The J is a St. Louis institution and has been a part of the community since 1880. The J offers everything from a state-of-the-art fitness center to early childhood education to cultural arts programs. It’s a safe place for people of all backgrounds to come and take part in the J’s educational, cultural, social, and recreational programming.
Operating as a non-profit with over a hundred different programs the J has a lot that makes it unique including its marketing needs. I sat down with Danielle Stewart, Digital Marketing Manager, to discuss the work the J is doing in the community and how she approaches marketing the community center.
How long have you been working in non-profits & at the JCC in particular?
I began working at non-profits while I was still in undergrad, and I volunteered at several many years before that. Adding it all up, I’ve worked at a non-profit for 12 years, 2.5 of that at the J. I volunteered for about six years prior to that – starting when I was 14.
How would you describe the mission of the J?
The J is a gathering place for the community. We offer programs and critical social services for the St. Louis Jewish community and the community at large – and we create a place where everyone can feel comfortable and welcome. We serve people of all backgrounds regardless of faith, race or ethnicity. The J provides educational, cultural, social, Jewish identity-building and recreational programming on its campuses – from our black-box Theatre to swim lessons and from our sleep-away camp at the Lake of the Ozarks to our state-of-the-art fitness centers here in St. Louis.
How is marketing different for a non-profit?
It feels like doing all the same things but with a smaller budget and less people than a for-profit. Of course, we understand that the scope and scale between a for-profit and a non-profit are different, but it doesn’t always feel that way when we’re trying to support all the different programs and services that the J provides. On the other hand, we also get to talk about the great work we’re doing for people in our community.
How is digital marketing in particular different for non-profits?
On top of marketing a service like another business might, we’re also trying to market our mission and how we give back to the community. Our primary business concern is that our programs are benefiting the people that they are designed for and that our supporters know what we’re accomplishing. It’s not all about the bottom line of quarterly reports – our success is also measured in people.
What is one of the biggest issues that faces non-profits?
Exposure. How do we get people to understand the benefits of what we do? That storytelling piece takes resources – money and staff time – things that non-profits don’t always have in surplus. If we can’t tell that story well or get it out to the community, we miss connecting with people we could serve and people who could support our mission.
What is one of the biggest pain points when marketing a non-profit?
Staff time and having enough hands on deck to both accomplish our ongoing goals and projects AND go after new projects and try new things. We always want to explore new options, but it can be hard to take current staff away from their assigned tasks, because, usually, staff are already working at 100%.
What do you see the future of non-profits being?
Communities, and I use that word loosely to talk about different areas, different populations, interests, etc., will always need support. Our communities are changing, and our ideas of what defines community are evolving. The future of non-profits will be to evolve with these communities to meet their new needs and to find ways in which they can be better served or supported.
Do you think there is something missing in the digital marketing space when it comes to non-profits?
It can be a challenge for non-profits to compete with other types of businesses in different marketing arenas, especially pay-to-play areas such as Facebook Ads, Adwords, etc. Just from necessity and resources, a marketing/strategy for a for-profit and non-profit business has to be different. We’re lucky at the J in that we’ve been able to create a digital strategy that helps us maximize our return on advertising investment, and working with great partners like Decantery is a great reason that we’ve been able to achieve that. However, not all non-profits know how to start thinking about this or have partners to help them figure this out. An education piece between agencies and non-profits would be helpful.
Any advice for marketing professionals looking to move from corporate to non-profits?
The main and best resource a non-profit has is people – both those who work at the organization and those the organization serves. Get to know people, they’ll be the ones who help you know where the organization is thriving or where it needs help being excellent.
Are the goals you measure different than those of a corporation?
While I’m sure they do differ somewhat, I’m also sure we care about some of the same things. Are we getting a good return on investment? Are we spending an appropriate amount on advertising for the size of the programs we’re advertising?[
What are the key characteristics when you’re looking to work with a marketing company?
It comes down to three things for me.
- Is it easy to have a conversation with them? Do I always feel like I’m bothering them when we have a question or need them to look into something? I look for an agency that seems to WANT to be working with us – not just tolerating us.
- Can they talk about our goals in a way that makes sense for us? We look for partners that have a plan to help us work toward what we need, not what they think we need or what they want us to need.
- Does their scope of work/proposed cost work for us? This one is pretty self-explanatory, but small budgets make this an even more important matter!
Thank you, Danielle!
Thank you to Danielle and the J for being a part of our Think. Do. Share. project. We appreciate everything you and the J do for our community.