Whiteboarding a Better World: A Case Study

Issue 31

Chattanooga-based digital firm Whiteboard makes a point of working for clients who, according to its website, “stand for social justice and believe in the common good.”

Whiteboard director of growth Stephen Van Gorp puts it this way: “The heartbeat of our organization is working toward making the world that ought to be.” He describes Whiteboard’s ideal client as “for-purpose.” “These are organizations that prioritize people, product, and profit, in that order,” he says.

Illustrations by Sarah Neuburger

One of those organizations is Preemptive Love Coalition (PLC). A self-described “global community of peacemakers,” PLC provides healthcare, food, shelter, education, and small-business empowerment to child and adult refugees from around the world.

In 2016 the coalition focused its relief efforts on the refugee crisis in war-torn countries like Syria and Iraq. PLC connected with Whiteboard last summer in search of a digital strategy to help them attract new donors and increase monthly sponsorships.

Their ultimate goal: to provide critical, life-saving resources to as many refugees as possible before the end of the calendar year.

Digging for data gold

Nick Blackmon, lead growth hacker at Whiteboard, believes in the power of data to provide insight into key — and often overlooked — digital marketing opportunities. So when he was asked to spearhead a digital strategy for Preemptive Love Coalition, he launched a data-mining expedition.

He dug into PLC’s web analytics. He analyzed their email and social media metrics. He spent time on the phone with staff, talking to everyone from their director of operations to development officers.

Blackmon and his team also analyzed PLC’s content, and they were impressed with what they found. PLC director of communications Ben Irwin had implemented a robust content marketing program the previous year, and it was working well.

But, Van Gorp said, PLC struggled to communicate its “mission and heart” in a concise way to new prospects. “We found that one of the things we could help with right away was succinctly describing their work to a new audience.”

Meanwhile, Blackmon discovered opportunities for PLC to improve its mobile user experience. “We found that 65 percent of their traffic was coming from mobile devices,” Blackmon says. “Yet only 12 percent of their online donations were happening on mobile.” Blackmon believed some mobile- and conversion-optimization techniques could help bring in more donations.

The third, and perhaps biggest, opportunity Whiteboard discovered was in email. Although PLC’s content strategy was thriving on its blog and in social media, it was struggling in email, where its open and click rates consistently lagged behind the industry average. This led Whiteboard to focus on three clear strategies:

  1. Craft a powerful, succinct story of PLC’s purpose and mission for first-time prospects.
  2. Improve the mobile user experience and optimize it for conversions.
  3. Implement an automated email welcome series to onboard new prospects and convert them into first-time and recurring donors.

Putting the (right) pieces in place

As Whiteboard got to work, it discovered that PLC’s incumbent content management and customer relationship management (CRM) platform had some usability and performance shortcomings. They recommended migrating all of PLC’s pertinent CRM data into MailChimp, which would smooth efforts to optimize the mobile site, make creating a compelling automation series a breeze, and allow for highly targeted, thoughtfully segmented campaigns.

PLC agreed to the plan. According to Blackmon, this led to a couple other “quick wins,” because it allowed his team to add abandoned cart messaging and transactional thank you emails for a gift catalog Whiteboard had recently built on Shopify for PLC.

“We were really trying to balance our larger, long-term goals with finding ways to add value immediately, and MailChimp made doing that easier.”

Next, Whiteboard set its sights on the centerpiece of its digital strategy: the 6-email welcome series. Whiteboard content strategist Lindsey Gaff wrote the series in close collaboration with the PLC editorial team, crafting an emotionally resonant story arc that introduced PLC and explained its mission and programs. The series culminated in 2 final emails that made compelling calls-to-action concerning the humanitarian crises in Aleppo, Syria, and Mosul, Iraq.

Whiteboard set up the automation to send out the 6 emails over the course of 3 weeks. It also added tasteful pop-up email capture boxes to PLC website’s home page and blog.

Meanwhile, Whiteboard’s development team optimized the site for mobile use, making it easy for visitors who arrived via social media to navigate, engage, and sign up for the email list.

Playing the waiting game

Every digital marketer knows that results don’t happen overnight. Therefore, every digital marketer knows what it’s like to calm the nerves of clients who are eager to see a return on their investment.

“I had a couple of hard conversations with one of PLC’s vice presidents,” Blackmon says. “He would ask how the emails were going, and why we hadn’t seen results yet. I explained to him that it takes time to get the right people into the list; that you have to keep engaging the audience; that it’s a 3-week series.”

This waiting game is especially difficult when your client is a nonprofit organization that answers to a board of directors for every marketing dollar spent.

“You are essentially spending people’s donation money,” Blackmon points out. “So you feel a strong sense of stewardship. And you feel it a lot more when you’re working for a mission you really believe in.”

Eventually Blackmon was able to export CRM data that delivered the kind of good news that every marketer loves to share with his client: The email series produced a 40 percent overall open rate and a 6 percent click rate — both far above industry averages.

Even more impressive, 41 percent of new subscribers — that is, people who joined the PLC mailing list via the capture boxes Whiteboard added to its website — became donors. “That was one of the things that I needed to be able to prove to PLC’s leadership the value of this work,” Blackmon says. “To be able to show that these new donors were new users in MailChimp who had not previously existed in their CRM in any capacity, and who had never donated before — that was huge.”

Director of Growth, Stephen Van Gorp, at Whiteboard’s office in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

‘Flipping out with excitement’

The good news didn’t stop there. In all, Preemptive Love Coalition saw an 800 percent return on its investment of time and materials into the campaign. “That was definitely awesome to be able to report,” Blackmon says.

To put the impact of the campaign into perspective, Blackmon says that the funds generated by Whiteboard’s work — which also included some social media advertising on Facebook — were enough to provide care for 60,000-plus refugees.

For a company like Whiteboard, whose stated purpose is to increase the greater good in the world, this was more than a marketing win — it was a spiritual win.

“We were all flipping out a bit with excitement at how well things went,” Blackmon says. “It’s exactly the kind of outcome that Whiteboard exists to create.”

Van Gorp agrees. “We are really interested in how what we do ultimately shapes society. So this project and what it accomplished means a lot to us not only as a company, but as human beings.”


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