James Gillen is Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) of United Way Suncoast in Tampa, Florida. As the CMO Mr. Gillen is responsible for creating the strategic vision for United Way Suncoast’s overall marketing and communications function. He stewards the organization’s brand reputation in the communities served by United Way Suncoast and their partners.
He joined United Way Suncoast in February of 2020 as the Senior Vice President, Communications and Marketing, Jim led an extensive brand relaunch with a strong focus on communicating the tremendous impact of the work that United Way Suncoast and their partners do in the community.
Prior to joining United Way Suncoast, Jim was founder and CEO of Slate Media, a dynamic multi-channel media and public relations firm. He is a veteran of the U.S. Army.
If you'd like to talk to Terry McDougall about coaching or being a guest on Marketing Mambo, here's how you can reach her:
Her book Winning the Game of Work: Career Happiness and Success on Your Own Terms is available at Amazon.
Here's how you can reach host Terry McDougall:
Her book Winning the Game of Work is available at Amazon
Hey everybody. It's Terry McDougall, your host of marketing Mambo. And my guest today is Jim Gillen. Jim is the chief marketing officer of the United way of the Suncoast in Tampa, Florida. Before becoming a nonprofit executive. He had a long career working in the agency world. There's two reasons Why wanted to have Jim on marketing Mambo today? One is to educate us more about the United way. It's something that I was actually involved in in the corporate world. And the more I learned about it, the more I realized what an important role it plays and connecting people in need in our communities.
With the resources to help them. Whether it's helping with, to security, homelessness, financial security, or education, or many of the other. Areas that they help with. They address many different issues in our communities to help make our community stronger. But also, I'm just really curious about how a marketer.
Moves from working in the for-profit world into marketing within the nonprofit world. And Jim does a great job of explaining how in his job as chief marketing officer, he's able to influence for good in the community surrounding Tampa, Florida.
And if you're in a situation where you're trying to influence within your job, might I suggest that you check out my book winning the game of work? Career happiness and success on your own terms. I share a lot of tips on how to think about what motivates others, so you can have more impact. Be more in the flow. With less effort and who doesn't want that? Winning the game of work is available on Amazon worldwide. So check it out. And now without further ado, let the Mambo begin.
Hello everybody. It's Terry with marketing Mambo and I am so excited today to have, as my guest, Jim Gillen, who is the chief marketing officer of United way, Suncoast and Tampa, Florida. Welcome Jim.
Thank you Terry and glad to be here.
Yeah, I am so excited about our topic today, as we were talking before I hit record in my last job, I was very involved with the United way of metropolitan Chicago, and I know United Way to be such a great organization. And so I'm excited to talk to you about. What it's like to do marketing for a nonprofit like United Way.
But before we jump into that part of the conversation, I would love it. If you would give us an overview of your background, what you're doing today, and maybe give a bit of an explanation about what the United way is, because certainly a lot of us have heard of it, but not everybody really knows what the mission of the United way is.
So I'll turn it over to you.
Great. Well, happy to do that. So, I've been in the marketing public relations field for, 25 plus years. I started my career, in the financial industry and then moved into the marketing side. And so, it was a great, learning phase to be able to learn from the ground up. From the client side and really see what was necessary to build a great marketing plan and eventually started them on a medium public relations company that I founded and we, , continued until, , 2019 and were acquired by another company. But during that time, had a lot of opportunities to work with lot of large clients, fortune 1000 companies, fortune 500 companies as well. I had a lot of great opportunities to work with nonprofits.
And they , had similar but different needs. And so it was interesting. provided an opportunity to serve on a couple of boards, had worked with mothers against drunk driving both as a client and then eventually served on the board. For the state of Florida and really got to see some of the challenges that nonprofits were facing at the time.
Changing audience, changing technology was a big problem as a big technology gap from what they were used to doing and sending out letters and self-addressed stamped envelopes to , how do we reach an audience digitally, things like that. Great challenge, great opportunity to really see the inner workings and the needs of the industry.
So when I sold my company in 2019 it took some time off to really think about what I wanted to do next. And I saw an opportunity with the United way. So that really opened a lot of doors and to be able to apply the things I learned in the community. Both as a volunteers, as well as marketing in the retail industries to an organization that I admire greatly.
Yeah. So could you give us an overview of what the United way's mission is? Because as I mentioned, I know. , like the NFL has a big partnership with the United way and, we hear it a lot, but people may not really know what the mission of the United way is. And I'd love for you to share that.
Absolutely. And that's actually one of our greatest challenges is to make sure that people understand what United way does United way is a tremendous brand worldwide. They have over 1800 different affiliates, so you hear the United way worldwide. And then underneath it, that's the brand and an organization.
But underneath that are 1800. Plus individual United ways in communities across the world. And the purpose of using United waves is to assess the needs in their own community locally. , and find ways to bring together and convene , the local government as well as corporate partners, as well as individuals to help lift the community and solve those needs together.
So the needs you may have in Chicago, . , it would not necessarily be the same needs she would have and Tampa, for instance. And so I think that's one of the really, critical, benefits of a United way, but also one of the challenges. So when you hear, , the cancer society, for instance, you know, what they do, they fight cancer save the children, you know, what they do, you know?
So, when you have 1800 different, affiliate organizations address, The very specific needs in their community, then that becomes a little bit more challenging. So for United way, for instance, and Tampa, we cover a five county area, and,, we focus on three pillars so that those pillars are, early learning for children.
You success for those children in high school that.
are looking. , how do I start my life outside of high school? Am I going to get outside of high school? Am I going to go to the military vo-tech college? And then beyond that financial stability, but within that, all United ways, I think this is one of the unifying areas.
And have kind of an umbrella, kind of a target audience that they're trying to help. And we call them the Alice families. And that's an acronym for, asset limited income constrained, but employed. So these are people who are working, who are trying their very best every day but they're just living paycheck to paycheck and
they don't fall below the poverty level, so they don't get a lot of the benefits , that may, , be available to them through government assistance. They may get some, but not all. But they still don't make enough, to be able to necessarily cover, , educational costs, rent food, things like that.
They're having to make those very tough choices every week. So when we look at, ways that we can lift the community up beyond that we think about education and making sure that their, youngest children are educated and prepared for high school, making sure those high school children are then prepared life.
And then we're circumstances need making sure that we provide assistance and, , helping people become financially stable. So, , that's kind of the overarching thing that we do in the community. And we do that. Bringing together volunteers from across the community, whether it's through our corporate partners or individuals also donations.
So, you know, if you work at a large employer or medium size employer, and in an area where United way is, they may have a workplace campaign where you have an opportunity to donate. Through payroll deduction, which has been out there for many, many years and been a staple of how we raise funds.
And then of course through our corporate partners who have target areas that they're really wanting to support, that fall within those three pillars. So we convene that support both through volunteer advocacy, as well as fundraising, and to be able to address those needs .
Thank you for that overview so my understanding is that United way actually works through nonprofits within the community that all of this work that's done is sort of done, in an umbrella way.
And then the United way. Partners with various non-profits within the community that may address, maybe it's afterschool care or it might be, some kind of internship program or something for kids in high school so that they can explore different potential opportunities in post-secondary school.
So I just want to understand if that really is how it works.
Absolutely. So, and you have a combination of that. That's our primary means of addressing these needs because we know. Really great nonprofits in the community that doing some very important work. And so we look at the programs that they have in place that align with those three pillars that we're focusing on and then provide support.
Not only financially, that's the big thing, right? So. Funding to make those things happen. And we're able to convene the community together and be able to provide them funds for that, but also organize volunteers for them. If you go to our website, our volunteer page, for instance, you'll find that, we're constantly looking for volunteers and organizing.
We have a whole team that just focuses on volunteer organization in the community to get boots on the ground to help those organizations as well. And then elevating their purpose. So that's real important. And one of the interesting things is many times people are taking advantage of programs, , and, , receiving benefits through them and they had no idea that United way made that call.
So like an example in our community during the pandemic, everything was shut down. Childcare, was just non-existent there at the beginning. But for first responders that was really a critical need. So Y YMCA said, we really need to find a way specifically for first responders to provide safe, reliable childcare while.
Do this important work but that wasn't in their plan they had not planned on doing that the year before. There was no budget for that. So, we quickly convened, our community partners and we put together a COVID-19 relief and recovery fund at $1.9 million. Then a hundred percent of that went into the community to address needs like this.
So in this case, we're able to fund that first responder childcare. And make sure that it was possible, but that fireman or that nurse or a police officer that dropped their child off at the way, MCA would have no idea necessarily that United way made that possible. So you'll see that a hundred times over with different programs in the county.
And so, we've had many families that we've talked to that have been touched by, eight or 10 different situations, , in the community, different organizations that have all been funded by United way. And when they see the impact that our convening power made in their lives it really truly is.
Yeah, it really is amazing. And I can't remember if I mentioned this before we hit record or after, but at my last corporate job, I was very involved in promoting the campaigns within the organization. And then over the years I got more involved directly with the United way including serving on one of their leadership giving.
Councils and, the more insights that I got into the organization, the more impressed I was by it. And the more benefits I recognized, I know that you have a lot of partner organizations that are probably very small and they don't have the ability to go out and fundraise on the level that the United way does.
And, also may not have the same level of professional staff that could come in and advise on things like how to have an effective nonprofit board and things like that. So those are all really great benefits that the United way can provide as well. And I know, working for the corporation, we were always very appreciative to that.
We had a partner that we could go to when we wanted to run volunteer, , activities. And there were some really cool things that I was involved in. We went to, . An area of Chicago. That's kind of low income and. In one day, we probably had more than a hundred volunteers in one day.
We really transformed the school. We did plantings all around the outside, put in new playground equipment and painted. lot of the rooms within the school. I think that it might've been all of the classrooms and the cafeteria, and to think about how much it would have cost the school system to hire painters, to come in and do that.
And, with the partnership with our firm and the United way, they were able to identify that they were in need and match the volunteers with that. And we felt great about being able to help the community like that. Yeah.
I think that's a very good point and you see that, multiplied over and over in the community and every community across the country. And we've seen obviously, , that in our community as well. And you talk about, other resources and other ways we support non-profits. , leadership, I think is a prime example.
We have an organization called young leaders society, as well as a young leaders, society specifically focuses on teaching, in preparing, people in the workforce under the age of 44 leadership positions and board positions to where they'll be, prepared to be able to serve on the board and not just serve, but to bring something to the table that can elevate the work of these organizations and that thing that's really critical then you're absolutely right.
We here locally, we support about a hundred different programs within these different nonprofits. And one of the biggest challenges is manpower. And so when you look at just from a communication standpoint, right? Yeah. you may have an executive director an organization.
Who's also the founder. Who's also the marketing person. Who's also the volunteer organizer. And so, that's a pretty big challenge, but when you're able to provide additional resources, like train leaders that could potentially serve as Boardman. Our communications team works closely with our nonprofits to make sure that, , they have tools they need such as joint press releases, graphics for the social media content instruction on those types of things as well, because that's not necessarily the response.
If they're there to like mess, and the book bus. Yeah. She's there to bring books to children, but she's not necessarily focused on her social media. So to be able to provide an instruction there, I think is helpful and then have a volunteer team, coordinator that's able to bring boots on the ground floor.
I think it was great as well. So all those areas beyond just the funds that we bring to the table really makes the difference. We talk about being a convener and be able to bring people together. But the other important part for United way is that we're a multiplier. So when you put a dollar, , in a donation or make a $10 a week donation through your workplace, we're able to multiply that $10 into 30 or $50 with an impact in the community.
And that's really what makes the difference
yeah. I agree. And, it is such a great organization. Well, so I'd like to bring it around to the relevant topic here at marketing Mambo, and that is marketing. And, you know, I think that a lot of people don't really think about it. The topic of marketing when it comes to nonprofit, because marketing typically is about helping companies make money.
And so I know that you had a career in for-profit marketing before you joined the United way. So tell me, how does marketing work within a nonprofit.
Sure. It's a great question. There are so many things that are very similar and there's a few things that are different. So when you look at, some of the similarities is storytelling is really important, right? Whether you're telling a story about tires for, a national tire chain and why they're important and connecting with that audience The same thing applies to nonprofits.
It just becomes much more important because now that story asked to go to a deeper level. So that's important. Some of the challenges that you face is different is budgets. You know, so you have, , in for-profit marketing, you have kind of a line on, in there. Do you have a return on invest the Smith that you're expecting?
You know, if I spend this much money, I want to have a five times return or whatever it is that you've set as your goal. That's a little fuzzier when it comes to nonprofits because, , it's not always about donations that you receive as far as impact goes.
Yes, donations is kind of what funds our ability to be able to make this impact in the community, but engagement is equally as important. So if we aren't able to motivate people to volunteer, that's a challenge. If we can't have the community, see the impact or the importance of the cause in the community, that's important as well.
That storytelling becomes really critical in a nonprofit.
And that's one of the ways it's different, , but like I said earlier, budgets, that's a big difference, right? So, you may have a $20 million budget, , with an organization and that's not a big deal. That's just kind of, what they signed up for, and they know that if they do it right, they're going to have a return that's gonna be a good value.
With nonprofits, the money is very, very important because it needs as much money revenue that comes in. As possible needs to go back out to the community. That's priority one. In that process, you have to be able to operate. And so you have to have your team members there. They can put the boots on the ground that can, convene our corporate partners that can do all the mechanics of making the nonprofit work.
But I need to get the word out as well. So all this happened. , under a microscope as well. So we're judged by, different, then use out there. It could be, charity navigator or some of the others that are going to look at that as well and say, you know what, X percentage of every dollar they take in goes to operations.
That's another way that you're being judged there. You have to hold back costs. So you're going to have with a nonprofit organization, some of the smallest advertising. Available to do some of the biggest work in the community. So, I look at our advertising budget when I came in, last year I'm like, wow, we have to be really creative, you know?
And so that's absolutely critically important because, you can't apply some of the same theories , and retail markets. If I spend this much and I have a good ad campaign, I should have X return. It's really different. And, we're here to motivate, we're here to share impact and we're here to engage and get people engaged.
And so with a lot less money to do that. So that's probably the biggest challenge
Yeah. And as I'm listening to you, I'm thinking, yeah. actually one of the topics that comes up a lot on marketing Mambo is how difficult it is even right. For-profit organizations to sometimes measure the effectiveness of different marketing activities and at least in for-profit organizations, your yard stick is the dollar, right? Like how many dollars did we bring in? And when you're fundraising for United way, like, of course that's one measurement, but as you were mentioning a lot of times the impact might be harder measure. And, as I was giving that example earlier of one of the volunteer projects that we did that the United way.
Our organization coordinate, , they probably, I don't know exactly how it worked. I don't know if we bought the materials we may have. But even if United way donated for those materials that we used, , we brought 120 people to the site and we did all of labor. And so that was a huge multiplier on the investment in the material.
And the impact was, an nice, shiny new looking school which, but that's also sort of hard to measure, right? You make presumptions about the fact that the students are going to be more engaged and maybe it's going to have a positive impact on them even wanting to go to school because the school's like bright and fun to look at.
We did a lot of murals and stuff like that. Versus maybe being kind of drafted. Like broken playground equipment or something like that. So it's super, super interesting.
You know, and that's an area for us that. It really requires us to measure everything. And that's one of the things that we did, obviously in retail marketing, we would measure everything we would have a tangible number that we can look at later. But we can do a lot of the same things in nonprofit marketing, we're just measuring different things.
So engagement is, something for instance, that we measure very, very highly. So if you touch us in any way on social media, we know. If you go to our website, we know that if you come to our website from some other place and then go some other place, we want to know that we want to have a sense of that engagement.
And that really is going to measure our success in the community, because we know if you're interacting with us on several level, you're going to have an opportunity to hear our story which really is the story. Of members of our community and that's important.
And that's really what we want to get people to do, because if we can get them to engage with us on some level, we'll have an opportunity then to share the stories of the people we impact. We do a thing of a Suncoast snapshot that goes on our, social media channel each week. It's a new thing we just started doing, but it tells an impact story and interview someone in the community has been impacted by the work of United way center.
And that's important because we want people as they interact with us as they go to our social media sites or website, to be able to see that in real life. And, and what that really looks like. And I think that's key. , so we do measure everything but it's different things that we measure. So when someone volunteers to sign up, that's a conversion, it didn't result in any revenue or any doughnut.
But that was a conversion for us. That's a big win. And so we want to look at that. We have every graphic and imagine every tool you can imagine, we really utilize those very heavily to make sure that , we see where our increases are and engagement. And that tells us a lot.
Yeah. When I'm thinking back to all of the campaigns that I worked on over the years, I felt like the Chicago metropolitan United way did always provide us with lots of assets that we could use for, or the internal communications. And, we'd have the campaign kickoff meetings and yeah, it would have videos that told stories.
I can't remember exactly what the pillars were here in Chicago. I definitely know that one of them was financial stability. I think maybe sued security. And I can't remember the other ones, but they would have different stories that illustrated that. And, it's very funny to take things from sort of a cerebral decision, like, okay, how much money am I going to, sign up to have taken out of my paycheck every two weeks.
Two feeling like, oh, wow,, I'm helping this bright young person who. Would not have an opportunity to go to college, except for their involvement in some program, or maybe summer employment or a food bank, whatever. But to know that you're making a difference for real people, moves it to the emotional
you and I are both marketers. And so we, recognize that we all think that we make decisions rationally, but we actually make decisions emotionally. And then we justify them rationally. And so I think when you can pull on the heartstrings, people are like, oh, okay. Where's my checkbook.
that is so important. And we look at that really closely in my team at United way Suncoast. Historically in retail kind of figured this out a while ago.
If you remember back. A long time ago before a lot of people's time, American express, great company would have the ads don't leave home without it. And these ads were all about when you leave and you go someplace, you're going to get rocked. So this guarantee is going to happen.
But as long as you have American express travelers checks, then you'll be okay. You can get your money back. And everything was about, what bad thing was going to happen to you. That works for a while, but then what happens is it becomes a negative and there's like, then American express all that.
Well, that's having a negative effect every time they think of American express. So you think about getting robbed. That's not the message that we want to have with our, customers. Right.
Same thing happens with nonprofits. I think a great example is the ads for, pet donations on TV and.
Heart wrenching, terrible. My kids are crying and they're like, oh my gosh. And they do captivate us for a period of time and they motivate us for a period of time. But eventually we've turned the channel, right?
Yeah, absolutely. I can't stand to see those little scrawny dogs.
Yeah, I mean, my kids leave the room at this point.
Yeah. I'm just like, I'm going to fast forward or change the channel.
Yeah. And That's not the result they're going for,, the result is, you can make a difference in the lives of these pets, right?
The same thing, you can make a difference in the lives of members of our community. One of the things that we do is look at that very closely and we've moved away from the bucket is bottomless. And no matter what you do, you can never fill this bucket There's no reason to keep trying to, yes, you can make a difference in the community and let's show you what difference is being made every day.
And so we're telling the impact stories, the stories of the after. Right. And so like for instance, we had a young lady. Melissa, who, during the pandemic, she was a server at a restaurant on the beach here and the Tampa bay area. Obviously like most restaurants, it was closed down. And then during that, they said, you know what, we're going to go ahead and use this time to remodel.
So we'll see you in 2022. And so, you know, mother of three she, didn't have a college degree, things like that struggling or kids so that person turned to an organization that said, Hey, have you checked with the United way? Maybe they can help. So she checked with the United way, we have resource centers in the county.
Where we provide direct services and partnership services as well. And she was able to get, rent assistance and she was able to get some help with bay area legal regarding, pending, things may happen if you don't pay your rent, things like
that, that was, you know, everybody was being affected by some food assistance.
I mean, all those things kept her lights on. And so it was able to help her in that time of need. And in her case, it was really amazing. Exclamation mark or story. She came at a share her story at an event we had and someone in the audience happened to know someone who was president of the, , urban league here locally and said, you know what, she's great.
You need to talk to her. And so the introduction was made, to the CEO of the urban league. And now she's his assistant. So she went from a server to be an unemployed so seeking assistance in the community. And then ultimately now as the executive assistant to the CEO of the urban league here locally there's stories like that, that happened every single day.
And they only happen because, the community comes together. And so for United way, we not only need to make that happen, but we also, as part of our message needs to let people know I would've been much more responsive as a young person getting into, you know, the advertising industry an employer that I worked at when they had a United way campaign we went all, ran the other direction, because we didn't know what it was.
We just knew it was going to cost. If I had known then the impact that could have in real life, not just a poster, but Hey, this person was helped in this way. I probably would have been much more responsive and that's really what we're going forward when we communicate these stories to the kids.
Yeah, I agree with you. Because I was first exposed to the United way at a previous employer, not my last one, but the previous one. And I always went to the big kickoffs. I mean, the company would make it very attractive, they'd have entertainment and, Lots of refreshments and all kinds of stuff.
Maybe even giveaways. Which was great. And kind of funny because being in marketing and at my last employer, marketing was very involved because we were marketing internally. We were marketing. What is United way? Let's make it fun. We did lots of events. We were communicating very regularly about it.
And just in that whole process, I learned a lot felt great about my involvement with it. And even, the last two years that I was there, we got involved in, a secret Santa type thing where, we'd get the lists we would adopt so many families and they would basically share their list of things that they wanted.
And as a department, our team would just, buy all the stuff and each, person would take. A family member and by the jeans or the shoes or whatever it is that the kids needed or the parents needed. And , that was so fulfilling. It was really, really fulfilling. Because my kids are super spoiled.
I like shopping for Christmas, but mine are super spoiled and sometimes to see the lists of like, oh, I just want tube socks for Christmas. I'm like, gosh, that's the least I can do is, buy some. Superhero underwear for a little six year old, or, a parka or a scar for the teenage daughter or whatever, just to make their their holidays a little nicer.
Well, it's great. Your employer was so active in that and really marketing it back to their employees. I think that's a big challenge. They have a lot of competing interest as well and primarily running a business. And that's one of the challenges I know in my previous experience as an employee at large company and we didn't have a kickoff meeting that we were invited to the managers, I believe probably work is the way they handled it, this employer.
And then the managers would be the ones kind of chasing down employees and say, Hey, are you going to donate?
Uh, which is the last guy you
the strong arm.
Exactly. So, you know, we knew which got to avoid, but, you know, so we have to do things differently in our marketing, from that respect as well. And, social media has been a tremendous tool for us that regard.
I mean, one of the things, for instance, That we do, obviously you have a social media campaigns and things like that. But when we have a campaign kickoffs with our corporate clients like that one of the things that we do is we do a very targeted, , social media campaign just to those employees.
So for instance, if you work with a large employer here in the Tampa bay area, who's just getting ready to do a campaign kickoff about a week before that we'll create a campaign and social media and only target. That say that they work at this employer that allows us to then to be in it. Usually it will have a message about their relationship with us, not asking for donations, but about the relationship that they have had and the impact they've made through that employer, with the United way and the community.
And they have pictures that show their employees and us and things like that. But it's an opportunity for us to go directly to them. Before the campaign even starts and to be able to engage with them one-on-one and that engagement is so, so important. And I mean, we really have to not solely rely on the employer to sell, the proposition of that impact that can be made
but now with all the tools that are available in the different ways that you can target, we can take that message directly to the individual workplace donor and be able to at least give them some information before the campaign starts. If Facebook had been around at the time and I would've walked my, newsfeed and seeing, the relationship that my employer had with the United way, the impact that we're making in the county.
I probably would have been much more open to engaging in being a part of that campaign.
Yeah. I agree. It's interesting what you were saying about your former employer, that they didn't involve all the employees in the kickoff. And , that was definitely one of the things. That my last employer got smart over the years about how to approach employees about giving.
But I know that for some people, they just sort of had a bad taste in their mouth because there had been managers over the years that had sort of strong, armed and cornered people and, tried to get them , to give without really giving them a reason beyond, , I'm your boss and I want you to give, right.
That's not too enticing,
And that's not the message that we would want. I mean, we really want people to engage because they see the importance of of their contribution to the community.
Yeah. It's nice. I, worked in the city of Chicago, but live in a neighboring county and I also really liked the way that I could divide mine. Donation, that I could give a certain amount in the county where I lived in a certain amount in the city where I worked, which was really nice and thoughtful too.
In terms of being able to spread your impact. Well, Jim, listen, this has been such a great conversation, really, really interesting. And in an arena that I'm passionate about giving back to the community, and I would love for you to share how people can find you and the United way sometimes.
Absolutely. So obviously you can go to our website United way, suncoast.org and learn more about what United way does in our community And or look up your your local United way online as well. But you can see, the impact that is made in the community. And the different ways that you can get involved either as an advocate, as a volunteer or a donor and ultimately make a difference in your community.
And then where can people find you?
Yeah, people can find me on LinkedIn as well. And under James Gillan and connect with me.
okay? Great. Well, I'll put all the links in the show notes. So really appreciate you coming on today, Jim. And I hope you have a great day.
Thank you so much. You too.