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058 – The Key to Non-profit Growth: Aligning Your Passion with Your Purpose, with Jason Hopcus

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In today’s episode, we’re happy to have Jason Hopcus as our guest!

Jason is a passionate advocate for mental health and is the President/CEO of NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) of Arapahoe/Douglas Counties. He’s also the founder of the Connection Project, a for-profit company that seeks to create systems of people working to deepen their relationships with their work, their play, and the world.

In this episode, we’ll be discussing the importance of niching your non-profit, and how it can help your organization achieve its mission more effectively.

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Episode Transcription

David Pisarek: Welcome to the Non-profit Digital Success Podcast. I’m your host, David, and in this episode, we’re going to be talking about niching your non-profit and mental health with Jason Hopcus.

Jason is a catalyst for a powerful cultural shift because everyone, directly or indirectly, is affected by mental health. He believes that connection to oneself, one’s transparency, and one’s passion to connect allows individuals to live a holy, authentic, and full life.

He creates systems of people working to deepen their relationship to their work, their play, and ultimately, our world. He presently serves as the non-profit president and CEO of NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Arapahoe/Douglas Counties, and is the founder of the Connection Project, which is a for-profit company. Jason, thank you so much for joining today on the podcast.

Jason Hopcus: It’s a pleasure to be here, David. Thank you for having me.

David Pisarek: I see you’re sitting in a spot here, and you’ve got this awesome painting back there beside you. You mentioned that you’re an artist. Tell us something about that painting there. What inspired that?

Jason Hopcus: I don’t know exactly. I think it was actually a painting that I had done previously that was screwed up, and I didn’t love it. I just went back and added some more layers to it, and we’ve created this chaotic, colorful painting here.

David Pisarek: It looks like maybe some landscape, burnt-out fire bush-something. I don’t know. It’s interesting.

Jason Hopcus: I think all the elements are represented. I don’t have any real symbolism to tell you about it. I could go into something deep and philosophical, but I would be making it up.

David Pisarek: Yeah, no worries.

Jason Hopcus: It has no meaning.

David Pisarek: Awesome. Well, good work with that. It’s always great to have a creative outlet to relieve stress, to have a hobby, or professionally if you’re an artist on that side. And there are a lot of talks in terms of using art for mental health and for being able to connect with that side of one’s brain and personality. What are your thoughts on that?

Jason Hopcus: Yeah, absolutely just to find that place of balance for any of us, I think it’s important for us to figure out something that connects us deeper to ourselves. That can be through some expressive form like creating art. I also like to garden, getting out, being among nature, reading, and spending time with people that I love, something that really just renews your spirit and fills your cup, I think this is so important in the chaotic world that we live in today.

David Pisarek: Absolutely. So speaking of mental health, it’s a great little segue there. How are you working with people to help them change how they understand mental health?

Jason Hopcus: Yeah, that’s a great question. To give you a little bit of backstory, my work began more than a decade ago after I had my own personal struggle with mental health, and really recognized from that experience and the challenges that I had with finding support in some of the darkest times of my life, it’s just too hard.

That really set the stage for the foundation as I continued to show up to support myself, to recognize that this perhaps was my life work to be able to help others and recognize that when we’re struggling, when things are challenging, when we have transitions in life, it should be easier for us to find a way to support ourselves.

My work is really built upon the back of my own experience and recognizing that it was just too dang hard, and helping create systems of support that really align to better get people connected when they’re struggling.

David Pisarek: That’s really cool. It’s really interesting how people’s life experiences affect them and change and alter the path that they decide to go down.

Jason Hopcus: For sure. That definitely was the case for me.

Prior to the work that I’ve done in the better part of the last decade, I’ve always been an entrepreneur at heart. Worked in heavy highway road construction, worked in real estate, really more the building and construction side of things. When the things that happened to me happened, it brought me to my knees, it really made me reevaluate and understand that often we pursue things in life because we think they’re going to make us rich, or that they’re going to fill our cup, or they’re going to do all of these things that we perceive that they may do, and they may ultimately do that.

What I have learned is just because you are good at something does not mean you have to do it, and that understanding really underscores the path that I forged instead of all the things that were known and comfortable to me.

David Pisarek: I think that’s really interesting. Just because you’re doing something a certain way doesn’t mean you have to always do it that way. You need to open your mind sometimes to change.

Change isn’t always bad, and if you can affect the change, if you can be that cause that makes your life easier, let’s say, at your work, you’re using a piece of software, but there’s something new that you want to try that everybody’s talking about, if that makes your life a little bit easier, if that will help not just you, but your cause, the people that you’re working with, your colleagues, your volunteers, your donors, like switching to a different CRM platform for managing your donors.

A lot of people are set in their ways, and it does take time and effort to switch, but maybe the grass is greener on the other side. You don’t really know until you’ve gone and you’ve tested the water.

Jason Hopcus: Sometimes it’s not.

David Pisarek: Sometimes it’s not.

Jason Hopcus: Absolutely. What I’ve really learned in being involved in non-profit work for, again, about the last 10 years and recognizing what I brought to the table was very different from what I saw in a lot of other non-profits. I mean, I have this entrepreneurial spirit. I’ve always been a self-employed business owner and forged my own path, and what I recognize in working with other non-profits (and it’s not a criticism of how anybody does things) is it just was not a fit for me.

The thing that I recognized by large that I think plagues a lot of non-profits is this outward-facing: we want to collaborate, we want to work with other groups, but when it comes down to actually seeking out the money in the community, everybody wants to fight over the sand in the sandbox, and I’m just not that guy.

So for me, it really was an opportunity to pivot and take a 50,000-foot view and look more broadly around: How do we sustain this organization that is a business, really from the perspective of getting community partners engaged, getting corporate partners engaged, getting people who could have passion and stand behind the work that we do.

I think one of the things that have consistently made me different (and I see myself saying this over and over in meetings) is, I always approach what we’re working on from a value-forward place.

Let’s put ourselves in our intended audience’s shoes, the users of the product we’re bringing to the marketplace, and let’s imagine what they need from that perspective. I think so many times… And it’s not just non-profits, businesses get caught up, and “we want to tell you about how great our widget is” that we forget there’s a real-world application for that widget.

If we can really put ourselves in the shoes of the user, it makes a huge difference in them being able to connect with your product, your service, or whatever it is that you’re wanting to offer.

I see that the thing that gets missed so often in conversations is we’re not discussing how are we providing value forward to the person that’s going to use this.

David Pisarek: 100%. I think there are two things I made a note of as you were talking.

One… Anybody listening who has heard other episodes, I often mention that you need to run your organization, your non-profit, or your charity as if it was a business. (Everybody listening, we didn’t talk about this before. Totally organic! [laughs]).

You need money to make money. A lot of people, I think, start their non-profits from a really great, kind, wholehearted place, but they’re not thinking about, “All right, well, if we want to have a place for children with disabilities to come and BE”, well, you need money for the facility.

You need to raise the money, the capital, to do the things that you want to do. They really need to be thinking from that side.

Jason Hopcus: Absolutely.

David Pisarek: The other part is value-forward, putting yourself in your audience’s shoes, in the people you want to connect with, and thinking about things from their perspective.

The one thing I would implore everybody listening to this to do is to look at your website, for example. Take a look at whatever you’ve got right at the top of your homepage and ask yourself, “So what? What is the benefit of this?” and ask yourself, “So what? So what?”. Do it two, three, or four times until you get to what is the actual real value here for the person you’re trying to connect with. Instead of saying, “We help feed 1,000 children a month”, think about it from their perspective: What would engage a donor in that?

And instead of saying, “We help feed 1,000 children a month”, it could be, “You can help feed 1,000 children a month”.

Changing it from a “We” to a “You” and how you can involve them, instantly creates this emotional connection that is going to get people to go, “Yeah, I can do this. I can help. What are two dollars a day (or whatever the pledge happens to be)?”. I think that that’s a really important piece that you mentioned.

Jason Hopcus: I think, what that value-forward approach really does… It does create an appeal. When you look at so many of the organizations that do really well, they have capitalized on the storytelling piece. My organization, NAMI of Arapahoe/Douglas Counties… We are an Arbiter of stories. We offer education, support, and outreach for those who are struggling with mental health and the loved ones who care about them. And really, from that perspective, I can tell you, we have thousands of stories.

Everybody has a story.

To them, it’s unique, and when we start looking at them as a collective of, “Oh, this is the same story just lumped into a category”, I think we miss the essence of the reality that everybody’s story, while there may be similarities, is different and potentially has something to teach somebody else who’s not as far down the path.

David Pisarek: Absolutely. I’m curious, it sounds like what you’re talking about is using stories to connect, right? And how can people leverage stories to create that emotional connection? Has your work with NAMI helped you understand how to reach communities with storytelling?

Jason Hopcus: It has, and that has really been the foundational work that builds upon the work I do in my organization “Connection Project”.

NAMI is an organization… If somebody is listening and doesn’t really understand the structure: National Organizations > State Organizations, and then > Affiliate Organizations.

So in Colorado, there are 14 affiliates, and I lead one of the largest affiliates in the state of Colorado. A lot of NAMI organizations are volunteer-led, don’t have paid staff, and really are made up of those family members and loved ones who want to support their loved ones who struggle with a mental health condition, which is great.

What I recognized from doing that work was that… NAMI service is really focused on the chronically and persistently mentally ill, those people who will likely always have some need for care or help on a continuum, but it leaves out a broad swath of people that struggle with life transition issues, the people that go through a divorce or lose a job or lose a loved one or a pet, take your pick.

We all have seasons in our lives when we may not show up in the way that we want to or wished we had. Where do you get plugged into support during those times?

From that understanding, I created my organization Connection Project, and really, the goal was simple: to strengthen and deepen our connection to ourselves and others, which I think, frankly, is what we’re all looking for.

If you look over what’s changed in the last decade (all of us coming off a horrific two and a half years), the fact of the matter is: we’re buried in our devices more than we’ve ever been also, and I think people assume there is an implied connection in technology. I think you can get that through technology but at the end of the day, David, there’s no replacement for what you and I are doing now or if we sit down and have a meal together or go have a cup of coffee.

I think people are struggling in seeking that. So when we get to those challenging places in life and are looking for ways to get plugged in or get connected, I don’t think that’s easy for most people.

Connection Project is really built, again, to strengthen and deepen connection, but it has evolved into really a machine, so to speak, of connecting vulnerable or marginalized communities because when we started, where I struggled, in the beginning, was: how do you take this concept that applies to everybody and really bring it down into a message that everybody can receive? And the answer is: you can’t.

So what we started looking at was: what are the communities that are most vulnerable or the most marginalized? And by that, I’m looking at the communities that had really high suicide rates, depression, anxiety rates, substance use, and misuse disorders. The things that we could tangentially understand as a basis point for struggle, and then from there, creating these social impact campaigns that were really designed and built to connect people through imagery and through messaging that meets their audience.

They perceive they’re part of that audience and deliver those messages over and over again through the miracle of technology, which we’re all tethered to, and getting people connected to resources that could be valuable for them in a time of struggle or need.

David Pisarek: So I’m curious, how are you measuring the impact?

Jason Hopcus: So that’s a great question. Most of our campaigns are built through digital marketing platforms or through social media platforms, so what we’re really empowered with is: we have a ton of data to support everything from demographic data to user preferences data to really understanding from when somebody lands upon our site, where they go next, and we can put tracking pixels in from our site to the place that we’re sending them out to, and we can start really looking at reach.

The empowerment of the work that we’re doing is really being able to take a look back and say, “40% of the people were searching for resources like this, and they went to these organizations”.

Then you start talking to your partners that you’re partnered with, the partner organizations, and you say, “Okay, we’re sending this much traffic to your sites. Have you considered, or have you thought about, or what are the results that you can share back with us that may start to shape the conversation?” I think that empowerment, frankly, opens the door for us to better be people where they are.

Prior to being able to do this in the way that we’ve done it, it’s been shot in the dark of we just assume, “Oh, people are struggling, and they’re going to want this, so let’s do more of that”. I don’t think that was ever necessarily validated by data unless somebody walked through your door or called your organization.

David Pisarek: Absolutely. So in terms of success with Connection Project when it comes to digital marketing, what’s been maybe one or two of your biggest successes that you’ve had?

Jason Hopcus: We launched a campaign, NAMI AD Co. was its client. During COVID, our goal was to let people know that there were mental health resources and supports available, so we built a campaign called “Everyone Struggles”, which happens to be a tagline in Connection Project, and it was a video series, It was radio spots, it was digital marketing, it was social media. There was a resource list that had been developed for adults and youth that were part of that campaign, but it was targeted to the two counties that we serve here in Colorado, Arapahoe/Douglas counties, which are basically comprised of a million people.

So statistically, if one in four struggle with a mental health condition… I mean, that’s 250,000 people that are known (not given what we all went through in the past two and a half years, knowing people have struggled at alarming rates), and we delivered that campaign over the course of four months.

And again, it’s targeted at those million people, we made four and a half million impressions in the first three months. If you start looking at the click-through rates, one of our community health centers that we partner with, in the first three months, we had 1100 outbound clicks to that organization.

Again, you start just imagining conversions, even if 1% of those people became clients, I could measure that for every single resource that we have on our page. We did a campaign for emergency responders, I do a lot of work in the responder community called “Everyday Brave”, and we hosted a podcast series, we had a digital resource list, and we had tailored digital marketing and social ads for the responder community.

Again, we had similar type results. That was a Denver Metro campaign, and I’m giving you some Colorado-based ones. I also do this work at a national scale, but sometimes the impact that we see when we approach it from our community in a regional way is a really good barometer indicator for how is this going to be received if we roll this out in other markets.

I will say those two campaigns, in particular, the click-through rates were so high on them that the organization that runs those campaigns for me wanted to do case studies on them.

David Pisarek: That’s phenomenal. Click-through rates, I was reading an article, I think it was yesterday, and they were featured by a big ad company that got a 0.31% click-through rate. CTR, for anybody that wants the tech term there. What would you say was, if you were to just ballpark, the click-through rate?

Jason Hopcus: Two and a half times that.

David Pisarek: That’s awesome.

Jason Hopcus: I had one campaign that was over one.

David Pisarek: For anybody listening, 1% is really good work.

Jason Hopcus: It is phenomenal work, and I’m not going to take all the credit for it, I have a phenomenal team that backs me up, but I think there are a couple of things that go into it.

When you go back to what we talked about earlier about the value-forward approach, and when you put yourself in people’s shoes, let’s just take the “Everyone Struggles” campaign, for instance.

We collectively were struggling as humans through what we’ve been through in the last two and a half years, and people were willing to talk about mental health in a way that they never had before because they were struggling at alarming rates. So we create something.

The campaign was powerful. The very first image was of a woman wearing a mask that had this dead look in her eyes. That’s where the video started. That’s where the social media campaign started. You could see yourself in that one image.

I think when people build campaigns, and they’re focused on this value-forward approach, it has to be built from the place of “Who is your intended audience?” And, “What are the imagery and the messaging that is going to resonate with them?”, and often, we’ll try images that I would never have picked, and they will do phenomenal, and the ones that I think will do great don’t.

I do a lot of work in the responder community, it is amazing. Fireman images fighting fires do better than any other responder video or responder image that I’ve put out there. I don’t know why, but people are really drawn to them. I don’t know!

David Pisarek: That’s interesting.

Jason Hopcus: I’m still trying to figure that out, and I don’t think there’s any magic sauce to it, but I think the willingness to show up and recognize the community that you serve and let them see what you’re giving them in your campaigns, I think that’s what matters.

I think people recognize inauthenticity.

I see a lot of campaigns that are beautifully done, but I don’t feel the heart in them. At the end of the day, I believe my job here is to be the messenger of this message and to serve other people. Do I think I have some gifts that make me unique in doing this? Perhaps, but that’s not the point. This isn’t about me. If I’m here to serve communities, I have to figure out I’m doing what I can to serve communities.

David Pisarek: I think what you’re talking about is really circled around being able to niche.

Who is it that you’re trying to connect with?

You can’t be out there being like, “Hey, we need money. This is what we’re doing”. You really need to know the audience. What are your thoughts in terms of the importance of a niche when it comes to connecting with non-profit communities?

Jason Hopcus: I think the importance of a niche is just first and foremost recognizing that is everything.

For me, this work is built upon some of the most painful experiences in my life. I can literally put myself in the shoes of somebody struggling because I have been there. I would say that I built this life from hell, and I don’t mean that dramatically, but the fact of the matter is: when I was going through my dark night of the soul, here’s what I know. I am a white male that’s educated, that had resources, and has family support and structure.

I had all these boxes checked that should have worked in my favor, and I still didn’t know where to begin. I didn’t know how to get help. And if somebody that had all those boxes checked (like myself) couldn’t find out where to get help, that’s a problem.

So for me, it really highlights the fact that it is just too hard, and if we want to create an inviting space for people to help themselves, we have to help them along. I think that is our responsibility as a system.

I do think that we have failed as a system of recognizing that people need some help sooner than later. I also think the system assumes when you talk about niches that everybody is willing to go to therapy, figure out if they can find a therapist if they’ve got insurance to pay for it, take meds, go to a treatment center if they’re really struggling with something in a bad way.

I don’t think that’s where anybody begins their journey, and the system assumes that most people are willing to do all of those things.

I think the fact of the matter is, we have to go back and recognize that most people aren’t even willing to admit that they’re struggling with something that they need help with.

So if we’re assuming that everybody’s going to be over here and everybody’s still really stuck over here, we’re missing some steps to connect people between the two. I think that’s where the work and the niche that I’ve created really fill in. It’s “a next step”. It’s helping you see yourself in that imagery, in that messaging, and imagine, “Okay, well, let me look at the resource list”. Our resource lists are simple, they’ll have multiple resources, but they’re divided out in an easily digestible way.

Traditionally, you go somewhere for support, and they want to give you a resource list or access to it, it’s going to be 50 things. If you’re struggling, what is the likelihood that you can discern 50 things and make a decision on the next step? It’s too hard.

I feel my responsibility is, really, how do we make this easier? How do we better connect with people earlier to help them recognize there is help available? And it doesn’t have to be this hard.

There is an impetus that’s going to require you to take the next step, but I don’t think we have to see the whole staircase yet. And I think the traditional system assumes people are willing to go further, they’re willing to go faster than statistics really dictate they are.

There’s not a single statistic that proves what we’re doing is actually working. Depression and anxiety rates aren’t down. Substance use and misuse disorder rates aren’t down, suicide rates aren’t down. So if we’re approaching fixing what we’re going through with the same stuff we’ve been doing, I hate to say we’re probably going to have similar outcomes, but worse because there are more people in the mix.

David Pisarek: A good part of this has to do with stigma. A lot of people end up in situations or are in situations willingly or unwillingly or just by their life journey or their parents’ life journey or their friends because of stigma because there isn’t somebody there trying to fill the void and go, “You know what? Think about doing things like this”, or “Here’s how you can get help”, or “Here’s the one thing that you should be thinking of or that you can do”.

The resource list, having like, “All right, do these five things, and you will be able to deal with or overcome this specific thing”. And breaking it down into small, chunkable-bite-sized bits, I think, is really what will help more people than not.

Jason Hopcus: Well, I think it’s that stigma is an interesting word to me. Of course, I agree with the societal stigma, but I also think stigma is one of those things that is often for many of us internalized.

If you feel a certain way about something, that stigma lives within you. If you’re not affected by it, you’re not going to feel stigmatized by it.

I think there are some nuances in how we see stigma that could be advanced and evolved, but the fact of the matter is that we assume, society assumes, that people are willing to do more than actually seems to prove out.

Not everybody is going to take action to get better.

Instead of pretending that we’re going to drag everybody along there, think we would be more realistic to recognize what are the things that we can do to meet people where they are, knowing that taking a walk around the block and getting some sun on their head, that may be their idea of helping themselves. And maybe that’s enough.

We’ve approached this from the perspective of “Everything needs to be in this nice, tiny little package and people are going to show up, and they’re going to do the work”.

Well, first of all, I don’t think it’s realistic. Secondly, I think the demand for support far exceeds the supply today, so I don’t think even if everybody wanted to show up for support, I don’t think there’s support to meet them there by and large.

And frankly, there are many things that we could be doing from a self-empowerment perspective to support ourselves that I think we have a responsibility to remind people, “Hey, have you thought about getting some sun on your head? Are you sleeping enough? Are you drinking enough water? Have you written down three things you’re grateful for? Have you gotten some exercise?”. These are really simple things.

You see those messages shared in hospital systems and insurance systems, but unless you’re part of that system and digesting the content they’re giving you, (that’s the bigger key), you’ve forgotten that there is a life outside of your device.

There are things that you can do right now, today for free, that will likely at this moment, make a difference. And I’m not saying unilaterally and in every instance, but I have found by and large, if you’re willing to show up for yourself and take one next step, you can likely build upon that step to the next step.

Where I think we screw ourselves is that, instead of focusing on the next step, we want to look at the whole staircase, and the reality is you don’t get up the staircase any other way than one step at a time.

David Pisarek: Yeah, and I think it’s important to have the goals and aspirations go, “Okay, this is where we want to be”. You want to be at the top of that staircase using your analogy, but you need to break that down and go, “Okay, here’s what we can do. Here is how we can help people along the way, along their journey, and also understanding not everybody is on the same journey”.

Not everybody will take the second step. Maybe they’re going to do every two steps. There isn’t a single path.

Jason Hopcus: And that’s okay, but I think our traditional system assumes that people are willing to do that in a very linear way, and I don’t think that’s proven out. To me is where I really diverge.

And again, I don’t mean it as a criticism of anybody that wants to do it a traditional way. I followed that path myself, and it was hugely valuable and important for me, but I can tell you, it was hard. It wasn’t short. It wasn’t easy, and it required me to show up over and over and over and over again. And the reason I was able to do it is that my life was too painful that if I didn’t, I wouldn’t have made it out of this. I don’t think everybody falls into that category, and even people that may, that don’t want to do it that way, it doesn’t mean it’s the only way.

David Pisarek: I think what’s important for everybody listening to this is to know, you know what? Not everybody is going to do things the way that you intend. There’s a journey.

You want to go from A to B, but it’s more like this. And going around and around until you end up with somebody at the point that you want them to be at.

Jason Hopcus: I think that’s the basis of when you talk about organizations and how they market to people.

If you mark it assuming that everybody’s going to do it your way and by your method, I think you’ve already cut yourself out of a huge audience that won’t ever do it that way.

So if there’s an opportunity for you to adapt and pivot and say, “Hey, they may not do it this way, but we can meet you right here and do it this way”, that to me, I think is the responsibility and obligation of where we are in the world. I think we have to be willing to do things a different way.

I think what the pandemic taught us is people are struggling at alarming rates, they’re talking about things they’re struggling with that they never would have before.

The fact of the matter is that it does not apply they have a mental illness. If you have a brain, you have mental health, we all have mental health, we all have mental health and the likelihood of throughout our lives, we may have periods of transition or struggle that we don’t show up in the best way.

Like, “Okay, let’s figure out how to meet people there”. It doesn’t mean we need to dump them into this system that, “Oh, my gosh, you got to do all of this stuff”.

I’m not discounting any of that because I’ve done it. It works. I’m a fan of it, but I don’t think it’s the path for everybody. It was my path, but I don’t think it’s everybody’s path.

David Pisarek: Absolutely. Anybody listening to this, if you dive into any analytics on your website, how many people are landing on your homepage? The homepage is important, but it’s probably 30 to 40%.

Just because you want them to go there doesn’t mean they’re going to go there. They’re going to land deep in your site. Same thing with life’s journey.

Not everybody goes to postsecondary education, college, or university. They go right into the workforce, and some end up really successful, and some don’t. Some go back to school, and some travel. It’s a non-linear path, and I think that’s the thing to be cognizant of.

Jason Hopcus: I think that’s always been the case.

David Pisarek: Absolutely.

Jason Hopcus: We just have more focus and attention on the fact that you’ve got to do it a certain way. I see some really smart, successful people that are saying, “Hey, maybe college is not the answer for everybody”. There are a lot of what I would consider non-traditional paths that people are taking today to earn really fantastic living, and you don’t need a college degree to do it.

I don’t know. I have one, but I don’t know why I don’t use the degree that I have. But again, I think it goes back to there is not one path, and our system assumes that the path is pretty linear. I think that’s a dangerous perspective.

David Pisarek: Keeping that in mind, when we think about digital marketing and “Okay, not every path is linear”, what are some of those big challenges that you see that exist in marketing?

Jason Hopcus: First and foremost, it’s a really big marketplace. You’re fighting for a lot of attention and traffic.

Again, I’m pretty good at building demo sets, and I’m pretty good at targeting where the audiences that I want to build from, but I think in understanding it’s a crowded marketplace, I think it also requires what you put in may be correlated to what you get out. And there are a lot of different tools that you can implement.

For instance, we know that video does better than static images. The short video does even better than the long format video (although I can get people to watch two-minute videos at a fairly compelling rate) but I think it depends on what the messaging is and how interested people are in that.

All of it goes back to what you put in based on how well you understand your customer audience, which I think is going to relate to what you get out.

And realizing that digital marketing is a long game. If you go into it and assume that you’re going to get these phenomenal results in a very short clip (I have done that many times over), the things that I want to be the slow burn, you have to realize you’re going to have to put some money behind this and be committed to having fresh creative and content that people want over the long haul.

David Pisarek: And I think that’s really key. It’s not a one-and-done. It’s not instant gratification. If you’re looking for help – so anybody listening to this, if you’re looking for help, and you go online, you go to Google and you search for “digital marketing agency,” and if anybody tells you, “look, we’ll have you ranked in the number one spot within 30 days”, or “we’re going to get you 50,000 views of your video within a month”.

Realistically, if it sounds too good to be true, it is. You need to think about this in the long game.

It’s like SEO. It’s like writing a book.

You can’t just sit down and write your life story, your autobiography, in an afternoon. It takes months and months, if not years. Some people are doing these types of things for years and years and years.

Jason Hopcus: Well, yeah. A lot of times they may be doing the wrong things. For instance, I have a national non-profit client that I work with, and I do all of their marketing for them. So everything about their brand and their marketing, my team has created it, and we run it on a national level in a really, really big way.

When I stepped into the organization, they were doing a turnover in leadership. What we learned walking in is they were spending $1.17 for every dollar they raised.

David Pisarek: That’s a problem.

Jason Hopcus: Yeah. So we pulled back on every single bit of it, and we started a slow drip campaign over the course of the next year with new creative, new imagery, and new video.

We did a teaser video that flushes out who the organization is in less than a minute. And I will tell you, by and large, we’ve had millions of views of that video, I get video views at a penny a piece.

That’s pretty cheap marketing. But what it took is us pulling this way back and saying, “This is not working. We’re not going to continue to do this. And let’s figure it out”. I will tell you, week in and week out, we tweak our audiences based on what the week before told us, and doing that committedly and consistently has brought the cost down to a fraction of what it used to cost to be able to raise money.

David Pisarek: And I think that’s a really key point is leveraging your analytics to make key decisions, doing testing, A/B testing.

If you’re going to send an email out, send it to a small sample, maybe 100 people, but do two. Change one thing, change the call to action in there, change the email subject, change from an HTML email to a plain text email, and see what works in between them.

Scientifically speaking, in A/B testing, you should only change one variable at a time. Over time, you’re going to figure out the day of the week that works best, the time of that day that works best, and the type of messaging, the tone, and the style. Do you use an emoji? Do you not use an emoji?

And you’ll see what is going to work and what’s going to stand out for you.

Jason Hopcus: I think that goes back to a crowded market a place, and I also think that goes back to people’s bandwidth to take more on.

Think about how many emails most of us get that we don’t recall subscribing to. I feel like I’m constantly unsubscribing to things from things that I don’t recall subscribing to or being opted into. And I think that limited bandwidth piece is really important when you have to be able to capture somebody’s attention right out of the box.

I won’t admit I do this perfectly always, but I do think to your point, and I’ve got a huge A/B test going on right now. It’s email series. And really, we did it because I wanted to learn more about the preferences of the audience that was serving more than anything.

By and large, what we changed is the subject line in the video. The copy is the same, but those two things and how they look are just slightly different, and it’s interesting. So far, I can’t really tell. I’m not really clear on what it’s going to tell me, but it’s having a good success rate.

I think most people go into this assuming that just because they have a good idea, or they have a good product, and they’re going to spend some money on marketing, I think they assume that that’s going to convert something real. I don’t think by and large that’s a given.

David Pisarek: I think we need to have realistic expectations in terms of what’s going to happen with this. If you’ve never done a video in your organization, and you’re like, “All right, we’re going to hit the ground running. We’re going to make five videos. We’re going to publish them, one a week”. How many views is that first one going to have? Realistically, it takes time.

You’ve got to build up the audience. You have to market it. You have to let people know. You’ve got to share it. You’ve got to get brand ambassadors, volunteers that work with your organization, sharing it and commenting, and employees. It’s not a “We’re just going to do this and the world is going to open up to us”.

Jason Hopcus: I think a lot of people assume that. They look at these accounts that have all these likes and all of that.

For many of these people, that’s a 10-year cycle. This didn’t start just in a vacuum in a day, “Oh, we have this huge following”, unless you’ve done something that makes you go viral.

I think that’s what everybody wants in this day and age, is to go viral about something. But again, I don’t think that’s the norm.

David Pisarek: It’s hard. It’s hard. To your point, YouTube, if you’re going to publish a video, you’ve got to get it on YouTube. Period. End of story. YouTube is the second most popular search engine, right after Google. Alphabet owns both, but you need to leverage it by putting in the descriptions, putting in the tags and the keywords, and linking back to your site, learning all those little nuances does take time if you’re not working with a professional.

If you’re spending your own time because you don’t have a budget, that’s totally fine. Not everybody does.

Jason Hopcus: But it’s also a whole other job.

David Pisarek: Absolutely, 100%. Take a look at what’s working, and if this specific topic is working, create another video, write another blog article, create some other content around that topic, and see how that does. And if that keeps working, keep going down the path that’s working. And that will help set the tone for a baseline that you can measure other things.

Jason Hopcus: Absolutely.

David Pisarek: Awesome. Jason, some amazing insights.

I hope people listening have been able to get some advice, some insight, and some pointers from you and from myself today during our conversation.

And I want everybody to just take a moment, take 10 minutes of your month. Ten minutes of your month. What percentage is that? 0.01% of your time.

Take 10 minutes, take a look at your analytics, and see if there’s any data in there that will help make you have a smarter decision for the next time that you want to do something, whether it’s your website, social media accounts, email marketing, any other KPIs that you’ve got.

If you don’t have any KPIs, take 10 minutes and create a KPI. And then in a Google Sheets, or an Excel doc, just start keeping track month over month, week over week, whatever the cadence is that you want. And then you’ll be able to actually make some decisions over time that are based on empirical data. Right, spot on.

So, Jason, if anybody wants to get in touch with you, what do they need to do?

Jason Hopcus: So I’m super easy to find. If somebody wants to email me, I’m [email protected]. My organization, Connection Project, realpeoplereallife.org is the website, and my work at NAMI is NAMIADCO.org.

I’m super responsive, and it’s easy to find me in any of those places.

David Pisarek: Awesome. Thanks again so much, Jason. It’s been great having you here on the Non-profit Digital Success Podcast.

Everybody listening, if you’re you want any of the links or the contact details that Jason just provided, head over to our podcast page at nonprofitdigitalsuccess.com/podcast. Click on this episode for all the details on our show notes page.

And until next time, keep on being successful!




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