Kristine Brown

Marketing and Communications Manager at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Chicago

Kristine is responsible for the planning, development, and implementation of the non-profit's integrated marketing strategies, both internal- and external-facing. She has led a major rebranding effort focused on volunteer recruitment and engagement, which forms the basis of and central strategy for BBBSMC's new website, digital presence, and storytelling advertising campaigns. Prior to joining BBBSMC, Kristine served in account management and copywriter positions at major marketing and advertising agencies, including Upshot and Integrated Marketing Solutions. Kristine is a 2015 graduate of Medill's IMC master’s program.

Applying IMC Fundamentals to Non-Profit Marketing


Can you briefly describe your primary duties and responsibilities at BBBSMC and perhaps walk us through a typical day?

Our marketing team is a team of one at the moment, so I effectively manage all of our internal and external communications. On a day-to-day basis, I am responsible for our social media accounts, providing content for our websites, and developing stories and headlines for our monthly newsletters. But most importantly, I work very closely with our Fund Development team to develop fundraising campaigns and deliver the most effective and appropriate messages to achieve such purpose. I am also tasked with the strategic role of managing our overall budget as well as BBBSMC’s marketing direction. For instance, we just underwent an important rebrand where we have refreshed our website’s outlook and developed a totally new brand repositioning.

Please describe the marketing and communications team’s structure at BBBSMC. To whom do you report to? Does anyone report to you? If so, who?

BBBSMC works within four counties here in Chicagoland. We work under the Big Brothers Big Sisters of America umbrella but create our own marketing campaigns and collaterals that cater specifically to our market and demographics. I definitely get feedback and advice from our marketing managers from other BBBS chapters, and I incorporate that into considerations of our local spend and audience.

I report to the CEO and work very closely with the Fund Development team for fundraising and special events. The Marketing and Fund Development teams work together to ensure that our marketing communications are aligned to deliver consistent messages in the same tone and manner. In a greater sense, I would say that working at a non-profit requires one to have a deeper working knowledge of different departments compared to working at an agency or for-profit organization. This is because if you are not aligned on the same mission and the same end goals, it is impossible to deliver the intended results. The Fund Development team focuses on fundraising while the Marketing team focuses on sharing stories. It takes a lot of time and great effort for teams to work cohesively together on a project.

What is your biggest challenge at BBBSMC and how are you resolving it?

From an internal stand point, it is getting people to understand that marketing at a non-profit has to work like marketing at a for-profit. At a non-profit, typically you have a board of directors who you report to who approve all your expenditures and  take a close look at the P&L. What we need to do here is to convince them that spending money on marketing makes sense. It’s a lot harder for non-profits as people want to see ROI and value on their donations. They want to know whether their donations are directly supporting a match. However, in marketing, we are spending money on advertising and media space. The only way for us to truly grow is for us to be able to market ourselves, and to drive recruit engagement by putting ourselves out there. We have to make a case for that, and it’s often a challenging case to make.

Each chapter faces different challenges. We have two groups of targets: one being the “kids” and their parents. Chicago has our own unique problems as we have a lot of neighborhoods that are very segmented, and they do not get the type of assistants that other cities do. Our second demographic are volunteers. In terms of matching volunteers, it’s unique in the fact that Chicago is a major city packed with other non-profits, so that contributes to the competition factor. We also face a challenging factor of matching volunteers to the “kids” from different neighborhoods. Our greatest needs are on the south and west sides of the city. However, most of our volunteers are on the north side. Hence, we are really trying hard to tailor our marketing strategy such that our volunteers may come from the neighborhoods where our kids are. From a marketing standpoint, it means we have to continue devoting lots of recruiting efforts in these neighborhoods, delving into community partnerships, and finding out how potential volunteers are best reached, etc.

Do you see BBBSMC as being in direct/indirect competition with any other non-profits based in Chicago? Do you view these non-profits as being fundamentally different, whether in terms of their values, marketing efforts, financial position, etc.?

The non-profit world is very interesting. We are all competitors because we are competing for people’s time and money. However, on the flip side, we all have different areas of expertise. We have found here at Big Brothers Big Sisters that if we own that differentiator and come into partnership with other non-profits, we would do a better job at serving our community than if we were to try to do all of it. BBBSMC is very mission-centric. We own what we are good at and we don’t stray away from that. If we find that the children we serve need something else, we will not hesitate to direct them to the right organizations. It’s important for us to do that as it also helps us spread the good word out there at various neighborhoods.

One interesting thing about us is that since there are a lot of other non-profits in Chicago, the public may not be able to identify us from others. We did a research study in Chicago and found that almost everyone mixed our mission statement with that of Boys & Girls Clubs. That was a huge learning experience for us, and so we made sure that coming out of the research study we required greater focus on our differentiator and our understanding of the community’s needs. We realized our biggest challenge was not to raise awareness because almost everyone has heard of us, and they know we exist. Our main challenge is how to be relevant and make people understand what we do.

Why do you view Millennials as a key target segment? How do you set this target in the first place?

Based on volunteer inquiry, we knew going into the research study who our targets and low-hanging fruits are. Our volunteers have to be 21. Out sweet spot is between 27 and 34. There is psychological reasoning behind this supporting the research results. When people are in their early 20s, they are just starting their career and there will be a lot of changes. As people enter their mid-20s, they are a lot more flexible and have time to commit to our program. We see a drop off when they begin to start a family of their own. It picks up back again when people reach their 50s and 60s as they have the time and disposable income after their kids are off to college. Those are always the sweet spots and we make sure that they are still our targets in our research.

How would you describe BBBSMC in terms of its unique brand as a non-profit?

Two things stood out to us that we realized from our research we needed to communicate as our differentiation:

First, the major difference is that in a lot of organizations, you may get low touch points. Volunteers may go in, tutor, and volunteer for an hour a week only. Our difference is our one-to-one mentoring program, offered on a consistent basis. We require our matches to volunteer for at least a year, and we found that our matches last four years on average. That’s amazing, as the volunteers are choosing to do that on their own. What research has found is that if an adult stays in a positive relationship with a child for 15 months, there will be positive outcomes in the areas that we measure. We measure three areas: education achievement, avoidance of risky behaviors (e.g., use of drugs and alcohol), and socio-emotional constancy (their relationships with peers and how they get along with adult and authority figures). As a result, that consistency with the same figure is absolutely critical.

Second, what I think is truly unique about BBBSMC is that we are not just a tutoring organization. We don’t just focus on educational achievement. Matches will go out and try new restaurants. They will do things that they do in their spare time. Having a positive voice keeps these kids on the right track and help develop their character holistically. Our commitment in changing the kids’ lives for the better forever is definitely our value proposition.

To what extent does your brand dictate the overall marketing strategy and related efforts (i.e., limits as to what you can or cannot do)?

As far as how we developed our campaign, we looked at all our competitors in the market, their respective targets, and what their messages were about. We found that all of them focused on the kids. We spent a lot of time thinking hard about who our targets and customers are. It’s interesting to see that a lot of NGOs don’t think about that – who are your customers at the end of the day, what are you trying to do, and how are you going to move them? We are trying to get more volunteers to reach more children. We therefore decided to run a campaign to focus completely on the “Big,” the volunteers. Not only does it differentiate us from the market place, but the campaign also targets those whom we aim to communicate to.

We are in the midst of launching a new major campaign, entitled “When There’s a Will, There’s a Big.” It is not external facing currently, as we are still raising capital at this stage. However, I am getting it ready internally to ensure all our materials have a consistent tone, message, look, and feel before we go out to do any external advertising. The media and advertising will be out in the market for six months. This is set as our five-year campaign and serves as part of our strategic growth plan.

How do you view advancement in social media marketing nowadays? For instance, in your view, do digital platforms help to meaningfully tap into the Millennial market?

Peer-to-peer fundraising has been a big medium for us. We rely on our employees and volunteers to be the ambassadors of our organization to get our word out there. A lot of non-profits traditionally rely on individual donors, but it doesn’t mean you need individual donors to come in and donate in high capacity amounts. A viable strategy is to have numerous individual donors who donate in relatively small amounts. In our experience, a volume driven strategy is more sustainable.

No doubt the Millennial market is important. We have ventured into Facebook advertising. We are also thinking of using Google advertising this year to tap into the Millennial market.

Interview by Flora Lee, Medill IMC Class Of 2018

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