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As a newcomer to the EA community, I’m surprised by how rarely EAs talk about marketing and organizational growth. As a marketer myself, maybe it's just a matter of me over-expecting people to give more importance to the matter, but even so, I'm confident that there are good reasons to talk more about it. 

First, according to this survey run by User-Friendly in February 2022, 72% of EA organization leaders said that effective marketing significantly helped their organization to achieve its objectives. I haven't conducted a survey myself, but the dozens of conversations I’ve had with professionals and founders in the EA movement support this statement. 

Another good reason is that EA organizations need a minimum degree of awareness to raise funds to achieve their goals. Of course, networking is important, but how scalable is it? Since creating awareness is one of the main marketing premises, EA organizations should consider using it more effectively.

So the question I've been wondering is: why? 

Why don’t people in the EA community talk that much about growth loops, retention, and marketing in general? Talking to colleagues in the community, I'm able to see a pattern in the main reasons that EAs are resistant to marketing. 

So my objective with this article is not only to explain what marketing is and provide a roadmap with practical tips that make sense for EA organizations but also to address some of these objections. Hopefully, this will at least get you thinking a bit about the value marketing could bring to your organization.

Please feel free to share your thoughts and criticisms in the comments section, as I'd like to hear them so that I can improve this post to make it more useful.

If you are convinced of the importance of marketing and are just looking for a roadmap, I recommend jumping straight to the section "A useful marketing framework for EA organizations." 

You may also be in a situation in which you have been running marketing campaigns for a while but facing some operations issues (misalignment of strategies, missing deadlines, idleness, etc.). In this case, the section "How to be prepared for operational success" may be particularly useful for you. 

Lastly, it's important to note that I will focus on marketing for EA organizations, not the marketing of the effective altruism movement itself. If you're interested in the latter, I recommend this post on making effective altruism enormous, this one on keeping EA welcoming, and this one on movement course corrections.

Addressing some marketing misconceptions I've seen among EAs

Misconception #1: Marketing is all about persuasion.

Some EAs are suspicious of marketing because they think that it’s all about persuading people to agree with you, rather than impartially seeking the truth. If used ethically, persuasion can indeed be a vital tool for marketing. However, an effective marketing strategy goes way beyond persuasion—channel optimizations, user journey, targeting, and many other things we do in marketing are important for growth but don't involve persuasion at all. 

Misconception #2: Logical arguments are enough to attract people.

Some EAs think that there's no need to market EA organizations because the right people will be attracted by logical arguments alone. I deeply wish this were the case, but unfortunately, it's not. There is plenty of research showing that emotions play a huge role in our daily decisions. In my experience, telling a compelling story is one of the greatest and most time-tested ways to encourage people to act—even if those people are part of an audience that highly values logic. 

Misconception #3: Marketing destroys the organization's reputation among EAs.

If done wrong, yes, but this shouldn't be an impediment. The messaging of your marketing should be carefully crafted to avoid this scenario, especially if you still don't know your target audience in detail—what they think, how they act, and where they are.

Misconception #4: Marketing is not effective because EAs are mostly averse to it.

The idea is that marketing will backfire because many EAs are put off by marketing, and I tend to agree with this (when it comes to EAs in particular). However, the fact that marketing is less effective with a particular audience doesn’t eliminate the need for it. First, even if marketing is less effective with EAs than with the general public, it still plays an important role in the organization's growth, and second, you can target multiple audiences (not only EAs). 

Misconception #5: Marketing is expensive, and we should spend our money on more meaningful things.

Some see marketing as an unnecessary luxury. However, unless you're at a very early stage where your initial users come from the founder's network or the EA community itself, marketing will be the main driver of growth, so it’s not right to deem it unimportant. Marketing shouldn’t be considered a bonus to be utilized only when there’s extra cash. If you want your organization to have more impact, it should always be considered in the overall strategy.

Misconception #6: It's impossible to measure the direct impact of marketing.

Some people worry that marketing could be a waste of money since it’s impossible to measure its direct impact. However, in my experience, measuring the impact of marketing is hard but not impossible. It’s often difficult because organizations don’t define clear Key Performance Indicators prior to running campaigns, and, when they do, the technical setup is not correct. If you’ve been doing marketing for your organization but don’t know how to measure its impact, I would be glad to help. 

What is marketing, and why is it essential for EA organizations?

Simply put, marketing is the science of connecting people's needs to in-market available solutions. 

It's important to notice that the "needs" I'm talking about are not necessarily material. Indeed, human needs extend far beyond material possessions.

Source: https://www.clearerthinking.org/post/what-are-all-the-things-that-humans-need

Understanding this definition is particularly important for EA organizations because it makes clear that, to do marketing effectively, you need to understand the needs of your target audience on an individual level. What are their goals in life? How do they pursue these goals? What challenges they have through that pursuit?

Another reason I like this simplified definition is that it doesn't specify how marketing should be done; therefore, it doesn't limit marketing to branding, advertising, cold outreach, or anything else. These are important aspects under the "marketing umbrella", but none of them individually is enough to build an effective marketing strategy.

Talking about effectiveness, it's important to clarify that it can mean different things for different organizations, but for marketers, it usually refers to earning more than you spend, so you can pay the fixed costs of your organization's operations while keeping the investments to reach and help more people - in technical terms we say this means positive ROI (Return On Investment).

Of course, there are other important metrics that can be measured by marketers, but they will only matter in the long run if the organization has a positive (or at least neutral) return on investment, whether that’s donations, sales, or anything else that generates funds to deliver value. 

A useful marketing framework for EA organizations

There are dozens of good frameworks out there. The one I’ve chosen to present and explore is a mix of the traditional Marketing Funnel and 4 Ps, with some enhancements and adaptations based on my 10+ years of experience as a marketer. 

This framework is separated into three pillars: attention, conversion, and retention.

1) Attention

No matter how effective and research-backed your solution is, people can’t know about it if they aren’t aware it exists. As the old saying goes, "Only who is seen is remembered". 

And that's why Attention is the first pillar of my framework. If you want to grow, you need attention, and contrary to what many people think, having a good argument is not enough to get it—unless you are lucky enough to be featured or cited by someone influential, which is rare and not scalable.

Maybe this sounds obvious, but it astonishes me how many amazing organizations out there don't put effort into being seen. They spend tons of resources doing research, developing smart solutions, attending conferences, and discussing ideas in meetings, but much of these efforts remain unseen by the general public, either because nobody takes responsibility for publicizing them, or out of fear of appearing “too marketing-focussed.” 

Attention can be categorized into two parts:

Being in the right place

To be in the right place, you need to understand not only who your audience is, but how and where they consume information. When I used to work with business clients, after hearing hundreds of times statements like  "Oh, but my clients are not on Instagram", I came up with a standard answer. 

"Instagram has over two billion users in the world—25% of the global population has an account on Instagram. What are the odds that your potential customer is not using Instagram? Maybe they are not using it to search for business software or car insurance, but surely they are there—and by using the right argument, maybe you can grab their attention.”

Fortunately, experimenting with multiple channels at once is very cheap and fast nowadays, so there's no need to guess or spend weeks discussing what the right channel is

To understand where your audience is, I recommend exploring as many channels as possible. Of course, there are hundreds of potential channels out there, so my suggestion is to start with these:

  • Ads
    • Social media (Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and LinkedIn)
    • Google (Search, Display, and Youtube)
    • Outbrain (very similar to Google Display Ads but more seamlessly integrated with the websites on which the banners are being displayed)
  • Content-related channels
    • Blog (focused on SEO)
    • Social media posting
    • Podcast
  • Email marketing
    • Your own mailing list
    • Partnerships with other organizations
    • Sponsoring niche newsletters
  • Co-marketing (producing content with another organization)
  • Referrals (asking for mentions in media outlets, blogs, and social media)
  • Niche in-person events 

Communicating your message well - the AIDA framework

Part of being effective in terms of attention is, of course, how you're communicating. There are a ton of copywriting frameworks out there, but the one I have found most useful and easy to put into practice is the AIDA.

The AIDA model is a well-known, classic marketing model used to describe the stages a person typically goes through in an economic decision process. The acronym stands for Attention, Interest, Desire, and Action.

  1. Attention: The initial stage involves grabbing the potential customer's attention. In copywriting, this might involve using a catchy headline or a striking image. The idea is to make the reader stop and take notice, so your message needs to stand out.
  2. Interest: Once you've caught the reader's attention, the next step is to pique their interest by talking about the benefits of the product or service. You want to make it clear what problem your product solves or what need it fulfills.
  3. Desire: This stage is about turning a lukewarm interest into a strong desire to possess your product. This often involves painting a vivid picture of how much better things will be with the product in the reader's life. It's not just about the features of your product; it's about the transformation your product can provide.
  4. Action: This is the final step, where you want to encourage the reader to take immediate action. This is often done with a strong, clear call to action, possibly including a sense of urgency or a limited-time offer.

For instance, this is how an EA organization funded by donations could use this framework:

  1. Attention: The charity might launch a social media campaign featuring gripping images or videos that highlight the cause they're working on. This could include stories from people who have been helped by the charity's work.
  2. Interest: Once the charity has the attention of potential donors, the next step is to stimulate their interest. This could involve providing more information about the cause and the charity's work, such as how many people have been helped, or what specific projects their donations would fund. In-depth stories or case studies, interviews with experts, or statistical data could all be used to maintain and deepen interest in the cause.
  3. Desire: The next stage is creating a desire to contribute to the cause. This could involve showing the potential donors the difference their donation could make. For example, a campaign could detail what impact a $10 donation could provide. Testimonials from past donors who have seen the impact of their donations could also be used. This is particularly important for EA organizations, since they usually make smaller claims relative to other organizations that are less concerned with the truth. 
  4. Action: The final stage of the AIDA framework is to guide the potential donors towards taking action, which in this case would be making a donation. This could involve making it easy for people to donate, for example by having a 'Donate Now' button on the charity's website, or sending out emails with a direct link to the donation page. The charity could also encourage regular donations by setting up a subscription-based donation model.

By using AIDA, you have a starting point. But how do you know what is the right message for your audience? You guessed it: by experimenting. 

Thankfully, on most ad platforms, you can test different descriptions and Calls To Action (CTAs), then measure which one has a higher click-through rate (a metric that suggests the persuasiveness of a piece). This can also be done through other channels, such as SEO and partnerships: just make sure you plan how to track it.

2) Conversion (making your audience take action)

Once you have traffic, the next question is: how do I get new users or visitors to do what I want them to do?

Most of the time, ‘conversion’ means converting a visitor into a contact (sometimes referred to as "a lead"), a contact into a customer, or both. That's why it's common to see reports with the conversion rate per phase of your funnel.

Regardless of what conversion means in your case, it's important to measure and optimize it regularly. Here are a few examples:

  • Impressions to clicks: you can try to get more clicks by working on different creative assets such as titles, images, videos, etc.
  • Visits to leads: putting calls-to-action with a persuasive message in strategic places on your website.
  • Leads to customers/donors: building an effective user journey with customized content and strategic touch points.
  • Customers/donors to recommendations: encourage satisfied customers to recommend your organization by making the process easy for them. 

Since conversion rates can be influenced by many factors (e.g. copywriting, technical bugs, misleading information, etc.) I like the idea of having a monthly meeting to strictly discuss this. The guiding question should be "How can we increase the conversion at each phase of our customer's journey?". 

3) Retention 

Your retention dictates the value a customer brings to your organization, not only during the initial interaction but also over time. Retention is important not only because it’s a signal of satisfaction with  what you offer but also because it significantly increases the Return On Investment (ROI)  of your marketing efforts. 

For instance, imagine that you're running a campaign for funds, and you have to spend $100 to acquire a donor (known as Client Acquisition Cost, or CAC), who will donate $50. Without considering retention, you may think that the return  doesn’t justify the cost and therefore quickly give up. But now imagine that after receiving some custom emails with the impact your organization has been having, this same donor will donate 3 more times the following year, summing to a total donation of $200 (known as a Lifetime Value, or LTV, of $200). 

The cost to acquire this donor is still $100, but over time they’ll donate $200. Now you have an ROI of 2 (LTV / CAC), which is quite good for most organizations. 

This is how retention can change the game.

Out of all of the pillars in this framework, retention is the one that will vary most according to each project. That's because the profile of your targeted audience, average spend, nature of the product, etc. will all play a role in how you retain users.

But the key message is: you must proactively think about retention, since it can literally save your operation. Here are a few examples of triggers you can use to retain your users/donors/customers:

  • Email marketing automated campaigns
  • Email marketing (newsletters)
  • Local and online events
  • Industry benchmarks
  • Content (Blog, YouTube, etc.)
  • Social media retargeting
  • Push notifications
  • Actively calling engaged users

Of course, these are only suggestions based on my experience; they don't replace insights you might gather by interviewing and really understanding your audience.

How to choose what to focus on

The best scenario would be to focus on all three of these pillars at once. But since this might be unrealistic for most EAs organizations (due to limited resources and hands), here is a quick guide on what to focus on:

  • If you don't have traffic, focus on obtaining it by exploring different channels. 
  • If you have traffic, but no conversion, ensure that you set the correct triggers on your website to make people act the way you want.   
  • If you have traffic and conversion but lack retention, increase the frequency of touch points you have through email marketing, re-targeting, and the other triggers suggested above. 

Although it's impossible to have conversion without traffic, I've observed organizations with retention yet without traffic or conversion. For instance, recently I talked to an organization that received a number of donors at an event three months ago, and these donors were still providing the resources to run the organization.

This is a dangerous situation to be in because it means this organization is over-dependent on those few donors. If you want it to last, your organization should always have new traffic and conversion flowing in. 

How to prepare for operational success 

Marketing is a process, not a project, and many of its benefits manifest in the long term. Unfortunately, I've seen many organizations getting stuck with their marketing efforts because of some operational issues. So here are a few guidelines I suggest adopting in your organization. 

First, it's important to frame marketing as a learning process, not a "one-shot" attempt to make it work. Having this mindset will not only help your organization find the right strategy but also prevent the team and stakeholders from losing faith in marketing when things don't go as expected, especially during the first experiments.

Literally every successful marketing team I know runs marketing as a kind of infinite loop of PDCA (plan, do, check, act). 

Another good practice is to establish clear communication guidelines beforehand. This should include brand messaging (what do we want to communicate as a brand?) and quality standards (what is quality for us and what level of quality is expected?).

Having these things defined prior to running a campaign will allow tasks to flow more easily and ensure quicker turnaround times—for instance, your team won’t need to wait two weeks for someone to approve which specific term to use or which shade of blue is prettier. 

Lastly, try to set at most a monthly meeting to share the results and brainstorm insights with your team. Make it a ritual in which everyone can share their perspectives and suggest changes AFTER the results have been presented so that everyone knows what has been working or not before suggesting further actions. 

Final thoughts 

Remember, marketing is a process, not a project. Although it sounds less poetic, success in this field is the result of many failed and successful attempts, which are worth pursuing because of the overall outcome they generate. 

I sincerely hope that this article clarifies and gives a roadmap for EA organizations, so they can be more effective not only in their solutions but also in their growth and expansion. Please let me know what you think in the comments! I’m eager to improve my own marketing viewpoint based on your thoughts, questions, and other considerations. 

Sorted by Click to highlight new comments since:

You write:

"Now you have an ROI of 2 (LTV / CAC), which is quite good for most organizations."

Note, in the case where the client may have donated to some other organization, the impact of this marketing is:

LTV x IE1 - LTV x IE2 - CAC

Where IE1 is the impact efficiency of what you are fundraising for IE2 is the counterfactual impact efficiency of what the customer would have donated to, and CAC is client acquisition cost.

I think what you are missing is that EA's are fundraising to make a better world, not to grow their organization at the expense of other organizations, necessarily. Thus they want to grow the EA movement, while not having their cause area compete with other highly impactful cause areas. You do not seem to be considering this perpective in your marketing tutorial.

I hope you find this comment useful in customizing your advice to the EA context.

Thanks, Robert! Your comment made me think. If I understand your point correctly, marketing would be a problem if it is used to grow at the expense of other organizations - and I agree with you on that. However, I only can see this happening is if two or more organizations target the same audience, which I think is unlikely and avoidable in most cases. Do you think my reasoning makes sense? 

Thanks for taking the effort Igor, the space definitely needs good thinkers in marketing and messaging for knowledge translation and impact!

I've spent quite a bit of time thinking about marketing over the past few weeks and found this really interesting. I think it will help me refine my thinking around our org's marketing strategy, thanks for sharing it!

I'm happy to know! That was the goal. :) 

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