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Look Behind the Brand: San Francisco Village

Posted by on November 20th, 2019
Posted in Blog, Digital, Email Campaigns, Nonprofit Communications, Social Media, Storytelling   

Mission Minded strategist, Rosie Powers, led the creation of a communications campaign to help San Francisco Village reach new members. I asked Rosie to share some behind-the-scenes intel to inspire your own thinking on your next campaign.

San Francisco Village believes a better experience of aging is possible when we can grow with and rely on each other.  Every day, their members come together to provide support services and create new possibilities for what’s next when we age.  Their members unite as peers, creating a purposeful and powerful space for learning, laughter, and courage to take on the future.

Our campaign goal was to increase membership inquiries by 25%, but in just one month inquiries went up by a whopping 197%, proving that a thoughtful strategy, focused creative, and smart use of digital and offline tools can have a big impact for nonprofits of every size.


What was San Francisco Village trying to accomplish when they asked Mission Minded to help?

As a nonprofit organization that thrives on both donations and paid memberships, the latter was their focus when they reached out to us. In short, they knew there were older adults in San Francisco who could benefit from being an SF Village member, but who simply didn’t know about them. So our goal was clear: Increase inquiries of people interested in joining.


Did they have a vision for how to reach the goal?

Yes, we all started with the hunch that a campaign that leveraged free and low-cost social media channels would be the fastest and easiest way to raise their visibility and get more people across the city interested in membership. After all, the budget was modest and the goal of reaching huge numbers of people seemed to call for all that digital marketing offers. Print wasn’t even on our radar.

But when we conducted our background research we gained some interesting insights that changed our focus. Yes, digital was a big part of the campaign, but the real opportunity came down to a content approach that focused on two things: storytelling and relationships. We realized that current members sharing their own stories within their own networks — word-of-mouth endorsements and testimonials — was going to be most effective.


Okay, so you knew you had to tell stories, but how did you share them? You still needed social media for that, right?

Only in part. SF Village had been using social media channels like Facebook, but when we developed the plan it came down to how best to share the stories so that existing members could access and promote them.

Two big pieces of the strategy were blog posts featuring SF Village members sharing their stories and emails to existing members asking them to be ambassadors and to share the post via email.

Membership is rooted in the tight-knit connections made among individuals, either as part of Neighborhood Circles, workshops, or events. This campaign leveraged those relationships by nominating influencers, or members that could help champion San Francisco Village’s mission within their networks and encourage others to do the same. This content served as the cornerstone of the campaign, which we promoted strategically across digital platforms to connect with both current and prospective audiences.

We took the testimonial-style material featured in the blogs and extended it to the material we used for the video ads with a focus of pushing people to the SF Village inquiry page. We also learned that neighborhood-focused printed newspapers were a major way their target audiences learned about new things. So we developed print ads for placement in local papers, tying everything together with the “Aging Better Together” theme and imagery.


Besides a modest budget, what other factors led you to this strategy and set of tactics?

Well the staff is small, and we were helping to build their internal capacity with this campaign. Content hadn’t been their focus, yet we saw that as a big opportunity for both this specific campaign and their ongoing digital efforts. So we coached them on how to do that well.

We helped them see that telling stories is something their members were really excited to do. The folks we interviewed wanted to talk about aging, and wanted to share their own stories within their own networks. Members were so happy with the impact SF Village had on their lives. They were eager to let others know about how meaningful it is to be part of SF Village.

So that served this campaign and beyond. Now their Facebook and email communications are more focused on the storytelling strategy, rather than simply being a tactical way to share random information as a way of being visible. We wanted them to see how being more intentional about the content itself could have a big impact.


How did branding impact your recommendations?

We’re all brand strategists at Mission Minded so we knew this campaign had to simultaneously leverage their brand and strengthen it. The heart of their brand is about relationships so that was the heart of the campaign as well.

Being part of a community is the promise SF Village makes and keeps to its members, so relationships—in the campaign content itself and the media choices—allowed us to develop a powerful and inviting campaign theme: Aging Better Together.


So what exactly was included in the campaign?

  • Geo-targeted Facebook video ads
  • A closed Facebook group for members, to foster deeper community
  • A series of 8 blog posts featuring member stories
  • 3 emails, designed with the campaign identity, that SF Village sent to members
  • Ambassador program encouraging members to share the blog posts via email
  • Partnerships with like-membered organizations and cultural institutions in San Franciso
  • Print ads

Their members will become increasingly more digitally literate, so print ads may one day cease to be effective, but for now they really mattered.

Also note that members themselves were the target of this campaign, but caregivers, children, physicians, and aging-related agencies can be targeted for future campaigns.


Were there any big surprises for you?

I was so inspired by the interviews I conducted with members. Learning about the power of those relationships, and how much these older adults wanted to talk about them, and about aging, was a surprise. The topic of aging is tricky, and hearing from members themselves really carries weight for other older adults. And I just really enjoyed those conversations.


Did you have a favorite moment?

Yes! The client expressed excitement throughout the email campaign as open rates grew, but they were most thrilled to see the final impact our work had on membership inquiries. It can be hard to visualize how it’s all going to work together — and what the results will be — but seeing it live was exciting for all of us.


What can other nonprofits learn from this for their own campaigns?

It’s easy for people to get hung up on tactics, thinking, “Oh we need to be on Facebook, or we need to be on Instagram.” But being on those platforms is not going to work if you’re just throwing content out there without a strategy behind it.

Don’t assume that digital is your only avenue. Do your research to learn where your target audiences are, and how they like to get information. Look at your website analytics first. There’s a lot of information for you there about how folks are finding you. And talk live with people and ask them. You’ll learn more than you might think.



Jennie Winton is a Founding Partner of Mission Minded, a 25-year marketing veteran sought for her expertise in branding nonprofit organizations, and a one-on-one leadership coach.

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