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Reflections on the DMA Non-Profit Conference 2017

by Ashlee Sang – Habitat for Humanity of McLean County ReStore

In attending sessions from all three days of this year’s DMA Non-Profit Conference 2017, I was able to get an intensive look at all it takes to have a cohesive and coordinated marketing strategy, as well as all the moving parts it requires to have a growing, effective organization. I have been fortunate in my limited career to step into established systems (that were functional to various degrees) without having to evaluate each component of a campaign, mailing, website, etc. too deliberately. 

I found the idea of a “digital audit” to be both practical and necessary, no matter the scale of the organization, to avoid falling into complacency with the status quo that is proven to work, but is not actively improving anything. While I was impressed with how engrained the use of data was with many conference participants and their organizations, I was surprised at how few people knew their “why” when asked in a pre-conference session. That “why” is a driving force behind all my communications and was the subject I was most confident about over the course of the entire conference. I wonder if that is a testament to my working with small to mid-size organizations, rather than in a national headquarters of a massive organization that coordinates efforts to a scale I cannot personally imagine. I also noticed that where my organizations in the past have lacked data, we’ve made up for in personal relationships and organic messaging that we know will resonate based on conversations we’ve had, rather than what data points have encouraged us to try. I agree that there is value in both personal (human) exchange and effective automation, so I’m curious to see how this balance is struck across the industry in the coming years.

My biggest obstacle when using and addressing data, and that of organizations I’ve worked with in the past, is the follow-up. Collecting the data has not been the issue so much as analyzing those numbers and trends, then using them to make a positive difference to our systems, supporters, and ultimately our beneficiaries. I appreciated the conference’s case studies with examples of effective segmentation and enjoyed learning about the concept of psychographics. I understand that segmentation is inherently valuable because humans are intrinsically complex and unique in many ways. As our world continues to diversify—and simultaneously become more connected—I feel niche appeals to a targeted audience that still tie to the organization’s broader cause will become increasingly important.

It was useful for me to see other perspectives, approaches, and problems that organizations of a different scale—or simply a different sector—face. I believe the conference reinforced my personal pull to be “on the ground” and directly in touch with the work that is done in communities. That said, I am interested in eventually consulting, which I’d previously only thought of in a freelance framework. Through the conference, my eyes were opened to the existence and value of external consulting firms, especially those that help organizations sift through and act upon the mountains of data they’ve collected but have drowned under on their own. I connected with a handful of agencies from which I am anxious to learn more.

Over the course of the conference, I was appreciative of the opportunity to hear from industry experts and meet potential partners. I would recommend this conference to non-profit peers who work with fundraising, communications, public relations, marketing, or within a role that touches upon these domains. The better we can reinforce these skills, the better we can bolster our organizations and ultimately do the good we aim to do when we go to work every day.

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