Nonprofit Marketing: "Making our message relatable and provocative gave us a world wide response"

When our human investment companies (aka nonprofits) say or do something interesting, entertaining or important, we worry about offending donors or supporters. Yet, when we do say something interesting, important or entertaining, that’s what makes people notice and attract like-minded people towards us.

Earlier this year, the Animal Protective Association of Missouri launched its “Grown Ass Adult” campaign. I mentioned this campaign in my book as an example of Courageous Communication. I talked to Sarah Javier, executive director of APA, about the results of the campaign, how they handled the inevitable complaints and what’s next for the campaign.

The campaign shares the joys of adopting an older dog that knows how to behave like, well, a grown ass adult. The campaign included an adoption event on none other than National Puppy Day (ouch!) with grown ass adult dogs and grown ass adult beverages. Way to work a theme, APA! Now I can only imagine the conversations around the board room about the campaign and someone saying, “Why can’t we say ‘grown adult dog,’” or “Do we have to say, ‘ass,’ because what if we offend our older donors?” Fortunately, the campaign survived doubt and a board vote to live on. Here’s what happened.

Sarah said because of the campaign, the waiting time for pets in the shelter dropped by 3.5 days, from over 10 to under 8. Because the campaign highlighted harder to place older dogs, those pups went home in 24-48 hours. Beyond raising adoption rates and lowering time in the adoption center, they received social media attention from all over the country and even internationally. “We received outreach from animal welfare groups and from media. It was hard to keep up with all the attention the campaign generated.”

Despite the happy problem of a campaign generating so much attention she could hardly keep up, Sarah said she wanted to respond to questions and comments herself. “We had to own this and understand why we were doing it.” By addressing comments herself, she showed she was committed to the message.

The number of complainers waving their hankies at the sweat-inducing use of “ass”? Four. And they were easily calmed when Sarah explained the campaign was to save lives and help get dogs adopted. “Not every campaign can appeal to every one, and when they found out the campaign was working, they were ok with it.”

See the magic of Courageous Communication — when we stop making decisions in fear and make them in confidence of our brand, our story and our need to create better outcomes for those we serve! She said that, “Making the message relatable and provocative gave us world wide response.” That’s how hungry we are as audiences to relate to and be entertained by a message. We want the interesting stuff. Let’s have the courage to give those messages.

Now, the APA is noodling with trademarking the campaign and making it available to other animal welfare groups. It is also basking in the glow of some awards.

So, the downside? Four easily handled phone calls. The upside? Improved outcomes, new supporters, adopted dogs and an organization that knows what they can achieve when the communicate with confidence.

If you are reading this and thinking:

  • My board would never go for something like this

  • I bet that costs a lot of money

  • I want to do something cool, but my donors would freak

  • We want to do something like this, we just need a good idea

You are not alone. I see you and feel your struggle. I can help, It is my mission and my life’s passion to help nonprofit organizations communicate with confidence, grace and ease so they too can have amazing outcomes. If you want to talk about how I can help, shoot me and email from the contact button below this post or give me a call at 314-718-0635.

Maryanne Dersch