesse: [00:23:38] Exactly. That’s right. To be fair, I had that same temptation, right? It’s easy to do.
Adam: [00:23:46] Oh yeah, well, we all do. Yeah. A new tool, a new social network, a new methodology, we all jump on the bandwagon a little too quickly at times. I’m guilty on both the marketing and the founder levels for that. That’s great.
So what else have you experienced that’s not working well? I think we kind of started that list here, but I want to flesh that out a little bit further.
Jesse: [00:24:10] Yeah sure. So yeah, we talked about just always moving on too quickly, chasing the next thing. I think, just to hang out there for a little bit longer, we just love the idea of innovation. We love emerging things, but we need to value the operating side of things as well. We need to value project management. We need to value that grit that it takes to get through the dip of a project where it’s really hard, and we just need to power through. And that really requires a lot of collaboration among a team. It requires a lot of hard work along the way. And I think one of the keys to that — again, to answer the question — that isn’t working for people is organizations, sometimes nonprofits, they don’t have, as a team, a rhythm that keeps them collaborating successfully and communicating well. I would call it a lack — it’s under communication. They’re not in rhythm, in step with one another, so that looks like silos: organizational silos, where different departments are kind of chasing different things or maybe they’re chasing the same thing in two different ways. And they’re not staying on the same page. And so I think it’s important and maybe it’s a goal for 2018 for organizations to just set organizational rhythms and a cadence, where everybody’s staying in the loop and synced up together.
Adam: [00:26:02] Yeah, I love that. For 48 in 48 in particular, which is the nonprofit that I run, we do daily 15 minute stand up calls: what are you working on, what did you do yesterday, what did you do today, what’s blocking you? Those kinds of calls are always made. And then we have three or four other 15 minute calls every single week. Like, one of them is a timeline call: Where are we at on the timeline for all of the events that we’re tracking for this year? Are we on track or are we not on track? What’s off track? What do we do to fix it? Another one is our executive dashboard: what are our numbers? How many donors do we have over a certain amount? What are we doing to go after other businesses that can get involved? Those sorts of things. And so each meeting is about 15 minutes long, but it has a specific focus so that we’re all focused on the same thing for that 15 minutes and we can we can track through that meeting and really know exactly where we’re at and how we’re going to grow for that week, that month, that year, that quarter, that sort of thing.
Jesse: [00:26:57] That’s perfect. I mean, that’s exactly what I’m talking about. And I think the larger the organization gets, the harder this becomes and the more important those types of rhythms are. At C company, organization of 350 staff or something, and the team I had was about 35 people and just, it looks different than now at Pure Charity with a smaller team. But some of the same rhythm, some of the same monthly, weekly, daily kind of rhythms. But then there had to be this — and I think this maybe for marketers out there that are with larger organizations — communicating all the way to the top with your executive director, the CEO, other key leaders in the organization is really important. And oftentimes we’ll get down halfway through a project and we’re trying to get it just right before we share with those leaders. And that’s a mistake, because they want their voices to be heard. And you’re really risking them kind of throwing it all out if it’s not headed in the direction they want. And so you need to know that upfront. And so even beyond just your own team, your own smaller department, organizational wide in these larger nonprofits is really important to you and finding the right rhythm for that.
Adam: [00:28:27] Yeah, yeah. I totally agree. Totally agree. So that’s what’s not working. Last question is, I love this question: What are you excited about?
Jesse: [00:28:38] Yeah. Man, so much. Like I get excited easy.
Adam: [00:28:41] I already knew that was going to be the answer. I love that.
Jesse: [00:28:44] Oh man, so much. But yeah, I’ll kind of just say one thing that I’m really excited about and this is just new forms of storytelling. And I think the world and technology is just changing rapidly. I love that. I mean, it’s exciting to me. It’s hard to keep up with. Honestly, it’s kind of exhausting, but you don’t have to, and that’s the good news, don’t feel like you have to be on top of everything, like we said earlier: chasing the next thing. But it’s fun to watch how people are taking these new platforms, new technologies and doing the same thing in a new way.
So, storytelling, for instance, we’ve been telling stories since the beginning of time. And people inherently love stories, we are all a part of stories, and we are storytellers. And so I think that’s good to know, first of all, but I think I’m excited about seeing how nonprofits are going to use these new forms of communication to tell stories even better than before. And I guess I want to encourage nonprofits to — don’t lag behind the business world, the for-profit space. You know, that’s one of my passions. I just want to see nonprofits innovating, and kind of leading the way.
Adam: [00:30:11] Yeah, and that’s why I created this podcast, really, as a place for nonprofits to keep up with, and hopefully get ahead of trends so that we can do more good, more quickly.
Jesse: [00:30:24] Yeah, I mean that’s something that we’re going to be talking about at Pure Charity. We’re going to have a webinar in the next month or two and just basically encouraging nonprofits — we work with over 1300 — those use our technology, but we’re also trying to provide them strategic insights, just an encouragement just to say, “Hey look, you don’t have to follow in the footsteps. Let’s lead out, let’s innovate this year. And let’s use these new technologies and communication channels and innovate in a way that’s effective.” And like we talked about: persevere, stick with it. And so we’re going to be talking about the other side of innovation in the next couple months which is just — so there’s the big ideas and that’s the fun part, right? But what about actually executing it and how do we pull that off? And so we’re putting together a webinar for that right now because we just see that as something that a lot of orgs struggle with, is actually the execution of these big ideas.
So I’m excited about just storytelling, and you mentioned earlier virtual reality, that’s one specifically. I think virtual reality and augmented reality too are a huge new space for nonprofits to be exploring for storytelling. At C company last year we got to produce a few VR films that took our donors to Africa, to Israel, and to Romania, to see the impact without ever leaving their homes or the event that they were at. And so I just got really fired up as we did that, it was so much fun. And then since then I’ve kind of done that as a part of my side business with another non-profit organization where we filmed some VR. We did some VR stories in Iraq actually, telling stories of refugees or people who had to flee from ISIS and really their story. And coming back home now that ISIS has gone. And so it’s just an incredible way to tell a story if you can do it right. And I know that this medium has a long ways to go to really hit the masses, but it’s on its way. Yeah.
Adam: [00:32:54] Well man, that’s unbelievable. So let me kind of recap a couple of lessons here from this conversation. I feel like we’re going to have to have you on the podcast again because I feel like we could we could talk a lot longer about several of these things. I love that. But under the ‘what has worked well’ category you mentioned convictions: coming from a place of passion or reminding yourself daily why you’re doing what you’re doing. Relationships: invest in relationships because every relationship is worth it. And think of donors like relationships, like a marriage, something that requires nurturing and time and investment. And then lastly perseverance, and the phrase you use there which was unbelievable was, “stick with something long enough to see it be successful and long enough to be good at it.” You have anything to add to that lesson there?
Jesse: [00:33:40] I think you’ve nailed it. The only other thing we talked about was just having that human relational voice in your marketing too. I think that’s so important. So yeah, but I think you got it there on kind of what’s been working for me.
Adam: [00:33:53] Okay. Let’s see, what’s not working. Chasing the next shiny thing. Totally agree with you there. Valuing — when we neglect to value the operational side of things, we get so excited about the next shiny thing we forget about doing things with excellence and to completion, so totally agree with you there. When a nonprofit does not have a rhythm for communication consistently. I think you’re spot on with all three of those. Unbelievably spot on. Anything to add to those lessons?
Jesse: [00:34:20] No I think you got it, yeah. I think that’s it.
Adam: [00:34:23] All right and you’re excited about storytelling. You and me both, man. I am a big fan. I think you’re totally right, VR is coming down the pipeline. It will be huge in 2018 and just continuing from there. It’s going to be a slow start I think, but it’s really going to be a mammoth of a technology in the very near future. I’m excited about it.
So I think that pretty well wraps us up, but I do want to get you on the hook for coming back, because I feel like there’s more we can dig into so hopefully you’ll commit to that.
Jesse: [00:34:49] Any time.
Adam: [00:34:49] And we’ll go from there. So that’s great. Well, thanks for listening to Good people, Good marketing. To get more resources about digital marketing for nonprofits 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, Adam, you can find me on Twitter @AJWalker, and on my blog at adamjwalker.com. Thanks for listening and tune in next time.