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040 – Increasing donations with a coherent brand with Eric Ressler

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In this episode, we’re happy to have Eric Ressler as a guest! He’s the founder and creative director at Cosmic, which is a social impact creative agency. He’s an expert in branding and has vast experience in the non-profit world. We’ll be talking about the mindset non-profits need when thinking about branding and other aspects of their digital presence, and how beneficial this can be for them.


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Episode Transcription

David: Welcome to the Non-profit Digital Success Podcast. I’m your host David, and in this episode, I’m going to be speaking with Eric Ressler. Eric is the founder and creative director at Cosmic, which is a social impact creative agency, Cosmic empowers social impact organizations to create real world change by helping them nail their impact story, build brand awareness and inspire action within their communities.

It’s always great to speak with another agency owner in the, you know, for good, for the greater good business. So what drew you to the social impact space?

Eric: So it’s kind of a little bit of a meandering story and I’ll try and keep it short. So we’ve been an agency for about six or seven years, and we decided it was really time for us to put a stake in the ground around some kind of focus area. There’s I think more than 40,000 generalist agencies in America alone. And although we had seen a lot of traction and success as a company, we also knew that in order to really gain further traction and to stand out and to really grow the business in a meaningful way, it was time for us to kind of choose a focus area or a specialization.

And as we started looking at a lot of the work that we’d done over the years, we kind of kept drawing circles around different ways of saying social impact. And we kind of realized that of all the work that we’d done, that was the work that we felt the most purpose behind and also where we saw the biggest room for improvement, where our expertise around design and communications and strategy could best serve the world. And so we made a choice to really put a stake in the ground around social impact, and that was about four years ago now that we did that, and we’ve only dug in deeper and committed more fully since then.

David: Amazing to hear people’s stories in terms of what drew them into it and, and how they were introduced to it and why they’re involved in it. And ultimately it always comes back to some kind of passion, right? For myself, and from what you’re saying as an agency owner, you know, being able to help these organizations really create some kind of change and take advantage of the technologies that, and then, you know, otherwise they wouldn’t have necessarily the team or infrastructure internally to be able to handle that.

Eric: Yeah, that’s exactly right. And that’s what we saw, is that there was a lot of opportunity and a lot of potential for some of the things that we were doing with profit-driven businesses and corporations to really make a difference and move humanity forward. And there’s obviously some very different approaches and strategies and tactics and technologies when you’re dealing with a cause based organization, that’s really trying to focus on creating a better future instead of selling a product to consumers, but there’s some overlap and there’s some strategies that do translate. And what we’ve seen is that oftentimes especially smaller organizations, but even larger organizations, they don’t have the right internal capacity or skillset or budget or some kind of combination of those three levers to be able to do this work as effectively as they need to.

One of the main concepts that we kind of anchor our work in is the fact that we’re in this new information era and we’re all competing in the attention economy and that people in the world don’t really take the time to figure out is this message coming from a cause-driven or a purpose-driven organization, a social impact organization, or the next cool show on Netflix, right?

As humans, we’re just going to be attracted to what we’re physiologically most attracted to, mentally most attracted to. And these other companies have millions and millions of dollars in really smart, creative people and large teams at their disposal to be able to create these really delightful enticing experiences and opportunities and content. And that’s creating an extra challenge for organizations that are social impact-focused that don’t necessarily have the same resources or capacity, but we need to find a way to bring that into the ethos in this sector and prioritize it at the same level as the program work, because it’s such a driver for success and for impact. And when it’s done effectively, it can really be an impact multiplier.

David: A hundred percent. You’ve got huge corporations, global corporations that are spending money locally and driving attention away. Right. I’m sure this is resonating with whoever’s going to be listening to this episode right now, right? Like how do I get in front of people? Right. And I think part of that conversation ultimately comes down to the business, which translates into dollars, right? The donations, the funding that organizations get, and a lot of them struggle to find funding and to grow their funding base. Why do you think that is that so many organizations struggle to find, grow and, and maintain their funding?

Eric: Well, I think there’s a sector wide issue of the sector, essentially just being under-resourced. And it’s changing a little bit because a lot of the major funders are starting to realize they need to just get money to organizations as quickly as possible, but that’s not happening for everyone. And there’s still sometimes arduous processes. So these organizations that form often organically are faced with somewhat of a catch-22, in that you need money to make money. And in the, for-profit world, this is sometimes solved through venture capital money.

Sometimes in the traditional business world, you can kind of more easily just start selling products and grow the business organically. But when, you know, obviously a bunch of different ways that social impact organizations are structured, social enterprises do often sell products or services to fund the business, but it can be a little bit hard to get traction, momentum, especially in the early days of an organization. But often we see organizations stall out who have a lot of traction. So because of this catch-22 of basically most, if not many organizations being stuck in this kind of what we call “starvation cycle”, it’s really hard for organizations who even believe deeply in this work sometimes to find the funding or the funders to get it in motion.

What we’ve seen though is if you can break through, if you can get some major donors or grants or gifts, some kind of combination of those things to invest in the infrastructure of your brand and building a brand and building out a digital ecosystem, that’s where it can really start to create this upward spiral of impact and engagement with the community. So it’s worth doing, but it’s often really hard to do. And so you do need to plan for that as an organization. It does need to be a priority within your strategic plan, and you need to make a case to your funders that it’s important work. That’s going to drive the rest of the work forward.

David: And to that end, I mean, there’s a lot of – forgetting about, you know, Megacorp, right? There’s a lot of other organizations in the space that are asking for money that are vying for people’s attention, right? Try to take a look at, I think it’ll be beneficial for organizations to take a look at similar like organizations or other ones, other non-profits that might be promoting themselves a little bit more and see if maybe you can align with them, see if there’s some kind of partnership or an event that, events are a little bit hard in the age of COVID, but, you know, see where you might be able to connect with other organizations for, you know, an even bigger impact and stronger message.

Eric: Yeah, that’s something we believe a lot in, especially because one of the main concepts that we think about a lot, and we use a metaphor to describe this is really carving out a niche within the social impact ecosystem as an organization in the business world, this would be called positioning and differentiation, right?

So oftentimes what we see is that organizations start off with kind of a clear mission and as they see how their mission and the issues that they’re working to solve are connected systemically to other issues. There can be a tendency for mission creep or mission drift for an organization.

You know, one thing we tell our clients is you don’t have to solve every problem in the world, or even all the problems in your space. What are the parts that you are best suited to solve, where you unique strengths as an organization?

Where can you really lean in and create some focus and carve out a niche in the same way that you know, we’ve done for our organization, and that can really help simplify things. And that’s where you can start to see other people in the space buying for money as partners, instead of competitors, because we’re all trying to create change, and it’s going to take all of us to do it.

So if you can really carve out that niche, put a stake in the ground around the part that you have, the most unique success and strengths as an organization to really contribute, then you can start to partner with other organizations that have other strengths. And then there is an opportunity to kind of co-market or co-promote campaigns to create more change through collective action instead of just through individual action. And that’s something that we’ve seen, you know, create a lot of success and, you know, really help both organizations or many organizations create that collective power. And that’s where things really start to change

David: A hundred percent. And, you know, in terms of that, you’ve got local, regional, national, and global scale. You don’t, as you just said, you don’t need to solve a massive global problem, right? It could just be something local to your individual, small little community of 3000 people even. And if determining what that USP (Unique Selling Proposition) is for your organization will really drive your message. And I think that’s really clear and, and cohesive in the way that you explained it.

So I hope everybody listening can take that and really think truthfully and in your heart about what your organization actually does and what the mission and the purpose is. Everybody starts out with the best of intentions. Sometimes, you know, the road leads a little bit to the left or to the right, and maybe think about realigning or go “You know what? We looked at this over the last three years and we think we can really cause a big difference in our community and impact society and help change”, maybe it’s homelessness or clothing or food shelters there there’s a bazillion different options out there and really hone in on that and niche or niche if you’re in the US, or I guess, depending on where you are in the States and really identify what, what your ultimate goal is and work towards that.

Eric: Yeah. And I think it’s not that that goal should be static either, right? There’s a balance that you have to find because you do need to be responsive to change as that happens in the world and new conditions and culture. Obviously the last couple of years, especially have led to a lot of change and ripple effects in many ways. So there’s a balance that you have to strike between being too static and being too responsive or getting to a point where there’s no trajectory or you change direction so often that you essentially just kind of spin out.

David: So just, I guess, going back to what we were talking about in terms of donations and funding, what are your thoughts in terms of where the future of donation and fundraising is heading?

Eric: That’s a big question. So I think there’s been a number of trends that we’ve seen in motion. So one trend on the funder side, which we really believe in is a growth in large gifts, a growth in unrestricted kind of general operation funding from philanthropists and foundations. And this is something that we’ve believed in for a long time, that we’re starting to see come to fruition, especially from individual giving.

You know, an example of this is McKenzie Scott, doing an incredible job of getting out there, vetting organizations quickly and giving them a lot of money very quickly to just help move things forward. And this goes back to the overall issue of the sector just being under resourced. That’s excellent. We want to see more of that, of course, without getting too much into the politics. The fact that so much wealth is in so few hands, we really need that wealth to be redistributed to organizations on the ground, doing the work as quickly as possible.

And that’s one element of it. So that from a fundraising perspective, that’s a trend that we’re seeing that is great, kind of on the exact flip side of the spectrum is the success that we’re seeing with organizations really being able to tap into small gifts and recurring gifts and community support based models. And that’s not going to work for everyone, but I think that’s where the work that we do and the work that we talk about becomes especially important. Not that it’s not important for other situations such as like getting large gifts and grants, because we think it’s important for that too. But especially if you’re trying to build a community of support and engage supporters, your brand, your digital experience and footprint, the way that you communicate with your community becomes more and more important to really build that momentum and sustained fundraising.

So a trend that we’ve seen is that organizations who can tap into that, and it’s a noisy space and it’s getting more competitive. So it’s not an easy thing I don’t mean to, you know, just say, “Oh, well just start getting, you know, hundreds of thousands of small gifts a month and your fundraising problems will be solved”, but if you can tap into that and there’s a way to make that work strategically for your organization, that’s a trend that we’re seeing continuing to increase.

And I think it’s happened like most trends in this space, starting with political campaigns, and then it starts to kind of ripple into non-political or non-candidate based organizations, you know, with the small donations, funding, millions and millions of dollars of political campaigns over the last, you know, few election cycles, at least in the US. So that’s a trend that we’re seeing as well. And then there’s a bunch of kind of like smaller tactical micro trends, but those are the two main ones that we’ve seen.

David: Yeah. Just further into that, you know, your first point, you’re talking about, you know, huge amount of wealth. There are billions of dollars sitting with the baby boomers, the silver generation, they’re aging, they’re getting older. COVID, hasn’t been friendly across the board, but you know, seniors are, are it’s the cycle of life they’re going to be passing away and that money that’s sitting in their estates, in their bank accounts, those are going to be passed down to their children. They’re going to be passed to organizations, potentially, you know, whoever’s listening.

Maybe your organization will get a donation from an estate or will, or something of that stature. And being able to tie into those, the, I guess the youth, the children of the silver generation, the baby boomers, they’re the ones that, you know, it makes sense for a long game play to really think about connecting with them now and getting them involved and get them to really know and understand and care about your organization and have some kind of empathy, right? And if they can care about your organization now when money comes into them, they’re going to want to give it back.

Eric: Yeah, totally agree. I think that’s a really good point because there is kind of a generational shift happening with generational wealth. And that means that a lot of organizations who have traditionally relied on the baby boomer generation, some of the ways that you connect with that generation and the ways that you need to connect with the next generations are going to be quite different. And you know, it’s not to say that annual appeal letters and direct mail campaigns don’t still have some kind of purpose in your overall fundraising strategy. But if you aren’t building a strong strategy and, you know, machine around your digital fundraising and digital engagement with your community, not just fundraising appeals, but generally connecting to people digitally, you’re in a really bad place. And already probably, and especially in five years and especially in 10, 20 years.

So I think starting to invest in that infrastructure from a strategic standpoint, as well as a tactical standpoint and a communications and a content standpoint is just going to become more and more important as we, as a global culture, connect and communicate more and more digitally every year.

David: Yeah, I think that’s really true. I get from time to time, a piece of mail saying, “Hey, you know, donate to us, you’ve donated to us in the past”. I haven’t heard anything from you the rest of the year, right? So what is it about this one page letter from the CEO or the president to the foundation that’s going to entice me and make me feel that I want to donate to the organization.

Nine times out of ten, I’ll make a donation because that’s just what, what we do in our house. And as a business, we make donations as well, but really connecting with people on an ongoing basis and touching in with them and letting them know how their money is being spent, goes a long way in terms of future growth for your donations and increasing over time.

Eric: Yeah, exactly. And, you know, traditionally this would just be referred to as the donor engagement, right? And donor nurturing. And, you know, if you get that letter and that’s the only thing you hear from the organization, unless you have a really strong relationship and a really strong and positive opinion about that organization, and you believe in what they’re doing, you’re educated on their progress. You may not make a donation, but if you are really clear on those things, if you believe in the organization, you know that they’re credible, they have a track record of successful impact.

The issues that they’re working on are important and aligned with your values, maybe it is enough. But especially if you’re an organization who’s trying to grow donations, grow support, which really every organization doing this work is always doing.

You need to continue to connect with your community in a way that is a symbiotic relationship. And that’s why we really like to use the word community to talk about supporters, because it needs to be a two-way street.

There needs to be some equal exchange of information and ideas. And as much as you need support, you also need to provide value to your supporters. And that value can come in many ways.

I mean the most traditional and obvious ways you need to show your supporters that you’re making progress as an organization, that their support has a meaningful impact on society in one way or another. And this can be done in many ways through impact storytelling, through statistics, through annual reports, all of the kind of traditional things, of course, but beyond that, it’s really about having a dialogue with the community and making them feel like they’re part of something bigger, which I think is something that we’re all really wanting right now, especially in the COVID era where so much of our traditional human connection has been really difficult.

And so I think there’s an opportunity for social impact organizations to really play that in an authentic way, a space of community for people to get involved around shared values, around shared focus areas and to give people a way to contribute beyond just money or beyond just donating time, but also sharing ideas, being connected to other people who also care about that issue.

So if you can create a strong, authentic community and relationship between your supporters and your team and the work that you’re doing and the people or the animals, or the environment that you’re helping, then when you get that annual appeal or the email or the campaign for, you know, end of year giving, you’ve primed your community to want to give, because they feel like they’re giving something that they’re a part of. And they feel like they’re giving something, that’s actually making a difference.

David: I think that’s really key is to bring people into your message and, you know, pull up their heartstrings over time and create that- there’s a fine, there’s a fine balance, right? Like how, how many times are you going to hit them with, “oh, you know, we’ve donated this many beds to a hospital”, or “we’ve outfitted this number of families with wheelchairs or accessible vehicles” or whatever it happens to be that your mission is, right, and making sure that that’s very clear, but at the same time, letting them know and understand that it’s their money that is helping cause this shift in society that they’re creating.

Eric: Yeah, and I think that if you can get creative around how you do that, that’s even better. So I think another thing that is not always thought of, but we think about a lot for our clients is that when you’re a social impact organization, especially if you’ve done a good job at carving out a niche, one of your main kind of value propositions or places of authority is that you are really on the front lines or you have your finger on the pulse of this issue. And oftentimes people, regular people support these issues and care about these issues, whether it’s the environment or underserved population, but they have their own lives, their own careers, and they may not be, and often are not in this space. So they’re not totally up to speed on the latest trends on the latest opportunities and needs and challenges.

So your organization can help educate people around the trajectory of this issue or the space that you’re in. So if it’s around climate, what’s the latest data, what are the latest challenges? What are the latest opportunities in technologies that are, you know, able to help move this issue forward? And you can share that with your community and maybe that’s all that piece communication is. And maybe there’s some kind of appeal at the bottom because that’s just best practice to have in general on every email. But the point of the email is not always asking.

You know, one thing that we think about is kind of this give to ask ratio, and we want to see that be roughly three to one in the give side of the equation. So for every appeal or every direct ask, there’s at least three pieces of content or communication that have gone out that are more just about giving back to the community. So they feel like they’re getting something back from the support and from the engagement and education around news and updates and trends and opportunities and challenges around whatever your focus area is, is really helpful to people who care about those issues and want to be kept up to date on the latest and the greatest.

David: And I think a lot of that, we’ve spoken about donations, we’ve spoken about, you know, getting involved in your organization, potentially zooming back in and nicheing on a specific area of focus that your organization feels really passionate about and the leadership can really back and get behind. And I think a lot of that comes down to the brand, right? So what are your brand values? What is the mission, the vision, the values of your organization. So let, let’s talk about brand for a second. What are the benefits to having a really cohesive brand?

Eric: So it’s interesting, and I love this thread because it’s so close to my heart, but oftentimes what we find is social impact organizations don’t really even think of themselves as a brand. I think that is starting to shift a little bit more, but still sometimes we run into this because brand is a term that is usually associated with, again, like kind of a corporation or a profit-driven business.

But the way that we think about brand is, it’s not your logo and your colors, like that’s part of what makes your brand, that’s your visual identity. It’s not even the words that you use necessarily, or the message that you spread. All of those things are just kind of components of the brand, but the brand at the end of the day is really the experience that your community has interacting with you in any way and the patterns and the trends that they see.

It’s the decisions that you make as an organization’s, it’s the strategy around how you’re doing your work, and all of that together fills this bucket that we might call a brand. So it’s not good if your brand is unclear or inconsistent, or just feels low quality either because of the visuals or because of the messaging or because of the actions that you take as an organization.

So if you really start to think about the brand as this kind of symbol or this living, breathing thing that is defined by any and all experiences your community has with your organization and you frame it that way, then you can start to see how important building a brand that’s consistent, that’s authentic, that has integrity, and that has credibility is in terms of moving your overall mission forward. And if you think about it that way, then it kind of logically leads to some things that you need to do as an organization.

It does include things like having a solid visual identity, having clear and consistent messaging, making sure the tone of the messaging for the brand is appropriate for whoever it is that you’re speaking to with any piece of communication, making sure that when people see any email, any appeal letter, when they see your website, when they see your social channels, that there is a consistent feel, a consistent tone that is inspiring and uplifting and appropriate for the work that you’re doing. And so if you invest in those things, it really kind of pays off in dividends for anything else that you’re doing. It also has huge benefits and implications for your internal team culture because often staff of social impact organizations, they get in the work because they’re passionate about it. Sometimes thinkless work. You know, we don’t need to get too far down the path of, you know, compensation can be unfair and unjust and people are sometimes having to make financial sacrifices because they care about the work.

And obviously there’s huge like systemic and structural issues that lead to that, going back to the starvation cycle. But the point is, if they do this hard work and then they feel like it’s not being represented at all, or accurately represented or represented to the right degree to the rest of the world, that can kind of bring your team down. And if the brand is really strong and the communications around the brand are really strong, that just moves everything forward because your team feels like their work is being properly reflected that it’s actually making a difference. That’s actually engaging the community. And so you can think about it, not just externally, but also how it can really build clarity and purpose and focus, and also just make the team feel like all their work is being properly executed and communicated to the rest of the world.

David: And I think that’s really key is to make sure that you get the inside on side, right? Making sure that the internal staff, the people that really are spending the time and effort in the organization that are there because they care about what it is that you’re doing, that they really believe that their work, their time, their effort is being put, you know, with the best foot forward.

Eric: Yeah, exactly that, and I think oftentimes when organizations come to us for a branding project, they’re not thinking about that part so much, but it’s honestly one of the biggest benefits to doing, you know, solid branding exercise is to really think about those things. And they, they do inform and are informed by overall strategic goals.

Again, back to this concept of the niche and the ecosystem. Sometimes people come in expecting some colors and some fonts in the logo and they come out with an entirely different focus. So the power of branding isn’t to be underestimated. And it’s also something that requires not just foundational thinking, but constant curation and constant attention to ensure that your brand is staying relevant, that it’s staying healthy, that you’re taking care of it.

David: I think in terms of that as well, making sure that you’re also tied to, you know, social impact days and use those type of events that happen because organizations globally have, you know, rallied around, you know, if it’s Alzheimer’s, right. There’s Alzheimer’s awareness week, there’s all kinds of things like that. And being able to tie your message to that, get your message out there, reach a bigger audience because people are paying more attention potentially that day of the week or the month.

Eric: Yeah. There’s definitely a few key moments and opportunities like that that are scheduled and seasonal, right? Like in the States, at least we have Giving Tuesday, you know, end of year giving is obviously driven primarily by tax reasons like a big giving season. But beyond that, a tactic that can also work quite well is to kind of hijack news stories or events that are relevant or related to your work. And that’s a way to get a lot of basically free earned media that you traditionally have to pay for, get lucky to have for your organization.

So if some kind of newsworthy thing is already being picked up, that’s already in kind of like the cultural zeitgeist, find a way to tie that into the work that you’re doing and construct some messaging around that that can be a really effective way to get people’s attention.

David: And, you know, we’ve been talking about funding and getting people’s attention. What are your thoughts in reaching out and connecting with philanthropists to get them to be involved? Maybe not even monetarily, but in terms of time or being potentially even a brand ambassador.

Eric: Yeah. Another really big question, and there’s unfortunately no silver bullet answer there. I think a lot of what we’ve been talking about is actually way more important than people realize. So philanthropists, especially individual philanthropists in our experience often give from an emotional standpoint, they give with their hearts and not their heads, unless they start to become more scientific about their giving to the point of setting up an, you know, a philanthropy or a foundation under their name, where they start to get more arduous around how they vet and allocate money.

But at the end of the day, there’s always some kind of emotional, or there’s often some kind of emotional level to it. But the subtext of that is credibility as an organization. So philanthropists or donors or people who, or investors, people who are going to give time or money, they don’t want to do that if it’s going to be a waste, right.

And so at some level consciously or subconsciously, and it’s usually a mix of both, we’re all vetting and assessing the credibility, the reputation, the impact potential of any organization that we’re going to give time or money or attention to. And so the branding work and the communication and all of that foundational work that we’ve been talking about is actually really important for that. And we’ve seen that play out many times over the years of working with clients is that when they start to present themselves in a way that is authentic, but polished and credible, they start to see more opportunities come to light and they start to get meetings. They meet with potential donors or investors that they couldn’t get before. So that’s a really big element of it. That again, sometimes is more conscious and sometimes is more subconscious, but as humans, we’re constantly vetting and assessing the credibility of people, of organizations, of opportunities in almost like a calculated way. And it’s often subconscious. So that’s one big element of it.

I think when it comes to more like institutional philanthropies, so foundations or, you know, groups or organizations that give grants or give money, there’s definitely some more practical and pragmatic things that you can do, especially with your website that can really help. We actually wrote an article about this that hopefully we can link to in the show notes, but there’s a kind of like a checklist of things that are really important that that foundations especially want to be able to see cuz they’re vetting organizations all the time. And it can be simple things like just making sure you have your financials up to date. If you’re under some kind of audit, just tell, you know, state that on your site so that people know why there may be a gap in your financial reporting, things like that.

And again, we can link to the article where we talk about a handful of things there, but I do think that the core foundational branding work and the way that you build credibility and tell your story as an organization is really important for that. What we’ve also experienced, especially with kind of individual philanthropists or investors, is that there is kind of a network effect. There is kind of a referral element to it. So if you can get an introduction from someone that’s a shared connection, that’s really important.

But again, having a good reputation, having a credible reputation within your community is going to go a long way. If even just name recognition can go a long way. We’ve worked with clients who have very large brand awareness, but they’re spinning out a new program and they want to launch campaigns just to get that name out into culture. So that by the time they go out to fundraise with larger organizations or larger individuals who can give more money, there’s already some recognition for the brand. They’re not hearing the name of that program for the first time when they’re being asked for money.

David: And that’s one of the key foundations of a fundraising effort is you don’t go out the gate saying we have zero, right? You want to build up 35-40% before you go out there with a big fundraising ask, like if you want to raise a million dollars, raise a few hundred thousand dollars first show that, you know, there is some traction with this and it’ll help. And I think it’s very much the same people want to give to organizations that they feel some kind of connection to that they’ve heard about and that they understand what it is that they do.

Eric: Yeah, that’s exactly true. And again, we, in this space, there’s so many catch-22s, right? Because it’s like, well, how do you get that in motion? And you know, there is a need to bootstrap at some level in terms of when you’re launching a new initiative or a new campaign, hopefully you’ve made some traction as an organization. You have some close donors who believe in you, you have some philanthropists or institutions that have already funded you, that can start to seed that.

But if you’re really just getting started, you know, you have to work with people, you have to work your networks, you have to have your staff and your board do that. You know, we, of course like one of the primary kind of focuses of a board should be fundraising, generally speaking, there’s exceptions to that, but that’s a big part of it. And typically folks on the board are pretty well networked and have connections to folks or organizations that are able to give. So you have to build on your foundations from a fundraising perspective as well.

David: Yeah. So I think it’s really great. We’ve been talking about donations and different ways that people can raise money, but on the flip side of that, you need to also pay attention and figure out how can you measure success. So what, what advice do you have for anybody listening in terms of KPIs or metrics that they might want to pay attention to?

Eric: Yeah. I mean, my default here is to answer more from a marketing standpoint than a fundraising standpoint, because that’s our core focus. Obviously these are all interrelated, but there’s some very basic metrics that we like to look at for campaigns and for engagement on digital experiences. So some of the very basic ones that are still worth looking at starting with the website would be things like bounce rate, things like time on site, pages per session, some of the core metrics around when people are coming to the site, are they staying on the site? Are they leaving right away? Are they getting engaged in content?

  1. So in general, just to be clear, you want a low bounce rate, a bounce rate is a metric that kind of defines if someone lands on any page of the site, are they leaving right away or are they going to at least one more page before they leave? You know, certainly we want to see bounce rates below 70% closer to 50 is even better. Of course. And then the lower, the number generally the better there, if it gets really, really low, it could actually be a sign that your tracking technology is wrong, so just kind of keep an eye on that.
  2. Pages per session, there’s not really like a rule of thumb we look at there, but we definitely want to see at least a couple two to three pages per session, generally as a good sign of health for engagement on the website.
  3. And then time on site can really vary drastically depending on the nature of the organization. If the organization publishes a lot of long form content in general, we’re going to see the time on site be higher. If it’s more of a campaign there’s not as long form in depth content, we might see it lower, but you should just, you know, start to track those things and look at those metrics.

Those are kind of the main three that we would look at to just see, “Hey, are people who do come to the site? Are they generally engaged in our site and our content? Or are they not?” You can get way deeper with all this stuff, but you know, don’t want to get too into the weeds with that.

You also want to look at how are people getting to our website and is that happening through social? Is it happening through paid campaigns? Is it happening through email and just get a sense of how people are even finding the site in the first place? One of the strategies that we think works quite well, that’s a tried and true strategy is to publish ongoing content. That’s one of the main things that you need to do in order to continue to engage your community. But it’s also has benefits for people being able to find you through organic search who are just searching about these issues.

If you have a static website with a few pages and it never gets updated, people are not going to find you on Google. Google wants you to be publishing consistently and in a way that all of the content is, you know, interrelated and supportive of itself. And so there’s, we could go really deep on SEO strategy, but you know, at a high level, the main thing is like publish often, publish within your niche. You know, roughly 3,500 words of original content a month is a good general benchmark. It doesn’t have to be, it could be one long article or five shorter articles. But the main thing is that you’re publishing consistently in a way that the search engines can find it and that the content is engaging. Like, you know, don’t try and keyword spam that doesn’t work these days. It’s really more about, can you create authentic, important, relevant content for your issue?

And then of course you have that content to be able to share with your community. When we think about this overall machine that we want to build, we think about it like a flywheel, and we think about the website essentially as the hub of that flywheel and all of these different channels are really there to point people back to the website. So email should be pointed to the website. Social should be pointed to the website, even, you know, events or live streams. We want to get people back to that because that’s your most precious form of owned media that you have complete control over that allows people to see how all of the different pieces of what your work is, are connecting to one another and gives them opportunities to get engaged more deeply.

David: And to that point, it’s great to drive traffic back to your website, and I talk about this all the time. You need to have clear call to actions on the site to drive attention to what it is that you want people to do. We can probably talk for a couple hours about the importance of call to actions and placement and that type of thing. But to your point about analytics, knowing what people are looking for that are bringing them into your site, I think that’s a great point.

If you don’t have analytics on your website, I always recommend go to analytics.google.com, set up an account, it’s free. There’s a number of other platforms out there as well. But, I don’t know, Google analytics, it’s free. You can set it up, it takes minutes to do. And if you need help with that, there’s, you can contact us. I’m sure Eric and his team over there, you can contact them and we’ll get you set up so that at least you can start tracking where you currently are. So over time, as you make changes, as you update, as you rebuild, as you redesign, you’ll know where, you know, where you’ve gone to and where you’ve been.

Eric: Yeah, I think that’s a very clear takeaway if you don’t have Google analytics set up, there’s obviously other platforms out there, but that’s kind of the standard. And we almost never launch something without Google analytics, even if we have other analytics platforms, because it is just, it’s really helpful. It’s free. And even if you’re not going to do anything with it, just get it set up because one day, if you do want to start to look at this, you’ll have that backlog and that historical data, which can be really helpful for looking at trends and seeing if things are going in the right direction or not. So, yeah, I mean, that’s, it’s really easy to set up. It’s free, you know, you can do it yourself. If you have the ability to add a simple tag to your site, and if you don’t, then whoever built your site can do it very quickly and easily.

So that’s a, we have worked with a number of organizations where we come in and they haven’t had that set up and it’s always a huge bummer because it means we can’t really look at historical data and we have to start- that’s the first thing we’ll do in that situation, even if we’re not touching the website right away, we’ll get that set up. So we, at least we can start to get a couple weeks or months of data. So that’s a huge thing to do if you haven’t done that already, for sure. Get that set up!

David: Just head over to our show notes page, go to wowdigital.com/podcast. Find this episode, we’re going to have links to all the stuff that we’ve, that we’ve spoken about. And Eric, I know during our pre-show, we were chatting about a couple freebies that you have for the people that are listening. Tell us about those.

Eric: Yeah. So we have a few pieces of content that I’d like to point listeners to. The first is we published a manifesto around essentially our perspectives. A lot of that we actually hit on in the podcast, but there’s others that we didn’t get a chance to talk about. That again, is free. It’s just designbycosmic.com/manifesto. There’s also an audio version you can listen to, if that’s more your style, you can find that on most podcast networks it’s called The Revolution Is Digital. So that can be a really good way to just start to think about some of these concepts more deeply that we’ve discussed.

We also published a number of free articles and podcasts like this and downloads and more tactical content. So that if you are, if you believe in this work and you want to start to do it on your own, hopefully this will help you do that. And it’s again, all free. So that’s our insights tab on our site designbycosmic.com/insights. So lots of good content there to dig into as well. And then we, I also do office hours if anyone is interested in just asking questions or chatting or getting some advice on this, and we can put a link to my calendar booking link in the show notes as well.

David: Absolutely. So, you know, if anybody has any questions go to the show notes, we’ll have links for all that go to designbycosmic.com, get in touch with them and Eric and his team over there will take awesome care of you.

Thanks so much for joining in, Eric. This has been such a great experience. I love talking, as I said at the beginning with other agency owners, because we’re just so passionate about helping the world and making everything a better place. And, and it sounds really cheesy, but really that’s, that’s why I’m into it. And from what you said, you know, giving back to the community I think is really important. So yeah. wowdigital.com/podcast find this episode. And until next time, keep on being successful.

Eric: Thanks for having me on David.

David: Awesome, any time!

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