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Welcome to the Top Nonprofits Podcast. We know that you’re working hard to stay on top of the latest best practices to help your organization deliver on its mission, and this podcast is here to make that a little easier.

Twice a month, your host, Amy DeVita, interviews a nonprofit expert on topics ranging from fundraising to volunteer recruitment, and a little of everything in between to give all our friends an opportunity to learn from the best nonprofit leaders and organizations out there.

In this episode of the pod, I talk with Julia Campbell, who has worked for nonprofits, consulted for nonprofits, and most recently …penned the new book, “How to Build and Mobilize a Social Media Community in 90 Days

In this interview, Campbell provides practical advice on how best to leverage social media platforms to further missions.

  • 6 Most Common (and Destructive) Social Media Marketing Myths
  • How can Social Media Marketing and Fundraising work together?
  • What is the real job of you as the marketing person?
  • What can we actually expect of Social Media?
  • How can you get “buy-in” from other departments to help you with your efforts?

Her new book will be available Feb. 12, 2020 and can be purchased on her site at, where you can also find lots of great information on her blog and other resources.

For more great resources, visit TopNonprofits 

For Online Courses, visit TopNonprofits Training PS: Use code PODCAST2020 and you will get 20% off any course all year long.


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Or Scroll On …for the complete transcript of this episode!

Amy DeVita: Today, our guest is an awesome, amazing digital storyteller and marketing genius. Is that overstating it? I don’t think so. Not at all. Julia Campbell of JC Social Marketing. Hi, Julia. How are ya?

Julia Campbell: Hi, how are you? I’m so glad to be here with you, Amy.

Amy: Well, thank you. I’m so glad you could be here too. It’s really exciting, and I’m going to get into a little bit about what I really like about you, Julia, that I think that the –

Julia: Oh. [laughs]

Amy: Yeah, some self-affirmation stuff today. For those of you who may not know, Julia Campbell is, as I mentioned, a consultant who focuses on social marketing, storytelling, everything around digital. I’ve seen her speak in person, I follow her stuff online, and I highly recommend that all of you out there do the same.

We’re talking today about a book that she has coming out. For those of you who are interested, I would definitely tell you to check it out. It’s on her website, Under “Books,” you’ll see her first book, Storytelling in the Digital Age: A Guide for Nonprofits, which I highly recommend, and then you’ll also be able to access How to Build and Mobilize a Social Media Community in 90 Days. That is coming out soon, and that is what we’re really going to talk about today.

Julia, what I love about what you do is really everything I’ve seen you do is practical. It’s actionable. It’s not some wizardry that is beyond the ability of folks who are working at nonprofits. I think part of it is just that your background comes from working in nonprofits and being that person who has way too many hats.

Julia: Duties as assigned.

Amy: Yes, as assigned. Is that like a red flag in a job posting?

Julia: Never take a job posting that doesn’t have the salary listed and that says “duties as assigned.” Never.

Amy: There you go. See? You’re already learning actionable things. [laughs]

Like you said in the book, or the part that I’ve read so far, the Forward – as you mention in your background, there were skillsets that weren’t things you had. You have to learn it as you’re doing it. I’m sure you weren’t just doing anything; you’re the type of person that’s going and researching this on your own time, in addition to the many, many, many hours put into work. I think that’s really relatable to a lot of the people who come to Top Nonprofits.

Julia: Yeah, I came to that conclusion when I had my first development director job, that I was going to have to really figure all of it out for myself. I had never done grant writing, I had never done fundraising; I had never done corporate relations, media relations. My degree is in journalism, so I at least had some writing background and research background.

But you know, thrown to the wolves. That’s usually what a lot of fundraising/marketing or marketing communications people at nonprofits – we’re usually expected to just learn as we go. Often people come from the social work sector or they come from programs or they come from a complete other industry and skillset, and they have to learn on their feet.

So I’m glad that you said that. I try to make everything that I teach things that I have done in my history, being a development director, or with my clients, who are usually small to mid-size nonprofits with tiny, tiny departments. Usually one person doing all of the marketing.

Amy: Yeah, it’s something else. I think there was a part in the book where you say, basically, your job comes down to everything but programs.

Julia: Right. Oh, my first development job was everything but programs. I was even coordinating the volunteers and the hotline. I still do not know how I did it.

Amy: Oh my gosh.

Julia: A lot of us out there do it.

Amy: I recognize that, and that’s why I’m glad you’re here today. Of course, adding to the mystery mix of handling marketing at a nonprofit, several years ago, add to that mix the beginnings of social media. So let’s go there. [laughs] Tell me a little bit about how we got here, and what are these social media myths that you refer to in the book?

Julia: In the book I talk about 6 of the most frequent and probably most destructive social media myths that I still see a little bit today, but things that have really I think messed with our heads in terms of how we approach social media.

Of course, the number one myth is that social media is free, and since it’s free, it must be super easy and absolutely anybody can do it. Back when Myspace came out and when Facebook became more ubiquitous and introduced Facebook Pages, and Twitter came out, and LinkedIn, I feel like, and I know, that we were sold a little bit of snake oil.

What we were promised was that we would set up shop on Facebook and it would be such a great way to reach all of our fans. They would raise their hands, they’d like us. We’d be able to reach them in a more intimate way; we’d be able to connect with them on a deeper level than we would maybe via email or via events. As we know, social media has changed so much since then, since Facebook rolled out business pages in 2007, that it’s getting increasingly harder to keep up with it.

So when people talk to me and they say, “Social media is free,” I always say to them, you can get a puppy for free. I can give you a puppy. We can go adopt a puppy. It’s definitely not free. You maybe don’t have to pay for it or purchase it, but you have to take care of it. It requires willpower and creativity, consistency, persistence, time, a lot of patience, and the principles to getting results are sort of the same. So I really hate that myth.

But then on the other hand, there’s the myth that you have to have a computer science degree to understand social media. So there are two of those competing myths where either you have to be technically skilled and you have to know everything about marketing and you have to know everything about search engine optimization and click-through rates and things like that to really function well and to really do it well.

There are just so many myths. I think one of my favorite myths that I’m sure a lot of people listening to this podcast will resonate with is “let’s just get a young, unpaid intern to manage it for us.”

Amy: Yes, let’s do that. That is brilliant. Why doesn’t everybody do that? [laughs]

Julia: Right. I share a job description that I found in a nonprofit Facebook group for a volunteer social media intern, an unpaid position, 25 hours a week. The required skills and the required duties are completely insane for that level of – for a volunteer social media intern.

So while some of us think social media is worthless for marketing, there’s another group that believes that any young person can just do it. “I have a niece, I have a nephew.”

Amy: It’s “you’re born with it.”

Julia: That’s the thing. I see that all the time in the sector. There’s this coveting and this worship of younger people and millennials and Gen Z, and thinking that they know everything about social media. They might know how to use the platforms for personal use, but doing it for marketing and fundraising requires a whole different skillset.

I don’t know, those are some of the things that I’ve found really pervasive in the sector that I tackle in the book. This whole cult of “free,” and the cult of the young, those are two things that I think the sector really needs to combat and take a look at.

Amy: Julia, sorry, I think I cut you off. You started to say something about a niece and nephew.

Julia: Oh, I just went to a board meeting – and if the client’s listening, I won’t say the client’s name – and the director said, “I’m just going to have my nephew run our Instagram account.” The nephew is 16 years old. This is an organization that potentially could have an amazing Instagram presence. They have a lot of great visuals, and they potentially could do a fantastic job if they had a strategy and a plan, and maybe an actual staff person to work the plan an hour a week or so.

But just this thought that “oh, he says he can do it” – and then sure enough, he got busy with sports, he got busy with school, he got busy with a girlfriend, and doing Instagram for this nonprofit just fell by the wayside.

So this whole thought that “we can just get someone to do this work for free,” this is why so much of what we see on nonprofit social media channels is not well thought out, it’s not well-designed, it doesn’t look like it’s speaking to anyone, and it’s just not compelling.

Amy: Yeah, oh my gosh. My son is 19, so I’ve had a 16-year-old boy, and I have a 16-year-old daughter right now. I would not put them in charge of anybody’s social media. [laughs] Nothing against them; they’re good kids. But as you mentioned –

Julia: It’s marketing. It’s like, would you put them in charge of writing your press release and talking to media? Would you put them in front of major donors?

Amy: But it’s that idea that because they’re young and they’re always on their phones, they know what they’re doing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked by one of them, “Hey, what time is that movie playing?” or “Where’s this?” It’s like, what is that device you’re holding onto? Do you know how this works?

Julia: Right.

Amy: It’s that idea, as you mentioned – just because they know how to use Snapchat and Instagram really well, doesn’t mean that they’re able to put out content, not even to mention content that will, in a positive light, project your organization. Or how do they respond to comments and things that just occur?

Julia: Exactly.

Amy: So, really? Is that where you want to go?

Julia: I know. Something I see a lot of organizations struggling with because they are so resource-strapped and time-starved and bootstrapping everything is that they have this one person – maybe it’s a staff member – and they do all the marketing, all the fundraising, and everything that comes with marketing and fundraising when they really should be two separate jobs. And trust me, I’ve been in that job that’s worn both hats.

But the skillset required and the priorities – I see marketing as very different. I see marketing as grabbing attention. You’ve got to take risks, you’ve got to understand technology, you’ve got to get yourself out there. You’ve just got to be a little more flashy. I see marketing complementing fundraising, but fundraising is about relationship-building. Once you’ve grabbed that attention and piqued that curiosity and gotten someone interested, then what do you do with it? Then you take them along a journey where you deepen their connection to the organization.

So if we’re constantly shifting gears all day long, every day, we’re not going to be able to dive deeply into one aspect of our work. That’s not something I necessarily have a one-size-fits-all solution to, but it is something that I did see in my research for this book, and then also just my work with clients.

Amy: Do you have any suggestions for an organization – I work with one right now that I can think of that it’s not the same person doing fundraising as is doing the marketing, or specifically the social media, the digital marketing, but to what degree should they be working in tandem? How can they connect to make sure – I assume they need to be on the same page. They can’t work in silos, separate of one another.

Julia: They absolutely need to be meeting regularly, more than once a week, to talk about what’s going on in the social media channels and how the content is helping achieve the overall organizational priorities.

Ideally for an organization, you would have three big, gigantic organizational priorities for the year. If you have more than three and you’re a tiny organization, you’re going to be stretched way too thin and you’re not going to do any one of these three goals well. So having those three main goals for your organization and then really looking at how marketing can support that goal, the strengths of marketing, and then how fundraising can support that goal, and make sure they’re working together.

Especially now with social media fundraising being so popular – Facebook fundraisers have raised over $2 billion from 45 million people since Facebook introduced the tools. So they’re becoming more meshed.

The thing is, donors don’t care who puts up the tweet or the post or the Instagram. They don’t care if it’s marketing or fundraising; they care, did we solve a problem? Is this contributing to the solution that I care about? What is the cause? What is the issue? What do I need to know? What is the information that I need to have? Who am I impacting? Is this really making a meaningful difference?

So to the donor or the supporter or the volunteer, whoever you’re targeting, at the end of the day they don’t care who did it. But I think where we get confused is that marketing feels like donor acquisition is their job, so they need to constantly be going out and looking for new donors when really, their job is to get people excited and interested and aware and then hopefully bring them into the fold either on a social media channel, to an event, on the email list, where they can then deepen the relationship.

Just in my experience, social media is not the best for donor acquisition. It’s great for keeping attention. It’s great for getting donors to understand what you do and to get them excited, to get them to share information. But if you’re just going to post a bunch of fundraising asks with no context, it’s really not the best for that.

So fundraising and marketing should be working never at cross purposes, but also have really clear delineations as to who’s responsible for what, so there’s no confusion over that.

Amy: Absolutely. I couldn’t agree more. That brings me to the part of your book, the three reality checks for nonprofit marketers in the digital age.

Julia: Yes. When I wrote this part of the book, it’s just my real talk, kind of tough love for the people that I serve, the people that I work with – and also any time I speak, I really have to give these three caveats and explain these three reality checks that we all have to face so we’re all on the same page.

The first one is that humans are in information overload. We are in content shock. That’s a term coined by the blogger Mark Schaefer. We literally cannot function with the amount of information being thrown at our brains each day.

I think that even in 2020, this is going to be more important. More people are taking digital detoxes. More people are taking breaks from social media. More people are taking breaks from their phones because we’re starting to find out the effects of screen time and the effects of social media use on mental health. People are going to be much more selective, so nonprofits have to be even more creative and even more relevant if we’re going to get a piece of that attention. People are, oh man, unsubscribing from emails left and right. It’s going to be even harder to get traction.

And then number two, we all have decision fatigue. Every single one of us, if you ever wonder why at the end of the day, we’re completely exhausted, it’s because the average U.S. adult uses an average of two mobile devices plus a desktop computer. They’re pinging every single day. They’re begging you to pick it up. They’re forcing you to decide, should I check Facebook? Should I check Instagram? Should I check my email?

This is the same thing that happens to nonprofit marketers, because we’re constantly switching gears and we’re constantly shifting our focus. The more we create and manage, the more tired we feel. So we’re busy, everyone’s busy, and people are being pulled in this relentless stream of notifications.

If we make things simplified and easier for our donors, in all of our communications with our supporters, if we make things much more simple, if we throw less information at people, they’re much more likely to respond to it.

Then number three, we can’t control the algorithms. We will never be able to control the algorithms. And by algorithms, I mean those wonderful little pieces of code that decide who sees what, when. Why did this one supporter see that on your Facebook page and this other supporter didn’t? Or why do you see posts from this friend and not posts from this other friend? It’s all due to an algorithm. Every social media site has it, and they’re constantly being tweaked.

We can’t control these sites. We can’t control these businesses – and they are businesses, at the end of the day. Very important to know. Facebook and Instagram do not have our best interests at heart. I think we know that. But there are ways that we can leverage the power and the potential to further our missions and accomplish our goals.

But we have to stop focusing on the negatives and really start embracing the positives and doing everything that we can to leverage the strengths of the platforms.

Amy: Absolutely. That goes back to what you said earlier. Social media, everyone thought it was free back in the day, when we were so naïve and so optimistic. [laughs] It’s not. Facebook and Instagram are money makers. They’re making money. The changing of those algorithms helps them to make more money because then everybody has to boost their posts.

Julia: Yep. This is what frustrates me when nonprofits say, “We’re not going to raise money on Facebook because we don’t get the donor info.” I’m saying, this is the golden age of Facebook right now. We are only on a downhill slope, so get in while the getting’s good. It’s sort of like the Gold Rush. [laughs]

Figure out how we can use these platforms to further our missions instead of – we keep letting these platforms use us and use our data and use our attention, but let’s figure out how we can leverage these platforms to accomplish things that we want to accomplish, and let’s not get hung up on whether Facebook gives us every single email of every single $5 donor that comes through a nonprofit fundraiser.

So that’s a huge, huge deal. That’s a huge obstacle that I’m seeing right now. People are saying, “We don’t get the donor data, so we’re just not going to do it.” But that’s such a huge missed opportunity because it’s not going to be this way forever. Think about how Myspace closed, and think about Friendster and think about Vine. Platforms come and go. So let’s get in while the getting’s good.

Amy: Yeah. I was looking up some stats this morning before our call, and Pew Research just showed, I’d say since 2016, Facebook has leveled out in terms of adult users. However, it’s still, according to that graph – this is my visual – it was still double the closest competitor. The closest competitor – was it Instagram, probably, which they own?

Julia: Yes. YouTube is probably its closest competitor, but I don’t see YouTube as a social media site. I see it as a search engine. People don’t go there to communicate with friends and family. They don’t go there to post updates. They go there to search for things. So it’s still viewed as a social media site, but I don’t really see it as traditional social media where you’re sharing updates and posts and comments and things like that.

Yeah, definitely Instagram. I think what’s interesting about Instagram – of course, Facebook owns it – it’s the only site that’s growing and that’s continuing to grow in engagement and its user base. Everything else, really it’s kind of plateauing, and they’re scrambling to get new users.

Amy: This all goes back to what you were saying earlier about having a marketing strategy.

Julia: Yes.

Amy: Even the pushback from the organizations saying that you’re not getting donor data from Facebook – well, who said you’re going to get donors from Facebook? Maybe your intention for your marketing strategy is to use Facebook as more of a marketing tool to get in front of more people and to have the people who are your current supporters share it and help with enlarging your sphere of influence.

Julia: Exactly. When I give talks, I always get pushback on percentage of fundraising that’s online or percentage of this that’s online. I think social media is never going to replace what’s working in your organization, and I would never suggest that. When people hear me evangelize social media just because I think it can do great things, I don’t mean cancel your direct mail program, cancel grants, cancel your newsletter. Whatever you’re doing that’s working, keep doing it.

But the reality is, more and more people are turning to social media for news, for updates. They’re using it to express their feelings on causes that they care about and issues that they care about. They’re forming groups around specific causes. So it just can’t be ignored. But it is a tool in your toolbox; it should never be looked at as the end in and of itself. It’s a means to an end. It should be augmenting whatever else you’re doing.

That’s why I always talk about – in the book, you sit through this blueprint. I’ve created a blueprint to go with the book where you have to work out your goals first. You have to figure out, what are you trying to achieve? And only then can you best determine which platforms will help you achieve it.

Amy: Yeah, that takes some time. It’s not an easy thing to do.

Julia: No, it’s absolutely not easy. Real success requires knowing exactly what you want to achieve, knowing who you need to target – so really having an idea of who your audience is – understanding the kind of information that they want to get from you. If it’s donors, they want to know where the money went and what the money did. If it’s your supporters, they want to know about the issue, and are you making a difference towards this issue or on this issue that they care about?

You have to constantly be measuring and tweaking and improving. Maybe Twitter was working for you 5 years ago; it’s not working anymore, so maybe you move somewhere else. It really is a lot of work. I know it can be infuriating and frustrating, but I really think that building this kind of energized constituency and genuinely communicating with supporters – I don’t think that’s a waste of time, and it should never be a waste of time.

Amy: Are there any organizations that you see in social media, you see their accounts and you think that they do a really spot-on, great job that we can use as examples?

Julia: Yes. There’s three examples that I always use because they’re local to me and they’re near and dear to my heart, and I absolutely love them.

One is Plummer Youth Promise. They’re a foster care agency in Salem, Massachusetts. Very small organization. They can’t share identifying details of their clients because they’re minors. They do such a great job storytelling and really creating empathy around the foster care system and just educating people around the issue and bringing you into the fold and having you experience what it’s like to live in this foster care home. They do great stuff for such a small organization.

The second is Rosie’s Place in Boston. They have confidentiality issues, but they do have some women that have gone through their program that share their stories. They do a fantastic job storytelling, and they share a lot of video. They have one director of marketing and fundraising. I think they might have a part-time staff person helping her. But for such a small budget and such a small staff, the amount of content that hey put out – blogs and emails and video, and sometimes things are produced and sometimes things are not produced, but they’re just very authentic.

What I also love about Rosie’s Place is that they stick to their mission. You can tell they’re advocating for these women. They don’t take government funding, so they’re able to do a lot more and be a little bit freer in their programs and the things that they do. You can really see their passion for the issue when they share their stories of staff members.

The third is a group called Amirah, Inc. They are a rehabilitation program for people that have survived sex trafficking in New England, which you would never think was an issue in your backyard. I’ve learned so much from following them. I’ve actually learned, really learned, a lot about the sex trafficking industry and how it impacts people and what goes on in New England – which is where I live. It’s really interesting, and horrifying, but it’s fascinating.

They do a great job leveraging livestream video. The executive director will go live once a week, usually, and she will just share, “This is in the news, what you need to know. Here’s what’s going on this week. Here’s just a milestone that we accomplished. This woman was 30 days sober” or “This person got their GED” or whatever it is, these little milestone moments that they share.

I think that we get so hung up on Charity: Water, who obviously does a great job, or Greenpeace or World Vision or any of these gigantic charities that do amazing work on social media with gigantic budgets and gigantic staff. But I encourage my clients, I encourage everyone to follow your partners and ot