The Root Cause Blog
10 Nov

Echo & Co

Over the past eleven years, the Social Innovation Forum has developed a successful model for directing new resources to innovative, results-oriented nonprofits and social enterprises in the Greater Boston and New England area. We have built a strong community of funders, philanthropists and business leaders committed to actively working with us to solve social problems. The success of this model depends heavily on the relationships we build with our in-kind partners. The Social Innovation Forum team recruits a wide range of external partners to provide capacity building services to our nonprofit Social Innovators and we expertly manage this dynamic network of service providers to maximize their time and talent. Echo & Co. a digital strategy provider and a new in-kind partner as of 2013, shares their experience working with three Social Innovators to grow their social impact by expanding their digital capability.

At Echo & Co we work very hard to help our clients carry out their life changing work, which often shifts our attention to some of the most underserved populations and regions throughout the United States and the world. Still, we're a company made of real people who are invested in our families and local communities, places that are not bereft of their own problems and challenges. A little over a year ago, we were given an opportunity too good to pass up. We partnered with Root Cause's Social Innovation Forum (SIF), an organization that's similarly focused on helping other organizations create as much impact as possible, but with some local love. SIF works with groups in Massachusetts to provide strategic consulting and advice on how to grow in actionable and smart ways. They then connect these organizations with the right resources to further accelerate their growth.

We began talking to the SIF team in the winter of 2013 about some of the ways we could partner together to make the best of our collective expertise. We both soon realized that a common thread among the organizations SIF helped was their need for strategic digital planning. Also, most of the organizations are very small and have limited staff time. Often their technology consists of whatever free products are available, and digital strategy is relegated to an afterthought.

It didn't take long for us to agree that this was a logical place for us to step in. But while many organizations in SIF's network were in need of help, both the exact type of help varied as did the "readiness" for these organizations to accept the help. We worked with the SIF team to design an application that would be used to source the organizations most likely to benefit from our expertise. After reviewing the applications, we decided to work with three organizations where we believed we could make the most meaningful impact: Science Club for Girls, My Life, My Choice, and Hearth.

With Science Club for Girls (SCFG), we encountered a very healthy digital program. They had a quality email list with positive engagement, a suitable website, and a strong social presence (not to mention an awesome mission). But because of their limited staff capacity and the extent of their programs, they struggled with organizing their online work into an overarching vision and strategy. They admitted that much of their work was tactical, which limited their ability to engage with some key constituencies online.

We started our work with SCFG by meeting with a small team of their staff who are involved with their outreach and online engagement. We discussed what they were currently doing, challenges around capacity and overarching strategy, and where their online success would lead them. After this meeting, we came away with a list of strategic and tactical goals, but needed to dig into their analytics and review their content before we could make specific recommendations towards achieving those goals.

Our audit of SCFG's website, email program, and social media presence turned up some low-hanging fruit for areas to improve, as well as some longer-term projects that SCFG could tackle down the road. We also learned about which content triggers the best response from SCFG's target audience.

We discussed the audit findings and our recommendations for new strategies and tactics with the SCFG team and came up with a list of next steps for our work together. This included some specific guidelines around content calendars, as well as setting up a new email welcome series for their email subscribers. SCFG also came away with some ideas for how to better gather stories from their programs, and how to use their online platform to engage with participants and supporters around events, both virtual and on the ground.

Our work with SCFG was marked by the collaborative nature of the project, and the SCFG team's willingness and excitement to try new things. They really got their hands dirty with interesting online experiments, reflecting the spirit they instill in girls through their programs.

My Life My Choice (MLMC) is an organization that aims to end commercial sexual exploitation of adolescents in the Greater Boston area. Their needs were around finding the right tools to build a foundation for their organization and then best positioning themselves and their work. For example, MLMC's "website" was simply a page on their parent organization's site. They didn't have a consistent brand when it came to their logo, tagline, and visual design.

It was clear that MLMC needed a new website, but we wanted to offer them much more. We talked through MLMC's digital requirements and ultimately suggested they go with an all-in-one engagement platform to manage their website, communication tools, and customer relationships. They have a small staff and don't have the budget to support integrations between separate tools. Together we chose NationBuilder, which is a hosted platform that does all of the above and is inexpensive and easy to use. This meant they could manage their website content, send emails, update social media, manage events, and store contacts all in one place-a boon for any small nonprofit trying to increase its outreach.

One of the biggest challenges that MLMC faces is helping their potential audience understand what the organization does and why it should matter to them. Let's face it, it is not easy to think about teenage prostitution happening so close to home. We set out to make their mission clearer through better branding and visual design. Our strategy team led them through an exploration of new taglines after which we ultimately landed on: "Empowering Youth. Ending Exploitation." Our creative team then developed a powerful new logo and visual design for the website that supports their brand by clearly communicating strength and change. We also placed MLMC's mission statement and programs front and center on the home page. With these changes, it would be difficult for anyone who visits their new website to be confused about the nature and importance of MLMC's work.

Our third engagement was with Hearth Home, a Boston-based nonprofit providing resources and housing for elderly homeless individuals. Because of their significantly limited capacity, we realized that they weren't quite ready for a large, or even medium-sized, engagement. Instead we held two strategic planning meetings with their team to simply talk about their current state and offer some best practices using email and social media to engage with their audiences online. The thinking here was this would be a good springboard for them to take a few steps and then further down the road, they could come back to us for some specific projects.

The help we offered these three organizations was different, but the consistent thread was that they all were in a place to think about their digital work in some new way. Their ability to implement and do different things online varied, but nevertheless, we were happy to help provide some new ways of thinking about online engagement. We're excited to see these organizations push their work to the next level and extremely excited about continuing our partnership with the Social Innovation Forum!