Social marketer challenges NFPs to ‘Ask me anything’

Posted on 15 Mar 2023

By Matthew Schulz, journalist, Our Community

Social marketer Brett de Hoedt is a man of 1000 opinions, and he’s here to share his knowledge about campaigns, comms, media and marketing for not-for-profits.

Brett has the answers!

“Marketing is a tough gig,” says Brett.

“That’s why I favour simple solutions.

"Be ruthless in pursuing whatever works and despatching whatever doesn’t. I challenge the worth of social media and promote media relations. I think that many organisations should ditch the annual report and throw those resources into building a better network of referrers, or campaigning – literally – on the streets. We need to be open to new options and risk a quick fail.”

When we invited Our Community members to quiz Brett about those “simple solutions”, the questions came pouring in.

Q. Is our website working hard enough for us?

Likely answer: not even close!

Almost everyone who does business with you will at some stage check you out online – most likely during their all-important “appraisal” or “browsing” stage.

You need to grab these people and quickly win them over! (After all, how long do you spend on a dud website?)

Think of your website as the perfect employee – ready and able 24 hours a day, meeting the needs of strangers and friends alike, explaining who you are to the world, persuading people to use, believe and trust you.

A good website can sell, donate, administer memberships and inform. What a worker! And it doesn’t even have a union!

You need to ask: is our website really meeting the needs of our key audiences?

Click to download Brett's marketing helpsheet for directors.

Those audiences may include strangers who are just “checking you out” for the first time and want a lot of information and are hoping to find you credible.

Are you sufficiently explaining who you are, what you offer and why you and you alone are the smart choice? What first impression do you give?

Another key audience is people who already who know you and want to stay informed and connected.

This audience requires less explanation or proof of your credibility but they may be more demanding in terms of news and analysis of developments in your world, or they may wish to efficiently transact with you – renew a membership, book an event, make a donation, etc.

(This question and answer is taken from Brett's free help sheet Ten questions every board director needs to ask about marketing).

Q. How do I reach my unique, hard-to-reach audience?

If it makes you feel any better, everybody believes that their audience is hard to reach. There are plenty of niche audiences out there, and some – people with low literacy, those that are socially isolated and many more – are tough to identify, connect with and persuade. Some audiences – ex-offenders, those battling addiction, parents that are struggling – may not even wish to be identified. Some audiences (state-educated people like me, low-income earners, people without children) don’t even actively identify as a cohort.

The more niche your audience, the more creative and determined you’ll have to be.

Like any marketer, consider when and how your particular birds flock together. Do they live in certain postcodes, enjoy certain recreational activities, enrol in certain courses, read certain websites, attend certain religious institutions, visit certain doctors, work for certain employers? The answer is – yes.

You may have to literally hit the road to meet these people individually, face-to-face. They may take more convincing than more mainstream audiences.

Consider possible referrers who can send people your way. These are people who come into contact with your audience. Referrers come in many shapes and forms – people with certain professions or roles in the community. They can make your life a lot easier.

And here’s another challenge – niche audiences will want to feel understood and catered to in every dealing they have with you especially early on. They are used to not being understood.

Of course one question to ask is: if you can’t find your audience, are you the right people to service them?

Q. What's the difference between a marketing plan and a communications plan?

Frankly I hate plans of any sort but these are worth considering.

A marketing plan is a foundational document that lays down the law about your brands, your audiences, your position in the marketplace. It should outline your “personality”, the issues that you’ll fight about and what you have to say about key issues. Your objectives should be detailed. So too what separates you from the competition.

The marketing plan is something you can refer to to see if you are on the right track. This is a document that requires consultation and input from the top brass. It should be revisited annually or when there are significant changes to your services or audiences.

Your communications plan is more detailed and lays out the strategies and tactics you’ll use to achieve what you detailed in the marketing plan. It might detail when and how you’ll seek media coverage, the sort of content you will share on social media and the campaigns you will run across the year. There should be a calendar outlining activities and deadlines. This is where you ensure that all your audiences are reached, services marketed and priorities highlighted. This document should be the domain of the communications experts. It should be tinkered with regularly.

Q. How do I use my celebrity ambassadors?

Many PR folk dream of having a celebrity ambassador up their sleeve to help garner attention and support. Nice work if you can get it. As a Seven Network publicist I spent a good part of my work week denying requests from well-intentioned charities.

Often, the best way to secure an ambassador is by personal connection, or perhaps by swooping upon them when they use your service or reveal a personal connection to your cause.

But what do you do with them if you land one? Answer: pimp them. By which I mean utilise their profile and influence in a non-sexual manner.

Be clear about expectations from the get-go. Many ambassador relationships are very loose and this usually leads to disappointment for the organisation. I’ve worked with plenty of ambassadors – AFL types, Olympians, TV celebs – and their passions can quickly cool. Get the role down in writing and communicate constantly.

Do you want them to meet with VIPs? Funders, philanthropists, politicians and high value donors? Be sure that your ambassador can talk turkey in real detail.

Do you want them to be the face of your next direct mail or online campaign? This can be an effective way to leverage their fame with minimum input from the ambassador. A pic and a quote and you’re sorted.

Get them to do media. Ambassadors are often able to gain coverage from media outlets that would not typically cover you or your issues. It’s amazing how a professional athlete will open the doors to FM breakfast radio or an actor can secure a place on the couch of a mid-morning TV show.

Get them to dedicate their social media channels to you for a day. This will bring you to a whole new audience.

Q. How can I get more members (or volunteers, supporters, clients, etc.)?

The internet is effectively infinite. If a prospective member is on your website’s membership page they have sent a VERY strong signal that they are interested in you. Remember – they could be anywhere but they are on your membership page. They are a fish on a hook. You must immediately throw everything you have at your disposal to land them before their concentration and good intentions fade like drapes during daylight savings.

Sadly, too few websites try hard enough.

Ensure that you shamelessly butter up prospects by thanking them for even considering you.

Have a special message written to prospects from your president or perhaps one of the people who benefits from your organisation. (And if that is an animal or inanimate object so be it.)

Most sites I see need more copy, not less. You are writing for a visitor who is there by choice and wants to feel that they are becoming a part of something – not doing their civic duty.

Emphasise the benefits that they – not you – will find attractive, and explain everything clearly, because any confusion lowers the chance of a conversion.

Have several testimonials from happy members, preferably on video.

Have an online application form ready and waiting along with smooth online payment, and process those applications ASAP.

Make contact with new members immediately with a similarly grateful message. This might be an email or perhaps a phone call.

Q. How can I minimise the time and effort I’m investing in social media?

Social media is a black hole into which your time, energy and soul will pour. That said, you (probably) need it, so how can you do it efficiently?

Go green: Create a baseload of evergreen content – stuff that will be just as relevant in 12 or 24 months as it is today.

Serialise: Don’t come up with 12 posts. Come up with one idea that can be serialised into 12. Try staff and volunteer profiles – use a standard format. Describe one service at a time. Get a swag of testimonials. Come up with 20 fun facts about your area of expertise. Then drip feed them to your adoring followers. No one post will change the world. Social media is a volume business so get posting.

Recycle: Don’t be afraid to repeat content after a month or two. Major publishers and institutions do this all the time. If someone sees your post twice, so be it! The more likely outcome is that they miss it twice.

Schedule: Use scheduling software to set and forget your output. The small investment will free you up and inspire you to create more content more consistently.

Q. Why do you say that referral business is smart business?

Why market a little to everyone when you can market a lot to a select few?

Not enough organisations identify and seduce a strong circle of referrers. Referrers are people who, because of to their profession or position, can point a lot of people in your direction. This is particularly important for those of us trying to connect with niche audiences such as people with low literacy, people from a CALD background or single parents.

Of course we all know that GPs and specialists may be a great source of referrals if you are a medical or health oriented cause.

But depending on what you have to offer you might find referrers in the form of financial counsellors, community legal centres, welfare officers, school principals, removalists, tourism operators, community health centres, TAFEs, clergy, food banks, sports coaches, real estate agents, certain professions, unions or peak bodies. The list goes on. Think broadly.

Many prospective referrers will not realise that they can help people by referring them to you. You will need to persuade prospects, which is never easy – there’s a lot of hustle required but building strong, positive relationships with the right referrers can dramatically accelerate your business.

Q. But you haven't answered my question. Is that it?

No, there's much more. You can watch my webinar “Ask Me Anything, Part I”, recorded in 2021 with an audience of 600-plus not-for-profit and community sector organisations, and the one-hour video sequel “Ask Me Anything, Part 2”, in which I answer all the questions I couldn't get to in the webinar.

To ask Brett de Hoedt a question, email him at [email protected]. We’ll publish a selection of the best questions and answers.

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