For the past year, we’ve been working with Shoes that Fit to help them evolve their voice, visual identity, and content strategy to align with the massive growth and success they’ve been experiencing.

Shoes That Fit started in Claremont, California starting from an inspired idea of a concrete and productive action that people could take to directly help a child.  They’re now a national organization coordinating the work of hundreds of groups and helping those groups operate Shoes that Fit’s professional and vetted process. They’re working with big brands now such as Nordstroms and Rackroom, and partnering with famous sports stars such as Chris Paul and NBA teams such as Gregg Popovich’s San Antonio Spurs.

Growing Pains

As they’ve grown both the needs of the organization, and the people it is trying to interact with have changed.  When they started they organized local businesses and worked with regional partners they could work with in person, now they focus on organizing large volunteer groups spread across the nation, groups that the nonprofit’s staff may never meet.  Their content strategy needed to evolve as well to make it easier to engage and convert organized volunteer groups and businesses who want to support the organization.  They are appealing to volunteer groups who can provide some of their own organizational infrastructure and are capable of executing Shoes that Fit’s rigorous process for managing shoe campaigns.

Three elementary aged friends all holding boxes with new shoes in them smilingTheir online visual branding and voice were not just dated, but also poorly representing the impressive growth and evolution of the organization.  They knew that they needed to update their digital marketing so that it didn’t make the organization feel smaller, less well organized, and less professional than they actually are.  The partners who worked with them in person knew that Shoes that Fit was a great partner, and the online brand needed to signal trust and professionalism to those they haven’t yet met.  Soliciting donations online was being hindered as well, due to a complex multistep process that hadn’t been updated in some time.

Like many growing nonprofits, they’d invested in a website technology that took a high degree of technical expertise to maintain and adapt.  Their legacy site was built using the Drupal 6 content management system (CMS).  Updating the CMS was a scary prospect as updating the various plugins and the modules sometimes broke functionality on the website and required a high degree of technical knowledge to gauge the impact of different decisions.  In addition, they didn’t have a quick and easy way to backup the site, restore backups and experiment with changes.  Drupal 6 expertise was also expensive and something they didn’t have on staff.  Like many small nonprofits, they also didn’t have an easy way to comparison or value shop for vendors.  In particular, the hosting vendor for the website wasn’t providing tangible value compared to lower cost options, but they didn’t have a good way to evaluate that internally or migrate to a new vendor if they found a better, cheaper one.  The vendor they were using was charging them a premium rate (~$500/month), but the organization wasn’t getting they type of support that it could really take advantage of.

These technical issues were compounded by having a very unfriendly administrative interface for editing content.  This Drupal 6 editing interface itself was intimidating for staff who only occasionally made edits, the process for making edits to various sections was poorly documented, and this led to the staff not updating the website frequently which made the organization seem far less dynamic than it actually is.

Other tools were also showing their age, a Salesforce integration needed to be updated to keep pace with Salesforce’s security requirements, and the tool they used for sending their newsletter wasn’t keeping pace with advances in that space such as marketing automation.

Plotting a course

When we work with any organization, we first work with them to understand their organization, their competitors, and peers, and the current strategies and goals they are pursuing.  At the start of each engagement, we perform an inventory of all content creation and outreach.  Our inventory revealed that Shoes that Fit was creating a robust amount of content, but that it wasn’t being actively targeted or measured in ways to gain the maximum engagement value.   (They were actually surprised by the amount of content they were already generating!)

After taking stock of things, we conducted a series of onsite and offsite content workshops and strategy sessions to create an Engagement Strategy for their core audiences.  We believe it’s critical to not just have content targeted towards each audience but to also develop a theory of engagement for how each audience can be developed from a casual consumer into an active supporter.  We used, and continue to use, this strong strategic framework to guide decisions about how content is crafted, where it is published, and how it is marketed.

A diverse group of adults who work at one of Shoes That Fit's corporate sponsors, posing with enthusiasm with approximately 100 boxes of shoes they've collected to donateWhile hard dollar costs are always important, having a strong engagement strategy can help identify what the ROI is on staff time as well.  The engagement strategy let us decide how many sections of the website would need to be updated frequently, what content types they wanted to use for marketing on Facebook and in the newsletter, and what might be reasonable costs for 3rd party tools like hosting and email marketing.

The engagement strategy also drove some very technical decisions too, such as how we configured and deployed their new CMS.  We found out that the staff would actually be more productive if they had a discrete set of “blocks” they could use on the new site that let them pick from pre-set combinations of font and background colors, text layouts, and pre-selected images.  In a classic case of less is more, by providing some very strong design guard rails in the CMS, we were able to make a wider group of their staff able to make beautiful and on brand updates to the website.

What’s Next?

The key to a successful engagement strategy is consistent effort.  Audiences are built slowly, brick by brick, nurturing and developing those who agree with you into those who financially support you and take direct efforts on behalf of your mission.  In order to make that more achievable and directly measurable we’re working with Shoes that Fit to identify the discrete quantifiable metrics that impact the success of their engagement efforts.  Clear, actionable data that they can use monthly to evaluate experiments, evolve internal processes and language, and tweak and refine their Search Engine Optimization SEO) strategies are critical to their long-term success.

We at ParsonsTKO deliver this data via our Engagement Platform.  This platform takes raw data from social media, Google Analytics, and other relevant sources and transforms it into actionable business intelligence.  Our Engagement Platform provides customized reports that help evaluate how each audience is interacting with your organization, and where theories of engaging each audience might be improved.   We’ve found that without an Engagement Platform websites and stovepiped marketing efforts become moribund and innovations aren’t shared across the organization.

Contact us if you’d like to learn more about developing an Engagement Platform for your organization.