How CARS Drive Online Fundraising Success For 3,500 Nonprofits

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Jason: Justin, thank you so much for taking the time to join us today and for agreeing to share some of the really actionable marketing stories that you have for us.

Justin: It is my pleasure and thank you for having me.

How Did Your Background Prepare You For A Career In Marketing?

Justin: Perfect, let’s start at the beginning. I graduated from the University of Oregon in 2005 with a business degree with a concentration in marketing and like many people graduating in business I kind of got sidelined into sales. I ended up finding some easy sales jobs and was in the sales realm for about 6 years at a few different companies. I actually think that for many marketers that starting in sales or having a degree in sales background is extremely helpful.

Of course, sales and marketing really go hand and hand, but marketing is about creating a message and getting people excited about your product or your service. Then, of course, the sales part is really that conversion and trying to capture that marketing message and turn that into revenue.

A few things I learned in sales, I was really in a few positions when I was on the phone and being able to communicate on the phone is extremely important because you know aside from emails phone communication is typically how we communicate with our partners and clients the most frequently.

Getting really good talking on the phone really helped my ability to help communicate messages to our partners. I excelled in sales and I had a really good time doing what I was doing, but I always had a knack for the marketing side of it. After a few years in sales, I bounced around in my career and traveled around a little bit. About 5 years ago I ended up doing some real marketing works.

How Did You Get Started In Digital Marketing?

I joined GCommerce solutions, which is a digital marketing agency in Park City, Utah. I was a part-time ski instructor and a full-time digital marketer living the dream if you can imagine if you’re an aspiring ski bum. I was really excited to start to use my marketing degree. Like so many of us, you graduate with one profession in mind and you don’t necessarily get that right out of college.

After my sales experience getting into marketing was exciting for me. I went into Gcommerice as an account manager. As an account manager, I gained a well-rounded knowledge set of marketing in general. We kind of had a saying as account managers

“You’re a jack of all trades, but a master of none.”

To be honest, I didn’t really like that phrase because I did want to be a master of my craft. I took it upon myself to learn digital marketing and try and learn what I didn’t know. I think that has really helped me accelerate my career, because not only can I speak to a lot at a high level, but I’ve also invested the time and knowledge into learning how to do it.

It’s one thing to say let’s do an email campaign for this partner, but it’s a completely different thing to build a brand new email template, load that into MailChimp for example. Then pull an email audience list and segment it to the proper audience. Finally, load that list, send some drafts, make changes, and add conversion tracking to the email all before sending the email.

There’s a lot more that goes into it as you can imagine. I wanted to be someone who didn’t just talk to everything at a high level, but was able to get my hands dirty and do it myself. For marketers, I would say that would be a good place to start. Take an interest in everything you’re doing. Don’t just take it for granted that you know what social media is and you can speak to it, but actually create the post, schedule it, boost it, select your audience and so on. Even if you’re not in the position where you need to be doing that. You can still experiment and play around with it.

I’ve created test pages in Facebook just so I can create some posts and see how they look and how they act. That would be one tip I have for new marketers. Really try and do what you’re talking about. Once you start doing that you’ll get a much deeper level of understanding. So many marketing channels really connect and the strategy of marketing ties into so many other channels that if you start getting really good at one channel, chances you’re going to have more exposure into using that strategy outside of that channel. This starts to broaden your experience. That’s one big takeaway I had from GCommerce.

So I was at GCommerce for about 2 1/2 years and I was approached by one of our clients. Gcommerce specialized in hospitality and so I was working with about 20 hotels across the country. One of my clients I had been working with for about a year, San Diego Beach Hotel was losing one of their people and they asked if I was interested at working at a hotel. I decided it was an appropriate move to go from a snowy mountain town in Utah to a coastal city in San Diego.

The Challenges Of Being A Solo Marketer

They made me an offer I couldn’t refuse and I moved off the mountaintop and ended up in San Diego with an ocean front view. I was there for about 2 ½ years and I was in a Director of Marketing position. This was a unique position and opportunity for me because I was the solo marketer at the organization. I worked directly for two hotels. We had a great staff, great management team, but I was the only person working marketing. As a manager without anyone directly under me was interesting because I had the ability to make decisions and put things into motion, yet I was the only person doing the projects.

As you can imagine, and many nonprofits out there sympathize, my team was understaffed. Being in a position where I had to do everything myself I learned how to create a good plan and prioritize and execute efficiently. When you think about cohesive marketing campaigns you’re not just talking about creating a tagline and then making a social post or email. Doing an email blast is much more encompassing than that. You’re talking paid social, print materials, we have a physical location at the hotel so we’d make posters and banners, landing pages, and create different offers that surround this concept. It became a lot of work very quickly when you want to do a really good campaign.

Again, I was in a position where I was getting my hands dirty. I was doing a lot of the work myself.

Jason: You were spending your time executing.

Justin: Exactly, and I would also set benchmarks ahead of time, something that I think all marketers should do. Even if you have to throw a wild guess out there. If you’re going to run a photo contest, try and guess how many participants you’re going to get. That way at the end of the contest you can not only gauge your estimate but you can also start to measure those results.

Some forms of marketing initiatives lend themselves to tracking a lot easier such as a photo contacts. How many people signed up, how many photos did you get, how many votes or engagements. You can set some benchmarks during these campaigns and at the end of it you get to review your work.

Joining A Nonprofit: Charitable Adult Rides And Services (CARS)

After 2 years I ended up moving to cars, which stands for Charitable Adult Rides and Services. As you said Jason, we’re the largest nonprofit vehicle donation provider in the country. We our a nonprofit ourselves and we support about 3,500 other nonprofits across the country.

After 2 years I ended up moving to cars, which stands for Charitable Adult Rides and Services. As you said Jason, we’re the largest nonprofit vehicle donation provider in the country. We our a nonprofit ourselves and we support about 3,500 other nonprofits across the country. One of the reasons that I decided it was time to move on from the hotel was because of the solo environment. Digital marketing moves so quickly. Technology and innovation is happening so quickly these days that I wanted to surround myself with a marketing team and other experts in this field that I could continue to learn from.

When I was at the hotel in the solo position, I had to lean on additional resources and network to stay on the cutting edge. I started to expand my LinkedIn network. I played on Twitter a lot. Twitter is one of my favorite social media channels.

Jason: I love it. I absolutely love it.

Justin: That’s actually how you and I began a discussion about this podcast. You reached out through Twitter and I responded and we started a dialog.

Jason: It’s amazing the power of a DM. A direct message. It is amazing what you can do with that.

Justin: Although I don’t know how quickly I responded. I think I get a lot of those random or automated spam responses for DMs. But, I usually check DMs and spam and junk folders at least on a weekly basis because you never know what’s going to come through there.

Jason: What about the message that I had sent over that just jumped at you. And you were like, “man I want to be a part of that?”

Justin: It’s really about the network. You don’t need to surround yourself with a team in order to learn marketing principles. What I really love about Twitter is I consider Twitter access to information. You can find blogs, articles, podcasts, webinars, research topics. In many cases, I go to Twitter to just see what new information is out there. There use of hashtags make it very easy. #digitalmarketing #emailmarketing. Hashtags are conversations that allow you to tap into a specific conversation.

When you reached out it was an opportunity to connect with other marketers. It’s an opportunity for other marketers to join our network and engage in dialog with us. That’s one thing that I feel differently about with for-profit vs. nonprofit. I feel the nonprofit industry is a more closely tied network. People are generally working for positive change in the world, whether it’s animal support groups or the environment or social change. People are passionate about something and they are dedicating, in some cases, their career and their lives to this cause.

You reached out and an opportunity to help fellow marketers and other people in nonprofits it was an exciting opportunity for me.

How Long Have You Been At CARS?

Justin: I’ve been here almost 2 years. So i am still fairly new at CARS, but I’ve had an opportunity to develop my team. I came into a situation where we had some great leadership in the marketing department already. I currently manage a team of 6 and we have one of everything. We have a search specialist, a communications specialist who does a lot of our content development and writing, we have a graphics designer, an email marketing specialists who does a lot with social media as well.

I had the opportunity to hire two of them. I took a look at what makes a strong marketing team and I tried to fill in the gaps of what is our team strong at, what do our nonprofit partners need and expect from us, and how can we develop a team that is going to best suit our customers needs. We talk a lot about company culture and team development here because like many nonprofits you don’t always have the budget and the resources to get the highest talent.

We’ve come at it from a slightly different approach. First and foremost we value culture fit. We have two words here and you have to understand these two words in order to work at CARS. You have to understand Gratitude, we survive completely on donations and heartfelt gifts from donors. Not only do we express gratitude to each other, but to our donors for their support and their passion. And Margin is the other word. We operate on very thin margins. We return about 80% to our nonprofit partners. As a nonprofit ourselves, that 20% is used for operations and then whatever is left is reinvested back into the community.

We operate a program called On The Go, which provides transportation solutions for seniors around San Diego county. We also have a cause that we directly support as well.

What Challenges Do Nonprofit Marketers Face?

Jason: You had mentioned those thin margins, what other challenges do you and your team face that so many nonprofits face outside of margins?

Justin: Very good question Jason, we’re in a position where we work with almost 3,500 active nonprofits across the country. Every nonprofit is unique in one way or another. We work with some of the leading national veteran support groups all the way down to maybe a local Humane Society, or historical society, that has one or two volunteers that work part time. So, we’re in a position where we have to meet everyone’s needs – we want to support all our partners and we want all of our partners to see success and see the level of fundraising that they’re capable of generating.

One of our challenges is we provide a lot of free complimentary support to our partners in the form of marketing services, graphic design, we will write email copy for our partners, develop social graphics, and even jump into the back end of a website to help them fix something if something is broken. We’ve had to really tailor our recommendations to fit a variety of different partners. We’ve created a few concepts to help us do that.

As a market, that’s one of the more exciting things about marketing is being about to wear many different hats and look at many different situations and scenarios. But it’s also extremely important to tailor your recommendations to fit their needs and their opportunities specifically.  

The 3 Out Of 5 Best Practices Strategy

Jason: Can you give a little bit more specific information on the concepts you’ve developed? I think the other day when we were speaking, one of the things that really jumped out at me was the 3 out of 5 best practices strategy.

Justin: We send quarterly marketing guides to all of our 3,000 partners. The idea of sending one marketing piece and having it resonate with 3,000 different people or different organizations is not realistic. The top leading nonprofit that generates $500 million a year in fundraising has different needs and opportunities than one that generates $10,000 a year in fundraising. However, the marketing channels people use to promote really don’t change very often. It’s their strategy that changes.

We took a look at what we were recommending and as it turns out we recommend 5 marketing channels to everyone, but we’re tailoring our recommendations. So we came up with this concept of do 3 of 5. If you can have your program represented in 3 places at once and at all times you’re going to give yourself a chance for success. We always outline the top 5 things that you can do from a marketing perspective to be successful.

1. Visibility And Accessible Donation Options

One thing we always say is make sure your donation options are in a very easy to find place. Website placement for your program is crucial. We like to say that if your donor cannot find this in 3 clicks or less they’re probably not going to donate.

They may go somewhere else to donate or may not donate all together.

So, first you want to make your program visible and easy to find on your website.

2. Social Media

Social media is always a channel we recommend because it’s very inexpensive if you want to do paid advertising, or it’s free if you want to use it organically. Most people know how to use Facebook for general posting and do business style posting isn’t really that different from using it socially. Social media is a recommendation we like to make because it’s easy and everyone can do it.

However, social is not always the most transactional platform. You don’t always get trackable revenue through Facebook. It’s great for engagement and awareness, but it may not be the right platform to really drive that bottom line revenue. Email marketing is one that we really like to recommend. Again this is a tailored recommendation because not every nonprofit has a strong email database.

3. Email Marketing

We work with the St Vincent De Paul nationally and about 400 of their councils throughout the country. Great organization and we love working with them, but they don’t have the strongest online presence. They’re really a grassroots organization and they are out in the field driving change. So, they’re not the most focused on their online presence. Email marketing, while they are a huge national organization, they may not have that database.

The Sierra Club Foundation, however, an environmental group out of San Francisco, they have 64 chapters across the country, they do email marketing extremely well. A very large database with passionate followers. Some of these recommendations, both are national foundations, one works and one doesn’t.

4. St. Vincent DePaul Wins With Print Advertising

Another recommendation is print advertising. To take St. Vincent DePaul again, they don’t have the best online presence, but they do have a lot of churches – brick and mortar locations throughout the country print advertising works very well for them. We invited one of our local contacts into the CARS office and we really just had a great conversation trying to better understand St. Vincent DePaul and their donor base and how they operate.

Once I heard they get about 1,000 members coming through one church on a weekly basis, right away that signals print advertising. There’s bulletin boards, flyers, programs, etc. Print advertising when you have 1,000 visitors a week time thousands of churches across the country. While they don’t have an email database of 1 million people, they do have 1 million people walking through the doors who see these print materials.

5. Google Adwords Grants For Nonprofits

Last of the 5 recommendations we typically make is about the nonprofit Google Grant. Jason, you and I were talking about this earlier. Nonprofits have access to $10,000 a month with a Google grant. This is a great opportunity for partners or nonprofits to get access to online impressions.

This puts you at the top of Google and gives you the opportunity to compete. There are a few restrictions to it, but it’s one of my favorite recommendations because it’s free. It does take a little expertise to set it up, however, Google offers excellent support and express options where they will do a lot of the work for you.

We have these 5 strong recommendations and we have a lot more and when we get into an in-depth conversation with one of our partners we don’t just limit it to these 5. But, when we’re speaking broadly to 3,000 partners we use the 3 out of 5:

Be represented in 3 areas at once because that gives you and opportunity for success. It’s not putting your message only on one channel. You’re able to spread out that message and reach different audiences on difference channels.

Jason: I love it, and I think a counter to that is you don’t want to be involved in too much at once. I know so many people that spread themselves too thin and they see new trends with new data and they jump on it.

“We got to jump on chatbots we got to jump on virtual reality” and then other aspects of their marketing begins to fail and they don’t have a direct ROI they can point at that’s driving engagement or revenue through the doors.

One thing I would like to circle back to with email marketing and the Sierra Club, you had shared a really crazy stat with me. Can you go into depth with that? You can explain a little more?

The Sierra Club Foundation Generates 2900% More Website Visits With Email Marketing

Justin: Yeah, we’re actually getting ready to send out our fiscal year quarter 3 marketing guide next week, and we always have a piece in there about best practices. It revolves around the 5 best practices and we like to do a spotlight on each of those marketing channels each quarter. This quarter we did the spotlight on the Sierra Club Foundation and their email marketing efforts.

I think he stat you’re referring to is:

When the Sierra Club Foundation send an email promoting their vehicle donation program they see a 2900% increase in website traffic the day that email sends. The email is not just a one day impact. It impacts their revenue for 18 days on average. They send one email and get that massive spike in traffic, which really lasts for about 3 days. About 80% of their donations from that email occur within the first 3 days, but they get donations and it really fills the pipe line from interested donors and people are still donating 2-3 weeks after that email.

Jason: That’s insane. Does the Sierra Club have a pretty established email list?

Justin: They do. I don’t know exactly what it is, but it’s probably in the 1.5 million range, which is also why it is successful. However, I think there’s a couple of other reasons it’s really successful. Sierra Club Foundation is a grassroots organization supporting the environment. Part of their mission is to clean up the environment and cleaning up these older vehicles off the road is a great way to support their mission. Not only is it a great way to generate revenue for their cause, but it ties directly into helping support the environment.

One of the biggest changes we’ve made is really using testimonials and social proof in their emails. We our director of partner development, Cathleen Walters, who does a great job reaching out to donors to get those testimonials on why they chose to donate a vehicle to the Sierra Club and what was their experience?

We love getting customer and donor feedback and take that into consideration in assessing if it’s good for the nonprofit and helping the donor out. We would take these stories that Cathleen would curate and tell real stories of real donors.

When you think about grassroots activists, it’s a very close nit community and if you tell the story about one person donating to the cause and here’s why they did it and here’s their experience it really resonates with other people and it helps connect your donor base.

We’ve seen that type of content really works well for them.

How Does A Nonprofit Grow Without An Established List?

Jason: For an organization that might be listening who doesn’t have an established list, what’s one actionable tip that you could give them to start building and growing their audience?

Justin: This is something that’s been prevalent throughout my marketing career. It’s 2018 and email marketing is still extremely important. One of the reasons I love email is that it’s informative and it’s transactional. You can write a little story and communicate a fairly robust message by email, but you can also have a call to action (CTA) and encourage people to donate. Not only can you share a good message, but you can actually get revenue and get people to support your cause through email.

When you think about social media, you can’t have a long story unless you’re linking to a blog or a landing page. People also don’t typically donate through social or purchase through social as much as they do other channels.

Email marketing is a great channel that I think everyone should use, however, unless you have an email database or a database that can produce it’s not going to be an effective channel. I always say do the best practices. You can always do some Google searches, hop on Twitter and look up email marketing best practices for growing a database.

You may have a lot of emails already. You can go through your website contact forms. For example, how many people have reached out to your organization from your contact us page in the last year and then take those names and add them to your email list. Then segment it into a category called “contact form” to later segment your list.

If you’re in a position where you’re developing an email database I would recommend capturing as much information as possible: email address, first name, last name, city, state, zip code… Anything you can get because one year, two years, five years down the road you may have an opportunity to send a specific message to a specific audience, but if you don’t have that data you can’t really segment your list.

Segment and A/B Test Your Emails

Jason: The power of segmentation is incredible, especially when it comes to email channels.

Justin: Exactly, and when we start getting into A/B testing and sending different messaging to different audiences to increase conversion and optimization your channels that’s where you need access to those other fields within the database.

The best practices would be to make sure your email signup form is front and center on your website or an easy location to find. You can always talk about the benefits of the user signing up. So, what kind of content are you sending out? Can they expect weekly newsletters or are you going to send out gifts and promotions or information on upcoming events?

Let the user know what they can expect to receive when they get these emails. That could be a landing page with the primary objective of capturing emails. You could promote that landing page using your nonprofit Google grant. You could promote that landing page on social media.

There are a few things, but again it’s not one thing. It’s not just putting it on your website. To build a robust and diverse email database you want to be actively asking for email addresses and you want to be actively adding to that list from multiple sources.

Do a little bit of research, but take a well rounded approach to developing that database.

Jason: You’re also fighting against that churn rate. The rate at which people are unsubscribing. Not only do you have to continue to grow your list, but you also have to grow it so that it surpasses that churn rate. So that unsubscribe rate doesn’t outweigh the new subscription rate so that your list is always fresh and growth vs. stagnant.

One of the things that I think a lot of marketers are obsessed about, but maybe don’t understand how to leverage is is data.

You had mentioned A/B testing. How is CARS leveraging data in marketing to really get those results for their nonprofit partners?

How CARS Leverages Data In Their Marketing

Justin: I think this is a great topic not just for nonprofits, but for marketers in general because it’s not secret that data is on the top of everyone’s mind these days. We’ve made a dedicated effort in the past two years to capturing as much data as possible. Since i’ve been here I’ve added Google Analytics to our website, I’ve set up tag manager tracking for our Google Adwords accounts. I’ve set up event tracking on every button on our website to better understand what our users are clicking on.

We look at phone call data. We have two call centers here with about 80 employees in total. We handle about 500,000 phone calls a year and process about 100,000 donated vehicles a year. That’s a lot of data, but you have to set up the data so that it’s accessible.

For example, I look at phone data and try to cross reference that todonation data and I speak with our data analyst in our call center frequently to understand what’s happening on the website and how does that correlate to what’s happening to the call center and what’s the impact on donations look like?

You can find data in many places, but in many cases y,ou may have to set it up in a way that you can export it or you can make decisions based on it. Some of the challenge is I just named 5 different data sources and platforms to pull from and in some cases you’re comparing apples and oranges and bananas and you’re trying to make sense of it all.

Ideally, we would have one system or multiple systems that all talked to each other and share common metrics and data, but that’s not realistic. In many cases, you’re probably pulling from Facebook insights. You’re taking the data that’s native to Facebook and your analyzing that. You may have that synced up with your Google Analytics, so when someone on Facebook performs an action that goes to your website now you can see that pasture of data.

Whenever you’re going from platform to platform there’s always a degree of inaccuracy. You really have to analyze everything with a grain of salt. Just because one platform is telling you one thing doesn’t mean that’s the case. I have found the native platform is typically the most accurate. So if you send an email in MailChimp then the MailChimp tracking is going to be more accurate than your Google Analytics tracking.

Someone who clicks on an email from MailChimp then that will be tracked more accurately then someone going through their browser on their tablet and then landing on your website for 2 seconds before leaving. How does Google Analytics track that? Is that a bounce, does it show up as a visit? It’s difficult to know.

Understanding how the data works is very important, but it’s absolutely crucial to be making data driven decisions these days. Especially if you’re doing any type of paid advertising. You can blow through a budget very quickly. There’s a quote I love that say:

“50% of my marketing is success, I just don’t know which half.”

Jason: That’s a great quote, I love that one. I see people get bogged down in the data though and they chase vanity metrics that are easy to track but don’t produce a meaningful outcome. It really takes away from doing, or executing. I think executing on the marketing itself is so much more important then just being bogged down by the data. But then at the same time, you’re being told you need to leverage the data so your marketing is more efficient. How do you deal with something like that? How do you parse out what data is producing the right value for your organization?

How Do You Know What Data Points Produce Value?

Justin: That is very true. Even just looking at Google Analytics let’s say you’re looking at what happens on a page. You have time on page, you have bounce rate, you have a number of visitors, you have exits. You may see one metric that looks really bad. Maybe it’s a high bounce rate. But you have to take data into consideration. Trying to understand what is truly happening. Just because one stat doesn’t look strong doesn’t mean something bad is happening. You may a high bounce rate but you may have a lot of conversions and your revenue may be up.

So is high bounce rate a bad thing? Maybe, maybe not. In some cases when someone goes to donate to you they go to a separate shopping cart. Well, that could be considered in a bounce. IN that case, a high bounce rate may be a sign of high conversions because they’re leaving your site to go to your donation page to contribute to your cause. Understand the story of what the data is telling you is helpful.

I always like to try and craft a narrative when I’m digging deep into data. I try to understand not just that quantitative research, but qualitatively what is happening in this situation? We look at data as another layer in our decision making. It’s a check and a balance that prevents you from just saying “Oh I know what our donors want, this is what we’re going to do.” That’s great if you have that level of understanding if you’ve done surveys and you speak with donors on a frequent basis and you truly do know what they want. Take a look at the data and just confirm. Make sure that is the right demographic, they are 45 and older, or all of our donations really are coming the state of California and specifically our local community.

You may conceptually understand that, but you may also find that all of your donations are coming from California, but they’re not downtown san diego, they’re actually downtown north san diego. That’s interesting, because that’s not really where we throughout our donor base was.

Data can help point you in the right direction and fine tune your marketing to optimizing your results.

Jason: So use it as a tool to optimize your results but don’t lean on it too much.

Justin: Yeah, absolutely.

Jason: Don’t lean too much on your gut either, but I think it’s really a balance. I would like to think of it as an art form.

Looking forward in the next 5-10 years, where do you see the future of nonprofit marketing going?

The Future Of Nonprofit Marketing

Justin: I try to attend conferences and trade shows and I do webinars and read blogs. I try to keep an ear to the marketing industry. Many of the recent nonprofit focused conferences that i’ve gone to are are discussing the future of nonprofits. We’re actually just next week on June 22nd up in San Francisco’s, the CARS marketing team is holding a futures symposium and we’re inviting 25 of our top partners and industry influencers to discuss the future of the transportation industry and how that correlates with nonprofits and fundraising.

Since we operate in the automotive space and vehicle donations this is on the forefront of us. If people stop buy cars and they stop using cars we could be out of a business. We contribute about $30 to $40 million dollars a year back to nonprofits and our partners rely on the sustainable revenue streams we have.

The first thing I would say is ask some questions and take a look at the future to predict what some of this innovation can do for your organization or your industry. That’s why we’re having this meeting of the minds to understand. One of the topics is riding sharing and subscription models in metro areas. As people continue to adopt less expensive rideshare options then people will sell their cars without rebuying them. As a result, there will be fewer vehicles in the market to donate.

It’s important to take a look into the future for us because for us we’re tied the automotive industry. I’ve also heard a few concepts about nonprofits starting to band together a little bit more. I think this is kind of an interesting topic, and I’d be interested to hear your take on this too Jasno. I’ve heard a few differentiating things. One, every nonprofit is different and then I’ve also heard that all nonprofits are the same.

There are minor differences, but when you think about a humane society there could be a national network of Humane societies and in some cases there are. The question would be multiple humane societies in a similar location with a similar purpose – let’s say they’re no kill shelters, can they band together to do more and have a greater impact than just being a single entity with a smaller reach?

Cause Marketing Gives Nonprofits A Competitive Edge

I think that’s something that people are going to continue to talk about. I’ll just say one more thing here, causing marketing is still a hot topic these days. Cause marketing is the intersection of profit and purpose.

As consumers start to get more savvy and more interested in supporting causes, they want to purchase from organizations that have good will in mind. We are seeing more companies supporting nonprofits and that’s something I’m excited about. That unification of for profit and nonprofit working towards a common goal united in a common vision.

That’s exciting because now that nonprofit has the ability to compete. A couple of things there. I think innovation with technology and marketing could potentially change everything we do. I’m interested to see how nonprofits continue to collaborate with each other and I’m interested to see this greater use of cause marketing in intersection and purpose.

Jason: I think I saw or read somewhere that corporate giving in the cause marketing space is up, it’s an all time high. I think as the economy continues to do well, I think these organizations are looking for ways to invest in these causes. But then you also have people like BIll Gates or Warren Buffett, who are are trying to solve all of these world problems. There’s so much money out there that’s available, it’s just connecting those dots and speaking to the right people.

Going back to what you were saying about banding together. My perspective is absolutely, as long as the mission aligns or there are complementary services. It just makes sense. Look at media companies for example. Media companies are conglomerates of websites and they leverage each other’s websites and audiences to get the virality of their content out there. Especially news organizations. When they push a news story it doesn’t just go to or, it goes out to their network of hundreds of distribution outlets to get the word out there and reach as many people as possible.

With the internet being as important as it is today in the culture of information and consuming information, I think organizations, nonprofits, have this opportunity to leverage each other’s websites as a means to generate traffic for themselves, and for the other organizations that they’re working together with. Being able to leverage those networks, that you were talking about earlier, is so important and so crucial. Especially as things become more competitive, as attention becomes more scarce and hard to retain.

But I think there’s opportunity out there so long as it’s done thoughtfully. As long as the experience of the audience is positive, that the donors are always at the center of everything that you do. It’s not that you’re just asking them for gifts constantly, but actually going back to the email that you were talking about, giving them a narrative or a story. Tell donors how you’re creating impact and how you’re influencing change. I think that is probably the most important things you can do to bridge that gap and overcome some of those challenges.

St. Judes’s Strategic Marketing Partnership With Kelley Blue Book

Justin: Absolutely, and I have another story for you along that strategic partnership lines. One of our partners is St. Judes Childrens Hospital. Great organization, and we love working with them. The work they’re doing is also incredible. They don’t charge their parents anything. If you could imagine your child battling cancer and having to come up with travel expenses and really trying to work through that situation while having all of these expenses would be a nightmare.

St. Jude does so much for not just the child, but the family and the community. Really an inspirational organization to work with. We have been working with them for about 2 ½ years now. They have a great corporate partner in Cox automotive, who has a strong media network.

We had a few conversations with Cox and with St. Jude and it turns out Cox automotive actually owns Kelly Blue Book and Autotrader. After a few round table discussions, what a more perfect place to be represented on for vehicle donations than Kelly Blue Book.

Kelly Blue Book really supports St. Jude children’s research hospital. We had a few conversations and it was looking like a win – win. Great opportunity for all of our organizations to come together and work towards a common goal and that was:

“How can we support St. Jude even further?”

We’ve been working with Kelley Blue BOok for about 8 months now. CARS helped develop a new vehicle donation option. Now as of May 1st, 2018. When you’re on Kelly Blue Book and you’re pricing out your vehicle, when you get through to your valuation option you can either sell it, trade it in, or donate it.

When you click donate you actually go to a website that we created, which is and we have ST. Jude featured at the top, but you can donate to any of our organizations. So, not only did Kelly Blue Book allow us to put this great feature on their website, which benefits their users. It gives their users other services, besides just selling their car, which can be a hassle and may not be the best opportunity for them.

But it also benefits St. Jude and all of our partners. Within the first 30 days, we jsut finished our first month and over 60 nonprofits have benefited from this new Kelly Blue Book donation feature. CARS teaming up with Kelley Blue Book to benefit St. Jude and our network of nonprofits has been extremely successful.

Of course ,that’s a pretty high level strategic partnership, but even smaller organizations can take a similar approach. Look at your community. Who is supporting you in your community? How can you develop partnerships and relationships around town?

How Can Smaller Local Nonprofits Form Strategic Partnerships?

Maybe you have a local print shop that would give you free print advertising. Maybe all you have to do is put a link to their website and trade some content, share a little bit of exposure here and there and maybe you’ll get free printing. Think outside the box and ask, who might want to support our cause? Who are we in alignment with? Then just get people in the room and start throwing ideas against the wall. You never know what can come out of it.

Jason: Yeah, it’s interesting. Some people will put up a website and they will say, “okay this is all I need to do to be successful.” And then they wonder why the donations aren’t coming in, or the revenue isn’t coming in.

It’s not enough to just show up anymore. You have to be active, you have to be reaching out, and you have to be leveraging all of these platforms that allow you to get connected with people that is then going to spur the ROI you’re looking for in your marketing.

Adding Value To Your Strategic Partnership

Justin: Exactly. And you also need to add value to your customer, donor, or to your partner. I was actually just in Seattle this week at the SMX advanced search marketing expo. Excellent conference, it’s my first year going. This is the most high level search marketing content I’ve ever heard. We had speakers from Google and Bing. A great speaker from Bing gave us the entire process of how Bing crawls websites. He told us that the crawler is a machine in Colorado and talks about how frequently it crawls websites and got a great overview.

But, in one of our sessions before it started, I was chatting with someone I had met next to me. A woman in front of me turned around and asked me a couple of questions. She works for And they are kind of a competitor to Angie’s list. It’s a review site and online reputation for home construction. Their investors is Lowes, the home improvement company.

So, she was in this position where she has a great partner with Lowes, who is also an investor, but they were not getting much support support from them. It was kind of a one sided relationship. We got to talking about how can she improve that relationship?

I gave her some ideas. First, you may want to build a strong advocate at Lowes. Get someone over there who knows who you are and see the value in this relationship. Next, try and insert yourself into their customer lifecycle and their customer journey. Find out, how can you add value to the Lowes customer.

If you can start identifying where you add value to them and you have an advocate over there that will speak on your behalf to show the presentation to the CEO or the director, now you’re starting to add something to that relationship. Now it’s starting to look like a win-win situation.

We had a great conversation for about 15 minutes. We were just throwing ideas at her and she was just writing ideas down. I love that kind of brainstorming because you can take some of these marketing principles and apply them to almost any situation or any industry. Take a process approach and say, what are the needs, what are the opportunities, and then just start putting ideas out there. Keep fine tuning those ideas and at the end of the day, in her case (hopefully) its great growth from both of their organizations and I hope it leads to a strong partnership for them.

Jason: Yeah, I love that. It has to be equitable it has to be a partnership. Otherwise, why would Lowes even want to be involved? You’re not going to get commitment from them unless you’re creating impact and change on behalf their organization. Like you said, create value.

I just have one other question: What advice do you have for new marketers that are trying to leverage all of these tools, all of this advice out there on the web to really create change for their organization and drive their mission forward

Advice For New Marketers To Dive Their Nonprofit’s Mission Forward

Justin: I’d like to try and answer this from the approach from the perspective of not having a budget and a team of marketers behind you. Let’s say you’re newer to the marketing profession, or you’re in a position where it’s just you and there’s a lot of work to do, but you need to be able to do everything.

Hire Freelancers

One thing that we’ve been trying to do, like we mentioned earlier I have a team of six here, so we have a decent team, however, there’s a lot of work to be done. One resource that we’ve been using more often is we’ve noticed we needed the ability to scale up work when we have larger projects that we want to do. We’ve been trying to use freelancers more often. Freelancers this day and age for marketers is a great resource because typically you can find experienced marketers who are really not that expensive, that are willing to work part time or on the side for less than you’d pay for a marketing agency.

Look at Upwork, Fiverr, any of those freelancer options. You can find bloggers, SEO specialists, paid search specialists, graphic designers, etc. If you’re in a position of being new and don’t have the skills or don’t have the time, consider freelancers. You can scale up the work without having to hire someone or an agency.

Build And Develop Your Network

The other things that I think new marketers should be aware of is to focus on developing your network. People in marketing are very helpful. They are, in most cases, eager to help out, which I love about our industry. Jason, you and I have connected on digital marketing and nonprofits, and this industry is just more than happy to help.

Find people in the industry, whether you’re just going on LinkedIn and searching San Diego digital marketing and then follow people, or go to groups and participating in discussions. There’s a lot of resources out there and if you can build your network of people who can give you answers when you need to trouble something, you can go to your network or you can go to the Google forums and ask Google Analytics professional for help, which I’ve done. It’s a great way to solve more complex problems.

Expand Your Access To Information

But also, in addition to your network of professionals, expand your network of access to information. I love Twitter, you can follow blogs or people. You can also gain access to other free resources like tutorials for almost anything on Twitter. There’s so much to know in digital marketing that it’s not expected that everybody is going to know everything, but you need to know how to find the answer. You need to be able to learn what you don’t know.

Especially with more complex topics like SEO, search engine marketing, analytics, coding, etc. Speaking of SEO, I think it’s important for everyone to try and understand SEO. Learn how to do it and get a level of understanding wight Google Analytics. These are platforms and techniques that will help you throughout your entire career. And start using software and programs like Google Analytics, or Moz Pro, or SEMrush. A lot of these platforms offer free trials or there are free services out there.

Screaming Frog is an SEO tool that I use, which has a free option. Do what you can for free. There’s a lot of free opportunities out there and this is a great way to do a quick check of the health of your website. You can do a Screaming Frog search to see if there’s a bunch of broken links that need to be fixed. It’s a great starting part.

Then I think the last piece of advice I would say is really just get out in the industry. Go to conferences, meetups, workshops, or bootcamps. Try and actually get out there. It will help expand your network, but the two days I spent in Seattle at the SMX conference, I learned more there than I did in the past two years of paying attention to search engine marketing. But that two days was an infusion of knowledge that I didn’t get in two years of generally paying attention to it. Take the time to go in depth with a few topics to gain a better understanding and conferences are a great way to do that.


Jason: That’s amazing and actionable advice. For anyone who’s listening, go out there and start executing right now. Don’t wait until tomorrow – executie yesterday.

Justin, thank you so much for taking the time again. I really appreciate you sharing your stories, insight, and knowledge in the industry. I hope people are able to get something out of this and then start applying it to reach their marketing goals.

Justin: Thank you, it was my pleasure and good luck to everyone out there. You can find me on Twitter at @BeachMarketer, my name is Justin Ruffier and you can also follow me on LinkedIn.

Justin Ruffier

About Justin

Justin Ruffier is the Director of Marketing at Charitable Adult Rides and Services (CARS), the largest vehicle donation organization in the country.

He is responsible for driving results for the nearly 3,500 nonprofit organizations CARS support by leveraging online channels, such as email, social media, and search engine optimization (SEO).



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