Marketing Interview Series With Alex Tse, Volunteer Program Coordinator At Richmond Olympic Oval

What are some top marketing challenges you see non-profit organizations face? How can non-profit organizations overcome them?

Non-profits are continually asked to do more with less. Budgets and grants keep getting cut. Some are struggling just to run their programs, never mind having resources for a marketing department.

I could talk about becoming more efficient and saving time with social media tools and creating relationships for community support, and all those things should be done. There are plenty of resources that can show you how to do that. But I don’t think we should be telling nonprofits to pull themselves up by the bootstraps. We as a society should recognize the vital role of nonprofits in contributing to the quality of life for all and support them accordingly.

What are some changes you have seen in marketing for non-profit organizations in the last five years and how have these changes impacted non-profit organizations?

With the advent of social media, the gap between social media savvy organizations and those that are not has, in a way, widened. Some organizations have acquired the tools to network, liaise, establish a brand, and otherwise stay relevant to community happenings. Others have not. At best, the ones left behind look out of date. At worse, their important work goes unnoticed, unappreciated, and unsupported.

Perhaps that’s always been the case, perhaps there have always been nonprofits that have quietly done their work without notice or recognition. Social media seems to widen that gap.

The good news is that social media makes marketing easier and more accessible. The importance of authenticity online makes it so that you don’t even need to be particularly strategic or skilled in order to create content that people can connect with. It used to be that you had to have know-how as well as a marketing budget in order to get your agenda in the newspaper. Now you can share your message just as widely as long as you have enough community support, or someone high-profile to bolster your reach.

What marketing advice would you give non-profit organizations that are trying to attract more members?

First of all, treat your current members like VIPs and they will do some recruiting for you. They’ve already handed you their money and loyalty. Make them a priority and you can bet they will rave about you to others.

Oftentimes, organizations will try to convince me to join with a list of benefits. I don’t believe that does anything. People don’t become members for voting rights, 10% discounts, or the chance to attend exclusive events. Those are side bonuses to what’s most important – their relationship with you. When they love you for you and what you stand for, becoming a member is just an inevitable second step. In fact, if someone becomes a member just for the 10% discount, I would wonder if they even care about you.

So make sure to build that relationship. Where marketing used to be about pushing your agenda or product on others, now it is about helping audiences get to know you and feel connected. Share your stories and share your impact. Make sure at all times people understand who you are and what you stand for.

What marketing advice would you give non-profit organizations that are trying to retain members?

I love talking about member retention. Members are already your biggest fans, all you have to do is find excuses to keep in touch. If they feel like they’re “in the loop” they will stay excited about your organization.

What should they stay in the loop about? Literally anything! Tell them what’s happening in your office. Right now I’m asking my members about what’s happening with them, and then I’m sharing it in the newsletter for all members to see. They’re creating the content for me! Send them a survey, ask them what they want to hear about. Ask them about their successes and challenges, then share with the wider group. Keep that dialogue going and use it to build community.

How have you used social media or digital marketing to promote a non-profit organization?

You can do it all on social media – and for the sake of creating engaging content, you should. Share stories, share program information, build your brand, engage with your community.

What trends do you foresee in digital, social, content, or traditional marketing that will impact non-profit organizations in the next five years?

The migration from Facebook to Instagram has been sure and steady. Yes I know they are both owned by Facebook, but Facebook proper gave audiences the power of the share. If one post got enough shares and likes, grassroots style, Facebook’s algorithms would share the contents of the post far and wide.

That was great news for organizations who could use the power of P2P (peer to peer) sharing to avoid having to pay for the same reach. The public advocacy organization, Openmedia.ca, used this P2P tactic to create the largest online petition in Canadian history. I’ve worked for two organizations where the marketing department specifically asked me to like and share their content for that very purpose.

When audiences migrate en masse to platforms like Instagram, where content is technically shareable but not setup to be shared widely like it is on Facebook, that is one less tool that organizations can use to spread their message.

The share function is still used on Twitter, but twitter has never had the same audience as facebook. Bottom line – as audiences migrate to platforms which don’t have the same share options, and as audiences move out of facebook where that share function still exists, organizations won’t be able to spread their messages via grassroots sharing like they used to.

Organizations will also have to find the balance between being easy, accessible, and engaging on social media, where audiences have famously short attention spans, while also coming across as genuine and authentic.

Alex Tse is the Volunteer Program Coordinator at Richond Olympic Oval. She’s also an accidental musician, former poet, community builder, and dabbler in all things. Find her on Instagram at @alexseemusic and YouTube at youtube.com/alexseemusic.

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