My guest on the show today is Al Maag. Al Maag is the worst example of a retired person. The chief communications officer of Avnet a $27 b tech distributor in 2013 is now running a nonprofit focused brand and communications agency in Tempe, AZ and has a marketing content site for nonprofits. He acts as CMO for Veteran Tickets Foundation which has distributed close to 4 million free concert, sports, family entertainment and performing arts tickets to over 700,000 members including current serving military, families of those killed in action, vets of all eras and their care givers.

Listen here:


Highlights from this Conversation

    1. What has worked well for you?
      1. Understanding the nonprofits history
        1. Board
        2. Website
        3. Database
        4. Strategy
  • Putting money behind marketing works
    1. Getting the board involved and actively sharing things on social
    2. Facebook marketing is working for signups
  1. What hasn’t worked well that we can learn from?
    1. Bad database
    2. Executive directors don’t make investments in marketing
  2. What are you excited about?
    1. 10th anniversary of vetix
    2. They are creating an e-magazine

Interview Transcript

Adam: [00:00:10] Hi and welcome to the Good People Good Marketing podcast, a podcast about nonprofit digital marketing and how to make it better so the good people and good organizations can have good marketing as well.


[00:00:18] I’m your host, Adam Walker, co-founder of Sideways  Eight, a digital marketing agency that specializes in nonprofit work and 48in48, a nonprofit dedicated to hosting events that build 48 websites for 48 nonprofits in 48 hours. My guest today is Al Maag. Al is the worst example of a retired person which is by the way the best first byline ever. He’s the worst example of a retired person. The former chief communications officer of Avnet a 27 billion dollar tech distributor in 2013 and he is now running a nonprofit-focused brand and communications agency in Tempe Arizona. He is a marketing and content site which is a marketing and content site for nonprofits. He acts as CMO of Veterans Tickets Foundation which has distributed close to four million free concerts sports and family entertainment and performing arts tickets to over 700,000 members including current serving military families of those killed in action. Vets of all eras and their caregivers. Al, have I missed anything from your bio that you’d like to add?


Al: [00:01:20] I’m too old. You miss a lot but at my age there’s some other things that are probably worth saying but I actually wrote a book about – in fact it’s called Social Media Isn’t Social and it’s about the importance of being involved in social media but it doesn’t – but I’m also saying put the damn phone down and go talk to people, get involved in groups, get out into community and I think you are cut from the same cloth. Being involved in the community is a good thing and you’re doing this good work. You’re working with people are who have good ideas. They’re trying to help their fellow man or dogs or whoever it might be and I feel very strongly that looking at your phone all day is not the way to really enjoy life. So it’s kind of – do social media but also get out and go meet people.


Adam: [00:02:20] Absolutely. I love that. I love that. Well, let’s dig right in here. So related to nonprofit digital marketing, can you share with us something that’s worked well for you?


Al: [00:02:30] Well, I would probably hazard  to make this comment that most of the marketers I work with or the nonprofits I work with are very good at digital marketing. So in most cases though when I work with people I really dig into,  tell me more about your board, how interactive are they, are how engaged are they? What do you do? Do you have a newsletter or what’s your database like? Are you on social media? Do you do videos? Do you have a good website and so on. So when you add all those up a lot of it is digital marketing.


[00:03:09] What I would tell you in the majority of the cases of the nonprofits I’ve met or do work for and so on the executive directors are – don’t make investments in marketing. I think it’s the fear of, oh we raised this money but we shouldn’t be wasting it on marketing. It’s like  those who are the same folks will be asking a year later how come they haven’t raised any money. And it’s just a catch 22, if you don’t do it you’re going to be again in the same boat. And I think they’re afraid that their boards are going to give get a hard time. I think they’re afraid to actually tell anybody what they are investing in. And I think if they had the money – I had one person tell me this. If I had the money I wouldn’t know how to spend it. So I’m like “Oh my God” Okay. So it’s pretty scary. And so I’ve put together like a pinwheel of about 20 different tactics a nonprofit can do everything from direct marketing, print as well as e-direct marketing. And you got social you get events. You have the website, advertising, PSA, you name it. And the reality is most of them don’t do more than a few of those ethics. And that’s the scary part, that  very few nonprofits understand the phrase interactive or integrated marketing.


[00:04:40] They just don’t do it. They just don’t understand how it all comes together and how you can make that work for yourself or for your organization. And then, because they don’t understand it, it’s very difficult for them to explain it to the board about why they want to make these investments. Hell, I’m the President the Miracle League which is baseball for handicapped kids. One of the best things I’m involved in. And I finally after being on the board for years when I took over with the new executive director we actually started putting aside some money for marketing. And so  we have spent money on creating a video. We have created a new website.


[00:05:24] We have done some PR and so on and it’s just, it’s no brainer stuff. But when you talk to the board they kind of like, why are we spending money? But after you talk them into it and they see the results they’re like “Okay, well maybe we should spend some more money.” And that’s the problem for executive directors. They rarely get the first investments done to convince anybody they should make more investments. So that’s the difficult part for most nonprofits. I assume you see the same thing.


Adam: [00:06:02] Yeah. I mean I think  it’s interesting I play in a couple of different worlds. So one world that I play in as – I own a marketing agency and we actually work a lot with tech startups and we also work a lot with nonprofits. And so seeing the juxtaposition between a tech startup and how they think and how they grow and how aggressive in risk – risk takers they are, is very, very, very different from the nonprofit sector where they’re much more risk-averse. They’re much more thoughtful, I guess, and then maybe not in the best way, sometimes in how they go about things and how aggressive they move towards things. And so I think  there’s an interesting marriage there where nonprofits can begin to understand and think like startups and can ask themselves these questions. Like one question I asked my nonprofit the other day is if we had 5 million dollars invested into our nonprofit today how would we use that money to solve our biggest problems? Because if we’re not thinking that way we’re not thinking outside the box enough.


Al: [00:07:06] A short story I’ll tell you, one of the biggest brand names and nonprofits in the world is based in Phoenix. And the gentleman who is the, I guess, executive director or president or CEO of that organization contacted me and said I’ve been told to talk to you because you might help us with our branding. And so I look the person’s name up and found out his name wasn’t even on the website. And I started realizing there was something wrong . The local chapter was more famous than the national organization. And I finally figured out who he was and we met. And he said, “ Well,  we’re doing this, we’re doing that.” I don’t want to give you the name but – and I said “Well, I can understand why no one knows about you guys because your website – you don’t do anything.” You should be one of the most well-known people in Phoenix.


[00:08:11] No one knows who you are. I never heard of you. I didn’t even know your organization was here. And so it isn’t just a small medium search, 20,000 nonprofits just in  Arizona, 20,000. And I would tell you there’s a publication here called The Business Journal and they’ll list like the top 100. And so you kind of know who the top 100 are like. MDA and that’ll be one of the first ones I can think of and there’s an organization that just helps nonprofits.


[00:08:51] They only have 1,000 members so that’s 19,000 members out there not even investing $75  to join their organization. I mean you don’t want to learn from the only association for nonprofits in the state, you don’t want to learn from them? Well, I think on a bad day they can learn something from them.


[00:09:16] So that’s why I just don’t think nonprofits get out their own way and it’s having to run a business for nonprofits. Unfortunately I work with some that really need a lot of help but they don’t have the funding to do it. And it’s kind of – it’s a difficult situation. I didn’t get into this to be a banker or have cash flow problems which I’m sure you might have seen in your business as well. And nonprofits sometimes are exactly that, they’re nonprofits. They don’t make any money and they’re also the kind of organizations I hope more and more will be getting executive directors who are business people first, nonprofit nice people, do gooders, whatever you want to phrase it, last. I mean you need to have some business acumen, I think, to be successful today. And not all the organizations I see have business people. In fact that I saw Goodwill years ago hired an executive from the corporation that was from Avnet. And this gentleman turned them around. He doubled them in size because he went in there treating the Goodwill as a business here in Arizona not as a nonprofit. So better ways of looking at it.


[00:10:38] And but as a marketer  I’m trying to get the basics down with them in most cases and it can be just a damn newsletter. How often – the question I ask all the time is, so how often do you talk to your constituents. It could be your donors, it can be or staff,  it can be, who knows. It’s a lot of people here. The people you support, how often do you talk to them? How often do you tell your story? If you’re not telling your story consistently you might as well stay home. You’re not going to be successful.


[00:11:10] And then when you do get money from a donor are they hearing crickets from you all year long? Because after 12 months you go back and say, okay, thanks for the 10 grand. Would you give me ten grand again? They’re going to go, “ What did you do with the ten grand? How did you impact people?” So my deal with people is, Tell me more how you’re impacting people. How are you telling your story, how consistently are you telling that story? If you’re out doing it consistently, well you got to figure it out. That’s where digital marketing, you can send out emails consistently. You don’t have to print them anymore obviously. So there’s different ways of communicating. Use social media and then hopefully you get a little bit more sophisticated with video and making sure your website is good and all that kind of stuff. But most nonprofits aren’t even doing the basics. That’s the scary part.


Adam: [00:12:10] Yeah you got to get the basics down where you can move on to anything that’s even more substantial than that. And I think you’re right. I mean good video, good social presence, good website to send that all to you.


Al:[00:12:22] Let me just say one more point.


Adam: [ 00:12:22] And that’s really where it’s got to start. (inaudible 00:12:24) your foundation piece . So I’m making…


Al: [00:12:26] It’s what I’m trying to get into these executive director or for example as I’m saying about the miracle league. We all get these forms or you should. Each nonprofit should have a board sign off like, okay, we’re expecting you to be on the board for a year or two. Here are the things we expect you to do, expect you to show up at the meetings and so on. Well, part of that – I’ve added to that is we want your names for a direct mail list. We want you to socialize. We want you be on Facebook. We want you to be on Twitter. Facebook’s more important, I think, these days and we want you to share our stories. So if you’re not doing these two things to help market the organization you’re supporting, well, then why not? So that’s the actual tidbit that seems to be working in some cases.


Adam:[00:13:32] Yeah, that’s smart. I really like that. So related to nonprofit digital marketing, can you share something that has not worked well that we can learn from.


Al: [00:13:43] One that seems to be working in most cases is Facebook. And for  organizations I’m working with, what does not work is a bad database. Folks just don’t have good databases. So if they’re sending stuff out they’re not –  they may be sending something out but – when was last time we looked at their database? Are they looking at their algorithms and in the ROI on it- is anybody – how many people are not opening it up and so on. We have one organization that we’ve had from 25 to 45% opening things up 75% in one newsletter. And so okay. So but the stories are good and that’s what it’s about is writing stories. ..


Adam: Wow, that’s impressive.


Al : … that has an impact for the organization. But I also have some other organizations. No one opens the damn thing up.  It must be that person’s mother and closest neighbor or something. So it always depends on the quality of the stories, the quality of the content and the quality of the database. So we’re having a lot – the one organization, it’s  kind of beating up nonprofits. One nonprofit I’m very much involved with is the Veteran Ticket Foundation Organization and they are totally the opposite of all the people we’ve been just talking about. They make investments beyond belief for nonprofits and they’ve been very successful on Facebook. They think – I’ve been told we had about 500, 600 members a day and most of them come from Facebook marketing. And it’s just telling stories about who we are and saying “ Hey, if you want, if you’re a veteran join up”…


Adam: [00:15:33] Wow. That’s impressive.


Al:[00:15:35] And it’s  a lot of word of mouth and people just check us out. But Facebook is working for us and so we did make different investments. But bottom line that seems to be working for us but that doesn’t mean we’re great at it. We’ve actually – we’re working with another digital marketing firm who’s going to take us to the next level because I think we’re doing the basics really well and I’m waiting to see where we go with this. So we’re not the best staff but we are good at some other things. And one of the first things we did is come up with a graphic interpretation of who we are for our brand. It was a blue soldier and we’ve since done about eight or nine other illustrations, pretty edgy graphics and in fact Forbes picked up on it. They saw our stuff  and they just stopped us and said “ What is this?” They couldn’t believe our graphics and we won some award for it. And that’s our brand, our logo. We’ve got a cool logo with dog tags and so on. But when we did these graphics of military people involved with the sports or concerts and things we do , it made us come alive. And then from there we started showing those things in print, airport advertising. We started to do billboards, on TV and of course radio. And we have been very successful at public service announcements. And I would tell you that the PBS general manager who I know here in Phoenix, I said, “Hey, were thinking of doing PSA’s”. He said, “ Don’t waste your time. They don’t work”


[00:17:19] Well, I would tell you we’re doing over ten million dollars in coverage each year. Okay.


Adam: Wow that’s intense!


Al:  So I would tell you we have put a lot of effort into that. We have the right firm to help us. So we do PR. We do the PSAs and we really work on our folks. We have great engagement with our 700,000 members and it’s all growing. Everything’s going with – they’re all pointing to the North, Northeast. And I think it’s all because we are involved in investing in marketing. So they’re open to new things and we don’t spend any money on the advertising. Well, okay, we spend a little bit couple of bucks in one military publication but the majority of everything we do is, we’re nonprofit. We don’t expect to spend any money.


Adam: [00:18:28] Yeah, yeah.I love that. And I love how boldly you are going forward with these things. So the last question, related to nonprofit digital marketing, tell me something you’re excited about.


Al: [00:18:42] (inaudible 00:18:42) is coming up in March and we are in the process of creating an e-magazine. I’ve done e-magazines before both in the corporate world as well as in the nonprofit world. It seems to work. And I ’m hoping this is going to work as well. we’re going to create the saying I don’t expect it to be 80 pages or anything I expect it to be 20 pages, 24 pages, something short and sweet. Tell what’s happening in the organization, how we’re impacting people. Tell us some nice stories. We hope to hit – our biggest donor is Live Nation. We hope they get the CEO of Live Nation to be interviewed for that. Obviously tell how we grew over 10 years and – but educate people on what other people are – or how we’re working with some sponsors and other partners. And so everybody knows that there’s an impact because you can’t assume anybody really knows everything going on that we’re doing. And if we put it all in one document and do it maybe quarterly or whatever. I don’t know if we will do it quarterly, maybe it’s going to be one issue. But I think I am excited about this because I think it’ll tell our story that our people will look at it, I think, appreciate it. They love what we’re doing if that ticks obviously due to the growth we have. And I think they’ll share it. And I think that’s the key.  Sending something to the right database is key as we’ve talked about. But it’s sure a hell of a lot better when they share it with people. So when they share… it’s word of mouth but it’s word digitally. And so I think that’s going to be hopefully a successful venture for us in the next couple of months.


Adam: [00:20:34] I love that. I love that. Well, this has been great. Let me see if I can recap what I’ve learned so far and then you can sort of add to that at the end if there are any additional thoughts you’ve got here. So for what’s worked well for you, you kind of talked a little bit about understanding a nonprofit more holistically. So, understanding the board, the website, the database, the strategy and then moving forward from there with sort of all those components and in mind. You also mentioned that putting money behind marketing really does work and marketers and nonprofit marketers in particular really need to get comfortable putting more money behind marketing so they can do more good in the world rather than being quite so tightfisted about it. You also mentioned getting the board more involved in actively sharing things on social. They’re on the board, they should be sharing and should be a part of the social conversation. And so why not loop them in and you also mentioned that Facebook marketing is working really well specifically for vet techs for sign-ups.


[00:21:31] Under what hasn’t worked well, you mentioned bad databases and executive directors that will refuse to make investments in marketing because they’re scared or don’t know what the impact is going to be and that those both need to be overcome and dealt with and then the third question what you’re excited about. You mentioned the tenth anniversary of Vet Tix and creating an e-magazine.


[00:21:52] (crosstalk 00:21:52).


Adam: [00:21:55] Is there anything that I missed?


Al:[00:21:56] As we all know especially around December, we all get 800 envelopes from different nonprofits suggesting we spend money with them at Christmas time. And so  all the research I’ve seen – you probably see the same as I do, that you better – if you’re going to send something in the mail to anybody you better know their age group. It better be an older age group or don’t. Don’t waste the postage. I have done some with some of our nonprofits- because that’s what they’re used to. They want to send out something in the mail. Totally a waste of time. And I think we have bad demographics, bad database. Everything that  could go wrong went wrong. And I would probably be saying I’d rather do it digitally. Not that it’s free but it is still – the postage and all other stuff won’t cost you money. But I’d rather do things, have a good database and at least understand who you’re sending stuff to because I think the younger people are not going to be opening up the mail.


Adam:[00:23:12] No. No, they’re not. I would 100% agree with that. Well, Al, this has been great and very informative. I really appreciate you taking the time to hop on the podcast. And to our listeners. Thank you so much for listening to Good People Good Marketing. To get more resources about nonprofit digital marketing make sure to go to where you can find more podcasts, blogs and other fun resources.


[00:23:35] Also if you want to find me, Adam your host, you can find me on Twitter @ajwalker, or on my blog at where I post about leadership and productivity and other fun things that I’m,thinking about. Thanks so much for listening and tune in next time.