The last few years have changed many things both in the private and not for profit sector, not least among them a need to lead with more empathy and place an increasing reliance on emotional versus just functional needs. Doing so has required a rampant shift from viewing diversity, equity and inclusion as mere tactics versus vital strategies of business. Additionally, as the notion of purpose has quickly evolved from “making the world a better place” broad-brush aspirational statements into stakeholder capitalism, or a more firm commitment from companies to best serve and protect all their key constituents equitably in ways that work toward making tomorrow better than today, many new strategic imperatives have evolved. Top of the list have been new rules, guidelines and strategies for dealing with the topic of ESG. While many often look to the private sector to set the bar on what’s next in key areas such as these, innovations can often be found within the public or nonprofit sectors that can serve as guideposts for how business as a whole should move forward.
For these reasons, I wanted to speak to a marketing visionary who is tackling all of the above challenges and more in her role as Chief Marketing Officer for the National Kidney Foundation (NKF). Dolores Machuca-Ruiz is a marketing industry veteran with notable stints at leading organizations such as NBC Universal and The American Cancer Society. Following is a recap of our conversation:
Billee Howard: Emotional engagement is now consistently trumping functional engagement as brands work to recapture consumer loyalty and trust, while also standing out in a sea of sameness. How is this paradigm playing out in your space re: donor engagement and are there any new strategies you are employing at NKF that others can learn from?
Dolores Machuca-Ruiz: In the realm of donor engagement, the shift from functional engagement to emotional engagement is a dynamic trend that reflects the evolving landscape of nonprofit organizations, including the National Kidney Foundation. This paradigm shift recognizes that establishing a deep emotional connection with donors is paramount for fostering lasting loyalty, trust, and differentiation, especially in a competitive environment where many causes are vying for attention. Our goal is to develop long lasting relationships with our donor base because they are the lifeline to delivering on our mission.
We recognize that donors want to feel valued and understood as individuals, so we use data-driven insights to segment our donor base and deliver personalized content. Some of our strategies include harnessing the power of storytelling with real-life experiences of kidney patients, caregivers, and healthcare professionals and leveraging all our social platforms to share those stories. Our communications are personalized and tailored with culturally sensitive and bilingual content. We have also overhauled our donation form, transitioning it from a cumbersome transactional process to a streamlined and interactive user interface. This transformation aims to boost donation conversions and enhance donor engagement through the provision of supplementary payment choices like ACH and digital wallets, while also improving the efficiency of backend reconciliation procedures. Also essential to our strategies, we have intensified our focus and expanded our investment in recurring giving, a predictable and sustainable source of funding which has grown in popularity with younger, more diverse donor segments who are accustomed to the convenience of subscription-based formats.
Howard: Another trend brands are currently dealing with is the Purpose 2.0 movement. Talk to me about the changing face of marketing in the not-for-profit world as this major shift continues to unfold.
Machuca-Ruiz: As someone deeply invested in the power of purpose and tangible outcomes, I find it truly exciting to witness how this emergence of Purpose 2.0 has sparked a profound shift, reshaping the very fabric of marketing practices within the not-for-profit sector. Today’s audiences are discerning, seeking purpose-driven marketing that translates into real-world effects. It is not just about telling people why they need to care about your mission, it is about showing them how they can be a part of the solution and sharing actual quantifiable outcomes with them and celebrating that success together. It’s heartening to witness the accountability that audiences are placing on organizations like ours, compelling us to continuously innovate and exceed expectations. In my role at NKF, this concept of Purpose 2.0 resonates deeply.
Our collaborative efforts to address complex challenges in kidney care, alongside like-minded mission partners, reflect the essence of this movement. We are consistently forging partnerships and actively involving stakeholders in our work, fostering a sense of ownership and community. This collective approach allows stakeholders to feel genuinely invested in our mission, transcending mere spectators to become active contributors. For NKF this signifies a pivotal juncture where purpose-driven marketing converges with measurable impact, creating a harmonious partnership that aligns diverse stakeholders toward a shared vision of positive change. As this transformation continues to unfold, NKF is committed to harnessing its potential and driving our collective efforts towards growing our network of partners and supporters steadfast in our goal to expand the impact of our mission.
Howard: The ESG landscape is changing quickly, particularly as all organizations must work to demonstrate societal value that benefits all stakeholders. You recently did research on this topic, what were some of the key findings?
Machuca-Ruiz: Our findings tell us there is a steady drumbeat around adjusting ESG to be more tied to tangible winning outcomes for society at large. Consequently, a focus on health equity is a critical evolution many leaders are considering to best future proof their businesses. Health equity and investment in employee wellness are core themes throughout our research. This shift establishes health equity as a pivotal component within the realm of ESG, not solely out of necessity, but also due to its potential for straightforward measurement through factors such as productivity, appeal to investors/shareholders, and tangible outcomes. While, various metrics, including those aimed at better assessing the impact of a focus on health equity, are yet to be completely defined, the prominence of this issue presents a distinct opportunity for NKF to collaborate with essential stakeholders in shaping these metrics. Our dedication to expediting improved outcomes for all kidney patients remains resolute.
Howard: You recently launched a new campaign for NKF that sits at the intersection of ESG and health equity. Tell me more.
Machuca-Ruiz: ESG can play a pivotal role in changing the outcomes of so many people living with kidney disease. Collaboration and commitment between the public, private, and non-profit sectors is essential to effect lasting change. By actively considering ESG factors in their decision-making processes, businesses can contribute to reducing health disparities and creating a more equitable and healthier society. This involves equal access to care, transplantation, improved health outcomes, education, research, and policy changes to eliminate disparities and promote equitable opportunities for individuals with kidney diseases. This work is the bedrock of our efforts in mitigating health disparities in kidney care and will get us one step closer to achieving kidney equity for all.
In our research we discovered that there is a trend in ESG that involves a continued bust-up of the E, S and G siloes that currently compromise ESG in its current form and is being broken down into more specific definitions that require measurable and meaningful outcomes. This is causing ESG considerations to become increasingly relevant in the healthcare industry as stakeholders recognize the interplay between environmental sustainability, social impact, and ethical governance in delivering effective and equitable healthcare services. NKF is actively seeking partners to help us advance our mission by allocating funds for our programs that can improve healthcare access and outcomes in communities of color and believe there is tangible opportunity for businesses to incorporate ESG principles into their operations. To learn more please visit our website.
By advocating for kidney equity, we are helping to create a healthcare system that values diversity, promotes inclusion, and ensures that everyone has an equal chance at a healthy life, regardless of their ethnicity or cultural background. For me this is a full circle moment professionally and personally. As a first generation Hispanic and daughter of immigrant parents that came from the Dominican Republic and El Salvador; I have experienced firsthand the challenges faced by communities of color. At NKF, we are committed to putting kidney disease, and its risk factors front and center within the context of health disparities and ensuring the integration of kidney care and the needs of all kidney patients into the public consciousness.