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Marketing

Marketing in the Non-Profit Sector with Diana Smith

How do marketing campaigns, outreach, and KPI's differ when your customers are non-profit organizations rather than for-profit companies? Measures of success are all about impact, rather than profit.

February 4, 2021

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Our guest Diana Smith is a marketer focused on non-profit organizations and the communities they serve. We discuss how “traditional” marketing tactics might change for this very specific audience, and how to measure their success. 

The following interview is an excerpt from our video series, Marketing - In Conversation. To watch the full interview and see more video content, click here. Or you can listen to the Shift In Conversation podcast here.

 

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Diana Smith - Director of Product Marketing and Brand - Twilio.org
Grace Amodeo - Program Manager - Shift

Grace:
Tell us a little bit about yourself and the work that you do.

Diana:
I'm Diana, and currently I am the Director of Product Marketing and Brand for Twilio.org, which is Twilio's social impact division. If you're not familiar with Twilio, we're what we call a customer engagement platform. We help organizations send out text messages, phone calls, video calls, and to help them connect with their customers and the people that they serve. The classic example many people think about is if your delivery driver shows up to your house and you get a text message that they’re there, that’s probably powered by Twilio. In similar instances there’s many relevant use cases for non-profits. Think about a Meals on Wheels scenario, the same exact type of use case would be useful. My responsibility is to grow the total number of non-profits that are using Twilio, and also to tell their amazing stories to help increase brand affinity for the company overall. 

Grace:
Why did Twilio as a company feel that it was important to start a .org division and do this type of work with non-profits? 

Diana:
Twilio is a really amazing company. And one of the reasons I chose to come work for Twilio is that from a very early stage, Twilio was investing in social impact. They took what's called the 1% Pledge even before the company went public, which was kind of the first focus on social impact. And for those that aren't familiar, the 1% Pledge is essentially pledging 1% of your equity and/or product and/or people's time as a company to do social good. And very few companies actually do that before they go public. So Twilio is a leader in that space and over time grew out a team that I'm on now called Twilio.org. Twilio.org is actually a business unit within Twilio and our leader, the Chief Social Impact Officer Erin Reilly, reports directly into the CEO. There are other organizations who have impact divisions that are separate. At Twilio, because our product is so relevant for non-profits, we felt that threading it into the main business was actually the best way we could create impact. 

Grace:
Is there an ideal type of non-profit that you are looking for who would benefit from using Twilio?

Diana:
It's been so fascinating to me that there actually are a lot of different types of non-profit customers. We have anywhere from big global NGOs, for example the International Rescue Committee which focuses on refugee issues and humanitarian aid. They use Twilio to help connect people fleeing violence in El Salvador, for example, with someone who can give them information on where a safe house is, how to apply for asylum, those kinds of things. We also have what I'd call social enterprises or tech non-profits. And those organizations, their revenue stream actually contributes to social impact organizations. One of my favorite ones is Kinvolved, which helps communicate with parents in many different languages over SMS to help their kids stay involved in school and up-to-date on their latest assignments. Upsolve is an interesting one as well, where they make it easier for you to apply for bankruptcy. And then we have some small mom-and-pop non-profits as well. We don’t see as many, but there are lots of churches who engage with their congregation over SMS. There’s lots of non-profits out there that you may not think about.

Grace:
Are use cases the same between your regular Twilio customers and your non-profit customers?

How the non-profits are measuring success is in impact, how many people they’ve been able to help, and the quality of help they’ve been able to provide.

Diana:
What’s different is usually the outcome they are trying to drive. So in a corporate customer, they’re trying to drive customer loyalty, make more money, driving revenue. In the non-profit world, it’s just a little bit different. They are trying to engage donors to participate more and donate more, or get volunteers to sign up for events. A lot of it is around usage in their actual programs, so how do they get more folks to join for counseling sessions, for example. How the non-profits are measuring success is in impact, how many people they’ve been able to help, and the quality of help they’ve been able to provide. At the end of the day, the use cases are quite similar. So when you think about appointment reminders, any nail salon or hair salon needs appointment reminders, but we also work with organizations like City Harvest which is one of the biggest food donors in New York City. They enable folks to schedule an SMS appointment to come pick up their food, so they don’t have to wait outside in a long line of people. One of our big products is called Twilio Flex, which is when you call up someone like your bank and get routed through the menu to get connected to the right person. That technology is really relevant for a lot of non-profits as well. One of our customers, United Way, is using the same call center technology to help answer questions about how to apply for unemployment, or how to get tested for COVID. 

Grace:
How do you target and outreach to new non-profit organizations who might benefit from using Twilio?

Diana:
It's kind of like any marketing where you start to think about where do these folks congregate, what do they read online? And a lot of the way that we've been focusing on getting in front of net-new audiences who hadn't heard about Twilio is through partner networks. Working with them, sponsoring content together, attending events. We also do a lot of work in telling our customer stories, how do we tell the stories of these amazing groups and find the right channels to get those in front of their peers. We also have what we call the Impact Fund where we give donations to grants and make investments in organizations. By promoting that and making sure that all of the partner networks understand that there is this opportunity, it helps us with awareness. And sometimes we do get folks who come through what I would call the regular marketing funnel, where they are just searching for an SMS solution or a video API and they find Twilio that way. 

Grace:
Once you’ve identified a new target or organization, does the actual marketing content differ from what we would consider “traditional” marketing? 

In the typical B2B marketing world you’re talking about companies and customers and return on investment. And none of those words resonate with a non-profit.

Diana:
I think it's really about the language. In the typical B2B marketing world you’re talking about companies and customers and return on investment. And none of those words resonate with a non-profit. They have the people they serve, their community, their donors. They are an organization, not a business or a company. So you have to be really clear about the language. The other thing that’s really important is to pay attention to experts, because we are not the experts on this. Each issue area that we talk about, where we’re working with an organization on climate change or racial justice or Trans Lifeline, in every issue area there is so much nuance in the best way to talk about things. How do you make sure that you’re really putting the people, whoever is communicating with these non-profits, in a place of empowerment. It’s not about “helping these poor people”, the non-profits and the people that they serve are on equal footing. I think that’s really easy to miss if you’re not used to marketing in this space. It’s also more of a soft sell, it’s about building a long-term partnership and the non-profits want to know that you’re invested in their long-term success. They have a bullshit meter, if you’re just trying to do this to make your company look good or you don’t really care, they’re going to be able to tell. One thing that is unique to a non-profit, for example, is revenue stream. Funders are really important to how many non-profits work and that is where their revenue stream is. So the product that they sell to their funders is their impact. How many people they’ve been able to help. So when you’re talking to a new non-profit customer you need to ask where they are getting their funding, what is most important to their funders, what impact metrics are they trying to hit this year. It’s a totally different conversation then how you would frame it to a for-profit business. 

Grace:
What are your measures of success for your non-profit customers? 

Our number one measure of success is the number of people that we help on Twilio.org, it's totally focused on impact.

Diana:
Our number one measure of success is the number of people that we help on Twilio.org, it's totally focused on impact. If I’m Trans Lifeline and I had a call with one anonymous phone number, that is one person helped. That’s our North Star metric on Twilio.org. We’re hoping to get to a billion people helped over the next few years, we’re around 200 million right now which is pretty amazing. We do also look at revenue, because Twilio is a usage-based product so more revenue equals more impact. It means more of those conversations, more of those messages, more of those people getting connected. I will say that we are not looking at revenue in terms of how much can we squeeze out of these non-profits, that’s definitely not the approach. We’re really thoughtful with our pricing and making sure that it’s closer to the margins that we’re creating. 

Grace:
Do you have an example of a success story you can share with us?

Diana:
I am really excited about Trans Lifeline. So Trans Lifeline is the only peer to peer support mental health crisis line for trans people staffed by trans people, which is really amazing. What I love about the Trans Lifeline story is that they wanted to make sure that their hotline could be anonymous, and with Twilio they were able to build that anonymity into the system. You don’t know who those folks are but you’re able to connect the calls. And to me, being able to connect folks who want to talk to someone who really understands, I think Trans Lifeline is an amazing example of an organization who is using communications to actually save people’s lives. 

Grace:
For an organization or employee who is inspired by this work, what is a good way for them to get themselves or their company more involved with giving back?

Diana:
I think WePledge.org is a good place to start. You can do WePledge without even offering any matching, or you can invest the amount that makes sense for your business. Also taking the 1% Pledge is the first step that many organizations do. What I would really recommend is thinking about what are your company values and mission, what is your product and what do you really have to contribute that can extend into social impact. In Twilio’s case, that’s our product. If you’re a data company, maybe focusing on data privacy and data ethics. If you’re a retail company, environmentally friendly packaging and shipping is a really easy place to start. Think about what is connected to your organization and just start with some baby steps. 

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Would you like to participate in a future In Conversation video interview? Email grace@shift.io for more information. 

Grace Amodeo is a program manager at SHIFT, where she oversees the annual SHIFT Creative Fund grant program. She is a graduate of Emerson College, where she studied film with a concentration in directing narrative fiction. Grace lives in Los Angeles.
Read more by Grace Amodeo