APRIL 27, 2018
Episode 15 – Raising the Baseline on Nonprofit Marketing
Josh Jones-Dilworth from JDI and Dave Shaw from Arrow
This week we sit down with Josh Jones-Dilworth, Founder and CEO of Jones-Dilworth, Inc. and Dave Shaw, President of Arrow. We explore the specific branding, marketing, and public relations needs of nonprofits and social enterprises. Amplifying signal through the noise is a real challenge for impact organizations who are often operating with limited marketing dollars. Listen to these marketing expert’s advice on how to increase and engage your organization’s audience!
Read the Transcript
Lisa Graham (00:00):
Welcome to today’s episode of Change The Rules. My name is Lisa Graham, and today we have a full studio with Josh Jones-Dilworth, Founder and CEO of JDI, and Dave Shaw, President of Arrow. Also in the studio is Dan Graham, Co-Founder of Notley. So thank you guys for being here. We’re excited to talk today about what you guys do and how you guys help nonprofits in our community and help them to get their message out and help them to fulfill their mission. So could each of you guys heads up a company that does different stuff. So Josh, let’s start with you. And can you tell us what JDI does and what the mission is of your organization?
Josh Jones-Dilworth (00:37):
We’re sort of like an outsourced marketing department. So, naming and branding, messaging and positioning, PR advertising, design, content, and our paying clients are technology companies. A lot in Silicon Valley, but based all over. And we usually get the call when they are a few academics coming out of an incubator or they’re commercializing some research. Our world is very science-y. So think like AI and robotics and genomics and 3D printing and rocketry, like we get to hang out with those kinds of people all day. So life is great. And, yeah so we’re often the first marketers in and we sort of help bring those companies to market for the first time. And then usually grow for a period. But we’re also often the one whose saying like, excuse me, it’s time to find a VP of Marketing, can I help you find one? And our clients will sort of, by design, backfill in behind us, and then we’ll kind of go onto the next one.
Lisa Graham (01:39):
Great. And Dave, what about you guys? What do you guys do over at Arrow?
Dave Shaw (01:41):
By function, we do a lot of the same kinds of things as JDI. So we do branding public relations, design, marketing strategy, but the kinds of clients that we serve are actually very different. We tend to work with consumer brands and nonprofit organizations (and really developed an expertise around the nonprofit industry). And the clients that come to us are usually at some sort of strategic change. We tend to work with really established brands, not necessarily the startups, and something is going on where they need to make some sort of other response to the market, or maybe they’ve gone through a merger or an acquisition, or there is some sort of major or strategic planning change. Something is happening in their business that’s complex and needs to be figured out. And it probably needs a pivot of some kind in the way they talk about their brand, their messaging, their story. And that’s where we help them make that pivot and help them refine their story, reposition, and then rearticulate to the market.
Lisa Graham (02:35):
And do you feel, with the clients that you work with, that’s really the prime time for those decisions to be made and for the organization to go through that practice of figuring out our new brand, or is that something that you really encourage organizations to do when they first start? Or is it more like it has to evolve a little bit until they get to this point?
Dave Shaw (02:54):
I mean, I’m a proponent of really having your brand strategy from the beginning. I think it is as much of an asset and investment in the success of whatever that business is, as if you are buying your building, or your space, or your desks, or your computers, or staffing up. Your brand and your story is as much of a capital asset as that. So get it right from the beginning and check on it periodically. We do a lot of brand audits and we’ve done tracking studies on brands as well. So it has to be, that’s the kind of thing you have to, you have to have good care and feeding to have a strong brand over time.
Lisa Graham (03:28):
Yeah. And Josh talk to us about the nonprofit clients that you have and the community work that you all do.
Josh Jones-Dilworth (03:35):
Totally. So they run the gamut in a way. Segment one is nonprofits that have some direct tie into our world. So, The Long Now Foundation or The Entrepreneurs Foundation — tech oriented nonprofits that are trying to affect change in areas we play in frequently — The University of Colorado, Code for America, and so forth. And then the second species is really local nonprofits here that we just care an extraordinary amount about, usually based on involvement by or alongside our colleagues. The Down Syndrome Association or SAFE, or spend a lot of time in City Hall with the Mayor. So those are our sort of two criteria. And we do a lot of money and pro bono. And every year in the beginning of the year, we all kind of pitch each other. It’s like Philanthropitch in a way, but as if it was a venture capital pitch. And so one of our colleagues will get up, pitch the nonprofit, pitch the program — they’ve done a lot of pre-work, they’ve sort of mapped it all out. You don’t come to this meeting unless you’re really clear on what the ask is from the group. And then we all have a discussion, achieve consensus, and then greenlight that project.
Dan Graham (04:59):
One of the, I think really fascinating things that you do is that, you know, in addition to the business, and the ways that you engage your staff with the community, you know, I feel like you end up, maybe through an unwillingness to say no, but running independent projects. Whether it’s RAD Office Tour or Culturati or working on the ride sharing problem with the Mayor’s office, and being kind of that first call when new initiatives pop up from the city. How do you think about all of that stuff that may not be kind of mainstream JDI work in terms of integration, coordination, and the different responsibilities and the team that you have? How do you kind of juggle that and how do you think about all of that working together in an ecosystem?
Josh Jones-Dilworth (05:54):
That’s a great question. Thanks for observing that too. There’s one logistical answer, and then there’s sort of a philosophical answer. I’ll give the logistical answer first. When we do something pro bono, it gets treated like a client in the most profound way. So Eugene from Entrepreneurs Foundation gets an invoice every month with the exact same everything as everyone else gets, with the same long note and description. It just says balance due is zero. Right? And we always sort of insist that someone get that level of client service and that seriousness. I learned that lesson early on. And I think if you’re a nonprofit and you’re receiving pro bono, you’re obviously really happy. And you feel often, I think that you don’t deserve the ability to ask for, or demand even expert client service, or expert program management, or expert project management, right? Because you sort of have to take what you’re given. And we learned very early on that it’s easy to not treat our pro bono projects like real projects, unless they are in our idiom in the fullest possible way. And so we present them that way. We orchestrate them that way. We track them every week. We track budget. We track performance. They’re talked about in standup. It’s like as if it was any other anything else that we do. Does that make sense?
Dan Graham (07:13):
It does. Do you share kind of the market value of that? Saying ‘Eugene, your invoice is for $10 million. But for you, it’s zero.’?
Josh Jones-Dilworth (07:32):
100%. And we’re the same level of transparency. The truth is we are expensive. We tell Eugene exactly what, because if he ever needs to hire that in the future, it’s really important that he know the real value. And we don’t inflate it and we don’t deflate it. It’s exactly what it would cost if you were paying cash. So to me, again, like not letting it be “other” is the most important thing. And we get a lot of positive feedback. People say, “wow, you guys are really hardcore about this pro bono, thank you so much.” Well, part of it is that we know we only bring our best selves to work if we’re just as hardcore about it as we are everything else.
Josh Jones-Dilworth (08:00):
Philosophically speaking, you know, what we’d like to do is take on big chunky projects. Flex our entrepreneurial muscles. Do something that has a beginning and a middle and an end. And that can have transformative benefit. What we’re not generally attracted to is spending $3-5k a month just doing all purpose communication strategy, for example. So we want to get in, we want a compressed experience. We want to get out. I’m going to have the thing in a better place than we found it. And that’s what we’ll be doing with SAFE coming up, because Kelly’s gonna launch a new line of business in a way, and we’re going to help her do that. So we look for things that are a little bit more entrepreneurial, a little bit chunkier, have a finite start and a finite end, as opposed to something that would look like a retainer, I guess.
Lisa Graham (08:56):
Great. Dave, I have a bit of a follow up question to what you said. So, you know, if a nonprofit needs to be thinking about their branding and their messaging from the very beginning, you know, a lot of times it very much is in a startup phase, they’re kind of low on funds. What do you recommend people do from the beginning if they’re starting a nonprofit or they’re in this social good space? How do you go about from the beginning thinking about your brand? What questions should you be asking yourself?
Dave Shaw (09:17):
Well, I think the most important question is to figure out why you exist and be able to articulate that in about a sentence. And, you know, oftentimes with startup nonprofits, they’re usually a passion project of a founder because there’s something really personal to them and they want to do something about it. And so that passion, that reason why is really the first thing you have to be able to articulate. And when we think about brands, and I know Josh I’m sure this is true for you as well, we’re not really thinking about ‘here’s what your logo is going to be’. We’re really thinking about all the stuff underneath it. So what’s the story? What is the need that you’re filling in the market? How are you going to go about doing it? How do you prove that that’s true?
Dave Shaw (09:58):
You know, sometimes, startup nonprofits will get what I call “brand creep” after a period of time, because maybe they’ve started different kinds of programs and every little thing gets a new brand, but they don’t necessarily see how that fits together in a larger story. So we see that. So discipline is really important.
Dave Shaw (10:38):
But one of the things I want to come back to something Josh was talking about, because I think it’s really interesting. And I love the model that you described in terms of, if you have a pro bono client, they’re a real client. And so one of the things, we actually don’t take pro bono clients because for us, nonprofits, that’s a category that we serve. And so, the nonprofits that we work with, they tend not to be small. They tend to be rather large. They tend to have resources for that. And we understand that category. There are different ways to think about those audiences. There are different ways to think about how they need to talk to their stakeholders. And so, you know, that’s an expertise that we’ve developed. And oftentimes in our world, we’ll see a lot of creative agencies will take on a nonprofit pro bono client because they just want to do cool creative and they want to do their thing that they want to do for their bookwork. And there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that. But I’m curious how you guys do your model of it, because I think it’s really interesting, and I think it’s really right to treat them as a client and show them the value of their service and show them the billing. And you’re serving them in a way where you’re not just doing creative that you want to do for your book. You’re trying to solve their problem, correct?
Josh Jones-Dilworth (11:20):
Yeah. I mean, I would say intensely so. I’ve received consulting as a board member of a nonprofit and it falls into that exact problem, which is to anyone who’s listening “bookwork” means a showpiece for your portfolio, an opportunity to spread your wings and show what you’re capable of, which can be really exciting. But then it detaches from being accountable to the need, from being metrics driven, from being something that’s deeply tied to strategy. I’d rather do my bookwork on a paying client, to be honest. I find that they’re more willing to push the boundaries, whereas with a pro bono client, we need to be really careful to spend every hour and every minute in a way that’s optimally impactful. So we’ve done some quality work that I would consider bookwork for our pro bono clients.
Dave Shaw (12:12):
But that’s not what motivated you, right?
Josh Jones-Dilworth (12:14):
We try really hard not to do that. I think the only place where we might have done something similar is where I put someone on the account for the pro bono client who has done something once or twice before and wants to become very good at it. And so this is extra reps. So on a nonprofit account I might have, for example, four people on the account, whereas I might normally just have three people on the account. So I’ll use it to get experience for some of our junior folk and some of our senior folk who want to move horizontally. But yeah, there’s gotta be an “it’s all about the customer, it’s all about the customer, it’s all about the customer”.
Dave Shaw (12:50):
I love that model. I wish more agencies that were doing pro bono work would approach it that way. Because oftentimes what ends up happening is they make it be about themselves, as opposed to the client, which in your model, you’re really making it about the client. I think that’s really an interesting way to think about pro bono work for nonprofits.
Lisa Graham (13:06):
Well, I think it’s interesting, and you even brought up in your original answer, it’s not just your color scheme and your logo. And it’s really interesting how many branding meetings you can be in, whether it’s a for-profit or nonprofit and people just like, they want to talk about the logo and they want to talk about the colors. And it’s really like, okay, let’s actually figure out what we’re here for.
Dave Shaw (13:26):
To that point, I’ve had clients approach us, and they’re just absolutely convinced that they need a new name. They’ve come to us and they said, we hate our name. We need to rename. It’s not working for us. And this will be nonprofit clients. And really the first thing that we do is take a step back and say, well, hang on a second. First of all, what’s making you say that? And second of all, let’s really understand if that name has equity, because I wouldn’t let you throw away brand equity based on your feeling that it was a good idea. I mean, we can know these things. We can go out to the market, we can research these things, and understand them. So when we talk about things like names, logos, visual identity, colors, type, all those things that are the creative expression of brand, they’re just that. They’re the creative expression of the brand. You have to do all the stuff underneath it first.
Josh Jones-Dilworth (14:07):
And what you’re talking about is like back-filling some subject matter expertise around marketing that a company, an organization, a nonprofit may not have. You know, in fact, this is something, in all seriousness, I think we could collaborate with Notley on, which is teaching classes and workshops around this stuff to upgrade the baseline level of knowledge.
Josh Jones-Dilworth (14:30):
I teach at the Acton School of Business They pay $50,000 to do that. I teach at Techstars. I teach at Capital Factory. I teach at DivInc. I teach at the University of Texas. And I teach at St. Ed’s. And that’s great, but they’re all, you know what I mean? They’re all paying for it or they’re giving away equity for it. And, I think a lot of what we’re doing is teaching some baseline knowledge.
Dan Graham (14:53):
And on the side, you run JDI?
Dave Shaw (14:53):
In his spare time, he has this agency he runs.
Dan Graham (14:58):
So Dave, I’m curious, you know, you were talking about like the first question being, what is the purpose of the organization? Or what’s the reason for it existing? And we have thousands of nonprofits in Austin and frankly a lot of them that I’ve really dove into, clearly the reason for existing is to provide the Executive Director with a salary. And so I’m wondering when you get brought in, how often is it the case where you do the research and the surveying and you realize, “you know, you probably should be combining with this other organization” or, “you know, you’re actually doing something redundant?”
Dave Shaw (15:40):
We’re notorious in Central Texas for this.
Dan Graham (15:43):
Oh yeah. It’s a very popular thing to do. Just, you know, file your own 501c3 status. Raise at least $40,000 a year. And you’ve got yourself a job.
Lisa Graham (15:53):
Well, and it feels good. A lot of times, you are doing some good, right? But how do you kind of get to that point where it’s like, well, what you’re doing is like these other 5 nonprofits?
Dan Graham (16:03):
Well, I know from having worked with Dave with Arrow in the past that they do a really great job surveying and doing research. And so I’m imagining from time to time, you uncover the fact that maybe you shouldn’t be a nonprofit.
Dave Shaw (16:15):
I will say that it doesn’t happen to us terribly often because again, as I said, we don’t often work with startups.
Dan Graham (16:22):
I’d like you to list all the nonprofits that you think shouldn’t exist that have been your clients in the past.
Dave Shaw (16:26):
Well, we haven’t officially signed a deal with Notley, so I’m not going to include them. And that’d just be bad manners on your podcast. Y’all can’t see the air quotes. I did air quotes.
Dan Graham (16:29):
Oh, we appreciate that.
Dave Shaw (16:39):
I don’t often work with the startups, so I don’t see that as much because I think that happens a little bit more then. But one thing that I find is do your basic homework, do your research, and see it like any business plan. A nonprofit should have a business plan, just like any for-profit business. In fact, I don’t even like to call them nonprofits because that’s really just a reference to a tax status. You need to have a purpose, a mission, a reason for existing. You can be a purpose-driven organization being a 501c3. The IRS and donors care about that. But that doesn’t necessarily define what you are, who you are and why you exist.
Josh Jones-Dilworth (17:11):
The same thing happens in startups, right? So just recently an MBA said to me, “I’m just graduated. I want to get into startups.” And I laughed at him to his face. And there was an awkward moment. Because startups, right, are not an industry, they’re a mechanic. In fact, I would argue that startups are a mechanic of last resort. And I think that’s what we need to get into our heads about nonprofits too. It’s an act of last resort. You don’t want to start this thing. It’s hard. It’s gnarly. The likelihood of success is very low. The capital costs are very intensive. And that capital is very expensive capital. And so it should be an act of last resort. And I think it’s what you do when there’s nothing else to be done. It’s what you do at the end of a process. Not at the beginning of a process.
Dave Shaw (18:04):
Yeah, I think that makes a lot of sense. I do think there’s a lot of legwork that has to be done to Josh’s point to figure out what does the playing field really look like? And going back to the idea that oftentimes nonprofits are founder passion projects. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. In fact, oftentimes that is really what is making the world a better place because somebody is very passionate about an issue and they want to go do something about it and affect change. But because they’re passion projects, they get very personal and emotionally invested. And you do need to take a step back and be objective and have a business plan and survey the market and see what need are you really filling. Is there a need for this? Will people support it? And can I do it better or differently than something that’s going on out there? So here, if you go look at Central Texas and the current 6,000 nonprofits in Central Texas, wherever they say the number is, there’s a lot of folks that aren’t doing that part of it. They just care about their thing. They want to start it and go. And appreciate people wanting to do good, but you also have to do good effectively.
Josh Jones-Dilworth (19:01):
Well, there’s an interesting chicken or the egg problem too. Recently, through a dinner with Robyn Metcalfe and Chelsea Collier that was about the Austin food system. And in particular, the fact that Austin’s the number one most economically segregated city in the country. And food’s not always getting to where food ought to be in a variety of different ways. And the number one conclusion of the dinner, which involved leaders in the food ecosystem from all over, was that basic awareness of each other’s presence, mission, and needs was lacking. And in part, I think, because so many nonprofits do struggle to market themselves. When someone is thinking about starting a new nonprofit, the others are not necessarily as find-able as we wish they were, right? And so I think it’s incumbent on people in the community who know what everyone is working on to do that routing and do that matching sometimes manually.
Dave Shaw (19:58):
Yeah. I think that’s a really good point. And it’s just being able to get awareness of what else is out there might be part of the challenge as well, but it really, it does need to happen. It does need to be part of it.
Lisa Graham (20:08):
And is that something that either of you have worked with with organizations? You know, because we think a lot of times marketing for a nonprofit organization, like, well, we want our donors to hear more about us. We want to raise money. But is there a different way to approach it if you want to connect with other organizations, form a coalition, be working together more? Are you going to approach your brand differently or your PR differently?
Josh Jones-Dilworth (20:32):
I think so. I think I absolutely would. I think the metaphor of a Peloton of bikers who all group together for advantages and sort of wind, it’s more aerodynamic, the same is especially true of nonprofits in a resource poor environment, no matter how well you’re doing as an organization. And so, at least, when we help nonprofits make pitches to large donors or to large foundations, an important part of that pitch always is capital efficiency and impact. And if you’re going in alone, I think it’s harder to do that unless you have a large established national platform like the World Wildlife Federation, for example. Part of what makes a pitch compelling to a donor in particular is the idea that you are rigged up and coupled with. That you have sort of a cohort of friends, both locally in the state and nationally, with whom you can have a bigger impact than you could alone, right? And I think positioning wise, that’s really, really important. Who are your people and how is their synergy? As a donor myself, unless I see affects like that, I think there’s maybe too much hubris involved in, in most cases, right? You need other people and they need you. And I want to see that. I want to see a business system around a nonprofit, not just a single charismatic founder.
Dave Shaw (21:58):
I really agree with that. And you actually took the words I was going to use. To be really effective, you do have to have a systems approach at some level. And the kinds of nonprofits that we tend to work with are working on really complicated issues that are not easy to solve. Hunger, as an example. This is a very complex issue that is not very easy to solve. There are parts of it that are easier than others, but it’s a systems level issue. And when you get into issues of just hunger alone, then you start getting into issues of social equity and pay and what the job market looks like and where wages are. And then you can get into things like education and you can get into healthcare. You can get into childcare really quickly just on the issue of trying to deal with hunger. And so that Peloton metaphor, I agree that makes a lot of sense, and these things need to be done as a systems approach. So figuring out where you fit. And we also saw, I don’t know if people are still using this kind of a trendy phrase, but within the last few years, just the notion of collective impact. And the idea of really not tackling a problem in isolation, but understanding where all the different parts of the system are.
Josh Jones-Dilworth (22:59):
And a lot of the really like easier or single track problems, we got those covered, sort of, right? So now the problems that are left are these gnarly, multi-dimensional problems with a lot of contours and a lot of politics. And, you know, it’s not simple anymore. So if you’re getting after it these days, I think you have to be honest to that reality.
Dave Shaw (23:17):
Yeah, that’s exactly right. There’s a lot of contours. Another one, you can’t deal with affordable housing without thinking about transportation. So once you start to peel back these issues, you start to see really, they are gnarly problems, they are interconnected, and they do require a multi-layered approach.
Dan Graham (23:32):
So I’m curious. You’ve both worked with, volunteered with, help strategize with numerous nonprofits. And if you could sort of reflect on the large number of nonprofits that you’ve seen and worked with and listened to their challenges, and come up with sort of an average or typical or most intractable problem that they’re suffering from that you could offer advice for. What is it that you think you see the most of that you could solve here in the next couple sentences? If you could offer some advice, you know, to the typical nonprofit that you work with.
Josh Jones-Dilworth (24:46):
Those of you who have heard me speak somewhere have invaribly heard me say this, so you can zone out if you’ve heard it before. The best messaging has the courage to be incomplete.
Josh Jones-Dilworth (25:12):
I like this phrase that Jeff Sandefur at the Acton School of Business has used called “what’s your overriding priority?”, right? The best message has the courage to be incomplete means that we feel compelled and we understand why, right? From passion, from pride and from a desire not to leave anyone out. And we soliloquies, right? If I go to your website, you have value prop + icon, value prop + icon, value prop + icon, value prop + icon. When I hear your pitch in real life, you throw everything but the kitchen sink at me, right? I always use the example of two wines. There’s one called Rodney Strong, makes a Cabernet, about $20. Decoy makes a Cabernet, about $20. Decoy’s sales far outpace Rodney Strong’s. It’s the same wine. They’re from the same area. Everything about it is the same.
Josh Jones-Dilworth (25:57):
And Decoy, they have a lot of good things going for them, but they have the courage to be in complete. So their bottles are very sparse. They do have like the number one female wine maker in the world. They’re an incredible terroir right there in Oakville. Like, everything’s perfect. But they don’t say any of that. They just say on the back of the label, everyday wine for the well-informed. Everyday wine for the well-informed. And they don’t say that they’re organic, even though they are, right? They don’t say their awards, even though they’ve won them. They have the courage to be incomplete, right? And they’re conveying status. “You are well-informed for having bought this wine.” And in fact, Decoy is the best one to bring to a dinner party, right? And I think most nonprofits, they feel compelled to tell me everything that they’re doing.
Josh Jones-Dilworth (26:35):
You know, it’s like you go to a girl or a boy at a bar, and you give that kind of pitch, like nothing’s happening. You know what I mean? Like sex appeal is like showing some skin, but not all of it. Give me a reason to click. Learn more. Reason to go down the path together, right? If I could convince more people in the world in marketing, and nonprofits in particular, to have the courage to be incomplete, I think you can have a conversation with a donor, with a partner, with anyone, that has more inertia and more momentum to continue.
Dave Shaw (27:20):
I entirely agree. And, honest to God, I swear that was actually was what I was going to say, except for the part where he says the courage to be incomplete, because we often say that brands are about choices. Brands are about choices. You have to stand for something. You can’t stand for everything. And messaging has to follow that as well. And I often tell a story, I can’t take credit for making up this story, I stole it completely, but it really makes sense. You have to think about your messaging, I like to use this metaphor of a tennis ball, and if I throw one tennis ball at you, you’re going to catch it. Pretty good chance you’re going to catch it. If I throw two tennis balls at you, you’re pretty well coordinated, maybe you’ll get both. If I throw five tennis balls at you, you’re just going to duck, because there’s nothing you can really do about it. Messaging is just the same. I can throw one tennis ball at a time for somebody to catch it.
Dave Shaw (28:03):
And so the idea of the courage to be incomplete, say enough to get them to want to know more, and decide what’s the most important thing to say. And I tell clients this all the time, it’s all important. It’s all important to you and we’re going to get there. And those are all wonderful things to talk about. You just can’t talk about them all at once or else it’s going to be a wall of noise. So you really do need to make a choice about the thing and the one thing that you can get across. And so you do have to have the courage to be incomplete. You do have to have the courage to invite somebody to want to hear what else there is. Because if you say it all at once, they’re not going to get it.
Lisa Graham (28:40):
Thank you guys both. This has been really interesting. So thank you guys for joining us today. And hopefully this will spark some new ideas for our listeners that are working at nonprofits. And if you’d like more information about JDI and their services, they can be found at www.jones-dilworth.com. And you can also find more information about Arrow at www.arrowatwork.com. The Change The Rules podcast is sponsored by Chez Boom Audio. You can find everything you need about the studio at https://chezboomaudio.com/ and Change The Rules is now on iTunes. You can find every episode by searching Change The Rules. Stay tuned for our next episode featuring another amazing changemaker. Thanks guys for being here.