An Interview with Julie Dappen of MAP for Nonprofits

by Dan Woychick

Recently I had the opportunity to discuss non-profit marketing with Julie Dappen, director of marketing and communications at MAP for Nonprofits. Since 2003, Julie has provided her clients with market research, marketing plans, communications plans, public relations, and brand development. Before joining MAP, she worked in corporate communications and public relations positions for HealthPartners and Regions Hospital in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

MAP provides services and consulting to other nonprofits. This includes accounting, board and leadership development, board recruitment, legal services, strategic planning, marketing, and mergers. Each year, MAP serves more than 500 nonprofit organizations.

How does MAP help nonprofits with their marketing?
We provide services to help nonprofits build their own marketing capacity, with a flexible delivery model that accommodates different budgets. We work collaboratively with our clients on projects ranging from market research, to marketing plans, brand building, and name development. We can also help implement plans, as needed.

Have you seen increased demand for these services in your time at MAP?
We are seeing increased demand, perhaps due to the economy.

What types of organizations most often seek MAP’s help?
About 10 percent of my clients are small nonprofits, 70 percent medium, and 20 percent large. The organizations are a diverse group: human service, education, arts, culture, environment, and more.

In your opinion, how much of a role does design and marketing play in an organization’s success?
Design and marketing play a primary role. Who’s going to do business with you if they don’t know you?

How has the role of marketing changed over time?
Marketing has evolved continuously in response to market changes, generational changes, the introduction of the internet, and social and mobile media. Some of the principles don’t change – although some do!

Speak a little bit about some of the marketing principles that don’t change. In my experience, I’ve seen instances where people seem to think all the rules have changed when a shiny new toy emerges.
It used to be that when clients wanted a brochure the communications person would respond, “Let’s talk about your audience and what you want to achieve before we decide whether you need a brochure.” Today, clients want Facebook or Twitter, but once again they’re not always thinking about how the tools will help them strategically. While we have many more tools to choose from today, strategy has changed only slightly.

What principles of marketing do you think have changed?
Years ago, advertising focused on product features and benefits. Today, it’s more likely to focus on emotional benefits or how the product/service might positively affect people’s lives. It’s also much more difficult to break through the clutter today. I think we’re seeing an incredible amount of humor used in advertising in attempts to make it memorable.

Do you feel non-profit organizations today are more design- and marketing-savvy?
In general I think they are savvier, especially when they have talented, professional staff members.

For an organization that recognizes the importance of marketing, but lacks the staff resources, how would you recommend they acquire it?
This is a tricky question. Volunteers are great, if they are qualified, but some don’t see the job through to the end, or don’t leave the client with the right kind of files, or aren’t realistic about the nonprofit’s budget.

I’m a big believer in collaborating with the best expert you can find and afford. How might a nonprofit find a marketing partner?
Pro bono agency work is harder to come by, but usually more reliable. I believe in buying top-notch, affordable expertise, too, as long as the expertise can pass into the nonprofit’s hands for ongoing needs. For example, I believe nonprofits must have the ability to update their websites themselves, quickly.

What misconceptions exist about design and marketing in the non-profit world?
Some believe the entry-level writer or the neighborhood volunteer is a designer simply because they have access to design software. I wish everyone would understand that the quality and consistency of their marketing materials reflects directly upon the quality of their nonprofit.

I suppose another misconception is that nonprofits don’t need marketing. Even human service nonprofits, attempting to meet an overwhelming demand for basic services like food and shelter, need to market in order to tell their stories effectively to volunteers, funders, neighborhoods, etc.

Finally, I believe there’s a misperception in the non-profit community about using alphabet soup for names.

You’re saying that non-profit organizations shouldn’t be using acronyms.
I believe non-profit names need to work harder than for-profit company names. We simply don’t have the awareness-building budgets. I cringe when nonprofits adopt acronyms – meaningless names that usually lack any sort of memory hook.

Would you share an example of an organization that is doing effective marketing?
The Fringe Festival, an annual 11-day performing arts festival, comes to mind. In 2008 the festival featured over 150 shows, with 800 performances, more than 1,000 participating artists, and nearly 400 volunteers. In 2008, they sold 40,000+ tickets, an eight percent increase over the previous year.

They have clearly identified their market and audience. Their fun and consistent design, distinctive brand, and irreverent messages speak to their target audience. They’ve built a recognizable community among attendees with Fringe buttons (over 15,000 in 2008). And the audience participates in the Festival’s marketing by discussing and recommending performances, both in person, and via website reviews.

Great example! And they have been very steady with their efforts. The event seems to grow little-by-little – both in its impact and in the number of marketing activities they are undertaking. I think people sometimes think a marketing campaign is a silver bullet – the key to instant recognition and acclaim – when patience really is a virtue. And then you’ve got to have a good product or experience to back it up.

Any other campaigns or organizations that are doing interesting things?
I have a special interest in social marketing – marketing aimed at educating the public on issues, and ideally changing behaviors. For example, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota’s “Do” campaign, or “Depression Hurts” from Eli Lilly. I’d love to see more nonprofits pool resources and collaborate to attempt larger, more impactful, mission-oriented campaigns.

These organizations must be tracking their return on investment. How do you advise your clients on measuring the impacts of their marketing?
It varies with each marketing plan and tracks back to the objectives set. It might be the amount of donations versus the cost of the promotion, the number of people signing up to be members versus the cost of the membership drive, the number of new clients brought in through an email campaign versus the cost (include labor in those costs!)

Assuming financial and staff resources are always in short supply, what advice would you give to a new (or established) nonprofit organization to help get its marketing message out?
For new nonprofits: Capture names and addresses of every volunteer, donor, client, or contact in a database and stay in touch with them. Don’t over-seek donations. Take the time to share updates, challenges, and successes. And invite their opinions and ideas. Also, be inquisitive about your clients and market. Gain insight on what they feel is important, and speak through your marketing to them by telling stories of how your work changes lives.

Marketing staff at established nonprofits have a responsibility to regularly take the pulse of their clients and market. Also, they need to realize that they will not reach everybody, so they must be strategic about whom they want to reach and focus resources there.

How should an organization prioritize their audiences and marketing efforts?
People want to develop a laundry list of audiences – and that’s okay – as long as they focus their marketing efforts on the audiences that are most critical to their success. For example, a nonprofit conducting business-to-business sales might segment its clients into industries, and then measure total revenue by industries, placing a priority on the industry that is spending the most money.

What are some common marketing pitfalls for nonprofit organizations?
Not being purposeful and consistent with brand, design and messaging. Each new volunteer or staff member wants to experiment with a nonprofit’s brand identity. Within the organization, people grow bored with consistent design. They don’t see the bigger picture – that long after they’re bored, the consistency is working.

I call them departmental do-it-yourselfers. Does the importance of the brand need to be better communicated within organizations?
Yes. But easy access to technology has invited do-it-yourselfers to experiment – and it’s fun! Oh, the trouble they cause without meaning to.

Julie, thanks for your sharing your insights!

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