Call it a digital strategy bootcamp: Digital services firm Message Agency recently launched a professional development program for its nonprofit clients that need a boost of technical know-how.
The agency, a South Street-headquartered B Corp, has always focused on working with nonprofits, which often operate with tight resources. That means they don’t always have the bandwidth to hire out digital strategists. There’s also a gap around how digital skills could be used within their organizations, founders Marcus Iannozzi said.
For several years, Message Agency had been building a set of lessons around what they now call DIG, or the Digital Impact Greenhouse. The capacity-building program for nonprofits and their staff aims to teach them how to develop a digital strategy for use on a real campaign. Participants might apply digital skills to fundraising, boosting brand awareness or putting out a call for volunteers, among other objectives.
“Whatever it is, we’re asking, ‘How do you walk through establishing your goals, thinking about your audience and making decisions about how you’re going to implement this?'” Iannozzi told Technical.ly.
After years of working with an informal curriculum, the company put it together in an official capacity for a months-long cohort with seven nonprofits, including Philadelphia College Prep Roundtable, The Food Trust, Overbrook West Neighbors, EducationWorks other City Year Philadelphia. The program is funded by donations for direct support, and they just wrapped the virtual meetings held regularly since in the fall. During the program, nonprofit leaders worked through a set of lessons and implemented them in ways applicable to their goals.
Marjorie Llacuna Morrissenior director of communications and external relations for City Year, said that while her org has an overall integrated digital communications strategy, DIG supported a targeted campaign to recruit new CYP Americorps members.
“There’s rarely one department for comms or digital, and the development director is also usually a comms director. We really saw a need to train existing staff.”
“Our recruitment campaign recently launched, and we look forward to engaging new audience with our organization,” she said in an email. “And with intentional performance tracking in place, we will be able to make informed digital campaign decisions going forward.”
Iannozzi said each org walked away with something different. One realized they didn’t need a digital strategy so much as a strategy to build partnership with other organizations. Another realized that instead of a brand awareness campaign, they could use technology to “show up” places they hadn’t been before, like different social media platforms or LinkedIn. Most, though, walked away with a better understanding of how to get and use data to inform about their audiences, the founder said.
“Sometimes challenging, often overwhelming, always fun and valuable, it was like having your own consultant to guide you through the creation of a digital campaign,” Overbrook West Neighbors Gregory Allen said in an email. “The learnings were vast. Everything I thought I knew about digital media was turned upside down on his head.”
The idea for DIG was to add capacity to a person and their org, but also create a “community of practice,” Iannozzi said, where there can be ongoing engagement and peer-to-peer support. Organizations walk away with a digital impact plan, a playbook for a digital strategy that its staff create and implement in a real-world campaign.
After a successful first round, Message Agency is looking to do up to three cohorts a year, Iannozzi said. Ideally more than one person from each organization can attend sessions so the knowledge gets “embedded” into the org and expertise isn’t lost if talent gets poached.
“A lot of the challenges with nonprofits is that a lot of people are wearing more than one hat,” Iannozzi said. “There’s rarely one department for comms or digital, and the development director is also usually a comms director. We really saw a need to train existing staff.”
That was key for Carolyn Huckabay, senior associate of communications for The Food Trust. In nonprofit communications, staffers often juggle many projects at once and it can be hard to find the time to be as thoughtful and strategic as they’d like to be, she said.
“DIG allowed us the time and space to really explore our chosen campaign from the inside out,” Huckabay said. “And now that our project is in the early implementation phase, we’re already seeing really positive results.”
If you’re interested in learning more or participating in the DIG program, fill out this form.