Nonprofit communications and marketing with Jereme Bivins

Episode aired Oct. 14, 2020: Communicate!

When communications is viewed as a service department, your bottom line suffers. Nonprofit expert Jereme Bivins of Good Dog Strategies knows that incorporating comms and marketing into the overall fabric of your NPO boosts your fundraising. In this episode Jereme discusses

  • the elements of a digital ad campaign strategy
  • different types of videos you should produce and share
  • how brand presence strengthens relationships
  • misconceptions people have about foundations and 
  • why the NPO sector needs to stop worshipping the for-profit sector.

Below you can listen, watch or read this podcast episode.

Ephraim: Welcome to this edition of the Your Weekly Dose of Nonprofit Podcast, the podcast that delivers actionable items you can implement at your organization right away. I’m your host Ephraim Gopin of 1832 Communications. Today I’m happy to have with us a really smart and savvy nonprofit marketer, Jereme Bivins. Jereme, how you doing today?

Jereme: I’m doing well. How are you?

Ephraim: I’m doing great. Thanks. Let’s introduce you to our listeners, watchers and readers.

Jereme Bivins has spent the last decade as an organizer, fundraiser, strategist and campaigner for candidates and causes. At the Rockefeller Foundation, Jereme helped lead the foundation’s digital influence work to advance the foundation’s point of view through digital media, promote the work of their grantees and connect with like-minded influencers working in social impact. As a digital strategy consultant, Jereme brings his 10-plus years of experience in communications and social impact to nonprofit, foundation, political and social enterprise clients interested in leveraging digital communications for impact. Jereme received his bachelor’s degree in political science and biology from Elmira College and his masters of bioethics from the Parliament School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

Communications And Relationships

In today’s episode we’re going to discuss   nonprofit marketing and communications. So let’s dive right in: Jereme, what role does marketing and communications play in building relationships with donors and raising more money?

Jereme: Communications is a key to any good relationship, whether they’re donors or supporters, family or friends. So comms is a complimentary and also a central role. I think at a lot of organizations and hopefully this is less so the case, comms used to kind of be  what was referred to as a service department that every other entity or every other division inside the entity would come to comms and say, here’s the thing I’m going to do. Here’s what you need to do to do it and comms would just be that execution role. Increasingly communications is becoming a more strategic partner, where you have the VP of Communications and Marketing sitting in the C-suite alongside the CEO and the other heads of teams and not nestled necessarily under development or fundraising. I think that’s a smart way to go because communications is more than just donor communications. How the brand is perceived by others, what sorts of influence products and services that you’re providing, those things matter just as much as your general communications because creating that brand presence and letting people know what the institution does, what the institution is all about, how the institution feels on certain topics and issues is really key to improving both your existing relationships but also attracting new people to the fold.

Paid Ad Campaign Strategy

Ephraim: Excellent. So at your company, one of the services you offer is creating digital marketing strategies. So if a nonprofit wants to conduct a paid ad campaign on social media, what needs to be prepared in advance before that campaign can go live?

Jereme: That’s a great question because oftentimes we’ll get called to do paid media campaigns for something very specific and also something very general and what I’ve always kind of pointed back to and somebody says what’s a smart goal for x or what’s a smart goal for y? And I say, well that really depends on what your strategy is because all of these things are different.

The first thing you really need is a strategy, right? What are you trying to do? Who’s your audience? Who are you trying to reach and when you reach those people, what do you want them to do? I think a lot of people confuse advertising with kind of PR, where they think that if we just throw some money behind it, somebody will definitely read these posts. They’ll know what we’re doing and they’ll just give us all their money and that’s not how it works.

Advertising gives you the opportunity to get in front of somebody but really advertising is different now from what it was in the 60s or what most people see on Mad Men. What you’re really paying for is a way to get in front of people who are your audience or who look like your audience. Paid media digital media in particular gives you a really focused way of identifying those people. So what you really need when you’re building your strategy and defining your goals, what are the very specific actions you want those people to take? Usually it’s something like I want them to sign up for the email newsletter because that’s a great way to start cultivating people who would become donors, versus sending out a massive Twitter ad campaign that says, great! I just want everybody on Twitter to give me a dollar and then my fundraising is done for the year.

Ephraim: So you’re saying that give me a dollar on Twitter won’t work?

Jereme: It hasn’t for me yet. I’ve never seen it work for anybody so I wouldn’t necessarily  advise any nonprofits to do it.

Video As Part Of Your Marketing Strategy

Ephraim: Let’s dive into today’s actionable item. Video must be part of every nonprofit’s content strategy. Could you please tell us three different types of videos a nonprofit should consider creating and posting online?

Jereme: I don’t think there’s a particular formula for this. I would say that…

First let me start by saying one of the biggest pitfalls around video is that everybody seems to think that when you’re producing a video, it should be ready for theaters. It must be really high quality, should be feature length, you should be ready to dive in and that’s 99% just not the case. Oftentimes what you’re really looking for is something short and to the point, that has a very specific point of view or call to action and then can be published across multiple platforms.

If I’m working with a nonprofit on a video, my suggestion is, if you’re doing a longer video- by longer I mean like three to five minutes, I don’t mean two hours- I say make sure that you cut that video or are able to cut that video down into 30 second snippets because you want to be able to use that video. Post the full thing on YouTube but then you want to take those second snippets and upload them to Twitter, upload them to Facebook, upload them to Instagram and be able to get a little bit more mileage from your content.

So when you’re talking about the topics, what exactly do you think we should cover? I would say, what exactly do your programs and services look like in action? Are you able to document what impact you’re making on the ground through video? Who are the people behind those actions? Do you want to tell the story of your staff and how your staff is working on the ground, doing a little behind the scenes? Do you want to focus on some of your donors and volunteers to really show how people actually make the impact on the ground? It’s not just dollars coming in. It’s the people that are really showing up to the cause.

Ultimately it’s about at the end of that video, what message, what story are you telling in this video that can convey the message of give now, volunteer now or thank you for your donation? A thank you video is also a really great way to leverage video to your existing donors. I would just say I don’t have it prepared  because I’m not this prepared there was a great video a few years back- I can send it to you if you want to post it in the in the dibley doo- from a university who did a rap song with one of their students to a couple of their high net worth donors who had given a lot of money for the… I think it’s the Stroh Center, that’s what it was, the Stroh Center and that song just stuck with you and this is this was like six seven years ago. Maybe more, I might be dating myself here on this one, might be closer to ten. But it was fantastic and it was a great use of video even though it was the opposite of what I was saying, that high production value. You can do something much lower budget to thank your donors but a thank you video also goes a long way.  

Data Makes A Huge Difference

Ephraim: Fantastic answer. I remember that video. I believe it’s for a basketball center, a basketball court. Wow that was a while ago. Analytics and insights, how does data influence the marketing work you’re doing with your nonprofit clients?  

Jereme: Oh I live in the data. I love  this question and I just love data analytics so  much it might frighten you to know that one of the reasons why I use the to do the to-do list app that I use is because it shows me my productivity data and then I partner that with the time tracker to see at what points in the day am I most productive, based on that data.

So I mean analytics make a huge difference. I track everything from your obvious ones, like your impressions, your reach and your click-throughs but then we also look at once somebody clicks on something from social media or from paid media, what do they do on the site? What pages are they going to? How long are they sticking around and start thinking about how you optimize around the platform to the page that they get to and then the actions they take next.

So for example one client in particular takes advantage of both Twitter and Facebook for their social media advertising. Same campaign, same calls to action but they might vary just slightly in their response and so we can see over the course of time launch these ads or we launch them, if Twitter is doing better for example we’ll pull a little bit more money away from Facebook and say okay, well the reach is roughly the same but when we see how people are reacting to the page, people from Twitter are going through more than one page at a time, they’re spending longer on the site or maybe they’re taking  the action that we’re asking to do: sign up for a newsletter, make the donation, whatever that is. If it’s an existing donor re-engagement campaign So that helps us determine where we should be spending our money, how much money we should be spending there based on the budget and the goals.

Misconceptions About Foundations

Ephraim: So your experience includes time spent on both sides of the table. You’ve worked for nonprofits and you spent time at the Rockefeller Foundation. What are the biggest misconceptions nonprofits have about how foundations operate and donate funds?

Jereme: Actually it’s kind of funny. Before I went to Rockefeller I was at the Foundation Center, now Candid and so I really got a taste of what philanthropy as a sector was because candid has all the research and reports you could ever want. So going in I had known how small a share of giving foundations actually represent. At the time that I joined Rockefeller in 2013, foundations were only responsible for just under 20% of total philanthropy in the United States. Individual donors are the real bulk of that source and when most people look at a foundation spreadsheet, they say we have all this money so obviously you can fund all of these things.

So the biggest misconception I’ve seen is that foundation’s are just sitting on limitless funds and that the work they do is just cutting checks. And that’s very rarely the case. I know there’s an old saying which is true, that if you know one foundation, you know one foundation. But I know at Rockefeller we had to make a lot of tough calls because money just does not go as far as it used to. That’s one.

Two, depending on where you’re operating your programs, there can be a lot of other logistical hurdles to go through. Certain countries obviously have laws around what types of entities can operate within their borders, what types of programs you can support. There’s also the conversion factor of currency. Operating in the United States is extraordinarily expensive compared to operating programs in other parts of the world. So you also have to weigh like where your money is going to make the biggest bang for the buck and then at the end of the day, foundations are nonprofits too. They also struggle with a lot of the same issues around technology and staffing concerns. The staff don’t often do a nine-to-five. When I was at Rockefeller, it was not uncommon for people to be there you know seven, eight o’clock in the morning and still be there seven, eight, nine, ten o’clock at night, particularly if you’re operating programs around the world. 

At the end of the day, money just does not solve all the problems. The big money comes from government, it doesn’t come from foundations and even the government money-wise, monetarily, cannot make that debt. There’s a lot more that we can do as individuals volunteering, making small lifestyle changes, making big lifestyle changes, working with the nonprofits, donating to nonprofits that are doing work in our communities that can really make an impact and foundations are just going to be added to that. They can help but ultimately they’re just not going to solve the world’s problems.

Let’s Learn More About Jereme

Ephraim: Got it. Let’s move on to the lightning round and learn more about you. What got you started on your nonprofit career path?

Jereme: Accident mostly. I was actually… ever since I was a teenager, I’ve always wanted to do more public service work. So I was an EMT for a community ambulance corps for five years when I was a teenager into my 20s. Then I wanted to work in the government. I wanted to work in some sort of form of government service. I had earned my master’s degree right when the great recession started, the first one and I couldn’t find a job just like most people couldn’t at the time and even government work was being cut. I had started consulting with a nonprofit in a communications capacity while doing a few other types of jobs to pay the bills and then I just kind of got sucked in, because the work is very similar to what people would do in the public sector. I wanted to help people, I wanted to see some sort of difference being made and so that’s where it all began. I started at a small nonprofit and then slowly moved my career through different organizations and through different different departments.

Ephraim: Fantastic. So given your decade plus of experience, if there’s one thing you could shake up in the nonprofit world, what would it be?

Jereme: This is a really tough question   because there’s so much that the nonprofit space does right and there’s also just a ton of stuff that we don’t do right and you know we change. Nobody’s perfect, no sector is perfect. 

But I do think one pervasive thing that I’ve seen having worked at both the for-profit, nonprofit and political side of things is that I haven’t seen another sector idolize another sector as much as the nonprofit space does. And what I mean by that is oftentimes what I hear is, well, we need to have moremanagement consultants come in and tell us how they do it in the for-profit sector, because whatever Pepsi is doing must obviously be right for our food bank. It’s like, okay, well Pepsi has much many different changes in the way they operate things. One, they’re money-driven. Two, they don’t really care about impact. That’s not their prerogative and that’s fine. They’re a business. Two, they have different types of stakeholders and three, they’re dealing ultimately with a different incentive structure and financial structure. So what works well in the for-profit space doesn’t often translate well in the social sector space That’s not to say that we can’t learn from them but oftentimes the for-profit sector is put up on some sort of pedestal as if the practices that they have are obviously going to be the best that translate them for purposes.  

Ephraim: I like that answer and you hit the mark with that. Why is your company called Good Dog?  

Jereme: A few reasons, some of them practical and others not. The first reason is dogs are friendly and loyal and when I was first starting my career, I worked at a hotel, so hospitality is kind of ingrained in my soul. So being friendly and collegial and loyal to my clients. I don’t feel like I’m doing a service. I feel like we’re part of the team I put it as: We don’t have the same email address domain but we want you to feel as if you can email or call us whenever you have some sort of question or concern. So that part of the kind of the dog’s nature of being your loyal companion is kind of what I wanted to translate in. 

Then the practical side of it is I wanted something that was unique. Good Dog Strategies is a unique brand name and I wanted to be able to stand out and so when somebody said, we work with Good Dog Strategies or Good Dog, if you Google it you’re going to say, well I don’t think they’re working with the dog training service so it’s got to be Jereme.

Ephraim: I like that. If you weren’t working in the nonprofit sector, what sector would you be working in? 

Jereme: Technology.

Ephraim: Any specific area?  

Jereme: I’m actually fairly open on that. My background is in meta medicine and innovation my academic background and I’ve done some work in that field as well. But I worked for Apple for awhile when I first moved to New York. I just love technology. I love all the gadgets, I love all the software, I like thinking through how people use them to better their lives and how technology can make an improvement on people’s lives. Consumer tech is great but I really love the kind of the intersection of how technology helps nonprofits and philanthropies do their jobs better.

Ephraim: Perfect. Best and worst part about working for political campaigns?  

Jereme: The best part honestly is that people are just super dedicated. There’s a lot of overlap between nonprofit and political campaigns. People are just really dedicated to what they’re doing, they’re super smart, they don’t sleep, they eat like crap because you don’t have time to prepare proper meals and often what I found working in political campaigns is you don’t have the luxury of time. 

Once a candidate has made it through their primaries and you’re stuck into campaign mode, you have to start raising money, you have to start doing events, you have to start get out the vote operations. Everything is super-fast. You have about four to six weeks to really hit the ground once you have the campaign apparatus in place, for a congressional campaign for example. So that actually was a little bit of a change coming into the nonprofit space where oftentimes things can be really just planned for months and months and then changed obviously throughout but that taking things from start to finish so quickly was a really great experience. I know it sounds stressful and it is a little bit but it’s a phenomenal way to work.

The worst is when you actually have to work for a candidate who you don’t really jive in and I’ve unfortunately worked on, I don’t know, about half a dozen congressionals now and there have been a couple that have kind of come through the fold that you’re like, I respect where you officially stand on things but behind closed doors you’re just like, oh God, you are going to be a nightmare  for anybody else to work with.

Ephraim: I’m not going to ask for any names. Let’s turn the table. You get to ask me a question, surprise question I don’t know what’s coming. Go ahead.  

Jereme: I would say I know we’re in the era of COVID and we’re not talking about that content-wise but I have found for myself, among all the ruin that the pandemic has left, there have been a handful of bright spots that have come out of it that I’m hoping to kind of take with me going forward. For example, I know people have Zoom fatigue but I had said during cold and harsh winters how great it would be if people could just gather around just a video conferencing service and we can have virtual happy hours or play games and whatnot. Everybody scoffed at me until this happened. So I want to take that with me into a post-COVID world. So I’m wondering, since you are a guy that often reflects on what he’s grateful for, especially at the current season, I’m wondering if there are any sorts of things that have come from COVID-19, the pandemic lifestyle that you would take with you into the new, into the post pandemic world?

Ephraim: I think an appreciation of the things that we took for granted. I’m very careful to tell people- everybody says, when are we going to go back to normal? And I say you’re not. I said you’re just not and let’s let that be the jumping  point for everything that happens afterwards. If you’re not going back to whatever normal used to be, it means having a bigger appreciation now of what used to be and the things that I can do now that I might at times not be able to do.

So when people… I can’t fly right now and I haven’t been able to fly, so I couldn’t do my annual summer trip to the U.S. and come and see everybody and travel around and enjoy life a little bit. I didn’t get that this past summer. At the end of the day I think I’ll appreciate a lot more the next time I can step on a plane and go traveling. I think I’ll appreciate a lot more time spent with friends and family in person, because I missed I think, I figured I missed four family events this summer because I couldn’t travel. So for me it’s more about appreciating the little things that maybe before you took for granted and that for me is actually a good… I think there’s something good about having to step back and being told or at least to reflect a little bit  and go, you know, what I used to be able to do that I can’t now and when I do it next time, I’m going to be a lot more grateful that I have that opportunity. That for me would be the biggest one going forward. That’s all I think. 

Jereme: That’s a great one.

Ephraim: The Zoom fatigue I hear, although I just seem to spend 24/7 on Zoom. At this point it’s not  fatigue for me. It’s just the regular work day, so it’s all good. Thank you very much  for appearing on the podcast today. You can learn more about Jereme and his company at and of course I encourage you to connect with Jereme on Twitter at @jcbivins. Jereme, have a great day. Thanks for being on the podcast.

Jereme: Thanks for having me.

Ephraim: A pleasure. Have a good one.

Jereme: You too.