I’ve followed Kivi’s work for years and am happy to call her a colleague and friend. She’s a go-to resource for nonprofit marketing and her new book is called The Nonprofit Marketing Guide (get your copy here). I’m thrilled to have the chance to share an interview with her here and encourage you to add your questions in the comments! This interview is part of her virtual book tour; check out the full calendar of events.
Kivi Leroux Miller helps small nonprofits and communications departments of one make a big impression with smart, savvy communications and marketing. She’s a blogger, trainer, coach, and consultant. Her new book, “The Nonprofit Marketing Guide: High-Impact, Low-Cost Ways to Build Support for Your Good Cause,” is part survival guide and part nitty-gritty how-to handbook for nonprofit communicators.
What’s your story; how did you get started with nonprofit marketing? Ever since college (which is going on 20 years ago), I don’t think more than a couple of months have gone by where I wasn’t serving on a nonprofit board, funding nonprofits as a grantmaker, or working for nonprofits as staff or as a consultant. When I moved from California to Washington DC in 1998 to be with my then-boyfriend, now-husband, I decided to start my own consulting company, which originally focused on writing for environmental groups, thus EcoScribe Communications was born. In 2007 I started to transition away from consulting for a few clients at a time to more writing, online training, and public speaking, which lets me connect with thousands of nonprofits every year. I love it!
What kind of organizations have you worked with? My degree is in environmental science, so I started with environmental groups and then branched out to other progressive causes like animal welfare and HIV/AIDS support organizations. I’ve always preferred to work with smaller organizations because I felt like my impact was always greater there. Now that I’m doing online training, I’ve had small nonprofits in all 50 U.S. states, in nearly every Canadian province/territory, and more than two dozen other countries participate in webinars. They represent every kind of nonprofit you can think of!
What’s the difference between online and offline marketing – or is there one? I think they are more alike than many people think — at least the people who get tied up focusing on the tools, rather than what they are trying to do with the tools. Good nonprofit marketing is all about knowing who is on the other side of the conversation and talking with them about your cause in ways that are meaningful for them, regardless of whether that conversation is taking place in person or over email or social media.
What are the biggest obstacles organizations face when it comes to successful marketing? If you put aside basic resource issues of time and money, I think fear is actually one of the biggest obstacles. Nonprofits seem to be more acutely concerned than small businesses, for example, about what someone might think or what someone might say about this or that, and it makes them too cautious and conservative in their marketing. It’s like they just want to quietly blend in, when what they really need to do with their marketing is stand out! I talk about several ways to deal with that kind of fear in the book.
We know storytelling is important for grant applications and fundraising appeals, how is it most useful in marketing? Stories are the best way to bring to life for people what it is you do. So many nonprofits have long lists of programs and services that are laden with jargon, and after you read them, you still don’t really understand what happens day in and day out. Stories provide the examples and the context for what nonprofits are doing. They are essential from a marketing perspective, because they are so much easier to remember and to pass on to others than straight facts and figures. They also usually contain an emotional punch that grabs you and sticks with you. The staying power of stories is really underestimated.
In your book, you use the term “Attitude of Gratitude” – just what does that mean? It means that you embed being thankful into your everyday approach to your work. It’s easy for all of us, in both our personal lives and in our professional lives, to take others for granted. We all get too busy; we all start to expect more from the people who are good to us than we really deserve to (yes, I’m speaking from experience!).
On a practical level, having an attitude of gratitude means putting higher priority on getting your fundraising thank you letters out to your donors than on producing a newsletter that goes to your entire list. It also means reciprocating the generosity of others, which you can do with something as simple as a retweet.
With so many options for tools, products, and channels today, how do organizations keep marketing to a reasonable budget (while still making a big splash)? Online marketing is so affordable that managing the time budget is actually a bigger challenge than managing the money budget. It all goes back to focusing on specific groups of people who you need to reach and selecting the tools that make is easiest to connect with them. The book is full of cost-saving and time-saving tips because all of the groups I work with have very limited quantities of both!