This is a repost of an article that originally appeared on the MKCREATIVE blog in March, 2010.
Each month we look at a marketing challenge faced by many of our clients. This month the issue is when, or if, to switch from print to web-based and social media, and we chose to present it through the eyes of one of our clients. We recently spoke with Steve Frillmann, executive director of Green Guerillas, a nonprofit organization that supports hundreds of community gardens (and gardeners) in New York City.
We’ve been working with the Green Guerillas for nearly 15 years, a relationship that began when Marco Kathuria (MKCREATIVE’s Creative Director & Social Media Strategist) volunteered as photographer/videographer for a project working with children to create colorful murals within community gardens in New York City. Out of that relationship came a realization of a “shared DNA” – a commitment to enrich the lives of city residents, one neighborhood at time. The collaboration with the Green Guerillas evolved into the creation of the organization’s graphic identity and communications toolkit. The marketing mix and the strategic direction it has taken has evolved over the years as a result of the close collaboration between MKCREATIVE and Steve Frillmann.
We began our conversation by asking Steve to give us his perspective on how he sees the Social Media:Direct Mail mix for his own organization, considering that converting one’s communications from print to social media channels is all the rage in business and nonprofit circles. But how useful is a great website if the bulk of your constituents visit the Web infrequently, or never?
“A large number of our gardeners don’t communicate by email,” Steve says. “They still use the telephone and flyers. “We’re about to give out hundreds of vegetable seedlings to food-growing garden groups. We’ll send postcards and have them return them to us with their order, because these are not people who can go to a website and fill out a form.”
On the other hand, Green Guerillas does use electronic media for another audience – the members who support the organization with their donations. “We use e-blasts to tell them about what’s going on in the community gardens and invite them to events,” Steve says. “We also sell some t-shirts with almost every e-blast we send out. Thanks to the social networking sites on the Internet, we’re connecting with people that we weren’t connecting with 10 years ago – even people in Europe.”
Green Guerillas has also begun using Vocus, a public relations software that lets them upload their press releases to selected media lists. “I sent out three press releases and got an entry in a New York Times blog and a huge article in the New York Daily News. I was amazed. I never could have gotten either by myself.”
“Marco and I have this really nice creative tension over the subject of using email, web and social networking versus the old-school print materials,” Steve says. “He is continually pushing me to use more electronic communications, but he also recognizes that it’s important for the people we serve to get printed postcards, newsletters and invitations and handwritten cards. I’ve had conversations with others who say, ‘If you’re not doing this new thing, you’re falling behind.’”
Steve’s advice to other executive directors and outreach coordinators in the nonprofit sector is to consider this: “Before you heed those voices urging you to jump on the next-big-thing bandwagon, think hard about your audience, and develop a strategic plan that works to reach them.” We couldn’t agree more: For some audiences, the old-fashioned flyer distributed in key locations and supported by door-hangers, posters and bus-shelter ads is still the best method around. Or as Aesop would say, Look before you leap.