Finding Relevancy through Non-Profit Marketing: Interview with Worldways Social Marketing

By Robert Israel

Mission-driven organizations, government agencies, and other social action groups grapple with how to communicate their messages through nonprofit marketing. They struggle to tell their stories effectively so they can reach their current constituents and new recruits, then motivate them to take action to help support their causes.

Mark Marosits and Maureen Cronin, the husband and wife co-directors of Worldways Social Marketing—a company based in Newport, Rhode Island—have helped numerous nonprofit organizations achieve success by raising their profiles. In this Q&A, I speak with these two industry pioneers about their work in digital storytelling and learn more about ways in which precisely crafted content can make all the difference in reaching an audience.

Question: Are you finding that the struggles within the nonprofit groups you work with are rooted in budgetary stringencies that prevent them from achieving awareness?

We are finding that there is a perceived resource inadequacy among these groups. Many groups believe that they have inadequate resources and, therefore, do not invest in nonprofit marketing. In reality, they are not making a commitment to reach their audiences. They can overcome this by making decisions about which marketing channels they want to engage in. They need to ask if their audiences respond better to written messages or visual messages such as videos or print and online advertisements. These questions have to be asked at the starting point, so they begin to see how to develop a strategy for communicating their messages.

Q: Do nonprofit groups have to be more selective about the social media tools they invest in?

They may come to us and say, “We need to be on Facebook,” for example, without knowing why they need exposure there, or even how to use it. There’s an old adage that a carpenter measures twice but only cuts once. By carefully measuring what you need from all that exists out in the social media space before you make the cut, you arrive at decisions based on how to effectively reach your audiences and what your return on this investment will be.

Q: Can you give an example of how you assisted a group to achieve this through nonprofit marketing?

We worked with the First Nations Development Institute to launch an initiative dedicated to teaching Native American youth how to better manage their Minor’s Trust funds. Content for the initiative was written by Native American writers. They created games that encouraged those interacting with the site to play for self-discovery and education. The result was the launch of their My Big Money website, which uses videos and other targeted social media tools that emphasize ways to learn fiscal responsibility. It worked because they discovered that peer-to-peer influence was an effective communication tool. And they broadened their reach beyond social media by bringing their message to community meetings and other forums.

Q: In other words, these groups are learning to use nonprofit marketing to create dialogues?

Yes—once they take the bold step to truly engage their constituents, they find their messages are correct and on target. It’s a step toward building trust between the organizations and those they are trying to reach. This is true when we work with public health agencies, for example. Health is a dialogue. It has to be designed this way so that those hearing and reading and viewing are moved to engage with the messages, to look at health issues that may affect them, and, if necessary, to make changes to improve their health.

Q: What steps do you take to help clients arrive at these messages that seek to engage their audiences?

We do a gut check of each message to ensure that its language is structured in a clear way. We want to make sure there is no confusion, and that the message has impact. We want the messages to be relevant, to ensure that they are crafted in such a way as to create a relationship with the constituents that leads toward building a community of people who remain engaged.

Q: How do you work with writers?

In our world, content is the fuel for engagement. Whether writing blog content, video scripts, or provocative think pieces, writers are essential members of the team.

Q: What advice do you have for nonprofit writers?

Cultivate your versatility. The passion of a nonprofit must be shared across many media, so you should be adept at everything from digital sound bites, to engaging blog content, to the powerful cause statement. And in the social space, you should master brevity with impact. Twitter is a great place to refine your shorthand.

Q: Is there a single question that you repeat to all nonprofit groups to help them realize the importance of relationship building?

Yes. We often tell nonprofit groups, “You must be relevant or you won’t be relevant.” It takes a lot of message filtering—separating the wheat from the chaff, so to speak—to arrive at language that works. This is especially true for small agencies that are trying to create a better way of life for people; agencies whose missions are to help people live more fulfilling and healthier lives. We live in a digital world, and it’s a digital future we all must face. We can use the same tools as everyone else, but we have to use them in such a way so we become effective change agents.

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Robert Israel can be reached at risrael_97@yahoo.com. A version of this interview appeared in Skyword: Content Standard.

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