Marketing with a conscience

In addition to the usual suspects of ‘market share’, ‘customer retention’ and ‘campaign ROI’, warm-and-fuzzies such as as ‘lives changed’, ‘worthwhile causes supported’ or ‘communities improved’ were cited at the Marketing Association's first Not-For-Profit event last week.

Non-profit marketing is a whole different world of marketing, where goals fall outside of the usual short-sighted ROI paradigm. As Brad Clark, chief executive of the Starship Foundation, mentioned on the day, the term ‘not-for-profit’ doesn’t accurately capture the essence of what such organisations are trying to achieve, with ‘social profit’ being their real raison d'être. And, of course, what is a modern social marketing organisation without a good technology platform to support it?

Givealittle - encouraging generosity using technology

Nathalie Whitaker, founder of Givealittle, was first to present and provided very interesting insights into the ‘social profit’ sector from the perspective of a software services company. Despite being the founder of a tech startup,  Whitaker treated her speaking engagement as a chance to ‘unplug’ from her digitally-driven daily existence. In this case, ‘unplugging’ involved putting down the mic and presenting her speech in analogue fashion, hand-scribbled notes and all.

“Five years of working with software development, I’ve become increasingly un-tech savvy with my notes for speeches and things,” she admitted, which was just as well as this move created a more intimate setting that helped her to better connect with the other social marketeers in the room.

Givealittle was founded in Wellington in 2008 but, having been acquired by the Telecom Foundation last year, the startup has now permanently relocated to Auckland. The company’s founding members were a bunch of socially conscious marketers who originally wanted to promote social causes to a younger demographic, but instead ended up becoming graduates of the Wellington tech startup scene.

Having faced the harsh reality of ever-eroding profit margins early on, Givealittle “were looking for bigger bang with less effort” so started to look online, which is a decision that most modern marketers have had to make over the last few years.

However, the desire to increase the company’s social impact did not finish with the launch of a Facebook page, culminating instead in the creation of “a really substantial software platform for encouraging generosity and facilitating online giving across a broad range of charitable subjects”. They now claim to have “the broadest definition of charity in New Zealand”. Not bad for a company that was founded by university students and has only been around for about five years.

And try as she might to downplay her startup roots,  Whitaker occasionally steered the presentation in a very geeky direction by alluding to such things as APIs, ‘fundamental integration’, mobility and gamification, all mentioned in relation to the ambitious plans thatGivealittle has for extending the platform’s functionality and reach over the next 12 months.

A key development that will assist with the ambitious roadmap that the company has laid down is the ‘zero fees’ capability that it now boasts as a result of being acquired by the Telecom Foundation. The donations made via the website have been growing steadily over the last few years, with the average donation sitting at around $85 and growing by a steady 130 percent since the company was acquired in November 2012. In tandem with the feature enhancements and new products being launched, these metrics will only keep improving, which can only be a good thing for the New Zealand not-for-profit sector as a whole.

Givealittle is definitely an inspiring success story of how technology and marketing can combine to further a great cause (or in this case, a multitude of causes) and Whitaker’s presentation hopefully inspired some of the more technology-averse social profit marketers to brush up on their ‘geek-speak’.

Starship Foundation’s ‘social profit’ crusade

To hear the CEO of one of the country’s largest non-profit organisations proclaim that it isn't a not-for-profit after all seems a little bit odd at first. Brad Clark, who heads up the Starship Foundation, declaring that “the whole non-for-profit thing doesn’t sit well with me” does seem like a misnomer until he goes on to clarify that he prefers a different term for the industry.

Clark’s preferred phrase for describing the sort of work that he carries out is ‘social profit’, specifying that he doesn’t “... like to be not for anything”. To him, using this designation is not just an exercise in semantics but an opportunity to better encapsulate the far-reaching implications that the work of ‘social profit’ organisations have on society at large.

He went on say that ‘cause marketers’ are all doing everything that traditional marketers are doing but with a conscience, and paying attention to the ‘customer’ potentially a lot more than most "because we need to [and] we have a larger responsibility to do it in a connecting way”.

Clark himself initially got involved with ‘social profit’ marketing when he did some consulting for the Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind and then worked in an executive-level role for CanTeen prior to taking the helm at Starship. His years spent in corporate sponsorship marketing roles have given him a good grounding in the sort of skills that allow Starship to continue raising funds in order to keep improving the lives of children across the country as well as those of their families. The hospital has been operating for 21 years and, on average, there are 120,000 patient visits per year from across the country.

Test, revise, implement and repeat

In order to “continually delight and surprise” its numerous customers when they arrive at the “Ministry of Good News”, as Clark refers to Starship, it carries out numerous funding initiatives. “Technology makes up a big part of what we get asked for funding from the hospital for, such as supporting the ‘Air Ambulance Service."

The Foundation also ensures that the hospital has the best people, which involves funding fellowships, research and nurses’ training. However, “it’s not just about equipment, it’s about the experience that you have in hospital” and supporting the families of patients is a key priority for Starship. The Foundation can also “fund stuff that wouldn’t normally get funded”, the Kid’s Health website being a prime example. It also provides seed funding for various community organisations and pays attention to national health priorities, which allows it to work alongside other charity groups.

“We get to explore and test new things and we try to do that regularly, we’re doing some of that this year but we do have a mantra that our customer comes first and it is about them, them, them," Clark said.

“We are trying to be innovative but it’s not easy. Sometimes it’s a word that really scares me, to be honest, because I’m not sure how you can be innovative but I know that you just need to keep trying new things and not be scared.” However, he pointed out that the Foundation's approach is to keep testing new approaches and stick with the ones that work.

Ministry of Good News

“As a social profit group, what do we do and what do we need to do?” he asked of the social profit marketers in the audience. “What we do do is big business. Not only are we employers... we’re also advocates, enablers and agents of change. We’re doing good out there we hope. But what’s the value of that good? And I think that trying to measure some of that value is pretty important.”

While the ‘social ROI’ initiative hasn't been fully implemented within Starship yet, the organisation seeks ongoing feedback from various stakeholders in order to measure the impact of its work at various ‘social touchpoints’.

“There’s a huge amount of social value out there that we’re not even aware of and if we could report some of that back to our donors and our corporate partners then they would have more motivation to keep providing us support and maybe even more," Clark observed.

However he emphasised that, above all else, ”being genuine is absolutely essential and, if you’re not, then it will come across”. And in relation to a question about what marketers should do to further the ‘social profit’ cause, Clark responded that “if you believe it, if you agree with it then you just start using it and it happens".

“As a parent and as the CEO of Starship, I want what I believe all of us want, which is the best possible healthcare for our kids," he said. “Our key challenge is to ensure that every family in New Zealand has access to world-leading child healthcare and experiences, and if we can continue to deliver on that mission then we’re doing a good job.”

After such an impassioned speech it would be hard to not want to join Starship on its ‘social profit crusade’. You can directly contribute to the Foundation’s worthy cause by making a donation on the Givealittle Starship page.

Dennis Kibirev is the chief content curator @protodigi, a blog that explores the topics of marketing and technology (MarTec), technopreneurship, digital creativity and social media