Causes Getting Attention | Online Fundraising | Episode 3: Aleshia Patterson
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Jason: Aleshia, thank you for taking to take the time to join us today. I’m really excited to hear about aspects of marketing that you’re doing for your organization and how you’re leveraging those digital channels
Aleshia: Thank you for having me, I’m so excited!
Jason: Great, so Aleshia can you, first of all, tell our listeners a little bit about yourself, your background, and then how you got involved with nonprofits?
Aleshia: Sure, as Jason said, my name is Aleshia Patterson. I’m born and raised in St. Louis. For some reason, when I tell people I’m from St. Louis they ask me where is that? Which makes me feel a certain type of way. But I’m literally live smack dab in the middle of the country. I got my start in nonprofit actually in 2009, so coming up on 10 years. I was a Summer camp instructor, for a national Summer camp program, reading and enrichment program, called Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools. I did that every Summary until I graduated from undergrad. Then, after graduation, I worked for the same organization in the after school program.
Eventually, I was promoted to the youth’s program coordinator. I did that until 2016 and I woke up one day and said: “I hate my job.” It was a little bit more grueling I would say. The schedule was out of this world and I wanted to have a set schedule, have predictability, and sometimes it’s hard working for a nonprofit that operates like corporate. My parents were “very excited” about that. I actually made a plan to quit within 2 weeks. I knew that I needed to do this so that I could transition careers into marketing / communications. Now, if you ask career experts or my mom or dad, they would say there’s a totally different way that you could go about transitioning careers.
I wouldn’t recommend that people transition careers the way that I did, but what really works for me is that I’m tenacious and I love to learn. I left in April of 2016 and I got hired as a marketing and communications coordinator for where I am now, which was July. So in between those 3 months I taught myself everything marketing. That’s because I graduated from undergrad in 2012 and to date myself a little bit, it only sounds like it’s 8 years, but in 2010 social media wasn’t what it is today. Colleges were calling it computer mediated communication, which were some of the courses I was taking before I graduated undergrad.
Then in 2015, with a degree in communications and arts with an emphasis on media literacy and I was hell bent on getting a job in my field. During that 3 month gap when I was reteaching myself marketing and communications, I picked up a client and decided to beef up the side hustle a little bit. I knew that in order for me to transition careers I had to build up my portfolio so that I had a little bit of leverage when I went an applied for jobs.
That’s that’s how I got started in nonprofits and I can’t believe it’s been 10 years next year. But, I’ve been in the marketing communications field officially for 1 year at the end of July.
Jason: Awesome, that’s great to hear. It seems like most of your career has been around nonprofits and focused. Were you not involved in marketing for that span as much, or was it something that you brought to the table when it was necessary, or how did that work?
Aleshia: I’ve always had the gift of gab. My mom says I came out of the womb talking and I haven’t been quiet since. I wasn’t actively involved in marketing communications, so yeah I may go table an event or host a workshop, but as far as social media and email marketing I didn’t do any of it.
What happened, and I think this happens to a lot of college graduates, you take the first job that is available to you after graduation and you just so happen to stay on that trajectory until you decide to pivot or leave and that’s what happened to me. I had just graduated from undergrad and needed a full-time job. Let’s be honest, I also did not do marketing and communication internships. That’s why it’s still baffling to me that I was able to do a complete 180 without having done marketing communication internships, without actively being involved in marketing for organizations.
It just so happens that I have certain qualities that are transferable. Reteaching myself during those 3 months helped me to develop those skills so that I could be successful in my current role. I still pinch myself and can’t believe that I was able to do that. I know that’s unheard of and a lot of people don’t have that happy ending.
Jason: A lot of it you just pick up as you go, especially if you’re working for an organization that doesn’t have a lot of resources. You wear as many hats as the organization needs you to. Having that adaptability and being able to position yourself in a way where you’re able to find value. It seems you also enjoy what you’re doing now. Would you say that transition was smooth?
Aleshia: It wasn’t like peanut butter smooth. It was clunky at times because one of the things I dealt with a lot with the career transition, and I don’t think a lot of people talk about it, I dealt with imposter syndrome for 7 months. It was interesting, because my position was brought into the organization because it was part of the strategic plan. They knew that in order for them to grow and scale that they needed to add marketing to the mix.
So, I was the first step in that, but I went from something I knew like the back of my hand. I work with kids ages 5 to 13, but my favorite age group are middle schoolers. People are like, what are you thinking? Just being in that groove and in that flow for so many years, I knew it. To go into a completely different field with self-taught experience, that was a little mind boggling.
It was for the first 7 months where I second guessed everything that I did. I second guessed the social media copy that I used, second guessed the marketing plan that I made – even though I know I’m good at strategy and that I’m a quick learner. That whole time of transitioning it was rough. It wasn’t like it was a bumpy road, but it definitely wasn’t smooth.
Jason: Right, like you were saying earlier it seems like a lot of what you had innate transferred very well, the gift of gab as you said. So, shifting towards where you’re at now, can you speak a little bit about that organization? What is their mission and who are you trying to create impact for?
Aleshia: It’s interesting because I work for two organizations under one umbrella and that organization is called University City Children’s Center (UCCC), and Lume Institute. UCCC has been around since 1970 and the mission was to bring children of all ages, races, and socioeconomic backgrounds so they could receive a quality education and we’ve been doing that ever since. However, the Lume institute portion came about from the methodologies used at the curriculum at UCCC. The mission today, and I have to give you both missions because they’re kind of intertwined, but they’re also very separate.
We partner with families of diverse backgrounds to nurture the growth and development of their children through inclusive, innovative, high quality care and education.
We know that the ages between 0 and 5, or the first 5,000 days of life, are the most crucial for children. Whatever they don’t get in those first 5,000 days we have seen the impact of what that looks like when they’re middle schoolers, high school, in their 20s, and when they’re adults.
We transform the way families, educators, and communities inspire young children to learn, grow, and thrive.
Jason: As you had your transition over into the field of marketing, what were some of the branding and marketing goals that the organization had set forth and how were you working to achieve those objectives?
Aleshia: So, it’s interesting because while I was the first step in moving in that direction within the strategic plan, there weren’t quantifiable goals, if that makes sense. There were no KPIs already established. There was no making sure we had metrics for each social media platform and for email marketing. There were no conversion rates, so how many people are following us on social media, how many people click on a Facebook ad, and how many people click on the Facebook ad and donate or join our list.
We had none of that. It’s interesting, a lot of our goals were to increase brand awareness, which I think is a universal metric or goal for everyone whether you’re a small business or a nonprofit. Then we had a couple internal communication goals, but honestly it was to increase brand awareness.
Jason: It’s interesting, you touched on KPIs, key performance indicators. What were two or three KPIs that you found really delivered impact towards reaching those branding goals?
Aleshia: Off the top of my head, the first one was definitely website metrics. So, unique visitors, visits, and page views. With that too, bounce rates. Because we didn’t have any of that data, it was difficult to determine what changes and what pivots need to be made to reach those goals.
When they brought on my supervisor, who is the director of strategic marketing and engagement, and she knows all about KPIs and metrics and all of that. So I told her, hey here are metrics it will help us be able to make marketing communications decisions.
For example, I was able to prove our bounce rate was 65% and I told them that’s pretty high. Either people are coming to our site and they’re not getting what they need and they’re leaving or they’re just looking at one page and they’re like I’M DONE!
Being able to use a combination of Google Analytics and embedded analytics, because our site is through Squarespace, I was able to create a data story that shows exactly what we need to do to get to the next level. We created a brand new website out of that data, but it wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t take the time to compare metrics week over week or month over month.
We also looked at digital and social media engagement – especially on Facebook. That’s because Facebook is our primary channel. That’s where our audience is, so we put heavy emphasis on Facebook even though we use a couple other social media channels. What I was able to prove using Facebook insights, I was able to show who was engaging with our content and who wasn’t.
It’s interesting because I think a lot of people think they know about marketing and they don’t. I’m not saying anyone from my organization doesn’t know, but there’s a huge misconception that your facebook page is doing well because you’re getting 40 likes in a week. That means nothing to me. You know how I know? Because people randomly ask me to like a page – I’ll like it, but I have absolutely no connection to that product, band, or whatever the case may be.
I know that likes mean nothing – “but what about the people who have 1 million likes?”
I said, those people may have 1 million likes, but those people may only have 250 comments on their posts. Being able to use Facebook Insights to measure engagement of our posts we were able to switch up our social media strategy to ensure that we were purposefully creating content where the goal was to engage.
That looked like creating different Facebook post prompts. We would ask our audience questions and long and behold they will talk back to you. It was matter of ensuring that we were sharing our partners information or other nonprofits because another huge misconception is that you shouldn’t post other people’s content because that takes away from your audience. That is just not the case at all.
The primary focus was not likes. If we reach a milestone that’s to be celebrated, but it’s not the end all be all. What makes me excited is that when a mom, who use attend our center 10 years ago, messages our Facebook page and says – “I just want to let you know that my son and his friend met at UCCC and they just met back up freshman year of highschool and now they’re graduating together.
Then that post gets 117 likes, 40 comments, you know relevant engagement.
Using that data to leverage on how you should switch your strategy – that helped a lot.
Email marketing also played a big role. It was making sure that the emails that we’re sending are resonating with our list. That’s one of the things that we’re hammering down on this year is refining our email marketing strategy.
That’s a couple of our branding goals, or just goals in general that we had, but we weren’t able to establish those goals until we were able to pull the data that we already had.
Jason: How are you guys tracking those conversions now?
Aleshia: So, we will get there. On my end, from a social media end, when I run a Facebook Ad I can tell how many people click on the ad and then how many people actually from that ad donate based on website traffic. As far as using a system to help track
Jason: I think definitely look at Google Analytics goal tracking and conversions. That can help you understand where are the conversions coming from, are people filling out forms on specific pages. Likewise, you can also use some awesome heatmap and clickmap tools like Mouseflow, Hotjar, Crazyegg. Those are all really good ones to see where people are landing on your site, what are they clicking on? Are they actually engaging in the way you want them to.
Aleshia: Yeah, that’s good. Please don’t put that out there! They’re going to be like “Aleshia what are you doing?”
Jason: No, it’s just one of those things where marketing is so expensive and there are so many things that you need to be doing – but who has the time or the team to do all that? If you’re 1 person or let’s say you’ve got a team of 3, that’s still a huge undertaking to be sure that you
Re doing everything correctly. Moreover, if you stretch yourself too thin doing everything that you “should” be doing, you lose out on a lot of the areas that are actually proving that ROI.
It is one thing to make sure that you’re tracking your conversions and being able to relate to that. I think Facebook ads do a pretty good job at being able to relate that information, but it’s one of those things where you want to be doing it but you also don’t want to get overwhelmed.
Jason: I want to talk a little bit towards the specifics of a recent project that you’ve run and I think it goes in line with Facebook ads that you were talking about. Can you talk a little bit more about one of those projects?
Aleshia: I would say it’s semi-recent because it happened within the last year and that is our year-end giving campaign our annual campaign. That was huge. So, we had a pretty lofty goal of reaching $300,000. That’s a lot of money. When they told us that goal, we were like – OK!
This was also the first time under the direction of my supervisor where we had a multimedia digital campaign. My supervisor does a really good job of utilizing the strengths of our team. We’re a team of 3 so when you said 3 people, that is us! It’s my supervisor, me, and our graphic designer. With that campaign we were able to interview young almuna who attended our school and we got to see them as thriving adults.
We had a documentarian come, a booklet for collateral, and a social media piece – the digital marketing piece, which is where I came in as well as with email marketing. We actually ran the first digital marketing campaign for our nonprofit last year.
I don’t know if fun is the right word, but I think because we had such a high goal we were very focused. We were able to raise over $300k during our annual giving campaign.
One of the core factors in reaching our goals was utilizing Facebook ads. What happened was I had taken a Facebook Ads course last year, which I was doing for my own business. That’s kind of the cool thing about having your own side hustle or your own endeavours, you can pair what you’re learning with your nonprofit. I was able to reach that goal, actually we surpassed that goal, and we also were able to get 10,000 views across 3 different videos over the span of 10 weeks, which was unheard of for our organization. We were shocked. We had people who weren’t even connected to our organization. They were sharing our content because the story spoke so well to them.
That was a huge undertaking and we’re actually preparing for year end giving right now.
Jason: That’s awesome to hear. First time reaching into digital marketing – that’s great. Obviously the combination of the message and the emotional appeal worked. Do you think that the decision to jump into Facebook Ads vs. Twitter or Google Ad Grants was influenced by knowing where you audience was and having taken the Facebook Ads course?
Aleshia: I took the Farideh Facebook Ads course and I think it was a combination of knowing where our biggest reach could be. So, the good think about that Facebook Ads course was that it wasn’t just about boosting a post. She went into the backend and showed how to do lookalike and how to create custom audiences.
Being able to retarget using Facebook Pixels, in combination of knowing that we had solid engagement, we knew that Facebook was going to be the way for us to reach our audience. Then two, our organization doesn’t have a large following on Twitter or LinkedIn. Twitter is growing and LinkedIn will get there, but we knew that Facebook was going to the money pot.
Jason: Diving into the specifics, what were some of the strategies and tactics you implemented to dreally drive this project home to reach your goals?
Aleshia: I think one of the things that we did really well was that we didn’t do something that was one off. We didn’t just use social media, website content, or email marketing.
This was a very integrated marketing campaign. The social media was working in tandem with the email marketing – it was kind of like a dance. That was one of the strategies we used, to leverage all of the platforms together to make them work with each other to reach our goals.
Also, we leveraged our staff, teachers, and our supports as brand advocates. We provided copy and paste templates along with images and a Facebook filter frame they could use. We knew that although we were paying for the Facebook Ad to be boosted, we only did three Facebook Ads. All of the additional content was organic. We knew that in order for us to reach what we needed to reach that we weren’t going to be able to do it by ourselves. Using our stakeholders as advocates on our behalf as well.
Jason: Right, I think it’s really important you mentioned that it’s not just one digital channel that’s driving all of this. It’s leveraging Facebook, but also leveraging online word of mouth, which I think is probably one of the most important and most impactful aspects of marketing in general. If you have hundreds of stakeholders that are advocating on behalf of your brand, then that multiplying effect works.
What kind of content specifically were you creating to get your message across? I think you talked about the alumni stories, were there anything else you were using to position that message?
Aleshia: Yeah, so we took the quotes from some of the young women’s stories and we actually turned those into graphics. We were able to use to an image of them with children and then their thoughts about early childhood education, which went over well. We also used statistics in graphic format as well. We talked about how many of our children graduate kindergarten ready.
We had facts, but the facts were displayed in fun ways where it doesn’t look like you’re reading a Facebook post that says “ our children graduate Kindergarten ready” because that doesn’t do anything. But when you see a GIF that looks like ABC blocks are stacking – that drove more engagement. That was another strategy we used. Feed people statistics and facts in a playful way so they wouldn’t feel like they were reading a chemistry book.
With email marketing, we took certain pieces of their story and embeded a video into the email so people wouldn’t need to click out of the email to view the video. We know that causes friction in the process. We also included an image of alumni with a brief blurb written from their perspective, which I think helped a lot.
Jason: Obviously, every project has it’s downsides. Not necissarily downsides, maybe it’s struggles. What were some of the main challenges you faced when you were putting this project together and then implementing it?
Aleshia: Time was the biggest one. You know it’s awesome because I work with a great group of people. We all have awesome personalities and even if we’re under tight deadlines we can laugh through the struggles. But time was definitely a factor. Because it was the first time we had done a digital marketing campaign such as this and it had so many moving pieces, we had to dedicate and block out chunks of time to ensure that we knew this campaign in and out.
We were working with three very busy and ambitious young women. Just coordinating with school districts, their schedules, and getting the appropriate permission took time.
Jason: I believe that you used quite a bit of video to get the message across for your cause. That seems like a pretty big push for marketers across the board, but it’s also very time consuming. There’s a lot that’s involved in creating and producing video content. How is your organization dealing with that demand?
Aleshia: That was the first time that we had ever used a documentarian for our year end giving campaign, but we also know that it’s not fiscally viable. We can’t produce those videos because that’s a lot of money. For us, we do Facebook LIve. and we’re talking about a particular topic on early childhood education, so we use video that way. I think next year, after we’ve looked at all the lessons learned from this year, we’ll be able to make an even tighter video strategy.
Jason: What specifically goes into that? Do you just go off the cuff? Do you whip out a cell phone and start recording? I know a lot of people get into the debate saying they need a professional recording and it has to be in a studio. Then there are people who are like, “why?” I’ve got a stabilizer for my iPhone and the video quality is great and my audience doesn’t seem to care so long as the message it’s getting across. Do you see any pros and cons to either side of that debate?
Aleshia: Well, I think if you’re trying to bring in dollars do filming on your iPhone, it may work and it may not work. It also depends on the size of your organization and your audience. If you have a more millenial or younger audience, you filming something on your iPhone with a stabilizer that will go over well more than likely because that’s the kind of content that we’re used to seeing. We’re not necessarily like have super polished videos.
For our audience, our generation, because we’ve grown up with live streams and video where as if you have an older generation, they are likely to want to see something more polished. They want to see something more fine tuned. I also think it depends on, like I said, your target audience and the quality of your phone. If you have an iPhone X, and you don’t have the money for a videography, you darn skippy you should be using your iPhone as long as you have a stabilizer.
But, you know when your screen is cracked and the video quality is blurry or pixelated, you’re actually doing a disservice. But, i think there is a time and a place for using a videographer and a time and a place to use your phone.
Jason: To summarize: When push comes to shove if you’ve got a decent phone just go for it. Don’t sweat the small stuff and just go for it. Having video content today is better than not having it at all.
Aleshia: The other great thing about video content is that it can be repurosed in so many different ways. So, if you have video content you can extrapolate the audio and repurpose it as a podcast. Or, you could have that video transcribed where you turn it into a blog post and maybe take a portion of that blog post and turn it into a social media post or your email marketing. So, I think that’s the other great thing about video marketing or using video in your marketing strategy is because it can be repuposed so many different ways.
It’s better to do it than not do it at all, because people don’t read as much anymore.
Jason: Or, it’s just giving different ways for people to consume your content. People want to consume content the way they want to. Video is just a very easy way to take a very complicated point and simplify it into a 90 second clip.
Jason: After running this digital marketing campaign and dealing with all of these struggles and meeting your campaign goals, what are three key
Aleshia: Are you saying for learning objectives from the digital campaign, or overall?
Jason: In general, what were you take aways, and what are you going to do this coming year to not only meet your current goals that are set, but hopefully exceed them.
Aleshia: One is to plan early. I don’t think you can ever plan too far in advance.
Aleshia: Diversifying our social media platforms. Yes, we did use Facebook very heavily, because that’s where the majority of our audience is. But, just because we have a smaller audience on different social media platforms doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be used. I think it’s better to at least try and run an ad on Twitter, verses not doing it at all because you just don’t know what the results will be.
Aleshia: Continue running multimedia marketing campaigns. I think once you’ve done this you realize campaign booklets just won’t cut it anymore. Or, just doing a video won’t be enough. Always ensure that we continue the multimedia approach because I think like you said, we were able to reach people at different points. Even if they our audience doesn’t open an email but uses social media heavily, chances are they saw a Facebook ad or visited our page and saw the content we were posting.
The opposite is also true. You may not be on social media, but you are responsive to our email communication. So, definately keeping that multimedia approach.
Aleshia: I’m going to add another one. I would give a behind the scense. I think there’s something cool about seeing people work twoards something. I think you can begin to start getting buy-in earlier, if you start showing, “hey we’re prepping for year end giving.”
I think that’s one thing I would add for sure. Last year we didn’t do any behind the scenes pieces, but I think we could have leveraged that for sure.
Jason: Absolutely, the process is just as important as the result. That journey is really important too. That’s one of the points we make to be transparent on our site. We say, this is what we’re doing, this is how we’re doing it, and these are the results of the work. The hope is that as people follow along with our story they become more – there’s more buy-in to the brand and more trust built over time because you get to see people evolve through that process. You almost start to route for them in a similar way you might root for a football team.
I’d be really excited to see, maybe in the next few months, how that turns out vs. the previous year.
Jason: One of the struggles that I think a lot of organizations have, especially when it comes to investing into any digital marketing in general, is that they want to flip the switch to start generating money. But, in most cases, unless you already have a very established presence, or a good network, that’s not really going to happen. What is your advice for an organization that wants to dive into digital marketing, but they’re having a hard time justifying the investment to their stakeholders?
Aleshia: I think one of the mistakes that many nonprofits make is when they say digital marketing, it’s so broad and it’s so many different aspects of that. It’s easy to go to your supervisor saying, “I want to incorporate digital marketing,” and then when people have their own perceiption of what that is it can easily become overwhwlmed.
I think you should start small. If you have never done an email marketing, social media campaign, or a blog before then doing all of those things at one time can set yourself up for failure if you’re not working extremely, extremely hard to get that buy-in because you’re trying ot impolement so much at one time.
I thunk if an organiaztion is hestiatan to make a fiscal investment, then I would start small with a Facebook ad. You know, $5.00 can get you a lot to expand your reach pretty far if you’ve never done that before. Just wrote a blog post and you want to increase your reach? Boost it and see what happens. I’m a firm believer in sticking to one thing first and then adding on to that. Maybe one quater you focus on using Facebook ads to boost your post. Maybe the second quater you focus on email marketing and list segmentation, which may require you to purchase a subscription to MailChimp to send optimized campaigns. Maybe the third quater that’s you investing in a videographer, but in video so doing more video. Then in the four quater you may decide to do something else.
Overall, I don’t recommend that people do all of those things at one time because you need to see what works and what doesn’t. It’s a lot easier for someone to go to their supervior and say, “hey we just wrote this really great blog post with a donate link. We boosted that blog post on Facebook and got our investment back 10x.”
I think it’s beaout being very strategic and pinpointing one thing at a time.
Jason: Yeah, I absolutely agree. I think hopefully my memory is not failing me. I think Larry Kim of WordSream, at some point in time you should be at a minium be investing at least a $1.00 a day into Facebook ads. The reach is so inexpensive. I think you can get in front of maybe 1,000 people for $4.00 – $5.00. Regardless of if those 1,000 people look at the content you’ve written, all it takes is one person to enage with you. And that’s really all you’re tyring to do. If you’re spending $30.00 a month then that’s worth it. Whether or not if you’re recuoping the cost, the brand value alone has a multiplying effect. That person may talk to one person and then share that information with another person. Eventually, that’s going to become a compounding effect and all of the sudden that one Facebook Ad you ran a year ago helped you build and grow your email list, for example, to 1,000 – 2,000 maybe even 10,000 people. All of these different strategies that you’re implementing is like a spider web. It all comes back to the center at some point. Especially when you’re integrating it into multiple digital marketing campaigns.
I completely agree with you, don’t get overwhelmed dones’t trying to do too much at once. That seems like one of the #1 mistakes that people make when they jump into digital marketing – or any form of marketing for that matter. That’s just one of the common mistakes they make.
Jason: Looking forward, how are you planning to reach your brands digital marketing goals?
Aleshia is a digital marketer who specializes in helping small to mid-sized nonprofits gain clarity and increase their impact through custom digital marketing solutions. She believes that is doesn’t take a million-dollar budget to make an impact; it takes focus, a dedicated team or person, and a plan to take marketing to the next level.
Aleshia is certified in inbound, content, and email marketing through HubSpot Academy. In addition to being a digital marketer, she has spoken at the Midwest Digital Marketing Conference and the Spectrum Marketing Conference.
Aleshia is also the Editor-in-Chief of the digital magazine site, NonprofitMarketingMag.com and the host of the Nonprofit Marketing Podcast. She holds a B.A. in communication studies from the University of Missouri-Saint Louis and an M.A. in communication arts with an emphasis in media literacy from Webster University.
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