This week on a special episode of Relish This, Relish Studio’s marketing expert, James Lopez, takes the reins to chat with Stu about his new book!
Mission Uncomfortable: How Nonprofits Can Embrace Purpose-Driven Marketing to Survive and Thrive has been in the works for a while— And Stu is beyond proud that it’s finally here and ready to share with you. Mission Uncomfortable is packed full of useful information and tools that nonprofits like yours (and purpose-driven for-profit businesses, too!) can use to grow your audience and help build stronger relationships with all of your stakeholders.
In today’s conversation, Stu and James review the book and talk about the audience engagement cycle, and how you can use it to think about your own audience. They discuss marketing as an investment you make to expand your mission, rather than an expense you spend on frivolous communication.
And they also talk about ways to move a new stakeholder from initial interest in your non-profit to becoming an inspired, lifelong champion for your organization. This was a fantastic conversation and Stu and James had a great time discussing the book.
Download your FREE copy of Mission Uncomfortable and learn how to improve your nonprofit marketing today.
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Mission Uncomfortable: The New Book By Relish Studio
I’m James, a marketing expert and a cohort of Stu whom I’ve had the pleasure of working with over the last few years. On this special episode of the show, I’m taking over the reins to take some time to chat with Stu about his new book, Mission Uncomfortable: How Nonprofits Can Embrace Purpose-Driven Marketing to Survive and Thrive. Stu has been working on this book for quite some time, and it is packed full of useful information and content on how nonprofits can grow their audiences and help build a stronger relationship with various stakeholders. In these introductory conversations, Stu and I go over the book and discuss how inbound marketing can be applied to your nonprofit.
We discuss how marketing should be seen as an investment to expand your mission rather than an expense. We also look at the audience engagement cycle to move a stakeholder from peak interest to being inspired and becoming an ongoing champion for your organization. This was a great conversation and Stu and I had a great time discussing the book. If you want to get your own free copy, head over to MissionUncomfortableBook.com to check it out. Until then, we hope you enjoy this conversation.
Stu, how are you doing?
I am great, James. It’s good to be on the show with you for a change.
On your own show.
This will be a fun new experience. It’s been a minute since I’ve been a guest on a show. It’s interesting or meta to something to be a guest on one’s own show.
The one thing I will say is don’t be super aware of the questions. Feel like you’re answering them like a real guest. Something new and exciting happened for you and you have now finally published your first big book.
I wouldn’t go so far as a big book, but with the help of you and a number of other people, including my co-author, Aaron Wrixon, managed to get this book out the door and it’s called Mission Uncomfortable. It’s going to be a cool resource for nonprofits and purpose-driven leaders out there trying to figure out their next steps in marketing.
Give us a little bit of an overview of the book. You say it’s going to help with purpose-driven marketing. How does that do that?
It outlines our philosophy around marketing, particularly in this nonprofit and purpose-driven space where there’s a little bit of a friction that people experience with the idea of marketing. Marketing over the years has managed to get itself a little bit of a bad name. Particularly in the nonprofit world, there’s a resistance to it. There’s this idea on occasion that people feel that any money that they invest in marketing or in other activities is every dollar that they spend, there is a dollar that comes out of their mission. The first part of the book tries to frame or reframe that narrative to consider marketing as an investment and something that should create a return on that investment and one that is going to allow you to expand your mission.
Marketing is an investment in something that should create a return on that investment and one that is going to allow you to expand your mission.
If you can reach ten people by spending $1,000 on marketing, thinking about how many more people you could reach if you expanded that investment and came at it from that perspective, it goes into this idea of the audience engagement cycle, which is how it goes into this idea of the audience engagement cycle we envision marketing working. Essentially, we think of that as four main phases that aren’t necessarily linear, but it starts with attraction, connection, bonding, and inspiring one’s audience and one’s stakeholders. We talk a lot about each of those phases in the book and how nonprofits and purpose-focused folks can engage in any and all of those areas to help engage with their stakeholders.
You and I have been working with it for a long time, but something that always goes through with it is the book is nice because it’s a strong framework for how to build out your marketing and not in a way that it feels like it’s overwhelming or taking on more projects. It feels like it’s a natural progression into how you’re running your business.
I certainly hope so. The idea here is to try and help empower people to have a good understanding of each of those phases of that life cycle so that they can take small steps. One of the things that we talk about a lot is the idea of eating the whole elephant or trying to go for a touchdown on every play. Ultimately, every journey starts with a step, and the next step of that journey is the second step. You don’t have to travel that entire distance at one time.
People get a little bit overwhelmed by marketing by thinking about all of the things that are going to need to be put into play, starting from that connection or that attraction all the way through to that inspire. It becomes daunting if you try and wrap your arms around that entire package at once. This book’s all about being able to slow down and take small steps and have some actionable activities that one can take to help people build stronger relationships in each of those phases.
Where did this book originally come from? This seems like a well-thought-out process and stuff. Obviously, this has been on your mind for a long time.
We’ve done a lot of work in the for-profit space as well as the nonprofit space. The idea of this came from a series of blog posts that we published several years ago that was geared toward this idea of a marketing funnel. That felt like it worked well in the for-profit space, but there was something that wasn’t quite right in the nonprofit space. What was interesting is that, and you helped me with this, we discovered through some analytics assessment that there were some blog posts that we had written back in 2016 or 2015, even that we’re still getting a lot of traction. By original idea was, “Why don’t we take these posts and make sure that they’re up to snuff and repackage them as one long-form booklet?”
Once we started doing that and dove into that process, we realized that the language within those posts was great for the for-profit space, but it needed some tweaking for the nonprofit space. This took off and became a labor of love where we expanded on it and brought it to where it is now, which is probably a first edition. I’m sure that our thinking on this will continue to evolve and we’ll continue to have some new ways of thinking that we’ll bring to the table. For the time being, that’s the genesis of it, was to try and bring together this thinking around the audience engagement life cycle and this process that can help nonprofits start to thrive and survive in a competitive, challenging world that we live in.
It’s been interesting, too, going back and reading 24, 25 episodes published.
We did our 37th episode for this. We’re booked out until early June 2022 in terms of when episodes are going to drop.
It’s interesting too because reading all of the stories and all of the different nonprofits, you start to hear those commonalities of themes of how we’re aware to reach out to any of our constituents. We don’t understand what that process is of turning a volunteer into an advocate, into a donor, into your organization. The book does well because it helps you figure out those narratives of how you take someone that comes to your organization in one way and help them become that champion and advocate for you in a completely different way.
We see that attract phase is the first step. That’s trying to give nonprofits some ideas on how to get people to start that engagement process. How do you get somebody who’s a total stranger, whether that’s maybe someone who’s found you on social media or did a Google search for something that they were trying to find out more information about? How do you take that person and bring them into your zone of influence?
Once they’re there, typically, people have landed on a website or maybe gotten to an optimized landing page once they’re there, but they still haven’t connected with you. The second phase of that process is getting them to connect. We see that as an opportunity to create a value exchange where people are willing to give up their email addresses in order to get something of value.
It depends on your nonprofit what that might be, but essentially informational content that people might be willing to engage with and share their information in order to get that piece of value. I’m not being eloquent about it right now because I’m thinking about a couple of things here at once, but ultimately, once you get people into the fold, they’ve essentially raised their hand.
Getting that email address turns that person from a cold opportunity to a warm opportunity because they have taken the initiative to say, “Yes, I’m interested in this and I’m ready to go.” From there, we like to escalate and see how there might be opportunities to develop that relationship. Like any relationship, jumping to the, “Will you marry me?” when you’ve met just met somebody rarely works.
We have created this framework under which you can escalate that and build that relationship over time so that it becomes a much stronger connection. That’s where that bond phase comes into play. You’re trying to create a back and forth search or create opportunities to bring people even more closely into the fold and then let’s take volunteer as an initial activity that you’d like people to engage with your organization.
If somebody has become a volunteer, they then can enter the inspire phase where you try to get them to become more than just a volunteer. Not only can they join you and your team on projects or volunteer their time for outreach or any number of volunteer activities, but they might then want to donate as well, or they might want to share their experience and the great things that you’re doing as an organization with their communities.
Getting people to connect is an opportunity to create a value exchange where they are willing to give up their email address in order to get something of value.
Inspire becomes the cyclical opportunity to turn people who are actively engaged into brand ambassadors for your organization and then the process continues as they tell more people about your organization. You start that process again with that new person where you’re attracting, connecting, bonding, and inspiring.
Something that is super important to reinforce throughout the entire book is that the relationship you’re building with anybody, no matter how they come into your organization, is an ongoing relationship. Once the service is provided or the event that the volunteer is at is over, that’s not the end of your interaction or conversation with that person. You’re building something that’s ongoing for forever, that you’re continually keeping up communication and engagement with them so that when the next opportunity comes up, they’re there for you as an advocate or donor or whatever capacity they can be in.
One of the things that we do see as a challenge with a lot of nonprofits is there’s a dopamine hit that occurs whenever we land a new volunteer or a new donor. The tendency is to try and chase those exciting stats where we need to add more new donors and we need to keep getting new volunteers when in actuality, the lower hanging fruit is to re-engage and continue the engagement with those people who have already signed on.
If we can change the mindset in the nonprofit community to focus at least as much attention on that inspire phase as the attract and connect phases, there’s a ton of opportunity there. Those people are boiling hot leads. They’re ready to do more in a lot of cases. If you do a good job of continuing to deliver value on that relationship that you’ve built, that can go a long way.
Stu, with the book coming out and you’ve talked to 40, 50 different nonprofits, what is the biggest thing you see nonprofits aren’t doing right now that they could immediately jump onto doing?
There are a lot of activities that nonprofits can engage with. I would say one of the things that we see a lot is a real disconnect between the activities that nonprofits are doing to attract their audience and that next step of the conversation, which is this idea of connecting. We do see the language and the information that’s being put out there, whether that’s running ads through a Google grant or outreach on social media. There tends to be a disconnect between the language that’s being used in those attract conversations and the connect conversations that are starting to happen.
One of the first things that nonprofits can do is align that messaging to make sure that if somebody sees an ad that’s asking for volunteer opportunities or bringing on new volunteers that the landing page that they get sent to is aligned with that ad, that tends to be one of the first things that we do see is a real disconnect there. People tend to send to one common landing page that isn’t aligned with that initial message.
I was going to say the other thing, too, is consistently that call to action. One of the things that whenever we look at a new website or work with like any organization, for-profit or nonprofit, is always like, “Are you telling your audience what you want them to do?”
Nonprofits tend to fall particularly hard in this space. This is uncommon for for-profits, either. One of the things that we do see is the call to action is either unclear, or there are many different calls to action on a given page that people have a hard time figuring out what action they need to take or the desired action on that page. Repetition is pretty key on those non-landing pages in terms of getting people to get a good understanding of what you want them to do.
Figure out one specific activity that you’d like people to take. I wouldn’t say hammer on that, but definitely give them the understanding that this is the next step of that relationship, or on a landing page, make sure that you’re getting your value proposition across. People don’t wake up every day thinking, “How am I going to give away some of my money today?”
It’s an uphill battle. Where in the for-profit world, we tend to think of funnels where you stuff people up at the top of the funnel, and then eventually, a sale will come out of the bottom. It’s an uphill battle in the nonprofit world because the excitement that one is going to get has to be generated before they give that donation or take that step to become a volunteer. In the for-profit world, we collect their money and then they get that excitement. In the nonprofit world, we have to generate that excitement before collecting the revenue they’re willing to share.
That’s a subtle but important way to look at that value system as well.
It flips it on its head and it definitely is something to consider in terms of where you are in that process or where your organization plugs in.
That brought up something interesting, flipping a little bit back to the impetus for the book. What made you want to focus on nonprofits and why did you decide to take a lot of this for-profit business acumen and try to apply it to the nonprofits?
There were a couple of answers there. I will start with the why nonprofits. One of the things that I noticed, which happened to me several years ago, is started thinking about those engagements in those clients that brought me the most satisfaction. All across our organization, we’ve always been purpose-focused and we’re a 1% for the planet partner. We have historically done a lot of pro-bono-type work and also have worked quite a bit in the nonprofit space.
I was working for one of our great partners on a project that needed to go out shortly after Memorial Day. It was Sunday afternoon and it was a gorgeous day and I was banging away on my keyboard. I’m working to try and get some landing pages polished up for them so that this outreach that they were doing the next week would shine.
The first step to running a business effectively is getting a great understanding of your values, vision, and mission for that business.
I thought to myself, “It’s 2:00 on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, and I’m not upset here about the fact that I’m working on this day” In fact, I wasn’t upset at all. It didn’t even occur to me. I was thrilled to be doing it. That was where this light bulb went off in my head that, “If I can do more of this, then that’s going to be a win for me and for everybody else. It’s going to make my life that much more fulfilling and hopefully be able to create some good in the world.” That was when we shifted focus and started focusing extremely heavily on the nonprofit space. The second half of your question, remind me what that was, James.
Why you decided to start taking all the for-profit marketing and putting effort into converting that over to nonprofit?
It was looking at how for-profits engage and seeing where there were psychological differences between a for-profit audience and a nonprofit audience. Ultimately, nonprofits or businesses too. All of the things, all of the learning that we have been able to accomplish in the for-profit world over the last several years, I’ve been marketing doing marketing since I was about 22 years old. All of that learning over the course of that period of time, business is business.
Even if you’re a nonprofit, you’re still running a business. If you’re running a business that that is healthy and functional, coming at that, and this is where nonprofits have a good leg up on for-profit businesses, is the first step to running a business effectively is getting a great understanding of your values, vision, and mission for that business.
Nonprofits have that baked into their ethos from the beginning. Taking that and being able to tweak that a little bit, having an understanding that by being able to do more good in the world, you have a stronger motivation than a lot of for-profit businesses. They’re out to earn money in a lot of respects, particularly if they haven’t done their values, vision, and mission exercises and dug down into the why of why they’re doing all of this, why they’re taking on all this responsibility. In the nonprofit space, it’s a subtle tweak to standard business practices and one that’s not a big leap and one where you do have a leg up because you’ve already established why you’re in the business world.
That’s one of the things that I liked about the book because I remember our initial conversations when we talked about using that framework and applying it to nonprofits and then watching as you apply that to nonprofits in the episodes that you do with the nonprofits that Relish is working with to see those aha-moments, to see those moments where it clicks in their head of like, “We’ve already done all of this work. We’re just not applying it in this formula.” Once they do that, they see the stress fall off their shoulders or better understand how they take that conversion and see where they’re having the hiccups and those hiccups going away almost immediately.
There are a lot of subtle tweaks that one can make to one’s outreach to improve the conversion and how effectively those relationships are being built. That’s where standard marketing starts to come in. There are certainly different motivations for nonprofit audiences. Keeping those in mind and applying this framework to your systems, knowing who your audiences are and what motivates them. That’s usually the first step. That’s one of the reasons why I wanted to get it out there in this book form so that people would have a resource that they could refer to when they needed some help.
It’s a beautiful-looking book. The graphics are great. They explain everything well. The colors are great and it’s a super easy read. It’s a great reference material to review and ask yourself those hard-hitting questions as you look at where you are in the cycle of anybody within your organization.
I’d like to mention that the book is not something that we’re charging for. We’d like to get this into as many hands as possible and feel free to share those. The other thing that we’ve built alongside the book is a scorecard that enables you to go through your marketing efforts and give yourself a score on each of those phases of engagement to understand where you are and where you’re trying to go. If you’ve talked with me at all in the past, you’ll understand that I try to frame things positively. We don’t look at any score as a negative. It’s just a benchmark and a starting place from which you can grow your efforts and see how to create a path for success for your organization.
Where can people go to be able to get this book?
The best place to go is MissionUncomfortableBook.com. From there, you can download the book, take your score, and we’ll send that to you and find out other ways to engage, but ultimately that’s the best place to find it. Obviously, I’m on LinkedIn, under Stu Swineford. If you do a search for me on LinkedIn, you can find me there as well. You can also engage with us at RelishStudio.com, where you can sign up for weekly tips and information that’s delivered directly to your mailbox.
I’m not going to lie, this has been a long journey to get from when you and I first started working all the way to the book, but I’m excited to be with you on this journey. You put this book out and work with nonprofits. It’s a huge value upsell to everybody that gets to be able to use it.
We hope so. Certainly, if you download the book, we’d love to know what you think. You can always hit me up at [email protected] if you have any questions or want to give me some feedback.
Thanks for chatting with me, Stu. I appreciate that.
That was a pleasure, James. I’ll talk to you soon.
There you have it, another great episode. Thanks for reading. If you would like to learn more about how to apply the audience engagement cycle to expand your organization’s mission, there are two things you can do. You can go to MissionUncomfortableBook.com to download a copy of my book. While you’re there, you can get your purpose-driven marketing score to see where you can unearth some gold for your organization. If you’d like to read back episodes of the show or sign up to be a guest, go to RelishStudio.com/podcast. That’s it for this episode. I’ll be back for another great episode.