Assessing the changing role of marketing in the NFP space

A conversation with Lisa Scott Benson, Chief Marketing Officer at Russ Reid

Click here to view this article on the CMA website.

It’s difficult to challenge the notion that the role of marketing within not-for-profit organizations has changed in recent years. New staff roles, changes in department structures and more complex measurement practices have altered how marketing gets done. Yet many of the same practices that not-for-profits have engaged in for years haven’t changed at all. After our recent discussion with Colleen Fleming (Verity International Limited) on what the role of marketing in the not-for-profit sector looks like today, we approached Lisa Scott Benson, EVP, Strategy, Insights & Integration at Russ Reid (RR), for her perspective on this. Russ Reid is the largest North American marketing agency exclusively serving not-for-profits for close to 50 years.

 The Impact of Marketing`s Changing Role

The shifts within marketing probably started about a decade ago, but it’s taken us as an industry a long time to begin rallying our troops to respond. The proliferation of channels and the fact that there are myriad delivery methods means that consumers and donors are seeing our messages in a variety of places. Tracking has been a challenge. Marketers, especially direct response marketers, who were used to saying “I do this, and I can see how donors do that,” are forced to live with less surety. We need to become more sophisticated analytically, and we simultaneously need to think more intuitively based on the fact that in some cases more data actually tells us less. That said, there is greater awareness amongst non-profit leaders and fundraisers that people are interacting with our messages in a number of ways, and there is more intensity being applied to gaining the most informative views.

Staffing/Organizational Structure – New Roles but Still Siloed.

I’d like to say we have been seeing a change in the structure of not-for-profits; the reality is that most are still working in channel-specific silos. But many are starting to look for solutions. While some clients ask us to focus on strategies for individual channels (like TV or digital or direct mail), others seek us out specifically for our ability to help them integrate their efforts. Interestingly, some clients are even asking us to help them restructure — to help them integrate internally in order to integrate marketing efforts externally.

From a staffing standpoint, we’ve seen some changes. There are some new positions being created. The new titles usually have to do with “big-I” Innovation. These are people who are not necessarily responsible for a channel or a particular program, but are in charge of looking across the whole organization and identifying new opportunities in product development and marketing delivery. But these people are finding it hard to gain traction – oftentimes they’re not equipped with any budget! It’s hard to make an impact when you don’t control any money. And of course, we’re also seeing positions related to social engagement on the rise.

Channel Investment – Don’t Forget Traditional

For a while now, there’s been a precipitous rush towards investing time and money in new channels, particularly in the digital space. For example, we have a client who abandoned TV a while ago because they didn’t feel it was delivering the necessary value. And it wasn’t if you looked solely at directly attributable TV results. Then, they saw their overall results diminish dramatically, because they didn’t make the connection between TV as a driver and digital and mail as converters. The danger at this point is that newer channels are being pursued in the absence of the context of the traditional channels or even other recently emerged channels.

When helping to develop strategy, we advise organizations to look at all the channels that make sense for their business given their particular offering. Where does the audience for that offering live and breathe? What channels are they using? We know from our 2010 Heart of the Donor study that each donor uses three channels on average to make donations. And the more channels they tend to use, the higher their value to the organizations to which they donate.

Our goal is to help not-for-profits own the most cohesive and appropriate multi-channel strategy possible for their business. We like to have a view of the whole picture. Not-for-profits typically follow the practices of the commercial industry. For a while, this meant thinking it better to have a number of best-in-class agencies in various niches. Like commercial brands, many NFPs are now realizing the difficulty of managing all those agencies to achieve the best objective. So we advise clients to try to consolidate their efforts with one or maybe two partners in the DR space, and then to resist the temptation to think that traditional channels are dead or dying. There is plenty of hard evidence out there that they are not.

Measurement and Defining Success

Measurement is getting progressively more complicated with so much more data available to collect. We are trying to determine from the data which communications are in fact driving response. We know it’s a combination of media, so our approach is to measure at the campaign level first, and then at the individual channel level. We look at all our drivers and converters and ask: did we achieve the revenue level that we were seeking? If not, what should we dial up or down? If so, how can we continue to achieve these results with greater efficiency?

While measuring performance continues to evolve, for RR defining success has not changed significantly. Our primary goal as an agency is to support our clients in generating the maximum revenue as they seek to solve the most pressing problems facing our world today. That is different from what we hear from some other agencies and clients; there’s been a shift from a revenue-focus to an emphasis on brand awareness and engagement. For us, awareness and engagement are important as they lead to bringing in more dollars. We’re concerned that they are becoming ends in and of themselves.

Acquisition is the New Cultivation

This is my favorite epiphany of the last year or two. Historically, it’s driven fundraisers mad when existing donors respond to their acquisition efforts. It makes them feel like they’re not targeting correctly and they’re wasting money. In a one-channel direct mail world, this made sense. But in our multi-channel world, engaging existing donors in new types of donation behavior is a plus! For example, for one TV client, we realized that 15% of donation calls received at the phone center are from existing donors. Does this mean we’re not targeting correctly? Absolutely not. In fact, we’re providing another positive experience with the brand that is driving a donor to pick up the phone and call again. And we’re acquiring many more new donors. We’ve seen similar situations with digital media. As all of us know from numerous studies, the more channels a donors uses to give, the higher his or her value. Of course, the metrics still need to play out. Once we’ve factored in the gifts from existing donors and deducted them from the overall TV or digital or radio spend, are we acquiring enough donors to offset attrition and continue to fuel growth?.

Caroline Riseboro