Podcast: Marketing for a good cause (with Göteborgs Stadsmission)

By Doug Bolton

Podcast: Marketing for a good cause (with Göteborgs Stadsmission)

For most people in Zooma's hometown of Gothenburg, Stadsmissionen is a familiar institution. For over 70 years, they've worked to help the city's most vulnerable with emergency help and long-term support - whether they're dealing with homelessness, mental illness, addiction, domestic violence poverty or social exclusion.

Today, Göteborgs Stadsmissionen (or Gothenburg City Mission in English) is an organisation with over 500 employees, as well as more than 450 volunteers. Stadsmissionen runs food kitchens, a network of second-hand stores, housing facilities, therapy and support groups, work placement schemes and much more.

In order to keep things going, they depend on donations from private individuals and companies - and that's where marketing and communications comes in. In this week's episode, I spoke to Tomas Carlström, Stadsmissionen's Marketing Communications Manager, to find out how they make it happen. In our discussion, we covered:

  • The major role that captivating stories, and not just attention-grabbing CTAs, play in Stadsmissionen's online communication
  • How 'traditional' marketing methods like direct mail still work for Stadsmissionen, and how generational differences might change this over time
  • The advice Tomas would give to other organisations (both non-profits and typical companies) who want to effectively reach their audience online and create conversion

Even if you're not a part of a non-profit like Stadsmissionen, there's still plenty of great insights in this episode. Thanks to Tomas for joining!

As always, you can listen and subscribe to the pod on the podcast platform of your choice using the links below, and there's a full transcription of our discussion further down if you want a sneak peek before listening.

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DB: Welcome, Tomas Carlström to The Onlinification Pod. How are you?

TC: I'm fine, and thanks for having me.

DB: Good to have you here. You come to us from Gothenburg Stadsmissionen, which is an organisation that we work with and have done for a few years, and it will probably already be a bit of Swenglish in this episode with Stadsmissionen, I'm not sure what English translation you usually use.

TC: The most common English translation is City Mission. So that would mean The Gothenburg City Mission.

DB: Okay, well, there we go. So just to clear that up even further, maybe you could just tell us a bit about Stadsmissionen and what the organisation does.

TC: Yes. Um, I'll be happy to do that. The Gothenburg City Mission is a relatively old organisation here in the in this local context. We've been around for about 70 years, and we are part non-profit business and part charity. So we, we work with quite a number of social issues, local social issues we have in Gothenburg city and in some of the cities on the west coast. So we're a local and regional organisation. The issues that we work with are helping people who are homeless, who are living in poverty and so on. So we meet all kinds of people, which is maybe difficult for some to understand that we live in a very rich country such as Sweden, but we still have quite a large number of people who are not reached by the municipality or the help that is available, and they instead turn to organisations such as the city missions.

DB: And what's your role?

TC: I'm the marketing communications manager, so I'm responsible for our fundraising programs. I'm responsible for recruiting volunteers, or my team is rather, me and my team. And we work also as regular communications support to to all different parts of our organisation. We have quite a number of different markets where we are present, we work with with secondhand stores, we offer housing and work integration programs to the local municipalities, and we also have financed meeting places for people where they can reach out to us for help if they don't have any other alternative.

DB: And you mentioned your team, how many people are you at Stadsmissionen in total?

TC: Well, my team consists of 14 people, including myself, but the organisation overall is 500 people. We also have about 450 volunteers. So we have quite a number of, of, of operations that are running around the clock. I mean, our our housing programs, people live there. So you have to have staff running 24 hours. So that's one of the reasons why why we are quite a large number of employees.

DB: Absolutely. So you mentioned, obviously, you work with people who are homeless. And obviously in any big city in the world, there's people who suffer from poverty or homelessness and so on. But is there anything at the moment that the people you work with and the people you help are impacted by more than before? Like, I'm just thinking, you know, whenever you watch the news, it's about the rising cost of food and fuel and energy, and inflation. And obviously there's a lot of people who come to Sweden as refugees and then, you know, from Ukraine also recently, there came quite a large number. So have any of these trends, I guess, affected your work at all?

TC: Well, yes, that's correct. I mean, we always try to identify the most vulnerable groups in the society, and to be there and offer the kind of support that they they need. So although in some sense, what we do today is not that different from what we did 70 years ago when we were were founded, and and the and the poverty situation in Sweden has increased quite dramatically since the 80s, actually, due to political decisions and so on, but right now, of course due to high inflation, we meet a lot of new people, new groups, in particular I would say single mothers with children and also the elderly, and also some some young people who have not been able to enter the labour market and not found a job. So we have new groups of people coming to us for for support right now. That's right.

DB: I don't live in Gothenburg anymore, I live a little bit east, but certainly I know that a lot of people in Gothenburg know about Stadsmissionen from, like you said, you know, you have a network of second hand shops that are popular and you have adverts in the city and certainly, you know, fairly quickly after I moved to Gothenburg, I was aware that Stadsmissionen existed. But like you said, you've been going since the 1950s, so you already have quite a presence in the city. But since this is The Onlinification Pod and we talk about stuff like this, I wanted to ask how important online communication is to, you know, getting your message out there to people.

TC: I would say very important, and I'll soon explain in what sense. We have in the past, I would say 6 or 7 years, increased our donor engagement and financing through fundraising quite tremendously. So the local people in the city of Gothenburg and and in the region have been very generous and supportive, which is absolutely necessary for us to be able to scale up and meet the challenges, the social challenges that we have in the city. And one of the reasons that we've been able to reach out to more is that we've been working in a more systematic way with our online channels, with our social media marketing, with our website and so on. So it's been an important part of of our success in creating donor engagement in the last few years. It gives us good reach and it also makes it possible for us to interact with donors in a very simple manner, through in particular our social media channels.

DB: And is that who you're aiming for, really, primarily, Is it existing donors or people who haven't donated before or, you know, volunteers maybe? You must have quite a lot of different groups that you have to talk to.

TC: Exactly. That's one of the complex things about working in this organisation. We have a lot of different target groups depending on if you want to to give or maybe even buy in a secondhand store, or to be part of a fundraising program, to be a monthly donor, for instance. But we also, as I said, also sell services, housing services and work integration services to to municipalities. So that's a more a business-to-business business actually. But when it comes to reaching out to the private individuals and companies for support, the social media channels have been very important, and it has to do both with, of course, keeping a high level of commitment among the donors that we already have, but primarily also through social media advertising, reaching out to new groups. So it has both to do with keeping the high level of engagement and also reaching out to reach new groups. What we don't have so much in our in our social media channels is the call to action. So it's more about building the brand and creating an awareness and engagement.

TC: We have not been able to work to a large extent with call to actions there, the call to action comes mainly through mail and old school, old fashioned ways of marketing that still work quite well. Keeping in mind that a lot of the donors are older people, I think the average age of our donors is about 60, so you have to keep that in mind as well. But that is not unusual, I think most of the large organisations doing fundraising in Sweden aim for an older group, because I guess when when people have money and they are past sort of the 'making a career' or 'having a family' period of their life, then you have more possibilities to support. So that's why normally these organisations that are doing financing through fundraising are still quite heavily investing in in direct marketing and direct mail, face to face, door to door, to reach out for getting monthly donors and so on. So there is still a great potential to do more online, I would say.

DB: No, that's interesting. I didn't think about that. I mean, also you would hope that, like my generation, for example, is equally generous when we reach a certain age and have some money that we want to donate.

TC: Yeah, I think you will. But it's also a possibility if we can reach also younger target groups through online channels, and we are testing and learning by doing, and it's getting better and better. But still, that's a relatively small part of the fundraising for us. So, the online channels are primarily for, for branding, for building an awareness and engagement. So there is one, one actually other channel that we haven't talked about - our second hand shops are now also running a Tradera shop, so we sell more and more of our second hand products through Tradera. We don't have a web shop of our own, but we're using the Tradera platform for that. So that's another other way of us to, to, to use an online channel, that of course generates sales directly.

DB: Yeah, exactly. And that's just, you know, a channel that lots of people use anyway. You know, people are already there, so Stadsmissionen is also going there. When you when you've been describing this, you kind of realize the variation in what you work with. You're like a charity, and then also, you know, many different types of business, it sounds like, on the other side.

TC: That's one of the challenges, it's a little bit complicated but also one of the interesting and fantastic things about working in this organisation, there are always new challenges and always new interesting problems to reach out, and to get marketing and communications to support our various parts of our organisation.

DB: I was going to ask you if there's any particular types of communication or channels that you've used that you've seen have been more effective. But like you said, you do a lot of work on social media and also with direct, physical send outs and so on.

TC: One online channel or digital channel that haven't mentioned actually, which is very important for us, is the email marketing. We don't reach out to people we don't have a relation with, but we use it very much to keep loyalty and engagement with customers, with donors through monthly emails. And that's proven a very effective way, and a cost-effective way to keep in touch with donors and and customers. And we do that for various target groups. So that's a very important channel for us as well.

DB: You mentioned already a little bit, when I look, and then also if people are listening, get curious and look up your Facebook profile or something, they'll see an example of what you were talking about before. Like it's not so much, you know, aggressive CTAs, but a lot of awareness and storytelling. And a lot of companies talk about storytelling, and that might be quite difficult for a company that sells some kind of a, quite boring industrial product or something like that. But in Stadsmissionen, in this case, you have a lot of very engaging stories that actually are really good to share.

TC: Exactly, that's a very important part of our content, to have storytelling and in particular storytelling by the people that have actually been helped by us. We can see it's very effective way of reaching out, because if a single mother explains about her difficulties in putting food on the table or clothes on her children, I think everybody who is a father or a mother can identify with that. If someone explains how they struggled with alcohol addiction and came out on the other side healthy and managing their life in a better way, I think a lot of people will have maybe friends, family members or others that have been in the same situations. So it has a lot to do with identification. And we really try very hard to get people to tell their own stories. It's sometimes difficult, because it's also a lot connected to feeling shame about having to ask for help, and getting into a situation that that they simply cannot manage on their own. But that's a very important part of our communication we have. We would like very much to have a face and a personality, not just people who are working in the City Mission, our professional social workers, they can also tell very engaging stories about the people that they meet. But the best way to reach out is actually by having people who we have helped, that they tell their own stories.

DB: And I'm just curious, because you mentioned the people who work on your team earlier. Who is it who's creating this content and this communication? Are you are you a team of marketers, or what sort of background do you have?

TC: It's an interesting mix of people. Someone some people have worked in other similar organisations before with fundraising, and some people have worked in advertising as consultants before. Some of my team have been journalists, so it's a rather broad. Some of them actually have been doing social work as well, and then transferred into the team and started doing communications instead. So it's quite an interesting mix of people. And I would say, one of the main reasons why we have been successful in the past few years in reaching out and increasing donor engagement is because I have a fantastic team. So if you manage to put the right team together, then then a lot of things actually solve themselves.

DB: And the kind of goals and challenges that you've mentioned, you know, like keeping existing or former donors engaged and making sure that they keep donating is, I guess that must be similar for all charities or organisations like Stadsmissionen, that's a fairly typical challenge that you face.

TC: It's quite similar for most organisations that live on on fundraising. In fact, I mean, I spent most of my working life in the business community in different industries, and and the logic behind fundraising is not that far away from the logic of doing sales and marketing in, in other businesses.

DB: Exactly. And obviously you have private donors, just people who give to you maybe on a monthly basis, but there's also companies that sponsor you in various ways, and I'm not sure, would they maybe be harder to reach or easier to reach? Or is it the same kind of channels that you would go through to get through to those kind of people?

TC: Well, partly same, partly different when it comes to reaching out to private individuals, social media channels and direct marketing has been proven to be very, very important. But also, our door to door program to get monthly donors is a very, very important part of that. You have to understand that this is a very competitive market. We have at least about 500 organisations in Sweden who have what Swedish people recognize as something called a '90-konto', they are certified companies that have passed through some kind of control. And so these 500 organisations are competing for the same money to large extent, although, of course some people tend to give to certain organisations if there is a war or natural disaster, some people prefer to provide money for for organisations that support scientific research, and and some organisations such as us doing social work. So there is a difference. But when it comes to reaching out to companies, which we have also been quite successful in the last few years, we have seen when it comes to online channels, LinkedIn has been a very important channel for us, reaching out to the local business community.

TC: But a large part of reaching out to companies is actually through meetings, through networking and such. But LinkedIn has been a very important part of that and has increased the awareness of us as an organisation,and that you can actually support and engage and work and cooperate with us as a company, which we get more and more companies interested to do, because they see that this is also something that they can use to increase morale and within their own organisations, if you have people actually live in this region, they also understand that there are big social problems. And if their employer supports a local organisation, it's a very clear advantage for the employees. I mean, the situation is there right in front of you. I mean, they can see us all over the city and what we do and they can visit us. It's very transparent.

DB: So with all this in mind, what advice would you give to another charity with a similar kind of profile to Stadsmissionen that wants to improve how they communicate with their audiences online?

TC: I would say, of course, it depends quite a lot on the size and the resources. We are kind of a medium-sized charity in Sweden. So we have the opportunity to work with many channels and the tools, but we've also restricted ourselves to to a limited number of channels, and I would say that one of the most important advices that I can give is actually give some real thought about what you want to achieve with your online marketing, choose a few channels and focus on quality instead of quantity, that is a good start, and then you can build on that.

DB: And that's probably good advice to a lot of a more conventional companies as well. Don't spread yourself too thinly over lots of different platforms.

TC: Exactly.

DB: Great. Well, thank you very much for joining Tomas.

TC: Thanks for having me.

DB: It was great to have you on the pod. And if people want to find out more about Stadsmissionen, where do they go?

TC: They can access our website, which is called stadsmissionen.org. Or they can find me on LinkedIn and they can contact me in person.

DB: Okay, perfect. Great. Well, thank you very much for joining Tomas, bye bye!

Doug Bolton
Doug has been a Content Producer at Zooma since 2021. Originally English, he now lives in Sweden.
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