AdvoTalk: Inside the ACLU – Digital campaigns with Joe Coakley

Sarah Durham (00:04):

Hello, everybody and happy Friday. I am Sarah Durham and I am very excited you are here. You can see I’m joined by Joe Coakley. I’ll be introducing Joe in a second and also Theresa Gutierrez Jacobs who’s a member of the Advomatic team. A couple of pieces of housekeeping before we get into things: Theresa is here to help with a number of things. If you are struggling with GoToWebinar, you can email and Theresa will be keeping an eye on that and help you with tech issues. She’s also going to be monitoring our conversation and she’ll be helping us by chatting out resources that get mentioned or things like that along the way. So thank you, Theresa. We are recording today’s conversation and we’ll be posting the recording along with the transcript on the Advomatic website probably early next week. So if you want to share it with other people on your team, you’ll be able to do that.


Sarah Durham (00:55):

Just check out probably on Monday or Tuesday it’ll be live. Also, because Joe has so many great things to tell us about we’re not doing this in traditional webinar format. This is more like a conversation between me and Joe. So if you can see us on camera, you are good. There are moments where Joe’s going to share his screen and share some resources, but we’re not going to have slides through the whole thing. So feel free, if you like, to put us on your headphones, walk around and stretch and, and enjoy a little time where you don’t have to be looking at the screen the whole time. Okay. You should see in GoToWebinar, a little chat tool or Q & A tool. I encourage you as we go to chat in any questions you have for Joe. I’m going to be asking him questions that I’ve prepared, but I’m also going to be monitoring your questions.


Sarah Durham (01:48):

And I will try to weave them into our discussion either as we’re talking or at the very end. And I also love hearing where everybody is right now, where people are coming from both your organization and geographically. So feel free to chat in where you are and who you are. And thank you for joining us. So just to dig into a little bit about what we’re doing here I’m Sarah Durham, I’m the chief executive officer at Advomatic. Advomatic is a company that builds and maintains websites in Drupal and WordPress for nonprofit organizations. And I also have a lot of years of running Big Duck, which is a communications firm that works exclusively with nonprofits to help them build strong brands, strong campaigns, and strong teams, and both Advomatic and Big Duck have worked with the ACLU.


Sarah Durham (02:42):

So I’m really delighted to have Joe here today because they are an awesome organization and Joe is doing some awesome work. So now let’s get into the substance of it. So Joe is the Director of Digital Campaigns at the ACLU, and he’s been at ACLU nearly three years. He’s been working in the nonprofit sector and with agencies that consult with nonprofits for about 20 years. So he’s got really deep expertise in this topic. He’s worked at Clean Water Action, the Food Bank for New York City and many other places. Joe, thank you for joining us.


Joe Coakley (03:16):

Yeah, Sarah, it’s great to be here. I’m excited to talk to folks and I mean, there’s a lot happening, so I think we’ve got a lot to talk about. But yeah, I’m excited to be here.


Sarah Durham (03:28):

Yep. And we’ve got all kinds of people who are just chatting in. We’ve got people from the Shriver Center on Poverty Law in Chicago, which is a great organization. Shout out to you at Shriver Center. We’ve got people from Buffalo, from New York City, from Berkeley, California, people calling in from all over the place. So Joe, let’s start by talking a little bit about your job. What does it mean to be the Director of Digital Campaigns at the ACLU? What do you actually do as a digital campaign person?


Joe Coakley (03:54):

Great question. It runs the gamut. I think we, but you know, I can share something too if we want to take a look at that. But you know, the director of digital campaigns, my team we run advocacy engagement and fundraising campaigns for the nationwide ACLU. And primarily we focus on the digital campaigns team. We oversee our national email list or broadcast SNS list and partner really closely with our social emergency team and our paid media team to amplify those campaigns. And for the, for the goals of you know, pushing forward our advocacy goals and engaging supporters on them. And fundraising is a big priority for the team as well. But yeah, so, so that’s it in a nutshell what we’re doing on the campaign team.


Sarah Durham (04:57):

Yeah. And I know you’ve got, I, I’m always curious to see how different departments are structured. So I asked you if you would bring along like a little department chart or something that would give us a sense of how big the team is and what kind of roles they’re in. So do you mind just bringing that up on screen and maybe just very high level talking about that? I, you know, the one thing that I think is, is certainly the case is that your team is a lot bigger than the teams of a lot of people here. So it’d be interesting to also hear any thoughts you have. Like if you’re in an organization with a much smaller comms team, much smaller development team, what you think the essential seats are for running effective campaigns.


Joe Coakley (05:34):

Totally. So let me just give a little context too. I think ACLU restructured about a year ago and actually had our first digital only department which didn’t exist previously within the communications department. And within the restructure, we brought together teams from communications, from our technology team, from our development team. ACLU is a nationwide organization and we’ve got 50 plus affiliates across the country. And we have a team that I’ll talk about when they show the work chart that also services the affiliate and nationwide initiatives. And so, this was a really big, I think, change for the organization involved a lot of departments and, showed the investment that the organization is making in digital and prioritizing it and making it its own department bringing together all these sort of different functions and goals that I talked about.


Joe Coakley (06:40):

So let’s see, I can pull up here a org chart for you. So you can see what this looks like. And so you can see at the top here, this is sort of the new shortcut of the digital team. So there’s sort of two halves to our department. There’s digital and there’s tech. I’m just going to show the digital one for now. But we split up into two halves. So at the top we have a chief product and digital officer. You are supported by a special assistant who also serves our chief analytics officer over there. And analytics is a sort of third department in this super digital tech analytics department on the digital side. Like I said, we sort of split into two halves and there’s sort of like this growth sort of like acquisition retention side, and then engagement on the right side of the screen.


Joe Coakley (07:48):

And so the digital campaigns team, there’s the director on the team, we’ve got a couple of folks that are strategists on the team focused on engagement and content. So I’m thinking about the cadence and the tactics on the engagement side and doing a lot of copywriting and content development with the content strategist. There’s a deputy director on the team who has two folks reporting into them that are both national digital campaigners doing a lot of production like digital production for email forms for all the campaigns that we’re pushing out. And then we have an affiliate digital campaigns manager who also has two other digital campaigns under them. And that’s how the team, so even our team has sort of broken up into two halves and we work nationally on a lot of, like I said, national, you know, advocacy, engagement, fundraising campaigns to engage in, bring our supporters along and move forward our objectives for the organization.


Joe Coakley (08:53):

And then on the affiliate side, we almost have a service model where we have, you know, like I said, 50 plus affiliates across the country. The affiliate team is actually, we’ve got a couple of tiers of affiliates, but we produce a lot of their email campaigns and forms for them. And we have a whole in-house team to help produce and get those campaigns out for like around 40 plus affiliates. And we’ve got another 15 or so that are you know, have enough capacity and skill in-house to sort of produce their own, but we still QA it for them. That’s like a quick snapshot of, of our team. And I can say really quickly just sort of like how we interact with the other teams.


Sarah Durham (09:38):

Yeah. And we have a, we have, I’d love you to speak to that. And also we’ve got a question about that. I think you could address too, which is that somebody chatted in that it looks like the sub teams are very channels focused. How do you maintain continuity and strategy and messaging across them? So that speaks, you know, to how you work with other teams and how do you collaborate to break down divisions?


Joe Coakley (09:59):

Yeah, that’s a great question. So, you know, the sort of growth side, we’ve got a team of one who’s newer and focused on really just all of our paid digital advertising, our social and merged team. I’m working on all of our great organic social networks. I mean, you know, if you follow us on Twitter, it’s like a real time feed of everything that we’re working on. And they’re working really closely with a lot of different departments to put all that out. On the right side, the engagement side is, you know, we’ve got folks on the content team and content strategy where they’re doing medium and longer form content for the web. So a lot of the articles and long form like feature stories that we push out, come through that team. Multimedia is putting together an amazing video and podcasts from our in-house creative team. They’re doing a lot of graphic design and supporting all the work that we push out across all the channels. And then our digital production team is overseeing the website. 


Joe Coakley (11:04):

It’s a lot of people, it’s a lot of moving parts. And we’re just digital, right? Like we, you know, the work that we’re doing is in concert with, and, almost helping in service with our communications department, our development department, our national political, political advocacy department and our legal department, right. I mean, like we’re basically a big civil rights offer. So it’s a lot of moving pieces. We’ve got even just within digital, we come together regularly twice a week with the different managers on the team to talk to calendars, talking priorities, you know, things are shifting constantly and there’s a lot of meetings. But within digital, you know, even as a new department, we’re very open, I think, to the fact that if something doesn’t work, let’s try something else.


Joe Coakley (12:01):

You know, I think that’s the really important part of being able to not lock yourself in. We’ve got this meeting, we do it every Wednesday at noon, everyone goes through and we just show up and know if it’s not working, then it’s not working. And you need to be like, open to saying that. And then, and then trying different structures to collaborate. And so, you know, we’re doing that. We’re doing that constantly. And it’s not just within digital. If you’ve developed like other organizations where you maybe focus on one or two or three core issues, you know, running the gamut of issues. So we’ve developed these sort of messaging working groups. And then we pull in folks from literally every department to be within them and come together every other week and focus on, you know, immigrants rights, LGBTQ plus rights, criminal justice voting, privacy and technology. But yeah, it’s a central meeting place for us to talk through what’s happening, you know on the advocacy side, on the legal side. Okay. What does that mean? Based on these priorities, how, you know, what’s the messaging priorities, how are we going to move the audience? Like those are spaces that we’ve created to collaborate for that reason.


Sarah Durham (13:27):

So I know people are very eager to sort of see how that comes to life. And one of the things that I asked Joe to tee up for us is what a typical campaign looks like. And I want to own the fact that, you know, when it’s in Joe’s team and when you work in a large organization that the ability to have all these people on your team, the ability to do things like the central messaging groups and the ability to cross collaborate is obviously really different than it is in a small organization. But I think it’s really inspiring to see the work that the team produces. And so Joe, I’m going to ask you to sort of tee up and talk us through quickly what a typical campaign looks like.


Sarah Durham (14:10):

And I also want to flag for those of you who work in much smaller organizations that my colleagues at Big Duck and I co-authored an ebook that is free about structures of nonprofit communications teams. I’m just going to chat that out right now. So, so if you’re thinking about how to structure your communications team in a smaller shop, or even in a large shop that ebook has some more resources about and best practices around structuring in-house teams. But Joe, can you talk us through what a typical campaign looks like for you or show us, show us one?


Joe Coakley (14:43):

Yeah, I can, I can bring one up too. And I, you know yeah, it’s easy to stand here and say, yeah, we’ve got these meetings and very, I mean, it’s messy, like everywhere else. It’s not like, you know, like we’re doing the work day-to-day and you know, this is, you know, times are challenging to say the least. And I think that one of the reasons I think we’re, you know, effective at some of this is because we’re really supportive in it and also just acknowledge that. And I think that’s critical for any team to be successful is to just acknowledge the messiness of it. Sometimes it’s uncomfortable. How are we going to work through it? It’s okay. You’ll get through it. But, you know, it’s not a perfect organization that we have for sure.


Joe Coakley (15:32):

So yeah, so I mean, a typical campaign sort of to that point, like, I don’t even know what’s typical, or like you said, I’ve been doing this for a little while and lots of different channels and things have changed so much. But there are some standard things, right. That we’re certainly used to and probably many of us have lived through sort of lots of different year-end scenarios. And I wake up in cold sweats thinking about what this year-end is going to look like, but I can certainly show you sort of what we did for our Giving Tuesday campaign back in 2018 which we sort of then reapply again in 2019. I’ll try to go through this quickly, but I think there’s some helpful bits in here that hopefully folks can pull out.


Joe Coakley (16:29):

You know, this is just sort of the overall goal. We had been looking at for our year-end. So in planning for Giving Tuesday, we sort of like kick off our year end fundraising campaign at Giving Tuesday and see that all the way through to December 31st. I think most organizations are probably operating that way. And here leading up to this in 2017, we were like a little bit under a million we had raised. And so we were like, let’s stretch it and see if we can get that million dollar bowl this year. And the only way we could see to do it was literally just like activating every single channel we could. And so, you know, on here, I kind of just laid out our own channels, meaning like we own these channels, our email program, our broadcast SMS program, our organic social, our website.


Joe Coakley (17:20):

And then there was some paid where we’re investing in you know, display, obviously paid social channels advertising on podcasts, you know, paid search, sponsored emails. Some of these things we upgraded, meaning like we, you know, added to them and some of them were new. So I’ll just go through these sort of quickly. And this was, you know, our, on the email side of things, the way that we decided to upgrade was just increasing the frequency that we spent for Giving Tuesday. So we added, I mean, as you know, email. I’m sure we’re all reading the different benchmarks studies that come out. Note email is one of those things that, you know, it continues to trend and move downward. But I think part of that is based on things like us honing in on our lists a little bit better.


Joe Coakley (18:15):

And also just the competitiveness of it continues to expand. So we increased frequency. We added a preview and we added a late PM email into it. We brought on Movable Ink, which is a technology you know email software enhancement that you can do a lot of different functionality with, but we were using it for personalizing some of the graphics that you can see on the right. And we had a dynamic thermometer. So, you know, really focusing folks on that million dollar goal for the day and carrying it all the way through. And this, this is funny cause we’ve redone our website since then. So this looks a little funny to me, but we had done a ton of testing on our forms in the year leading up to this Giving Tuesday in year-end.


Joe Coakley (19:11):

We knew, based on looking at web traffic and performance, that mobile is really needed to optimize and we test it in this multi-step form that made mobile conversion increase by, I want to say 30 or 40%. And we added some other multi-steps, meaning, it’s not just a long single form. You can see those little dots on the top here where it might, you know, indicate the steps that you’re moving through. So you’re entering your gift amount here, you get to the next step, it’s your information, your payment information and confirming your gift. And we added ApplePay which, obviously for mobile is a super smooth way to transact. So those are some big upgrades on the web for us.


Joe Coakley (20:11):

So, we just increased frequency there more than we had done typically in the past by activating Instagram. For us, I will say, it has become our best channel, honestly, for driving revenue. If we want to drive actions, our users are on Instagram and have been since 2018 and growing. It has been the best platform for us to really actually get folks to convert in, you know, what they’re looking at and engaging with our content on social. But we also, again, like to expand our celebrity engagement and just put a bunch of asks out to our celebrity ambassadors. And we’re like, can you plug this? And so is it just some of the examples of folks that shared our campaign on Giving Tuesday to help, you know, with the branding out there and make it really visible for folks that were following us and who might be new to us.


Joe Coakley (21:22):

Display was another channel where we sort of upgraded and we hadn’t been before. I’ll tell you for us, one of the things to keep in mind, I think you’ll see we take privacy very seriously, obviously. And you know, we don’t use Facebook pixels. We don’t use Google pixels because their privacy policies don’t comply with ours. And so obviously pixels optimize your advertising program quite a bit. So there are different things that we do that we focus on, like we know where users that look like ours tend to be. And so we’ll focus on what we call impact placement sometimes. So like taking over the New York Times masthead and we can do some targeted advertising to our existing subscribers. And so we’re, you know, continuing to do that. And then we tested a little bit on podcast advertising which actually is good. But, I think for folks that are thinking about it, you really need to have a sustained campaign on a podcast for an extended amount of time for folks it to really resonate and for folks to start remembering your brand. Yeah, podcasts, I kind of talked about. SMS, believe it or not, we were not doing direct fundraising on our broadcast, on our SMS program. Before this Giving Tuesday, we had used it primarily for action you know, breaking news and engaging people in the moment.


Joe Coakley (22:52):

And this was our first time sending out a direct fundraising ask and it performed really well, far better than we thought it would. We thought people would be kind of turned off with a direct ask, but it continues. We don’t do it, you know, we use it for fundraising occasionally and again, like sometimes in breaking news moments, but it continues to be mostly an advocacy channel for us. But when there are these sort of anchor campaigns, like Giving Tuesday, year-end, other campaigns for us on the calendar, we do activate it then. And so overall, it was a successful year. All those strategies, tactics add it up, you know, we beat that million dollar goal. We ended up posting a million and a quarter with a really strong average gift. And then just obviously went back to folks and thanked them. And so that was like the example that we put out on social since we were obviously, so promotional about it. But yeah, so I know it’s a lot and I ran through it, but hopefully there’s some questions and if there’s stuff I can…


Sarah Durham (24:05):

Yeah, yeah. We got a couple of questions. As you were talking specifically about some of the things you talked about, one of them is you, you noted that Instagram has the best social conversion. And the question is, are you referring to organic or paid?


Joe Coakley (24:20):

Yeah, so I meant organically. As a platform and especially when people are activated in times, like now people are just on Instagram, much more likely to take action on that content when they see it than they do on other platforms like Facebook or Twitter. Yeah, it has just become a much more reliable and engaged platform for us organically. I mean, we have been, you know, spending a little bit more there, but really only recently. And I think again, like during, you know, when folks are engaged and activated it’s a place where they’re going and seeking out content from other organizations. And so, they were already there looking for ways to engage in it, you know? So think about your Instagram and how you can engage, continue to engage users there. It’s like our team does a really great job of, I think, balancing the content behind, not just asking just like you would do on email. You can’t just ask for people for things all the time. They’re going to get burnt out. And it’s a balance of, you know educating folks, bringing them along on the issue, engaging them on the issue, continuing to tell them why it’s important. So when you do ask them, they’re, they’re much more apt to engage.


Sarah Durham (25:58):

Yeah. So, you’re talking about a concept that I call mindshare; like being top of mind, having the issues that you work on alive and active in people’s minds so that, so that they’re there, they’re primed for taking some sort of action in the campaign you just shared with us and in other other campaigns. I’m sure you are using a mix of owned, earned and paid media. What do you think about balancing those things? What’s the typical mix for you and how do you decide? I mean, you know, no matter whether you’re a big organization or small organization, your time and money is limited. So how do you, how do you decide what channels to use on any given campaign?


Joe Coakley (26:40):

Yeah, it’s a good question and again, I feel like it’s not a typical, like, you know, it’s 30/30/30. It really depends. I think what you want to do is think about the campaign. What are the goals of the campaign and the objectives? Who’s the audience? What do you want them to do? I think you really need to sit and answer those questions before you, I mean, hopefully before you start putting anything together, but especially before you start investing in something like a fundraising campaign. Obviously, there’s going to be a return on that. And then even within a fundraising campaign it’s really geared more toward, you know, bringing, getting additional gifts out of folks, or are we looking to acquire new folks where the cost differential is going to be different and you might have a bigger appetite for spending more on bringing in new people, hopefully.


Joe Coakley (27:37):

But you know, there’s usually some sort of mix to every, almost every campaign that we put out. I would say we’ve got evergreen platforms where we’re always advertising. We have a mix, you know, a small budget that we put behind organic social content all the time because they just make it harder and harder for you to reach your audience on those platforms, unfortunately. So, that helps things like paid search we’re running all the time which can be inexpensive, which you might need as a fairly decent amount to keep it running evergreen. But if, even if you’re thinking about the, you know, the times of the year, end of year and things like that, where folks are likely to convert, it’s a good investment.


Joe Coakley (28:39):

And you’re really just going to be, if you’re doing paid search, like investing in your own brand terms. That’s where you’re going to start before you start expanding into other things that, you know, other organizations might be competing on. You’ll get a lot back from paid search by investing in it. It’s kind of the bottom of the funnel where people are gonna give once they’ve engaged, learned about your organization and they’re, you know, they’ve searched multiple times, like eventually they’re going to search for you again, and you’re going to be at the top of the search results and they’re going to convert through that ad. So search is another great place that you can invest in. It’s going to be a good investment.


Sarah Durham (29:26):

Couple of other questions about that example. You talked a bit about pixels and privacy concerns. Do you have any privacy concerns on any specific platforms? Are there different platforms that flag privacy issues?


Joe Coakley (29:39):

Yeah, so like I mentioned, yeah, we don’t, we’re not using a Facebook pixel and we’re not using any Google pixels. We have a pretty strict privacy policy and board policy. And so the reason that we have issues with those is it’s because there’s, in those platforms’ policies, they’re not explicit about whether or not they’re really aggregating and privatized, you know, anonymizing that data to an extent that we feel comfortable with. And so by having something like a Facebook pixel on our site that’s collecting data all the time on users who were just passively visiting. That data can get aggregated, can get linked back to you know, a person’s profile who might not feel comfortable with that. And so we don’t want to expose users to that sort of, you know, it’s sort of debt and data insecurity that we don’t really have a say over what’s going to happen with that Facebook data once it’s collected in that Facebook pixel. That’s not something we can control. And so we opt not to do it. The same applies to Google and the way that their policies are written and the way that it conflicts with the way our politics are written.


Sarah Durham (31:06):

Last question about the example you just talked us through: you noted that the multi-step form increased mobile by 30 to 40%. Is that in donation value or in the number of donations?


Joe Coakley (31:18):

It was, more in the rate or the conversion rate for individual donations, not necessarily for the amounts. On mobile we do tend to see a lower average gift. I think people just tend to give a higher average gift on desktop. But we’re getting more and more people to give on mobile. And I think, especially when people are active in moments like now, or in any sort of breaking news moment, they’re on their phone and that’s, you know, trying to make it as easy as possible for them during that moment. You’d rather have somebody with a lower average gift than no money. So, that’s the way that we were approaching it there. 


Sarah Durham (32:06):

Okay. So, let’s, I’m getting some questions right now that bring us to today and what you’re working on today. If you go to the ACLU website right now,, you will see a big banner up at the top. It says, “Demand justice. Now, black people are being murdered and brutalized by police with near impunity. Act with us to end police brutality, demand racial justice, and defend our right to protest. Your donation will fuel our legal and urgent advocacy efforts.” And and as you sit on the screen for a little bit, pretty quickly, you get a pop up donation form. And I’m getting some questions not specifically about that, although I’d love you to talk to us high-level about what you’re doing. But I am getting questions like, do you follow topical terms like black lives matter, George Floyd, or do you always stick with evergreen in search? But let’s start by talking about what about this campaign and what you’re doing right now.


Joe Coakley (33:14):

Yeah, I mean, I think the issues that we’re addressing in that banner, and in a lot of our work, if you go through that homepage carousel, maybe on the second slide, there’s one that really does a great job of wrapping up the work and our direct involvement in it. That talks about policing and protest right now. And so, what it kind of lays out there and the way that we got involved, I mean, we have a racial justice project. We have criminal law reform, legal projects that focus on racial justice that focus on criminal law reform. And we obviously have advocacy teams that are doing similar work to change policy. And so that’s work that we’ve been doing for decades.


Joe Coakley (34:15):

But certainly now, we put out an important acknowledgement of the fact that we weren’t doing enough, that we weren’t listening enough, that we had, you know, maybe taken up too much space on the issues of race and justice. And now, in leading up to this moment, we would actually, we had been working on and hopefully will come soon, some larger work around policing reform nationwide. Some really important and exciting policies that we have. And then we sort of teed up in some of the actions that you see on the site today. But by signing up, we’ve signed on to and support, other organizations like the movement for black lives.


Joe Coakley (35:07):

And making sure that again, we’re not trying to lead from the front on these issues, but making sure that we’re, we are a big organization. We can reach a lot of people and activate a lot of people and, you know, obviously agree on a lot of the issues. And so all that to say what happened in Minnesota, our Minnesota affiliate, as these protests started we filed the lawsuit to protect journalists. Actually, there were several journalists that were attacked. We had a class action lawsuit filed by our Minnesota affiliate shortly after the protest started and continued to file lawsuits to protect journalists, to protect free speech. We’d been putting out great content and videos which were a great resource for obviously understanding and knowing your rights on all types of issues.


Joe Coakley (36:03):

And so we’ve got great videos there. Again, if you go to that feature page it kind of lays out different states where we filed lawsuits and different states where we have advocacy and we’re working, a lot of the work that is happening right now. And the work that needs to happen in policing is a local issue. You know, it’s not something that we can always address nationally. I mean, certainly there are policies that affect policing and we have ways that you can engage on them right now and write to legislators on federal issues. But real change is going to happen locally. We’ve got 50 plus affiliates and we’re working nationwide to try and address those issues at the local level and support organizations that are working on these issues. So we’re taking the same approach that we would to any fight: fighting it in the courtroom, putting it through policy and advocacy and fighting it, obviously not necessarily on the ground, in the same ways and in the streets that we normally would.


Joe Coakley (37:07):

But with, you know, people, our folks.


Sarah Durham (37:11):

So, you talked earlier about how there is this kind of centralized team that’s represented across multiple departments that thinks about messaging, and that helps coordinate pieces. I’m curious about how you decide as a team which campaigns you’re going to run and how the decision about which campaigns you’re going to run works with that group. How do you plug in decisions that you need to make probably very quickly with organization-wide resources, and decision making?


Joe Coakley (37:49):

Yeah. Again, it’s not an easy one to answer. I mean, I think there were, you know, maybe a rank like about, you know, there are certain issues that we tend to focus on and have had lots of engagement and some of the issues that I’ve raised already, like around LGBTQ plus, right? Speech privacy and technology, immigrants rights, voting, criminal justice, these are court issues for the ACLU. And so there’s always work happening in those areas. You know, we tend to, no, we look toward our legal projects. We look toward our advocacy team to see what are some of the things that they’re trying to prioritize? You know, they’re running multiple campaigns, we’re running campaigns on digital, and we’re focused on national actions that we can run, but the political advocacy department can be working on campaigns, too.


Joe Coakley (38:55):

And it can be much more of a ground game where they’re running advertising or TV advertising, or, you know, running advertising and local papers and working in local coalitions to change policy. So what we take on, I think for us, the way that we’re evaluating it on the digital side is how can we, how much pain can we affect through our digital tools and our program on this specific issue? How much have supporters engaged, maybe on previous content in the past to help inform how we might approach it going forward. And then within that, we try to then figure out, okay, are there opportunities for us to address our objectives and did it roll? Like we said, we’re on the growth team to expand our lists, to bring in new folks to issues.


Joe Coakley (39:50):

If it’s an issue that’s resonating that has the potential to resonate more broadly, can we bring in a lot of people on it? Is it an issue that resonates really strongly with existing supporters? And is there an opportunity to engage them on a fundraising task around this? So again, you’ve got to look at the full range of things balancing against our existing team’s goals and priorities and try to plug them in. And there are so many things we can’t obviously like, we do have to be very picky about what we can take on. Unfortunately, there’s tons of campaigns that we could run, and we just can’t because we don’t have the resources to, but it’s sort of a matrix of those things that I said before.


Sarah Durham (40:37):

Great. Okay. We have a lot of questions that have come in and I want to encourage people to keep chatting in questions. We’ve got about 20 minutes left of Joe’s time. The questions that we’re getting fall broadly into two categories, a number of them are about specific tactics that you find useful or effective, and a number of them are about the way your team collaborates. So what I’m going to do is I’m going to volley between the two of those things, because they’re not going to be, they’re not all going to be relevant for everybody on this call. So we’ll start with a question that came in early on from Zoe about what’s the rough size of the teams within digital campaigns. Zoe heard 15 to 20 for one in-house team working with affiliate campaigns, but it’d be great to get a more clear sense of the team size.


Joe Coakley (41:28):

So why don’t I just bring up this org chart again and we can take a look at it really quick. So my team, my team on digital campaigns has about nine folks and my team is split up into two different teams. There’s the digital department, I want to say it was around like probably 35, if we count it up. Those are either currently filled or TBD roles. But all of these roles exist in the digital department. And the campaigns team is the biggest team in digital. If you work on email, it’s a pretty intensive process and it’s changing constantly. And so there are lots of, it’s an end-to-end process. There’s a lot of work that goes into just getting out a single email and I’m sure my colleagues will understand again, cause you know, things are constantly changing in email and that’s the primary channel we’re focused on in the campaign scene and broadcast SMS. And so I want to say yeah, around the departments are around 30 total, maybe 35.


Sarah Durham (43:10):

Great. Okay. A tactical question, I think this is useful for people, no matter what size organization you’re in: is about donation, about ask strings basically. So the question is, does certain suggested amounts lead to more donations? I’d be curious to hear your thoughts about suggested amounts and ask strings generally.


Joe Coakley (43:34):

Mmm, that’s a good question. I mean, those are the things that we test a lot. It depends on the audience that you’re thinking of and we actually have a few different gift strings that we use for folks. But obviously once somebody has donated, you now have something to base their future giving off of. And so we’ve got some logic that we built out and tested into, that works for us. And we’ll, so if we’re sending folks an email, we can auto-populate the form with their dynamic gift string based on either their onetime giving or maybe we’re trying to convert somebody to a monthly donor. We sort of, we have a similar logic that’ll break it down for them based on their previous giving history.


Joe Coakley (44:26):

You know, if it’s a non-donor, I think it’s a great place to test, and it’s probably a lot easier because you’re only testing right on the form. There’s not a whole lot of backend work that you probably need to do to update gift strings. But it’s a thing that we constantly test. Actually, we’re hopefully going to be running a test next month. You know, testing gift amounts within email and testing out this, suggesting tactic where most folks are giving $19 a month, that sort of thing. So it depends on the audience that you are thinking about and whether they’ve given or not. And if they’ve given again, you’ve got data there to use, so make sure you’re building logic off of that.


Sarah Durham (45:21):

And are you benchmarking your average gift size and things like that against industry benchmarks? M+R’s benchmarks and other things like that?


Joe Coakley (45:32):

Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I mean, we look at all of those benchmarks. We look at our own internal benchmarks. There are some great groups actually. We’re part of a Blackbaud — formerly Target — Analytics benchmarking. They’ve got some great, different benchmarking groups where the chart is peer benchmarking groups. So within the advocacy space or just within digital or you can benchmark against similar organizations and I actually highly recommend those spaces because you really get to engage with folks that are in similar positions at organizations. It’s much more, I feel like the folks who work at organizations that work currently with the Blackbaud Target benchmarks are a great way to engage with other folks on your stats.


Sarah Durham (46:29):

I’ve heard that from a number of people and those are cohorts where people are sharing all their data and they’re aggregating the data and they’re reporting back and benchmarking to everybody in the group. Back to the question of the team size. This question came in from Michael, who says, can you elaborate a little bit more on how you split up the workload within the team? I imagine Giving Tuesday and end-of-year fundraising are all hands on deck, but normally how is the work among the campaign team distributed? Do you split the workup by topic, by channel, or by something?


Joe Coakley (47:04):

Yeah, that’s a really good question. I mean, we’ve tried, like I said before, I think the important thing is just if it’s not working, try something else and be open to that. In the team right now, we’ve had our communications department break things down by issue area and they have structured themselves that way. And we’ll have comm strategists who are focused on immigrants rights or voting, etcetera. Our political and advocacy department is structured similarly. And they sort of focus by issue area just within our own team. The campaign teams within digital and even across the digital department, none of our teams are structured that way to focus on the issue area because I think we’re just not big enough and it wouldn’t really work that way.


Joe Coakley (47:57):

I think people would just be working on it, it doesn’t really work for us. But the way that we’ve structured the campaigns team is as I showed this before, we have two strategists, one who’s focused on engagement, one who’s focused on content and our content strategist, he’s our primary writer for all of our content, writing email copy, SMS, form copy, all the components that we need to develop. And our engagement strategist is doing a lot of the work around building out campaign planning and timing and cadence and audience and segmentation and developing the calendars and doing a lot of the work to well, we use Asana as a project management tool. She’s doing a lot of work in Asana to build out projects and to keep projects on task.


Joe Coakley (48:52):

And so we have two strategists that take on a lot of that work. And then we’ve got two campaigners who are doing a lot of the production work on our team to produce all the components that we need across email and SMS and across all the different forms that go hand-in-hand with that. That’s the national side. And then the affiliate side is a little bit different because they’re not writing content, it’s our affiliate. Our local affiliates actually develop their own content. And then they’ll send that in to our team to build and produce. And we’ll obviously, we’ve got some affiliates that are a little bit higher capacity, lower capacity, new folks who aren’t as familiar with, you know, digital folks who are really experienced. So our job on the team is also to look at that content. Is it optimized for email? Are there things we can tweak within it? So we’ll work with them to make sure the campaign is going to be effective, but that team is primarily focused on producing and generating and putting that campaign out in the world.


Sarah Durham (49:57):

So on the tactical side, and I think you’ve sort of touched on this a little bit, you just mentioned that you use Asana for project management. I imagine you also use Slack. We got a question from John who says, what platform do you use for your email online advocacy messages and fundraising?


Joe Coakley (50:15):

Sure, we do use Slack a lot. It has become our go-to for most things that we need to get done and I’m still bad at email. It’s at the end of the day I’ll go back to my inbox finally, and I feel terrible emailing everyone at night. So the platforms that we’re on currently for our tools are: we use Springboard for a lot of our forms which is a platform owned by Jackson River. So our advocacy forms, donation forms, other forms that we might use, email sign-up surveys, etcetera. We use Springboard for those, it’s a Drupal backend. And email, our email service provider, we actually just migrated to a platform called Sailthru which is sort of a newer tool.


Joe Coakley (51:21):

It’s actually used a lot by publishers. But they’re focused on that user within the platform which is really great. And they’re automation and journey-building is really great. And the price point worked for us as a nonprofit, too. But they’ve got great recommendations. It’s been a good transition for us. We actually, cause we’re, I don’t know if we have affiliated organizations with us today, but if you’re running a program and you’ve got local chapters or affiliates, basically we have a shared list. And so somebody who comes onto the list, so you take an action at the ACLU on our national site and depending on where you live, you’re going to fall into your local affiliates’ email program too.


Joe Coakley (52:21):

So if you signed our petition today to divest from police nationally and you live in New York, you’re going to start getting emails from NYC’s ACLU. And so it’s a shared list and before for migrating to Sailthru, it was super siloed out and we had all these different lists and the way that we have it now is much better. And we can actually target based on a behavior someone’s taken with an affiliate email or a national email, a local action and national action. And so it’s gonna, it’s made it much easier also for us in terms of sequencing suppressions, like cadence, like all of that. So that’s been a helpful switch for us.


Sarah Durham (53:09):

I think you covered it. I think you covered everything there. So we’ve got six or seven minutes to go. We still have a lot of questions. I want to ask you a big picture question. And we will not unfortunately get to everybody’s because I want to be respectful of everybody’s time and make sure we wrap up at the top of the hour, but big picture question: You’ve got 20 years of expertise running these kinds of campaigns and departments. What advice do you have for people who are newer to running digital campaigns or who are working with less capacity? What would you encourage people to do or what tips would you recommend?


Joe Coakley (53:57):

Yeah, that’s funny. It’s like I have been doing this for 20 years, which is crazy, but it doesn’t feel that way. And to me, I think even working at the ACLU maybe it’s where I am now, but I look to younger people all the time for their ideas. I think they’re just, I think that they have a better sense of what’s happening and especially within digital. And so what I would say is that as you do this work, what’s helped me is to just listen a lot.


Joe Coakley (54:44):

I’ll be in a lot of meetings, a lot of meetings I have to run, but when I don’t, I’m listening as much as I can, especially in program situations where we’re hearing things from our legal team or our embedded team. I take all of that in and sit with it. That’s just the type of person I am. And then I’ll come back to my team and we’ll strategize or brainstorm on something. But for me, I need to listen. I need to hear everything. And then eventually, I’ll get to a point where, okay, now I think, this is the way that we can move forward on this, based on what we heard from legal, what we heard from IT, that we’ve heard from our comms strategists. Yeah. I mean, I think that to me it’s super helpful. And through that process, eventually you start to just develop an instinct and I think listening to your gut is good. And I think being willing to have your gut checked by somebody regularly is helpful. And I think the more open you are to feedback, to having conversations, that is where you’re going to get better and better information.


Sarah Durham (56:10):

And are there blogs or authors you regularly read or any places that are your go-to sources of information that you could recommend?


Joe Coakley (56:25):

Yeah, do you ever read Big Duck? I mean, I worked on the agency side and there are different agencies, obviously. Like I subscribe to newsletters from y’all, from Sankey where I worked, from M+R, where I’ve got friends, Blue State where I’ve worked with folks. I like to listen to podcasts, I like to get a lot of different information, a lot of different sources and then see through that, like what kind of relates best. So yeah, unfortunately I feel like I would love some recommendations, actually, if folks have them. I would love it if folks could put some in there cause I could use some new ones.


Sarah Durham (57:20):

Yeah, if anybody does have anything that they find are very useful for running digital campaigns that you want to chat in to me right now in the Q & A I will share those quickly. 


Joe Coakley (57:30):

I find myself having less time, unfortunately, and so I would love some recommendations personally.


Sarah Durham (57:38):

Okay. Well, so we’ll see if anybody pops any in, in the last couple of minutes before we get to the top of the hour. I want to just remind everybody that we are recording this session. We will be posting the video and the transcript of it to the Advomatic website next week, that’s Maybe Theresa can just chat out the URL to the insights page. It should be live probably if you check in the middle of next week, you’ll see it and you’ll get the transcripts. Some of you have chatted in questions about what was the name of that thing you mentioned, Joe. And that would be a good way to just confirm some of the details of what Joe has shared with us. And I think what I am going to do is thank you all for participating today.


Sarah Durham (58:26):

There’ve been, there are a handful of questions here that I am going to screenshot. I will do my best to get back to some of you who have questions that are unanswered. I’ll email you directly if I am able to track down your email address in a sane way. You can also email me. The best way to do that is to email me at at Maybe Theresa can chat out my email address. Oh, I think I may have frozen. Okay. So Joe, I really want to thank you for making time to join us today. You’ve been a terrific guest and super helpful and informative. And thank you also for the excellent work you do at the ACLU. And thank you all for participating today.


Joe Coakley (59:18):

Thank you. I’m so happy I could be here and talk about things. Thank you everybody who’s on, and for all the work at the organizations you’re working for, the missions you’re working for, it’s great to be a part of this community and thanks everybody.