Marketing Q&A with Marissa Ranalli at DoSomething

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DoSomething.org is currently ranked #5 on the Top 100 Nonprofits list. This is especially remarkable since the list is based on a mix of stats spanning web, social, fiscal responsibility, and transparency metrics and DoSomething is one of the youngest and smallest (in terms of full-time staff) on the list. In short, Marissa and the rest of the DoSomething team punch well above their weight class, and orgs of all sizes can all learn something from how they think and operate.

Marissa Ranalli is the Marketing Manager at DoSomething.org where she focuses on integrated partnerships, analytics, and team cohesion. She is also an a cappella singer with Treble NYC, a ClassPass enthusiast, a spice-master, a traveler, and proud cat owner based in NYC.

Preview of the Questions We Cover

Craig Van Korlaar (TopNonprofits) Q: Marissa, could you describe what DoSomething does for those that aren’t familiar?

Marissa Ranalli (DoSomething.org): DoSomething.org is the largest not-for-profit that specializes in getting 13 to 25-year-olds to volunteer. We want to create a generation of doers, thousands of young people to be thoughtful and to be socially-minded, socially-conscious consumers, voters, parents, friends, educators so as they grow up, they’re teaching the generation below them to do the same.

We always joke that we would love to put ourselves out of business. We would love to crack this nut I think we’re unique in the sense we look at volunteering from a true scale perspective. I think we’re probably one of the only not-for-profits specializing in this type of social change.

I have great respect for the typical nonprofit, and I think there’s a lot of good that they’re doing on the ground. What we like to do is take a step back and see how a young person can volunteer anytime, anywhere, any place, doing something that’s a little bit more light touch as an entry point to volunteering. A great example of this is our campaign called “Shower Songs.”

We ask young people to create a five-minute playlist they would use when they’re taking a shower and when the playlist is over, hopefully, they will stop showering, or they will start to realize, “Oh man, I’m taking really long showers. Maybe I should take shorter showers to end with this playlist.”

We’re interested in that behavioral change. It’s not the biggest ask, but it’s a great entry point for somebody to start thinking more holistically about how their everyday behaviors make a bigger impact.

Q: DoSomething’s culture is pretty unique. Tell me a little bit about what you love most about coming to work every day.

Marissa (DoSomething.org): I love this question. I’m sure we’ve all said this answer and it might sound like we’re being like conned into saying this, but it really is the people. I have the utmost respect for everybody who works here because I know they are thoughtful, creative, solution-oriented, big thinkers, go-getters, and passionate. Just about every positive personality trait you would want to see in a coworker and a friend. I’m lucky every day to walk into a room with 55 people that possess these characteristics.

So really it is the people. I mean I also love the open office environment. I also love the fact we have summer Fridays. And of course, I love the mission, that’s the reason why I even applied and interviewed here, to begin with.

Q: As a Marketing Manager, how do you handle targeted messaging for such a diverse audience?

Marissa (DoSomething.org): Yeah, that’s a great question. So we have 5.5 million members. These are people that we’re able to correspond with on a weekly, daily basis via SMS or email. It doesn’t include the people who follow us on social. So really our imprint is much, much bigger than 5.5 million. But within that subset of members across 131 different countries, we are, to your point, for sure talking to a very diverse group of people, ethnically, politically, sexually orientation-wise, backgrounds, and interests. It runs the gamut. I think my role is about finding similarities between the subsets of people because I think that’s even more powerful than what makes us different.

For example, I spend a lot of my time facilitating partnerships with lifestyle and teen sites and tech companies, social media platforms. They speak to the masses, and the messaging usually is something around being part of a movement for good. So no matter where you are on the political spectrum, whoever you identify as, if you live in a city or if you don’t, if you were raised with resources or if you weren’t. Whatever your background is, I think still feeling compelled to do something with a community of people, even if you might not know them. I think it’s a really powerful hook that we’ve seen work across the board.

Regarding targeting our marketing efforts, we do some of this as well – so it’s not always an at scale play. It comes down to what the campaign’s call to action is. A great example of a more targeted campaign is one called “Steps for Soldiers” where we partnered with J&J and asked people to take action to generate money for the USO.

I targeted a lot of radio stations andTV stations near military bases in the US. I also targeted a lot of country music stations because in general, country music has a more patriotic tone and messaging. So how could I help get their audience interested in his campaign that could be a really good fit?

But ultimately, I think the more mass-reaching marketing efforts have been the most successful for us in the past.

Q: Can you walk us through a typical campaign planning cycle?

Marissa (DoSomething.org):

Glad to. Understand that everything we do here really comes down to a campaign. The first step starts with the campaign team. These are the experts in getting young people mobilized around a cause. They are going to be thinking about what is happening on a day in the life of a young person. What needs are there that need to be met? How can DoSomething uniquely do that?

A great example is this campaign called “Power to the Period” we did last summer (2016) when on social and kind of across the board politically, we were talking about the period tax; putting a tax on period products. These are not a luxury; it’s a necessity. It’s like a Band-Aid but different. So there was a lot of talk and chatter in the young people world and the news circuits around period products.

In true DoSomething fashion, we also were talking to a lot of shelters and trying to figure out what people experiencing homelessness really need. One thing they were saying is, “You know, DoSomething has had a campaign around collecting jeans for our homeless to use for a very long time, so we are good with jeans. We also have existing channels for food. You know what we really need? We really need pads and tampons for people experiencing homelessness.” We were like, “Oh, wow! OK.”

We can get young people to collect a lot of one specific thing because we’ve done it so many times so why don’t we just ask them to collect these products? It ended up being wildly successful, and we had hosted the largest period product collection drive ever within the US. We ended up with over 50,000 participants who collected and donated 585,965 pieces of period products! But essentially that’s the first step is figuring out the campaign and figuring out a call to action. Then the business development team is looped in – you know, if we’re lucky, get somebody to help us offset the cost of running such a great powerhouse campaign.

When that happens, marketing is brought on to help reach beyond the 5.5-million-member base that we already have, to also get new people in the funnel to take action on this cause. We also have messaging that comes from our SMS and email teams. We have an impact team that runs all these competitions to get people to do more than they ever expected. You know, maybe sign up and think, OK, I can collect like five boxes of tampons. But when you insert a competition, maybe then you feel motivated and collect 500. Who knows?

Then the tech team is obviously looped in, the product team, to make sure that we are optimizing for the best user experience.

Every campaign is all hands on deck. It might start with one team or a lot of research, but it ultimately is touched by every single person at this org.

Q: How long does a campaign typically run once it goes live?

Marissa (DoSomething.org): Usually one to three months. We do think shorter because we want young people to feel urgency so that they don’t keep putting it off. We want somebody to feel like, oh my gosh, if I don’t get this in, if I don’t do this right now, I’m going to miss out.

We build on that FOMO (fear of missing out) and then at the end of the campaign, we like to wrap up the success and ultimately let all the people know who participated what their impact was. We collected X amount of things, or this amount of stats were shared, and this behavioral change was established.

We like to go back and let the members know, and that usually happens within the month after the campaign closes. The full life cycle in an expedited format could be anywhere from two to five months. In a perfect world, it might look like a six-month total process.

But mind you, we are working at about three to five of these at a time. So it’s not like, oh, DoSomething only works on two campaigns a year, each one six months long. It’s a moving timeline for all these things. One month, I might be working on the opening, the middle and the closing phase of three different campaigns. So it’s helpful to have a calendar handy…and your notebook.

About author

Craig Van Korlaar

Craig specializes in strategy, systems, and metrics. He enjoys cross-pollinating ideas from the nonprofit, government, and business sectors (all of which he's worked in). In addition to heading up topnonprofits.com, his passions include technology, books, social causes, and the global church.

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