Measuring the return on investment for communications and marketing initiatives is essential across all industries today but how does data-driven decision making differ for nonprofits, especially for those operating in the public policy arena? We recently interviewed Ann DeFabio Doyle, Vice President of Communications for The Pew Charitable Trusts, a non-partisan, global research and public policy organization in our WVU Marketing Communications Today podcast. Ann and host Susan Jones will discuss how mission-driven nonprofits use data to make a difference in their work and how Pew has created new communications initiatives to reach key audiences.
Susan Jones: How is communication and marketing different in the nonprofit context, versus what many of our listeners might be used to in the for-profit world?
Ann Doyle: I would say scale is definitely different between a consumer products company and a nonprofit. Pew or other nonprofits aren’t trying to sell things; we’re trying to advance a mission. At Pew, we’re trying to inform and educate people and move policy goals. Of course the end result could be different, but I think some of the core strategies and tactics are the same right now. Across the private sector, nonprofit, other sectors, the decline of organic reach of content is a huge trend people are talking about. Nonprofits didn’t use to advertise, but we are in paid media now, even if our resources or budgets aren’t as large as private sector organizations. But we’re in there too, now, because we see the decline of organic reach on social media, and we want to make sure our information is actually getting into the hands of the people who need to see it. I would note that the environment has gotten so noisy, everyone is really looking for ways to make sure audiences are engaging. Email continues to be a significant powerhouse in that regard. We have a deep focus on email at Pew because we love that people have signed up to receive updates from us and are engaged. We can look and help segment and see the types of content pieces that people are interested in. We really can see reliable results overtime in that way. Another trend we see in nonprofit space and communications and marketing that I think is probably pretty similar to other industries, is the turning back to data and the investment in data infrastructure. We all have to be looking at our data sources and understand what it means.
SJ: What are some of your favorite resources or programs for tracking the data as it comes in for you?
AD: We do use a customer relationship management tool. We are bringing a variety of different data sources into that so that we can assess audiences over time. Pew looks at metrics really from a macro level at what we define reach, engagement and influence. So, across data sources, we’re looking, for reach for example, how many people saw that post. If we had an event, how many people attended that event or viewed the related materials online. Sometimes that’s not a tool as much as since I’ve got someone in the room who knows there were 110 people who showed up. Engagement is where we really get into the site analytics—how many people downloaded or viewed that, or on social media, of course, things like liking and sharing. Our communications team is very interested in influence, because at the end of the day we are trying to inform people and hopefully make a difference in the world. This is much harder to measure, right? I think communications and marketing professionals have struggled with that, and we’re really never tired of debate and discussing how did we show ROI. With influence, there’s a lot of qualitative data in there. Some of my favorite examples of influence are that we’ll get a letter or an email from someone who says something really affected them, or they learned something, and they took action. But, that’s harder to explain to people if you’re looking for a results datasheet internally.
SJ: Let’s talk about Pew’s podcast. You use a data point to frame a story about a key policy issue. What is the background of the podcast, and how are you measuring the success?
AD: We’re about to hit the three-year mark at the end of this month with After the Fact, and it’s a lot of fun to look back on where we started and how we’ve evolved. We tried to think how we could present the trends and policy challenges today in a new way. That came down to the central point that we’re about data and facts. We felt that data had to be at the center of the podcast, but that wasn’t enough, right? We had to move quickly into storytelling and get those compelling stories and information about trends out to provide people context and sometimes to provide a counter-narrative like, maybe you never thought about it this way. Pew works on shark conservation and people are often really focused on shark attacks due to the media and things like Shark Week. Of course, it happens, and I’m not trying to say anything about that, but one of the things is, sharks as a species are actually under threat and we at Pew have worked with shark attack victims who want to go around the world and advocate for shark protection. That was an interesting story to put together because it truly was a counter-narrative. How do you take a topic of a species that many people find threatening and provide context around it by interviewing survivors? Something else I’m really proud of the team for doing recently is they’ve been doing some deep dive series, which has been an evolution for us on After the Fact. They just did a four-part series on the American family today, that brought together trends from the Pew research center on marriage, dating, parenting and retirement. We went around and interviewed people who really brought those data points to life. For measurement, we look at plays over time, as well as audience engagement with social media posts. We do advertise occasionally for the podcast, and try to see if that generates new audiences for us. We have advertised on social media, but we’ve also advertised on other podcasts.
SJ: In the nonprofit space, how do you determine if a new communication and marketing project or tactic is worth pursuing?
AD: I think the rapid evolution of technology in today’s changing media landscape has meant that there’s always a new tool or a new platform that people may be racing to research or considering for their organizations. At Pew, it probably won’t surprise you to hear; we have a very rigorous mindset about that, I would say because obviously we’re a nonprofit and our aim is focused on serving the public goods. With my team, we really have to think about ROI, as you’re saying, if we go onto this platform or we use this new tactic, which audiences are we reaching? Are we reaching anyone different, or are we reaching the same audiences where we’re already really heavily invested? Can we pilot something on a smaller scale and learn, test and learn over and over again, before we decide to go bigger for the institution? Even with certain types of paid media, you can do that with small dollars for nonprofits. That’s so important, right? I’m going to try something at a $200 price point before I know if it works.
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