Author Laura Tufis

Ethical marketing (part IV): honest and empathic campaigning 

Any conversation about ethical marketing is incomplete without the topic of stakeholder engagement. Having talked about core elements like
values, collective promise and transparency, let’s now dive into the subject of stakeholder interactions and four questions that can help us design more ethical campaigns.

How can you help?

The topic of customer-centricity is on everyone’s lips, with some even talking about customer obsession. We know that for an organisation to survive in today’s hyper-connected world in which customers’ expectations are higher than ever before, a great customer experience is key.

A recent Qualtrics XM Institute report shows that customers who rate a company’s customer experience as good (compared to poor) are:
• 33% more likely to trust that the company will take care of their needs
• 34% more likely to purchase more
38% more likely to recommend the company to a friend or relative. 

Another Qualtrics report highlighted the strong connection between experience management (XM) performance and business results: “Of the respondents who rate their company’s XM as ‘significantly above average’, 89% report better revenue growth than competitors in the previous year.”

Yes, customer focus is paramount. And at the same time, I’d like to argue that the customer-centricity paradigm is limited. It implies a narrow focus most often on profit only while overlooking the other equally important stakeholders operating in an organisation’s ecosystem and beyond.

In a world facing a climate crisis, increasing poverty and growing inequality, organisations need to move from customer to stakeholder-centricity and develop stronger forms of cooperation models that are more compatible with the complex issues that need to be addressed.

In this context, what if at the core of every organisation lay the question: how can we help? How can we help our customers, partners, distributors, suppliers, employees how can we help our stakeholders and the planet thrive? 

Or to quote Thomas Kolster: “‘Who can you help me become?’ is the one essential question you need to be asking and acting on to chart a new course for your organisation, changing behaviours at scale and unlocking sustainable growth that benefits all.” (The Hero Trap)

Being a bridge between the internal world of our organisations and the external world of the people we’re serving, marketing can play a crucial role in ensuring a genuine stakeholder focus and in building partnerships that drive meaningful change.

With the question ‘How can we help?’ at the heart of the business, a wide range of marketing practices can start being questioned, challenged and transformed:
• Strengthening stakeholder cooperation: investing resources in truly understanding the needs and aspirations of all stakeholders and ensuring an empathic and collaborative way of doing business.
• Remembering that leads are people looking to solve a problem: lead generation numbers are important but not without being underpinned by a human-centered approach that’s focused on helping audiences address a challenge and meet a goal.
Providing value at every interaction: each touch point in the stakeholder journey is an opportunity to help customers, partners, suppliers etc solve a problem and cultivate meaningful relationships that last.
Developing content, products and services with the users’ needs in mind: think about the content you publish and the functionalities you develop as an answer to the needs previously expressed by your users.
Ensuring transparent messaging in all offerings: we’ve all seen bait and switch tactics like ‘freebies’ that turn out to be product brochures, webinars that turn out to be sales pitches, headlines that lead to vaguely related articles or newsletters that only try to sell. Being honest and clear about what’s in an offering or content piece is crucial for ethical brands that are here to stay.
Asking for permission to communicate: respecting data privacy and informing your audience about what they can expect to receive from you is not only about regulations but also about building a community of people who trust you and want to hear from you.  

You mean it’s really free?

Lead magnets like whitepapers, ebooks, trial subscriptions, product demos and free consultations are essential for building email lists of qualified leads that can be nurtured into customers and partners. In exchange for the so-called ‘freebies’, many companies make the sign-up to their lists mandatory instead of offering a separate opt-in for other communications. But we need to remember that these ‘freebies’ are not actually free considering that data is one of the biggest currencies of our society. 

Plus, gathering contacts who aren’t actually interested in anything else than the offer at hand and who’ll most likely unsubscribe from the list quickly after is great for short-term vanity metrics, not for building a valuable database that drives long-term meaningful results. 

My suggestion is: create content that solves your audience’s problems, give the resources without mandatory sign-up, provide consistent value, and trust that people will come back and want to hear more from you because of the amazing content you offer. 

Why the rush?

Scarcity and urgency campaigns are widely used marketing tactics. The scarcity principle refers to consumers placing a higher value on products or services that are scarce than on the ones that are abundant. Perceived limited supply and urgent deadlines tend to increase appeal and consequently sales. 

‘Buy now or cry later’ 🤨, ‘3 seats left’, ‘1 item left in stock’, ‘5 people looking at it right now’, ‘50% only for today’ are statements we’ve all seen. The problem is that the language is unnecessarily pressing, with statements often not being entirely true, only taking advantage of consumers’ FOMO and loss aversion. 

It’s true that we all tend to sign up for events right before the deadline or postpone the decision of an acquisition until we desperately need it. However, using this knowledge to create campaigns that push consumers into making rushed, uncalculated decisions based on fake information or ‘now or never’ language is not only unethical but also damaging for the brand. If the next day, the event registration that was supposed to be closed by midnight is still open, the trust will break and the word will spread. 

So if you do make any urgency or scarcity statements, make sure they’re based on real data, placed in context and unchanging. Check out the Ethical Move for some great ways to ‘flip’ such tactics into fully transparent ones. 

Is it for real?

The environmental degradation, social inequities and political instability around the world make consumers think more and more about their choices, which in turn raises expectations from organisations across the board. As a result, companies experience increasing pressure to prove their commitment to a purpose that goes beyond profit. For example, Deloitte’s 2022 Global Marketing Trends report mentions purpose as a beacon for growth and states that “globally, 57% [of consumers] indicated that, in general, they are more loyal to brands that commit to addressing social inequities.”

And while many companies take the meaning of purpose seriously and make it an integral part of everything they do, many only take advantage of the ‘purpose trend’ to increase their profits while continuing business as usual.

Hence the question: Is it for real?
• Is the proclaimed ethical purpose manifested in every action and every interaction?
• Is sustainability just a buzzword or is it truly embedded in the organisation’s DNA?
• Are promises grounded in reality and being kept along the way?
• Is there an accountability framework in place to keep track of the real progress?
• Are mistakes openly shared, owned up to and used to learn from them?
• Is impact shared as it is: no exaggerated benefits and inflated results; no data and stories taken out of context, no overly doctored testimonials?
• Are all products and services delivering on the promise?
• Is any offer presented like one of a kind when in reality it’s only packaged that way?

At the core of all these questions lies a commitment to transparency, accountability and authenticity; a genuine dedication to not only talking the talk but also walking the walk, to having a set of values rooted in a higher goal and to manifesting those values at every single step of the way.

For more on the topic of transparency and values, check out these two blog posts: ‘Ethical marketing (part III): the transparency trifecta’ and ‘Ethical marketing (part I): driven by values, rooted in a higher goal’.

What else do you do to ensure ethical campaigning? Leave your comments below.

Download the Cause Canvas

Published on 29 June 2022 by Laura Tufis. Updated on 27 September 2022.  

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Ethical marketing (part III): the transparency trifecta


Back in 2015, Seth Godin published this powerful post (The strawberry conundrum): 

“Every grocer has to decide: when packing a quart of strawberries, should your people put the best ones on top?

If you do, you’ll sell more and disappoint people when they get to the moldy ones on the bottom.

Or, perhaps you could put the moldy ones on top, and pleasantly surprise the few that buy.

Or, you could rationalize that everyone expects a little hype, and they’ll get over it.

A local grocer turned the problem upside down: He got rid of the boxes and just put out a pile of strawberries. People picked their own. He charged more, sold more and made everyone happier.

Hype might not be your best option.”

It’s clearer than ever that transparency, and implicitly transparent marketing, is not only a moral imperative; it’s key for building relationships that last. A 2018 survey by Accenture Strategy showed that 66% of consumers think transparency is one of the most attractive qualities in a brand. Furthermore, in a study by Label Insight, 94% of the respondents said it was important to them that the brands and manufacturers they buy from are transparent about what’s in their food and how it is made. 

And we cannot talk about transparency without bringing trust into the conversation.

According to the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer, 81% of customers need to trust a brand in order to buy from them. In the same study, 67% of people agreed that a good reputation may get them to try a product, but unless they come to trust the company behind the product, they will soon stop buying it. 

What does this mean for marketing in the social impact space? Let’s have a look at three key dimensions: product, impact and customer data. 

Product transparency: ‘What’s in the box is on the box’

We’ve all experienced or at least heard of a product or service that caught the eye marketing-wise, yet fell short experience-wise. And we all know this trick never works in the long run. At the core of marketing that contributes to sustainable change and long-term success, there is:

1. A product that consistently (over)delivers on its promise
2. A communication approach that is transparent, authentic and empowering

Whenever I think of product transparency, I always think of Yoni’s (the chemical-free menstrual products company) statement: ‘What’s in the box is on the box’. I find that this tagline embodies the definition of any transparent product or service: showing and continuing to be ready to show what goes into creating that product or service. 

The long-lasting commitment to such an approach is heavily dependent on clear values being championed at every level of the organisation. As I wrote in a previous blog post, when it comes to values, “the real challenge is not in defining [them] but in integrating them into the decisions we make down the road – in making sure that they’re not only a statement plastered on a website or a document forgotten in a folder but a set of principles that inform and guide our everyday actions, the difficult decisions we face, the partnerships we forge, the recruitment choices we make and the culture we create.”

That’s why, to ensure constant transparency, we need accountability indicators and regular reality checks. Because just like a car needs regular maintenance to keep running, transparency needs systematic checks to stay on track. Consider some of the questions below and for a great example of an ethical marketing policy, check out JBMedia.

1. Are we communicating honestly and clearly on everything that goes into our products? No jargon, no inflated data, no exaggerated benefits. Companies like Yoni, Patagonia, Beauty Kitchen, Mud Jeans are examples of companies that give comprehensive and unambiguous information on what goes into their products as well as on their environmental and social impact. They also encourage customers to leave reviews directly on their websites. 

2. If an external person were to join us behind the scenes of product development, would we feel comfortable with that? As Hitesh Kenjale, co-founder of DesiHangover, is quoted in this ethical marketing post by Acumen Academy, “If tomorrow a customer walks in without notice, we’re able to show what’s happening. We invite the consumer to see the person who made the shoe and talk to them directly about the product.”

3. Is there something about the product or service that is not ideal and is hard to change at the moment? Are we acknowledging it and explaining how we’re addressing the issue? For example, check out one of Tony’s Chocolonely posts: ‘Facing up to an inconvenient truth: we’re part of the sugar problem’.

4. Is there any part of our product that we could improve but are lenient about because our good mission compensates for it? There might be a small group of customers who will accept that for a while but amplifying impact often requires a wider reach than that. And for that, a great customer experience is key. 

5. Do we talk openly about the realities of our sector? Are we acknowledging the limitations and progress that still needs to be made?

6. Do marketing, sales and product development collaborate effectively and ensure an open flow of information? Do marketing and sales fully understand the product, its benefits and its limitations and do they communicate them accordingly? Does product development regularly receive and take on board the customer feedback collected by marketing and sales? 

7. Are our promotional messages in line with the actual content of our offering? For example, is our coming webinar really providing value on the topic we mentioned or is it actually 50%+ sales?

Impact transparency: linking proof to a higher values-based goal

There is no question that impact data and stories are the lifeblood of any marketing, sales, fundraising and business development initiative in the social impact space. Showcasing an organisation’s results is key to growing its community, attracting more funding and ultimately generating more impact. To grow the cause and drive more change, we need to prove the effectiveness of our work. 

But this is where things sometimes get off course. In the pursuit for funding and under the argument that ‘it’s for a good cause’, many organisations start compromising on transparency and engaging in impact washing practices like:

• Exaggerated benefits and inflated results
• Data and stories taken out of context
• Overly doctored testimonials
• Covering up failures through splashy stories

Rejecting such practices is obviously integral to impact transparency and ethical marketing. And then there’s more. There’s the elevated commitment to transparency: a proactive approach in which transparency gets embedded in the organisation’s DNA and drives its every action. What does this mean for marketing?

First, a commitment to accountability – which is about making realistic promises, walking the talk, and when failing to do so, owning up to it. 

Cause CanvasFor example, when using the Cause Canvas marketing framework to define your organisation’s Collective Promise, you are prompted to ask: 

• What do you, together with your Community Partners, commit to doing in order to change things and move closer to the Higher Goal? The Community Partners are the communities at the core of your cause – the people who are impacted by the current state of affairs.
• How will you measure the fulfillment of your Collective Promise?

And when talking about Proof of impact, two of the guiding questions are: 

• What are the results – and how are they linked to the Higher Goal? That is, what are the stories of change and the data behind them and how are they contributing to the new state of affairs you are pursuing with your cause?
• What are the lessons learned – and how will you use them in driving more impact?

By following these guiding questions, the process of proving your impact becomes anchored in the bigger purpose – which is far more important for long-term success than a one-off enhancement to your company image or the addition of an impact statement to a promotional campaign.

For such an endeavour to truly manifest throughout your operations, end-to-end data transparency is key, from determining what data is needed to measure impact to collecting it responsibly, and sharing it openly, consistently and in a digestible way.

A social enterprise that uses this approach is Ecosia, the search engine that plants trees. Ecosia publishes monthly financial reports that ‘show exactly how much money they made from searches, and what percentage of their revenue went towards trees’. Another example is Fairphone’s mapping of their supply chain and showing the path that different phone components take from mines and factories all the way to the consumer. 

Second, a commitment to authenticity which doesn’t only show the good numbers, emotional stories and big partner names, but is equally explicit about sharing lessons learned, owning one’s failures, and addressing issues as they come up.

Everyone knows mistakes are part of the work but how many organisations are brave enough to talk about them, integrate them into the journey towards the higher goal and show how they are going to set things right – now and in the future? 

What’s more, the social impact sector is well known for its complexities and difficulties, so it’s not even credible that it’s all sunshine and rainbows along the way. Big, pompous statements will get questioned and generate a ripple effect of skepticism which on the long term can break the brand.

Customer data: permission-based personalisation

When it comes to marketing and transparency, the elephant in the room is, of course, the use of data. 

According to Statista, the volume of data created and available to companies has increased by more than 5,000% since 2010 and will continue to grow exponentially in the coming years. 

And with technology offering ever more granular targeting opportunities and marketing trends like social shopping, livestream shopping and augmented reality on the rise (and exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic), the topic of data was never in bigger need for ethical considerations than today. 

SmarterHQ’s survey on privacy and personalisation shows that 86% of consumers are concerned about their data privacy, 79% believe companies know too much about them and 63% say they would stop purchasing products and services from companies that take “creepy” marketing too far. Yet, 72% say they now only engage with marketing messages tailored to their interests and 90% are willing to share behavioural data for a cheaper and easier brand experience.

These stats emphasise once again the importance of a transparent, responsible, secure and respectful approach to data and personalisation. 

Fortunately, regulators are addressing this issue with data privacy laws like the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and California’s Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). And soon, Google will join Safari and Firefox in blocking third-party cookies, which will have a major impact on the world of digital advertising.

Despite these efforts, data transparency remains an issue. According to the International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP), 47% of privacy pros said their organizations were fully compliant or very compliant with the GDPR in 2020. This number coupled with the big fines given for breaching the GDPR in 2021 shows that a lot of work still needs to be done.

On this note, here are a few reminders:

• Ask for explicit consent to store and use the data (ie. including the option to decline)
• Be explicit about the data that is collected and why
• Explain how the data will be used and act accordingly
• Don’t collect more data than what’s needed to provide value to customers
• Only provide the content the subscriber has signed up for – no list switching without consent
• Be clear about how the data can be accessed and removed
• Make unsubscribe links easy to find and use
• Dispose of the data when not necessary anymore
• Make it easy for readers/viewers to distinguish between advertorials or native ads and pure editorial content
• In influencer marketing, make sure it’s clear when a product or service is being advertised by the influencer.

A marketing approach rooted in transparency, accountability and authenticity is key to fostering a more sustainable business ecosystem. Staying ready to listen, showing a deep understanding of our sectors’ complexities and constantly improving the way we do things will help us build lasting relationships and move closer to real impact. 

What other actions do you take to ensure transparency in your marketing? Leave your comments below.

Download the Cause Canvas

Published on 4 February 2022 by Laura Tufis. Updated on 27 September 2022. 

Note: We have no affiliation with any of the companies mentioned above. The information is based on their websites and social media communication and aimed at illustrating some of the principles addressed in the blog post.

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Ethical marketing (part II): transforming your value proposition into a collective promise for inclusive change


Ethical Marketing - Collective PromiseHaving a resonating value proposition lies at the centre of any successful organisational strategy. A value proposition needs to drive each action the organisation takes, from recruitment and product development to marketing, sales and customer service. And the process of building one, though not easy, is usually clear-cut: ask your customers what they need, make sure you meet those needs, and clearly communicate the unique benefits you bring.

However, in the space of social or environmental impact, this process can get a bit more complex. The basic formula stays the same, but when multiple audiences are involved and their needs and goals might vary, how do we build a proposition that really moves the needle and creates inclusive change? How do we make sure that it is the needs of the communities and the environment to which the organisation has dedicated itself to that are first and foremost met, while still garnering all the support needed to generate impact?

The answer should be simple. Make those needs a priority and stick to that decision at all times. But as we see time and again, in the pursuit for funding, many organisations tend to compromise this principle and prioritise the requirements of their donors or investors instead. This results in top-down approaches and unintended consequences.

Take the example of the failing clean cookstove development programmes addressing women around the world. In spite of the substantial funding over the years, the adoption rate is still extremely low. As Caroline Criado Pérez writes in her eye-opening book, ‘Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men’: “Despite what academics, NGOs and expatriate technicians seem to think, the problem is not the women. It is the stoves: developers have consistently prioritised technical parameters such as fuel efficiency over the needs of the stove user, frequently leading users to reject them, explains [Emma] Crewe. And although the low adoption rate is a problem going back decades, development agencies have yet to crack the problem, for the very simple reason that they still haven’t got the hang of consulting women and then designing a product rather than enforcing a centralised design on them from above.”

Although this example is about product design, we know how inextricably linked design is with an organisation’s value proposition.

The case for a Collective Promise

In light of all this, what if we started thinking of value propositions more as collective promises? What if those promises were co-created with and guided by the people for whom the organisations were started in the first place?

No-one knows better what the real problem is than the people who are directly impacted by it. That’s why, a proposition that is likely to change the status quo of a group of people needs to be co-created with that exact same group of people. Besides it being a matter of respect and morality, it also makes economic sense in the long run. When a problem is deeply understood and people are invested in addressing it, better action can be taken, leading to better results and building proof that the action works. This in turn will attract increasing support and trust, which will help create change that lasts.

As mentioned in the previous blog post on ethical marketing principles, solid values rooted in a higher goal of a more just and sustainable world can only lead to change if they’re integrated in every decision made down the road. A higher goal related to social and environmental impact is about making sure that the humans and nature most impacted can thrive. And thriving can only take place when people own their stories.

As Anne Moraa, Co-Founder and Director of The LAM Sisterhood, said at the Partos Innovation event in October 2021, “No-one is an expert at somebody else’s life. [The guiding question should always be]: “Who are you really there for?”

Cause CanvasIn the Cause Canvas – a marketing strategy framework I’ve developed for purpose-driven organisations committed to addressing these issues – the first step after defining the Higher Goal is working with the Community Partners. Only afterwards, do we look at crafting a Collective Promise.

The Community Partners are the communities impacted by the current state of affairs. They are the actual drivers of the cause, the ones from whom we can continuously learn what is needed to accelerate change and who will lead the way to lasting impact. As Sarah Page, Communications Manager at Spark, stated at the Partos event, “All you need to be is a platform”.

Setting the stage for a Collective Promise

As mentioned, the Collective Promise can be developed after tuning into the Community Partners’ needs, goals and aspirations, listening actively and with humility, and truly grasping all the issues at play. This helps prevent a top-down approach or unintended consequences. In other words, it’s about asking: Is there agreement on whether there is a problem and what the problem exactly is? Is there a common understanding as to how the problem needs to be tackled? Ensuring that all voices are included (especially those of underprivileged groups who are so often overlooked) and looking at disaggregated data is key here.

In the Cause Canvas, the following guiding questions are suggested:

• What is the local sentiment about the status quo?
• What are the Community Partners’ needs, aspirations and motivations?
• What is the socio-economic, demographic, cultural, political and environmental context?
• What is the local interest in pursuing a new state of affairs?

The insights gained at this stage might also indicate a different direction to pursuing the Higher Goal than you initially had in mind, albeit conducive to the impact that matters most.

Developing a Collective Promise

In the Cause Canvas framework, the following questions are aimed at building a Collective Promise:

• What do you, together with the Community Partners, commit to doing in order to change the current state of affairs and move closer to the Higher Goal?
• What makes your promise different from those of other organisations (eg. novel approach, different angle, a more comprehensive approach, a different way of communicating)?
• How will you measure the fulfillment of the Collective Promise?

This exercise can help clarify the ‘Why’, ‘What’, ‘How’ and ‘Who’ of the promise. Articulating how the promise can contribute to the Higher Goal and how you’ll know that it has effectively done so will strengthen your ‘Why’ and ensure clarity and accountability.

Now back to the matter of garnering support to amplify our impact. Using the Collective Promise approach doesn’t mean that we don’t take into account the people and organisations that will support our cause. It merely means that any key message, as tailored as it needs to be, will be anchored in a clear, unwavering Collective Promise. This can be illustrated through the tree visualisation below.

Ethical Marketing - Collective Promise explained

Rooted in a Higher Goal and clear values, we build a Collective Promise with the Community Partners, the people at the core of our cause. From a strong and stable ‘trunk’, all other actions can grow and flourish: key messages for donors/supporters, concrete programmes, services and products development, promotional campaigns etc.

However, that’s not to say that the Collective Promise is a static element. It gets strengthened by a continuous dialogue with the Community Partners and the circular nature of the Cause Canvas, which encourages changemakers to integrate the insights gained at every step back into the model. This means that knowledge generated later in the process (eg. Action, Proof and Supporters) can further strengthen the Collective Promise but its principles will stay the same.

Download your copy of the Cause Canvas and start building your organisation’s Collective Promise today!

Also, stay tuned for my next post in the ethical marketing blog series and leave your comments below.

Download the Cause Canvas

Published on 25 November 2021 by Laura Tufis. Updated on 27 September 2022.

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Ethical marketing (part I): driven by values, rooted in a higher goal


Ethical marketing - Driven by values, rooted in a higher hoal

Traditionally, the main role of marketing has been to promote and sell products and services with the sole goal of maximising a company’s profit and the wealth of its shareholders. This approach to business has led to widespread disregard for external impacts, playing a key role in stoking social inequalities and being a major contributor to alarming environmental degradation. And while some companies might have overhauled their practices to mitigate negative impacts and contribute to positive change, too many have held firm to the status quo and employed greenwashing or bluewashing strategies instead.

Add to that the misuse of personal data in (microtargeted) advertising and political campaigns, it is no wonder that the word ‘marketing’ often conjures up associations with manipulative practices and plain distrust. Purpose-driven organisations that are genuinely dedicated to making a social or environmental impact often feel they enter tricky territory when developing their marketing strategies. And rightfully so – the skepticism has legitimate foundations.

At the same time, we know that marketing is key in expanding the reach of a cause, bringing people on board and generating crucial action.

So how do we navigate a territory marked by all these issues and do so ethically and responsibly?

Widening the scope of business goals to include people and the planet is, of course, a key step in that direction. Sustainable, purpose-driven and people-planet-profit marketing are all familiar concepts that have gained increasing attention and commitment in the past decade.

But as old practices are being challenged and new models emerge, it is important to also stay critical about the nature of the building blocks used in the mix. Constant reflection, evaluation and openness to change are a must as we turn the tide toward a more ethical discipline that drives sustainable results for all.

Real change lies in the details of daily actions. This is why, in this blog series, I’d like to discuss how we, purpose-driven marketers, and fellow changemakers can keep improving our practices so that the marketing we engage in is invariably anchored in ethical standards and in line with the impact we’re looking to create.

In the next few weeks, I’ll be zooming in on various aspects that I find important when striving to ensure ethical marketing practices in socially-minded organisations. And I’d be happy to hear your views, comments and suggestions.

By no means do I claim to have all the answers surrounding the topic. Nor do I intend to claim the moral high ground. This series is a set of reflections based on my experience in impact-driven organisations as well as an invitation to an ongoing conversation that keeps us open, candid and alert.

Marketing is a tool, and like any other tool, it can be used for a variety of goals across a large spectrum. It’s up to us to create an environment in which the good side of the spectrum shines bright. And what better place to start than at the core of our organisations?

Marketing driven by values, rooted in a higher goal

The importance of having clear organisational values driven by the impact we want to make in the world cannot be emphasised enough. And although the values exercise is not an easy task in itself, the real challenge lies in integrating those values into the decisions we make down the road – in making sure that they’re not only a statement plastered on a website or a document forgotten in a folder but a set of principles that inform and guide our everyday actions, the difficult decisions we face, the partnerships we forge, the recruitment choices we make and the culture we create. Ultimately, clear values keep us focused when things get hard.

As Acumen’s founder and CEO, Jacqueline Novogratz, writes in her book, ‘Manifesto for a Moral Revolution: Practices to Build a Better World’: “Statements of values can guide actions and reinforce bonds of community – if they are lived. […] To unite any group, let alone the world, in common purpose requires role models and business models that demonstrate values made manifest.”

Marketing creates a bridge between the internal world of our organisations and the external world of the people we’re looking to serve. And it is our duty to constantly assess how we’re tuning into these two worlds so that we can ensure moral ways of tackling the tensions and disparities that arise in the process.

In the Cause Canvas – my proposed marketing strategy framework for purpose-driven organisations committed to inclusive growth – the Higher Goal lies at the centre of the framework as a constant reminder that it’s not only the first step in defining a social impact strategy but also a driving force influencing the decisions around it. The Higher Goal refers to your organisation’s dream for a more just and sustainable world and to distil it, you’re encouraged to ask questions like:

• What is the new state of affairs you imagine?
• Why is it important to pursue a new state of affairs?
• What do you think needs to change?
• What are the values that will guide your work?

Cause CanvasAs marketers, we tap into and influence multiple aspects of an organisation, from the resources we use, the stories we tell and the way we show our impact, to the people and organisations we attract as partners, ambassadors, donors, investors, customers or members.

When we commit to aligning these aspects with a set of values rooted in a higher goal, we allow for other equally important objectives to co-exist with the pursuit for funding. For example, a set of values focused on respectful relationships and rooted in a higher goal of human flourishing will help reconcile the financial needs of the organisation with the needs and aspirations of the community partners at the centre of the cause as well as those of the employees. Such an approach leads to:

• Developing products and services that don’t only sell but really fulfill the needs of the audiences they are aimed at. As Acumen’s CMO said in an event, “the product is the marketing”, marketing shouldn’t be an afterthought.
• Attracting partners, donors or investors that truly support the cause and not only the potential gain in profit or reputation.
• Crafting stories and calls to action that attract funding and respect the human dignity of the people involved.
• Pursuing projects not only for the numbers to be shown to donors or investors but also for the good that they put out into the world.
• Hiring marketing teams that are truly dedicated to the cause and have an empathetic ear for all the stakeholders involved: customers, communities, partners, donors, investors etc.
• Employing marketing practices and systems with permission and data privacy at the core.

In a nutshell, when marketing decisions get blurry, the core values and focus on the higher goal will help us lift the fog.

Stay tuned for my next post in the ethical marketing blog series and leave your comments below.

Download the Cause Canvas

Published on 17 September 2021 by Laura Tufis. Updated on 27 September 2022.

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Automating your marketing processes – where to start?


Marketing automations

If this blog post piqued your interest, you’ve probably reached a point in which you spend more time managing data files and troubleshooting errors than marketing the cause you love. You may need to gain a better understanding of your audiences, tailor your campaigns more effectively, bring more qualified leads, and ideally save time while at it. Your data might even be scattered in various systems or Excel files created by different teams. And your creativity is stifled by the limitations of your current system and the repetitive tasks required by each campaign.  

If some of the statements above or all of them sound familiar, it’s time to switch to a marketing automation system. But where do you start?

Below you’ll find a series of steps that will walk you through the prep work and the set-up of a system. But before going through these steps, make sure you:

• Revisit or establish your marketing objectives
• Define your audience segments and buyer personas
• Craft a content strategy that addresses the goals and challenges of your personas
• Design the customer journey for each persona 

In doing so, you will ease the implementation process of your marketing automation system and reduce the chance of having to make difficult database adjustments on the long term. 

1. Analyse and structure the data you already have

Analysing the existing data is generally part of the segmentation and buyer persona exercise or can feed back into and improve your persona profiles. 

As mentioned above, chances are that you already have some contact data from previous events and other business interactions. With the knowledge gained from defining your segments and persons, you can now identify the data that will be key in tailoring conversations with your target audience (eg job title, industry, organisation type, organisation size, challenges, topics of interest, events attended). Make sure you bring all of this data together and look for patterns and commonalities that will help you cluster your contacts. 

Later on, this step will help you build user-friendly lead generation forms (eg with dropdowns instead of open fields), which in turn will segment your database. In addition, the amount and nature of your existing data you will have an impact on the type of system you will choose. 

2. Figure out what data you need at each stage of the customer journey

When designing the customer journey for your personas, the following questions will arise: 

• How will you know that you’ve attracted the right persona?
• How will you know that your persona is moving along the customer journey? 

Thus, knowing the type of data that indicates an effective customer journey will help you collect the right (amount of) data, structure your database and build your processes accordingly. 

3. Define the criteria for choosing the system that works for your organisation

Because there are a plethora of systems out there, it helps to define your criteria and set boundaries for your research. Examples of criteria include: 

• Monthly/yearly budget you can allocate
• Number of contacts you already have
Database growth rate you’re aiming for and expect
Number and type of users who will need access in your organisation
Type of support the software company provides (and how much you estimate you’ll need depending on the staff that is available on your end)
Functionalities for data privacy regulations like European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) or California’s Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA)
Integration with other software you use
Automation options
Reporting functionalities
Scaling options (pricing tiers for different contact bundles and functionalities; proof that it can adapt to organisational growth so that you don’t need to switch systems too soon)

More functionalities doesn’t necessarily mean that the system is better for your organisation. Having a list of needs and objectives and looking at the system’s scaling opportunities will help you make a cost-effective choice. 

4. Test and pick your system

Now that you have your research criteria in mind, this step will become more accessible. Make test accounts for the most promising systems, watch demos, talk to sales and look at scores on websites like G2, Capterra and GetApp

I also recommend creating an Excel file in which you can list pricing, key functionalities, pros and cons and review scores so you can easily filter and compare the systems you’re testing. To make the testing more practical and ensure all the functionalities you need are available, you can also prepare a dummy list of contacts and a few scenarios for the automations you wish to have in the future. 

5. Align the system framework with your strategy

Now that you’ve got your new system, it’s time to build its backbone. Having clarity about your organisation’s strategy, objectives and customer journey will help you prepare your system’s framework for the data import. Here are some elements to think of at this stage:

• Create the contact fields and tags identified in steps 1 and 2 so you can easily identify your segments and personas
• Define your funnel stages
• Design the bridge between marketing and sales (aka at which point is a lead ready for sales communications?)
Define your pipeline stages (if applicable)
Structure your lists based on communication types like events, newsletter subscribers, blog subscribers
Create your email templates
Figure out how you will integrate the functionalities and processes for data privacy compliance

6. Import the data and structure it accordingly

Considering that you have already prepared the system framework, the data import should now go without a hitch. When preparing your files, make sure you know the data formatting requirements so that it’s all imported without errors. I also recommend clearly marking each file and the contacts associated with it so that you can keep track of the import sources (eg. system through which the data was initially collected; the team who initially collected the data; event/date attended). This will make your search, identification and tailoring easier in the future. 

7. Integrate your marketing system with other software

To avoid any manual syncing between your marketing system and other software, you can integrate them and ensure the data is shared seamlessly back and forth. Most of the marketing automation systems out there provide native integrations through an API (Application Programming Interface). Plus, you will already know from step 3 whether your system provides native integrations with your other applications. In some cases, the integration only requires following a few intuitive steps and filling out the API keys from your other systems, while for others, you might need to hire a developer. 

If a native integration is not available, you could choose to use a third party connector like Zapier, which requires a paid subscription above a certain number of workflows (called zaps). Zapier helps connect thousands of apps in a wide range of ways but it is advised to check beforehand if the exact workflows you need are available between your systems of choice. 

Software you might want to integrate with your marketing system are: content management system, sales system, online calendar (eg Calendly), event registration system, learning management system etc.

8. Build your lead generation forms

With the insights from step 2 ‘Figure out what data you need at each stage of the customer journey’, you can now start creating your lead generation forms – most likely by just having to drag and drop the fields already created in step 5 – and then embed them into your landing pages. 

Generally, at the top of the funnel you can deliver shorter forms (eg email, first name, last name) and as leads move down the funnel and you build a relationship of trust, you can progressively ask for more data and ensure an increasingly tailored experience. 

9. Ask for consent to: store and process data; send marketing and sales emails 

You are most likely familiar with regulations like GDPR or CCPA – these are key for your marketing processes. It is recommended that you consult a legal adviser to ensure that your data collection, storing and processing comply with all the regulations of the countries in which you operate. 

I believe that asking for your contacts’ explicit consent for all of the above is not only a legal matter but also one of trust and integrity. Telling people how their data will be used, what content they can expect from you and how they can request for access to, modifications or removal of their data is key to building lasting relationships of respect. 

Plus, I personally prefer to have a small database of people who really want to hear from me rather than a large list of people who remove or unsubscribe from my emails upon receipt. 

10. Design your automated workflows

With your system in place, you’re now ready to start creating your automations. Below are a few examples you might want to consider:

System set-up automations: the workflows that will ensure your database gets segmented and your processes keep running without you having to constantly check them.

• Mark leads with the corresponding persona tag depending on demographics and behaviour
• Assign your contacts to a certain list or segment when they’ve signed up to your newsletters, downloaded a resource or attended an event
Change the lifecycle stage to marketing qualified lead or sales qualified lead based on the persona tag and activity recorded (downloaded certain resources, attended certain events, asked for a demo or a chat with sales, read case studies, checked the pricing page multiple times)
Change the lifecycle stage to customer when a deal is won or a purchase has been registered through the integration with your ecommerce or event registration app
Assign leads to a sales rep or team when a certain form (with a certain field) is submitted
Define lead scoring: the relative points associated with the actions taken by your leads and what the cumulative scores will mean for your organisation at different funnel stages
Remove hard bounces and unsubscribes once they are marked as such by your system.

Nurturing automations: the workflows that actively help you move your leads along the customer journey. Make sure you set clear goals for them (eg. contacts exit the workflow once a ‘talk to sales’ form is submitted) and only send emails to people who’ve given explicit consent to receive emails from you. Here are a few examples:

• Send an automatic email with the resource for which a form has been submitted and follow up with related or more in-depth content
• Send confirmation and reminder emails to webinar subscribers and follow up with a whitepaper that explores the topic in more detail
Create email series per persona or segment, providing useful and inspiring resources (blogs, whitepapers, ebooks) that address their specific goals and challenges
Based on combined activities such as multiple downloads of resources, attendance of several events, high engagement with marketing emails or multiple views of pricing and product pages, create an email series that nurtures potential sales qualified leads with content that explains how your product/service solves their problems, case studies, testimonials, content that addresses common objections and concerns etc
Send an email inquiring if you can help answer any questions when someone has abandoned the registration or purchase process
Create a series of emails for new customers (thank you for your purchase; resources on how to maximise the use of a product; inspiring content to help them in their jobs; feedback forms on the product experience or customer service).

Need support in implementing a marketing automation system or setting up your workflows? Get in touch now.

Published on 31 March 2021 by Laura Tufis.

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The email series that can turn one-time donors into long-term advocates


emails for donor engagament

What happens when your NGO receives funding from a donor? There’s usually a lot of interaction while the agreement is being discussed and practicalities are being settled. This is usually followed by a ‘Thank you’ in different forms and a blog or PR piece about the donation. And then? Usually, after around one month, the interaction decreases considerably as new donors are being pursued. However, just like in any business, acquiring a new donor is much more expensive than retaining one. While there are a range of factors that will lead to your donors’ next donation, online engagement always plays a key role in your NGO’s fundraising efforts. And it always has a powerful email series at its centre. Read on to find out what such a series looks like.

The ‘Thank you’ email

This is the most obvious one but the series always starts here and its importance cannot be emphasised enough. In this email you can express your gratitude for the donation and outline again how you are going to use it towards the cause you’re advocating for, even if that was already specified in the proposal or on your website. Emphasise the problem you’re addressing, the impact you’re expecting to make and how important the donation is in driving that impact.

The Community email

The role of this email is to put your NGO’s community in the spotlight by mentioning who else is supporting your cause and how. This doesn’t only give extra visibility to all your donors but, by showing there is a collective effort they are contributing to, it also confirms their own donation and connects them to something larger than themselves, which is key in creating a movement.

The Progress emails

Very often, NGOs don’t communicate anything about a project until they have something big to announce. This is bound to negatively impact donor relationships and significantly decrease their trust. So, even if the project is just getting started and you’re still in the discovery phase, there’s usually plenty to communicate. Think of sharing what you’re learning and what’s surprised you the most so far, stories that left a mark on you, interviews you’ve conducted, data you’ve gathered and patterns you’ve unveiled. All of this can be shared in the form of blogs, photos, videos, infographics, reports and more. So make sure not more than two months go by without your donors hearing from you.

You might think: won’t they find this boring? Don’t they just care about the big impact? Of course each donor’s preferred communication style needs to be considered and not every small step of the project has to make a headline but there’s a lot to be extracted for storytelling beyond the milestones that usually come to mind. In this way, you can keep your donors excited about the cause they’re contributing to and also show transparency in your communications.

The Milestone emails

These emails are key in proving the effectiveness of your projects. They can be about the extensive reach of your action, a change you’ve made in a policy, a mention in key media or by key influencers, a goal achieved before the deadline, an insightful knowledge resource coming out or an inspiring event being organised. Share your excitement with your donors and encourage them to spread the word. They will be happy to show their audience how their donations are contributing to impact.

The ‘Lessons learned’ emails

Not everything always goes smoothly in a project. Hiccups are perfectly normal and can even generate valuable learnings. Communicating the lessons learned to your donors proves transparency and shows the human element of your work. Think about it this way: it’s not even credible that it’s all roses all the time.

The ‘Looking back’ email

As your project is coming to an end, think of doing a recap of the key milestones and lessons learned, all culminating into the impact achieved. This is a key communication piece that will remind your donors once again of the importance of their donations and their role in your NGO’s community. It’s also a great opportunity to thank them again and for you to reflect and celebrate.

The Feedback email

This one is often forgotten but is key for improving future work and donor interaction. Ask your donors what they think about the project implementation and its results, the communications around the project, the aspects that stood out, the things to be improved and the likelihood of a future donation. Don’t be afraid to ask. Their feedback will help you excel in your next endeavours.

The ‘What’s next’ email

Now that the project has ended and the review phase is complete, it’s time to focus on your next projects. Share your plans with your donors, explain the reasoning behind your next steps, ask them what they think and, if they’ve expressed an interest in supporting your cause again, make sure to ask for their renewed cooperation.

Then start this process again. And again. And again.

Which of the emails mentioned above are you already using? Which ones do you think you’ll implement right away? Let me know in the comments below.

Need support in setting up creative email campaigns that will boost your fundraising? Get in touch now.

Published on 31 August 2018 by Laura Tufis.

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Three questions you need to ask before building your organisation’s social media strategy


Questions social media strategy

Social media offers endless possibilities for marketing and communications professionals to promote their organisations. And if the context is the impact space where budgets are sometimes limited, it seems to be the holy grail. Then why does it often trigger confusion and frustration? Because without a clear focus, social media can lead to poor results. As Michael Eisner, the former head of Disney, put it, “Discipline is part of the creative process, contrary to popular belief.” The three guiding questions below will help you build a social media strategy that works and gets you buy-in from your management.

What are my organisation’s key objectives?

Gaining clarity on your organisation’s objectives will not only give you focus but will also provide you with a reference point against which to measure your results. You will be able to identify where you can contribute and how, as well as what exactly to monitor to see if your efforts are paying off.

This type of focus does not diminish creativity. Quite the opposite, having to keep generating ideas for a certain objective will most likely push you to think outside the box. Experimentation is key in social media, but experimentation with a purpose is what will build you an effective strategy and will save you time and resources on the long term.

Who are my buyer personas?

“A buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on market research and real data about your existing customers.” (Hubspot)

In our context, customers equal donors – the people who will pay for your cause to be implemented, so the largest part of your target audience. Defining personas will help you better understand your donors’ motivations, needs, goals, priorities, common objections, communication style, preferred channels and much more. By putting the human aspect above the financial aspect, you will get closer to your donors; you’ll speak their language, address their concerns and effectively tailor your messages and content for them.

Thus, understanding your personas is key for your social media strategy. Personas will guide the content you create, your calls to action, the tone and imagery, as well as the channels where you’ll want to be present.

If you’re just getting started on creating your personas, the tendency will most likely be to create many of them. It’s okay to start the process that way, then notice the overlap in goals and challenges and slowly bring them down to a maximum of five. Even five can be daunting when you’re just starting. So try to identify the key three and focus on those in the beginning.

What are my content pillars?

First off, what are content pillars? Content pillars are the central themes around which all your content pieces will gravitate for a certain period of time in basically…all your communications. It happens very often that organisations produce a lot of content and then fail to see results. No wonder their faith in content marketing and social media instantly plummets.

Content pillars will give you a clear purpose for your content creation and will help you guide your authors, thus ensuring that what you publish triggers action that in turn boosts your organisation’s goals.

You might ask: how do I decide what my content pillars will be?

A great start is understanding your personas’ needs, goals and common objections in great depth. You can then rank those needs, goals and objections, and identify a general theme – your content pillar – that will tackle what’s top of mind among your audience. The next step will be to come up with sub-topics that feed into the content pillar. For this phase you might want to organise a brainstorm to make sure you’ve covered all the angles. Lastly, it’ll be time to start curating content by first doing an audit to identify what’s already there and then recruiting internal and external authors for the content that needs to be produced from scratch. Learn more about how to create a successful content strategy in HubSpot’s free course.

When you’re done with this process, you can start all over again for the next needs, goals, objections and so on. This is a sure-fire and not so daunting way to improve your organisation’s content generation efforts.

Another common question is: how long should I focus on a content pillar? The answer is: as long as it’s relevant to your personas. Which means that engaging in continuous conversations with your donors is essential for you to be able to create content that matters.

Now that you’ve answered these questions, enjoy building and implementing your social media strategy! I’m confident it’ll be a much more gratifying process.

What is your organisation’s approach to social media? Do you find the questions above helpful for building or sharpening your strategy? Please share in the comments below.

Looking for support in developing a social media strategy that is effectively aligned with your organisation’s goals? Get in touch for a consultation.

Published on 3 August 2018 by Laura Tufis.

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Website must-haves for engaging your donors and attracting new ones


NGO websites

What happens when (potential) donors land on your website? You have less than 10 seconds to capture their attention and convince them to click through. In a world dominated by information overload, a powerful website is key to engaging your audience. Is your NGO using its website to its full potential? Here’s a list of website must-haves that will help you attract new donors and keep the current ones engaged.

The ‘Why’ reminder

As Simon Sinek puts it, the “‘why’ is the purpose, cause or belief that inspires you to do what you do. When you think, act and communicate starting with why, you can inspire others.”

Stating the problem front and center on your website isn’t only a way to engage new visitors but also a reminder for donors as to why they are getting involved in the first place.

Another important component is your value proposition (check out some tips on how to craft an irresistible value proposition). Why should donors support your organisation specifically? What is it that you do that is different from other NGOs? What is the impact you want to make?

Which brings us to…

The steps towards impact

What does impact look like and how are you planning to reach it? Making that clear and visible on your website will show your donors what strategies you are employing to generate your impact, helping you prove your expertise and establish credibility. A methodology you can use for this purpose is the Theory of Change. Check out the Akvo Foundation for an example and tips on how to start building one.

The ‘What’s new’ element

If you want your current donors to have a reason to return to your website (and maybe give more) and your new visitors to get excited about your work, the ‘what’s new’ element is essential for your website strategy. Think latest blog posts, news items, videos, ebooks, social media feeds, calendar of upcoming events – whatever format you choose, I usually advise for the new content to be featured on your homepage.

Your organisation is in constant motion and your (potential) donors should not have to dig through your pages to find that out. Coming back to a static website where you find the same content every time or landing on a website where not much seems to be going on can be a total buzzkill.

The proof

The projects you are implementing are your proof of impact. People want to know how their donations are being used or might be used, and put a face to the cause they are supporting or might support in the future. Personal stories can conjure up the strongest of emotions and trigger action.

By showcasing your projects and sharing impact stories, lessons learned and progress numbers, you will show transparency, build credibility and strengthen your connection with (potential) donors.

Here are some elements you might want to consider for your projects section:
• Goal of the project and activities being undertaken.
• Updates sharing the status of the project, lessons learned and impact stories in the form of blog posts, videos and photos. Here are 11 storytelling tips that will help you fuel your NGO’s fundraising.
• Infographics illustrating the results of your projects.
• Donor logos.
• Profiles of people working on the project.
• Knowledge resources developed during the project, such as studies, reports and presentations.

The Donors zone

Having a designated donor section featuring logos and testimonials will not only help you maintain a good relationship with your donors – as you acknowledge their support – but will also strengthen your NGO’s position. Why? Because showing potential donors who you are already working with proves your work is already valued and sparks interest in getting a seat at the table.

Another way to boost institutional donor engagement is by interviewing key decision makers and putting them in the spotlight. Pick a popular figure with an impressive track record in your field and ask for his/her views on a topical theme – for example a Sustainable Development Goal that your organisation is contributing to. This will give your donors a platform to share their views and your organisation a good brand boost and valuable content. However, although nobody in a position of power will have only fans, make sure to do a background check before.

The Get involved button

You probably go to events and talk to people face to face, develop relationships, write blogs, post on social media and send newsletters. While you’re building visibility, you need to make it easy for people to support your cause. A prominent Get involved/Donate button or any other call to action relevant to your cause can easily complement your other initiatives in rallying support.

The Get involved page

Once people click that button, the page they reach needs to be clear, engaging and user friendly. Here are some elements you should have on this page:
• Reinforce why it is important they get involved – videos work wonders!
• Explain the different involvement options: donations, sponsorship, fundraising, volunteering etc.
• Add a clear call to action to each type of involvement.
• Explain step by step how their support will be used and where.
• Feature impact stories and testimonials from other donors.
• Give an easy option to contact you in case they have more questions.
• Embed a newsletter sign-up form for people to receive updates about their involvement.
• Have a secure and user friendly system that allows for different payment methods and confirmations.

The invitation to conversation

To build lasting relationships and keep your (potential) donors’ interest alive after they’ve left your website, you need to spark conversations at every step of the journey. Here are a few simple tricks:

Email sign-up: Invite people to connect with you via email while they are engaged reading a blog post, checking out a project, watching a video or reading your story (pop-up windows often work very well as long as they are not overused). Don’t miss out on any opportunity to extend the conversation beyond your website. If they are donors, you want to show your gratitude, send project updates and persuade them to donate again. If they are not, with a good nurturing strategy, they might become donors at a later stage.

Social media: Connecting on social media is often less of a barrier than signing up by email. So in addition to just adding social media icons to the footer of your website, you can use your content to encourage people to join the conversation. For example:
• Create ready-made quotes to be shared at the click of a button from your blog posts or other resources.
• Feature share buttons for every piece of content and prepare ready-made posts that mention your organisation’s name (ie Twitter handle).
• Embed social media feeds in your homepage or your blog for people to get a glimpse into the conversation and be able to directly share or comment.

This will strengthen the sense of community, get people to engage more with your cause and automatically spread the word.

Segmented live chat and feedback: Inviting people to live chat is a great opportunity to listen to your audience, get brand-new ideas and improve what you do. And if you also ask a few segmentation questions while you’re at it (eg. role, main goal, challenge, organisation size, organisation type), you’re bound to gain some great insights about your audience and fine-tune your communications as a result. Depending on the tool you’re using, you can also personalise your live chat messages based on your visitor’s previous website journey. If live chat doesn’t seem to be an option for your organisation at the moment, you can also consider having a segmented feedback form that allows supporters to share their thoughts with you. It’s all about encouraging conversation.

Blog comments: It’s not enough to only add a comments plugin to your blog. Your readers can range from silent listeners to vocal followers. The latter are more likely to express their views but how do you ensure you’re addressing all groups? By asking questions and giving them a voice! Ask people what they think about the content, what their own experience is, what they think you’re missing and should cover next time. And then reply and take their comments into account in your next piece of content.

Over to you. Which of these elements are you already featuring on your NGO’s website? Please share your thoughts or tips in the comments below.

Planning a website revamp? Let’s work together on your content strategy and conversion techniques to make sure your website supports your organisation’s goals. Get in touch for a consultation. 

Published on 22 July 2018 by Laura Tufis.

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12 cost-effective ways to bring more participants to your events


NGO events marketing

Organising regular events – even if not part of your company’s key services – can provide great opportunities to strengthen your brand, raise awareness about your cause, expand your community and build the personal connection needed to drive meaningful action. But how do you ensure successful participation numbers, especially if you have a limited budget? Check out the 12 tips below.

1. Craft an irresistible value proposition

This will be the backbone of all your event promotions. An inspiring message that resonates with your target audience, shows the uniqueness of your event and triggers action is key in driving registrations. To craft an irresistible message, don’t forget to use Simon Sinek’s golden circle: start with the ‘why’ and then address the ‘what’ and the ‘how’. An effective approach to help you answer the ‘why’ is to keep asking ‘So what?’ to every answer you give until it’s obvious and it feels silly to continue.

Here’s an example:
Learn new breathing techniques (So what?) –> So that you relieve stress and achieve inner calm (So what?) –> So that you feel relaxed, radiant and alive every day.

So the message can become:
Feel relaxed, radiant and alive every day. Discover new breathing techniques that will help you release stress and achieve inner calm.

Once your event information is on the website, don’t forget to optimise the content for search engines. Check out this HubSpot blog post for on-page SEO management tips.

2. Build anticipation

Got a clear theme and a date for your event? Even before you have all the practical details figured out and you open registration, make sure you generate buzz around it:

• Promote it consistently across all your social channels and consider creating a series of fun/inspiring videos to accompany your posts.
• Send an email to all your subscribers, including previous participants, who might be interested in the theme of the event.
• Announce the event at other events.
• Let your partners know about it and ask them to help promote it across their channels.
• Don’t forget to add a sign-up form to your event page for people who want to receive more information about the event. In this way, when registration is open or eg. the speaker line-up is ready, you already have a list of warm leads.

3. Slice and dice your email lists

Email marketing is one of the most effective tools in event promotions. But it’s really important to stay away from email blasts and respect data privacy regulations (eg. GDPR). Understand your subscribers’ preferences and only target the people to whom the theme of your event is relevant. An effective approach is to identify the key segments in your database and map all the event topics against these segments. In this way you will have a clear content overview to help you in your promotions as well as an easy way to tailor your messages.

An important group is that of previous participants (as long as the theme is relevant to them). These people were previously engaged with your organisation so they are likely to want to participate again. In addition to obvious segmentation by job title, organisation type and size, career level, topics of interest, country of residence etc, this list can further be split based on level of satisfaction with previous events, number of events attended before, sessions they attended etc. And if you don’t have all this information available now, make sure you start collecting it.

4. Launch a new product or publication

If you’re planning to launch a report, a book or a new product, why not use your event as a platform? In this way, your launch can receive extra attention and your event can gather more people interested in hearing about the launch. Double win!

5. Develop a content strategy around your event’s theme

Having a content strategy around your theme can help your event get found by the right people and trigger action among a relevant audience without having to fight for their attention. By picking a set of key topics from your event and writing related content that addresses the needs and goals of your ideal participants, you will attract qualified prospects that you can then nurture into registrants. Make sure that each piece of content you produce is optimised for search engines and ends with a call to action and a sign-up form.

6. Promote the location of your event

While the theme, speakers and set-up of your event will define the unique selling points, the location and venue of the event can also make a difference in your promotions. After a full day of discussions and learning, people love unwinding and discovering new places. You can talk about what the city has to offer and describe the atmosphere of your venue to give your potential participants a taste of the event’s ambiance and thus, an extra reason to join.

7. Unlock the power of your network

The social impact space is highly collaborative – organisations and individuals support each other’s causes and work together towards shared goals. Help your partners promote their work and they will surely return the favour.

In addition, give your speakers ready-made messages to announce their speaking engagements among their networks and also encourage your employees to spread the word. Last but not least, identify influencers and ask for a shout-out. Most of the time, people will step in for a good cause.

8. Prepare a (social) media kit

You want people to help spread the word? You gotta make it easy for them. Don’t expect them to go to your website, figure what to say about your event, craft a message and tailor it to different channels. Maybe you’ve got a few evangelists out there but most of the time people are too busy to put all that effort.

But if you give them the right tools, they’ll help. So take your event’s value proposition and adapt it to all the different channels where you’d like to get some visibility (eg. social media, email). And then make some variations so people have some choice and your message gets out there in different forms. Plus, always attach some channel-specific photos and videos for extra visibility. When your kit is ready, send it to all your employees, speakers, participants and partners. In this way, everyone can just copy, paste and publish your messages, and you can generate a lot of buzz.

9. Raise awareness at other events

Whenever you or any of your organisation’s employees attend other events, make sure to bring marketing collateral to promote your event. And if you have a booth, use pull-up banners, flyers and screens to feature your event’s unique selling points and promo videos. Make sure you allow for people to sign up to be notified about the event and also consider organising a raffle as an incentive.

10. Turn your registrants into event ambassadors

Very often, registration confirmations are the last touch points before the event takes place. So many lost opportunities! What if you could turn your registrants into ambassadors for your event? Here are some ideas:

• Add share buttons and ready-made social media posts to the confirmation page and emails. Make it easy for people to instantly share their excitement with their networks.
• Invite them to the Facebook/LinkedIn event and thus raise awareness among their friends as well.
• Send a monthly newsletter to registrants as you book new speakers, add some exciting sessions to the programme or develop interesting content related to some of the topics. This is also where you can mention practical details and boost enthusiasm about the city and the venue. This will keep your registrants engaged and give them content to share with their networks.

11. Always think hybrid

Hybrid events are becoming the norm. But even if the event is supposed to be in-person only, make sure you give the world at least a glimpse into the content and buzz of your event through eg. live video from key sessions. In doing so, you will boost the visibility and engagement of your brand and raise interest in future events. And of course, make sure you have a sign-up form available for people who could not make it to stay informed about your future events.

12. Follow up

The end of your event should not be the end of your relationship with your participants. Follow up with a survey; ask them what they liked and what they would improve; send a link to photos, recordings and presentations; get in touch with each and every person who you promised to contact after the event; send them relevant content (ebooks, webinars) based on their session participation. Establish a connection that goes beyond the event participation and who knows, maybe some of them will even become ambassadors of your brand.

What other tactics do you use to boost participation at your events? Share in the comments below.

Are you looking for ways to attract more participants to your events? Let’s work together on a marketing strategy that will ensure the success of your events. No time for implementation? No worries, we’re here to help. Get in touch for a consultation. 

Photo credit: @kanereinholdtsen, Unsplash

Published on 6 May 2018 and updated on 28 Jan 2022 by Laura Tufis. 

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11 storytelling tips that will fuel your NGO’s fundraising


Storytelling for NGOs

Every NGO has powerful and urgent stories to tell. Good stories evoke emotions, connect us, make us embrace different perspectives and trigger us to take action. Are you looking for ways to bring your NGO’s story closer to your donors’ hearts? Here are 11 storytelling tips that will help you boost your marketing and fundraising efforts.

1. Have a clear purpose

Before even thinking of your storyline, stop and ask yourself: what exactly do I want to achieve through this story? Do I want to attract new donors, show existing donors the impact of their donations or maybe raise awareness about an issue and influence policy-making? Make your goal as tangible as possible, define your target audience and the rest will follow.

2. Focus on one message

Whenever we are passionate about a subject, we want to cover all the details. And in the non-profit world there is generally a lot of passion. So we often want to communicate everything. And it makes sense. It is serious, important and urgent. But exactly because it is serious, important and urgent, it needs to be clear and powerful. And mixing more messages can have the exact opposite effect. It can become confusing and blurry, especially for an audience who doesn’t know the ins and outs of your cause. By emphasising one message at a time, you can channel energy, bring focus and drive more impact.

3. Zoom in on the problem

Powerful stories start by immersing the reader or viewer into a new world. Describe the context and state the problem in order to help your audience dive into your world. You can show the multiple layers of a situation by zooming in from a global or nation-wide perspective to community and personal level. To make the context more tangible and illustrate the magnitude of the problem, use facts and figures; and to make it more relatable, explain what it means for one specific person. To achieve this in your visuals, you can offer a bird’s eye view of your focus area with drone shots and slowly zoom in on your main character(s).

4. Establish a personal connection

Once you’ve zoomed in on your main characters, give a vivid image of their lives, environment, everyday experiences, struggles and joys. Personal stories can break walls, build bridges and conjure up the strongest of emotions. Science shows that stories don’t only activate the language processing parts in our brain but also any other area in the brain that we would use when experiencing the events of the story. This is why personal stories can have such an impact on our emotions; we tend to relate them to our own experiences and imagine ourselves in those situations. And even more so when powerful imagery is involved. But as you build your narrative, make sure to respect the dignity of the people involved and always challenge the stereotypes (for more on this topic, see this post on reframing the message in international development).

5. Introduce the (possible) solution

So there is a problem and there is someone or something being affected by that problem. You have a solution and it’s proven to work. Or maybe you haven’t used it yet but you have the evidence that it can work. The important thing is that there is a way to solve the problem. To get your donors/supporters on board, you need to explain your approach in a clear, concise and engaging way and highlight its unique selling points. No jargon, no industry lingo. Just ask yourself: if I weren’t working here, would I grasp the concept right away? Would I get excited about it? Would I support it?

6. Show (possible) impact

Show your (potential) donors what impact your work has generated or can generate with a little bit of help from their side. For existing donors, it is important to see how their donations are being put to use and for potential donors it is important to see what their donations could turn into. Showing impact builds trust and brings hope.

7. Don’t forget the call to action

So you’ve wrapped up your story. And it’s powerful. People are engaged and ready to do their part. This is the moment to ask them to take action. No call to action is a missed opportunity. Remember tip no. 1: have a clear purpose? This is where it all comes together. Get people to click, donate, download, sign. If they love your story, they will follow through.

8. Put your heroes in the spotlight

Every NGO has its heroes, the people in the front line, working hard every day to make a change in their communities or in their environment. These are the people driving your organisation’s impact. Your champions. So make sure to put them in the spotlight. Think video interviews, portrait photos, event speeches.

9. Use new tech for an extra edge

Let emerging technologies get your creative juices flowing. Why not try some virtual reality to better immerse your donors into your story or some drone shots for a different perspective of your projects? All this, combined with live video and powerful photography can give an extra edge to your NGO’s story. Start experimenting and you might discover some totally new angles in your storytelling.

10. Quality is key

This might sound obvious but it cannot be emphasised enough. No matter how good your storyline, if your videos are shaky or have bad sound or poor lighting, your texts have typos or grammar mistakes, your photos are blurry or the tone does not resonate with your audience, well, the story will not be received well, that’s for sure. So make sure you invest in a good editor, a good photographer, a good video crew and a good designer and you’ll soon notice the results.

11. Promote and re-purpose

The same story can take multiple forms, from a journal or a blog post to a photo story, a video, an animation or even a presentation. But regardless of the content, the essence will stay the same. Remember the focus on one message in tip 2. It really comes in handy when you start re-purposing your story. Why re-purpose? Because your donors might be using content in different ways depending on their interests and demographics. And because you can extend the life of your story and ensure a good bundle of content for a while. It’s good return on investment. And once you have your story in various formats, make sure you keep promoting it on various occasions. Don’t forget it in a corner. You’ve worked hard on it.

What other tactics do you use in your storytelling? Feel free to share them in the comments below.

Struggling to tell your NGO’s story in a way that engages your donors and prompts them to take action? Let’s work together to create a value proposition and key messages that resonate with your audience. Get in touch for a consultation. 

Published on 15 December 2017 by Laura Tufis. The post was initially published on Beyond Borders Media.

Photo credit: Anastasia Zhenina, Unsplash

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