How to Fundraise $10.6M During a Pandemic

Posted on: May 20, 2021 | Written by: Isaac Rudansky, AdVenture Media Group

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Patrick and Isaac are joined by Mike Ringenbach, Associate Director at Four Diamonds; they discuss the ins and outs of leveraging data analytics in the decision-making process, the state (and how-to) of fundraising during a global pandemic and the importance of marketing and sales in fundraising.

Full Episode Transcript Below

Patrick Gilbert: Welcome to the How to Hide a Dead Body podcast. I’m Patrick Gilbert, Executive Director at AdVenture Media Group. This is a podcast where we discuss digital advertising, marketing, and other topics related to business consulting and career growth. I’m joined today as always by our CEO, Isaac Rudansky, and our AdVenture media’s content Queen, Danielle Immerman.

Today, I’m really excited for what we have in store. We brought on a special guest, and this podcast has been on my radar for a long time. I’ve wanted to have this conversation and wanted to bring this guest on. I am humbled by the opportunity to be able to have this conversation.

Joining us is Michael Ringenbach. He has an expansive resume. Mike has a master’s degree in Public Health. He is pursuing a PhD in public administration and writing a dissertation on peer-to-peer fundraising. He also serves as the Associate Director of an organization called Four Diamonds, which is based out of Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital.

Mike, thank you for coming on. Can you just give us the overview of Four Diamonds and talk about things that are going on there and what you guys work on?

Michael Ringenbach: Sure. Well, thanks so much for having me on. I really appreciate the opportunity. Four Diamonds is a childhood cancer gift fund located at Penn State Children’s Hospital. We help families and kids who are battling childhood cancer in a few different ways. First of all, we make sure that they never see a bill for their care. So anybody who comes into Penn State Children’s Hospital will never receive a bill.

We surround all of our kids with an outstanding support system of child-life specialists and music therapists, art therapy, and nutritionists to ensure that they have the best chance possible to beat the disease. And then the last area that Four Diamonds focuses on is funding innovative research. That research, we conduct at Penn State Children’s Hospital and Penn State College of Medicine, but we share that freely around the world.

So we’re not just helping kids in Hershey, Pennsylvania, but we’re helping kids everywhere. The amazing thing about Four Diamonds is that we’re primarily funded by students who are really passionate about our cause. Penn State Dance Marathon, which Patrick and I both participated in back in our days at Penn State. And then also high school, middle school, and elementary school students across Pennsylvania and beyond really consist of the bulk of our fundraising. We’re very fortunate and we’re doing a lot of good work helping kids battle childhood cancer.

Patrick Gilbert: That’s the connection for anyone that’s unaware of this. I met Mike, originally in college briefly, but then we worked together at Four Diamonds. So this is actually my former employer. I started my career working at the organization he’s still with. I actually say all the time; Mike is the reason that I first became interested in the topic or concept of data science, and being able to look at statistics and data in a different way. Mike came into Four Diamonds at a time when it was a small, very analog organization, and helped transform it into a modern, data-driven powerhouse. Mike, just describe what is your role and how has this changed over time?

Michael Ringenbach: When I first started, I mostly just helped oversee our online fundraising for our Mini-THON program, which is mostly high school students and below. Over the years, I’ve adapted and changed into a variety of roles at Four Diamonds. Right now, in my associate director role, I oversee the data and analytics for all of our fundraising programs. I also do a lot of coaching of our students at Penn State THON and other organizations on how they can successfully fundraise using peer-to-peer techniques and digital marketing techniques.

Patrick Gilbert: So what is the state of play right now for fundraising in general, especially with everything that’s happened in the last year? It’s placed a greater emphasis on online fundraising, especially for a lot of organizations that relied on in-person events. What has that been like and what’s going to stick moving forward?

Michael Ringenbach: It’s a really interesting time in fundraising right now. You hear about unprecedented times and how overused that that word is. This really is a truly remarkable time in the state of fundraising.

What we’ve seen is that there hasn’t been as big of a drop-off with larger and middle-level donors, but small donors have dropped off. So there has been kind of a widening or more of an inequality with the types of gifts. Organizations that are reliant on larger gifts, for the most part, are doing okay.

I’m actually just fresh off of the Peer-to-Peer Professional Forum, which conducted a study for 2020 in how organizations that do peer-to-peer fundraising, and peer-to-peer fundraising means you have participants that are usually doing an activity that are then asking their friends and family for money. So it’s a lot of walks and bike rides, and endurance. The New York City Marathon is a great peer-to-peer event. And those events, the top ones saw about a 30 to 40% reduction in the revenue in 2020, compared to the same events in 2019.

There were a few events that actually increased their revenue, and those events were the ones that were virtual-only. The ones that were already well adapted in the digital space that didn’t rely on a physical event were the ones that raised the most money. That includes things like gaming marathons or other online marathons.

Patrick Gilbert: Interesting. So what does this shift look like? I mean, I think some marathons are happening, but they’re not having any fans come. Even if we go back to this arena where we can have in-person events, it’s going to look very different. And the fundraising model is going to have to look very different. It’s going to have to continue to rely on online efforts. What do you think that shift is going to look like?

Michael Ringenbach: I think it’s going to be two parts. One is in 2021, how do organizations adapt to some of those standards and precautions that are still in place? For virtual events, do you ship out boxes to runners who run across the world and you have apps to track that? Do you have the technology to aggregate that information and have a collective experience?

Some of the reasons why these fundraising events are so successful is because people feel part of something. And that’s much harder to replicate behind the Zoom screen or any type of screen. So replicating that is still hard. But then beyond 2021, or once we get through the pandemic, it’s how do we take the lessons of the last few years here and apply them to events moving forward?

Do you do more hybrid events, where people can participate in a marathon or participate in a 5k at a big physical event, but also participate around the world, maybe beforehand, or Zoom in, or have some sort of technology piece? There’s going to be a lot of exciting opportunities, I think.

Patrick Gilbert: That’s awesome. We work with a handful of clients that do some sort of events, and with the shift to online over the last year or so, one of our clients runs an award ceremony, and they’re working with augmented reality technology that can deliver a trophy. So everyone is shipped the box, and it’s like a hologram of a trophy that you can look at the Zoom, and that’s your award or whatever. I can certainly appreciate that.

Other people have said, instead of when you go to a conference and you have the catered lunch, that everyone gets dropped an UberEats gift card into their email at noon, and everyone is encouraged to eat lunch together. I think that innovation is interesting, especially if it can be effective.

Let’s talk about the Penn State Dance Marathon. And the reason that this podcast is timely is because that organization, which is completely run by students achieved something within the last month that a lot of people thought was impossible. This is an event that always relied on in-person. It is the sort of thing that you have to see it to really understand what it really is. You can see photos and videos, but it really does not do justice.

And when it came out that this was going to have to be virtual, a lot of alumni, a lot of donors, a lot of supporters of this organization, consciously or not, wrote this off as, “They’re going to raise some money, but it’s just not going to be the same.” They went out and raised $10.6 million, which is an astounding amount of money. How did they pull it off?

Michael Ringenbach: First of all, the students set at Penn State who pulled it off are unbelievable. I have the chance to work closely throughout the year with the student leadership. And every single year, they’re remarkably talented and committed and dedicate literally 40, 50, 60 hours a week to making that organization and that Dance Marathon happen.

I think one of the things that they did this year that was really smart was they made the decision pretty early. They had decided all the way in August that the February Dance Marathon was going to be virtual.

Patrick Gilbert: And there has always been issues with flu season and immunocompromised children and all these different things. So this is something that’s sort of been on the radar long before COVID was a thing.

Michael Ringenbach: Absolutely. Our Four Diamonds families and kids are oftentimes undergoing treatment. So we want to create as safe an environment as possible for them. But they made a decision early and really focused on a couple of things: how do they continue to fundraise and teach other students how to fundraise? Also, how do they start producing 46 hours of content that is compelling?

Historically, the Dance Marathon is 46 hours, no sitting, no sleeping. That wasn’t going to be possible this year, but they were going to be doing a live stream for 46 hours. Figuring out how to do content for that long and keep it compelling throughout the entire weekend was obviously a big task, but I think one that they pulled off very successfully.

Patrick Gilbert: Yeah, absolutely. Do you want to talk a little bit about the whole social media theory because I think that’s the X Factor in all of this?

Michael Ringenbach: During that weekend, the event is typically 46 hours and students are on their phones, not too often throughout the weekend. It’s super high energy; a lot going on on stage. It’s really a rock concert happening for 46 hours.

What we saw this year was with everybody watching the live stream, the social media traffic was unbelievable. Paid social media is a great tool, but having 1000s of 1000s of people and about 175,000 people tuned into the live stream throughout the weekend. Having 1000s of 1000s of people share on your behalf and like other people’s content about that same topic is still unbelievably powerful on social media.

What you’ve seen over the years with paid advertisements or brands, organic posts not doing as well, individual posts are still prioritized on Facebook, especially when they are shared immediately. So having these virtual events, engagement is always an X-Factor.  What we saw counter-intuitively that social media engagement was through the roof because everybody was really sharing and excited.

Patrick Gilbert: And it certainly did a lot to raise awareness and to continue to keep people engaged throughout the entire event. This entire topic here, I think, relates to any business that’s doing anything online, or any event-based organization that’s trying to drum up awareness for really anything.

One of the reasons why I find fundraising so fascinating is because you’re not selling a product; you’re selling an idea. You’re selling a promise by saying, “Hey, listen. Give me your money. And instead of giving you something, I’m going to take this money and do something great with it. You have to believe in me and you have to believe in what I’m doing with it.” And that is really hard. I think that there’s a lot that salespeople and marketing people can learn by studying hard-nosed fundraising tactics and these sorts of things because it is challenging to get people to willingly give up their money.

And this idea of social media and creating buzz and awareness. Every time you go to an event; there’s a hashtag. They try to do this thing and it just never works. Is there anything that stood out to you that you’ve learned over the last couple of weeks from this event that you think other people can take with them?

Michael Ringenbach: I think it’s that they had an unbelievable weekend in terms of engagement and excitement, but they really worked to curate that loyalty well before the weekend. In fact, they’ve done it over the years. What I think happened was, for so many years that has been such an amazing event. It’s given volunteers and donors and Four Diamonds families such an amazing experience.

And what they saw this year was that when they couldn’t have this in-person event, now, they did film some stuff live, and they had a live-type production, but it was in an empty arena that had about 100 people in it. They were able to mobilize all of those people from the past, and say, “Look, what we’re doing this year. This event that’s meant so much to you in your life; we’re overcoming this obstacle and we’re going to do it. It’s going to be awesome and we’re still going to show support to kids who are battling cancer.”

And that’s one of the differences and something that digital marketers should think about with working with nonprofits. For nonprofits, you don’t just want to think about the immediate task. If you’re selling a product, you want people to get to the landing page, you want that best conversion rate, and you want to have every transaction happen quickly, and really just try to sell as much as possible.

But for nonprofits, you’re really trying to sell your mission, and you’re trying to sell loyalty to your organization. You want people to be repeat donors. You want people to come back and stay in the fold. You want people to volunteer for you. You want people to have fundraising pages for you. Eventually, down the line, you want people, especially people high capacity to make a large substantial donation to you. And that just doesn’t happen with one click-through. It takes repeated action, which is hard, and communication.

Patrick Gilbert: I think that presents an interesting psychological case study because we deal with a lot of businesses, e-commerce or whatever, where the revenue officer or the owner of the business will say, “I’m in this for the long haul. I’m willing to acquire a customer at a loss because I want to be able to develop brand loyalty. And I’m willing to make an investment in the future and cultivate the right audiences.”

But when push comes to shove, there’s an immediate level of greed that comes with this. And we’ve seen that happen with our clients of saying, “We’ve outlined our goals. You’ve said that you’d rather have a higher volume of customers at a lower profit because you’re playing the long game.” But ultimately, they have investors that are looking at numbers and all these different things.

On the nonprofit side, you really don’t have that option. It’s built into the system of saying, “We would rather 100 people donate $1 than one person donate $100,” because you scale by volume. You just know that you’re playing the long game. There’s really no opportunity to build in that greed.

Ultimately, when you’re trying to pull off something like this, which a lot of people thought was impossible, that’s when it comes back to really benefit you.

Michael Ringenbach: Absolutely. And I do think if you have tracking mechanisms set in place in your online fundraising portal and you can set up refer tokens and tags and Google and things like that to track how much comes from each ad, if you have a development director that’s looking at, “Well, we spent $1,000 on these donation ads and returned $2,000.” That might not be the best metric to look at.

It’s how many new donors that we bring into our system? How many new supporters and how can we capture them over the long haul to improve upon what we do at Four Diamonds?

Patrick Gilbert: I want to dive a little bit deeper into your role specifically, because, like I said earlier, you stepped in where the data didn’t even exist yet. The first data set that I’m pretty sure you were set to work on was a clunky Excel document that had the previous year’s information from the Mini-THON program, which is high schools, middle schools, some elementary schools that also have their own fundraising events, that are all remarkable, and everyone to check that out.

That led to a decision to make a further investment into a better online fundraising program that led to a slew of other decisions that really helped you guys become a data-driven organization. I don’t even know if Google Analytics existed on the Four Diamonds website before you came on board. What has that whole journey been like? What can other people that are in a similar role where it’s like, I don’t even know where to start? How have you figured out the direction that you need to take this organization from a data standpoint?

Michael Ringenbach: That’s a great question. I’ve been on staff closing in on eight years here this summer. The first piece of advice I’d give is that it’s incremental. You don’t have to build a full-fledged data analytics program right off the bat. What you should start doing is start thinking immediately about what are the data pieces that matter for our organization? What are the things that we can reasonably track in an amount of time? Some data is harder to get than others.

Now there’s a lot more tracking available with online things and online stores and stuff like that. But what are the data points that matter? Can we correlate them to success? And then that will help guide how you start building out your other data structures.

It’s not just showing your staff, “I collected all this data and I crunched the numbers, and the R squared value is this.” It’s really good and that’s statistically important. It’s really about showing how this data can influence and improve upon what the end goal is. It’s saying, “If we do this, we’re going to raise more money to help kids who are battling cancer.”

At the end of the day, being able to translate that is an incredibly important skill. It’s not just enough to do the data analytics; it’s being able to translate it to people so that they can have actual insights on how to continue to improve upon the process.

Patrick Gilbert: I’ve experienced a lot of that where you have a data scientist that can run those sorts of analyses. And then there’s always that missing connection between that final result and what it actually means when you’re translating that to the business stakeholder or the client. How have you gotten better? How have you developed that ability to translate that story? What has really worked well?

Michael Ringenbach: First of all, I think it’s been possible because I’ve had a boss at Four Diamonds who’s really supported me in doing this. So having your leadership buy-in is essential. Having your leadership tell other people, “Listen to the data. We’re going to follow it. We’re going to do X, Y, and Z.”

But to get the staff to buy in, to get better at that, it’s not just enough to crunch the numbers once and say, “Hey, this is what we’re going to do.” It’s also figuring out a system for constant feedback. It’s saying, “Hey, we did this. We modified our behavior in another way or changed this within our business process. Here’s the feedback and here’s how it improved because of this analysis, or because of this behavior change.” And that’s basically a constant cycle. Then every year, it gets better and better, and people buy in more.

Patrick Gilbert: You mentioned before about trying to figure out what are those data points that really matter for your organization. I imagine that evolves over time. When you’re starting out and there’s not a lot of structures in place to track much of anything, you’re probably just looking at the basics of total donations, unique donations, and total funds raised. Then I’m sure that that has changed over time. Maybe I’m wrong, but what has that been like?

Michael Ringenbach: At the end of the day, there’s still going to be your top line functions that matter; for a nonprofit, for-profit, whatever type of organization you’re in. Total revenue matters; your net profit matters, and that’s not going to change. That’s your outcome measure.

We’ve probably added in a couple of 100 variables over the years that we track in terms of fundraiser success, innovation success, and participant success. Those have evolved as we’ve had access to information. They’ve also evolved as the platforms that we use have added the new tools. They’ve also evolved in a way that will take a look at different subsets for those variables now.

Meaning that maybe in the first couple of years of our fundraiser, do we look at some variables that matter, and then as they mature, maybe they matter less? We’ll also look at new different outcome measures: retention, growth, things like that. So, as you continue to build, it really expands upon itself. I would caution against getting too bogged down in the weeds. Once you find that something doesn’t matter, ignore it unless you need to track it for some other reason.

Patrick Gilbert: I think that’s an issue that a lot of people face. When you log into any of these platforms, whether it’s Google Analytics, Google ads, Facebook ads, or any of the programs that you’re using, you’re just immediately presented with a ton of different metrics and information. And it makes it seem as if all of it is important and it absolutely isn’t. The thing is you have your KPIs; the things that really matter, whether it’s total revenue, profit, the quantity of donations, and unique donors. The rest of the metrics are really there to help tell the story.

Like when you’re looking at, we raised $10,000. Then you’re trying to say, “Okay, well, how many individual donors? What was the standard deviation of those donors? What was the average? All these different things to get a better understanding, which then translates into the story that you’re conveying to the non-data people about how to actually turn this into action. And that’s something that I think a lot of people have missed the point on that, regardless of the sort of data you’re working with.

Specifically, in Four Diamonds, I’m pretty sure the data buck stops with you. You’re looked at as the main subject matter expert on this material. Correct?

Michael Ringenbach: That’s correct. Yeah.

Patrick Gilbert: How do you stay sharp and how do you continue to get better at this?

Michael Ringenbach: That’s a great question. So I’m fortunate enough to work at Four Diamonds who are part of the Penn State University ecosystem. When I did my masters, I took a lot of statistics classes on public health. And there’s actually a lot of correlation between public health data and fundraising data in the sense that the statistical methods that you use are the same. It’s trying to figure out percentages of populations or trying to identify someone who’s like one in 10,000 that can make a major gift or someone who’s one in 10,000 that has a disease.

Patrick Gilbert: Interesting.

Michael Ringenbach: But at the end of the day, I think all professionals need to stay sharp and figuring out the best way to do that. I listen to a lot of these podcasts just to keep up on digital marketing and the trends that you guys have. I also am taking a look at people who do fundraising data on Twitter. There’s a few professionals that tweet; there’s conferences that are professional conferences. It really is trying to stay sharp in any way possible.

But it’s something that I really do try to dedicate or set aside some time to every month. So, if there’s workshops being offered or trainings, or there’s online trainings through LinkedIn learning, for example, I usually try to set aside maybe a Friday afternoon, and do some of those and make sure that I’m staying current and sharp.

Patrick Gilbert: Interesting. I’ve always been fascinated by that because, at some point, there has to be self-motivation for anybody to be able to stay relevant in their field, especially in the work that you do. I think the work that we do is very similar, where this stuff can change in six months. And if you’re not on the ball, it’s going to blow right by you. You talked a lot about some statistical models and some more broad data analytics types of work. Is there anything in particular that you would recommend to somebody that’s fresh in this and looking to sharpen their skills?

Michael Ringenbach: Yeah. When you’re in school or something like that, you’re learning the statistical methods of how to analyze data. I think in the real world, one of the hardest things to do, especially in our line of work, is to figure out which data is valid and how to clean your data. Really make sure that when you’re doing your analysis, that you’re actually analyzing the right thing. So practicing data-cleaning techniques is really important.

The other thing is figuring out the system within your company or your nonprofit or your business to store that data, but also then translate it into actionable insights. Do you use some sort of dashboarding or reporting or regular updates? Do you send out a weekly email with certain KPIs? Whatever system works best for your organization, that is an important part of the data scientists to keep them accountable and keep updating looking at the data. But then also keep it in front of mind for the staff, that these are what we’re focusing on; here are the metrics that we can influence.

Patrick Gilbert: Interesting, very cool. In the nonprofit space, there’s generally not a lot of marketing budget to go around. It forces you to bootstrap a little bit, forces you to get creative, and that’s why you necessarily didn’t have a marketing role. You’ve had to figure out how Facebook ads work and a lot of other random things; to step in and learn some of these things. What is that whole experience like?

One thing I’m curious about is if a larger marketing budget was thrown on your lap, what’s on the wish list? What’s something that you would want to be able to bring into the Four Diamonds organization?

Michael Ringenbach: We’re lucky that in-house, we can do some of the basic stuff. We can run some Facebook ads on our own. We have Google Analytics set up on our website, and then also have all of our donation websites. I think one of the things that we haven’t been able to do so we have a huge donor give us a bunch of money for a marketing budget is to tell our story, particularly, using video to a really broad audience.

We have a lot of really amazing videos of Four Diamonds kids who are talking about their journeys with childhood cancer treatment, overcoming their cancer. And it would be really amazing to be able to share those with a much broader audience, and then maybe bring them through a Facebook engagement or a Google-type engagement ladder where people engage, and then you serve them more ads and bring them along the journey.

But that’s expensive to do. At the end of the day, our mission is to fund research and to help kids. So it’s always figuring out that balance of what we are spending on advertising versus what we are spending for our mission. And that’s something that the public is very attuned to. I don’t know how many times y’all have heard stories of the CEO gets paid hundreds of 1000s of dollars for a large charity, or they misspent funds, or they took a private jet somewhere

We’re very careful that all of our dollars are allocated down to the $50 level on our budget. And we’re very careful to not misspend our money. What really happens is then you end up probably being a little conservative in how you spend dollars. And I know that that’s the case for many nonprofits. It’s always a balance of marketing dollars versus what’s going towards your mission.

Patrick Gilbert: Yeah. It’s an added stress or that voice in the back of your mind every time you’re trying to make a decision that you ultimately know is going to be good for the organization and probably a worthy investment to make that will result in more donations and, ultimately, more research. But ultimately, you have that fear of saying, “Well, if this doesn’t work out, we’re going to have stakeholders that we’re going to need to answer to.”

It’s such an added level of complexity. Every single decision that is made is scrutinized at every single level, and it’s picked apart on so many different levels. And that’s something I don’t think a lot of people truly appreciate. It is very tough to do that.

So, you said on the video side; video production I know is something that you guys have done. Is it good production or are you really saying that you guys need better storytelling and more of a brand sort of voice? What do you really think is the main opportunity there?

Michael Ringenbach: I think the people who do our marketing and storytelling are excellent. They do a really good job. The problem is that there are only so many hours in the day. And if you run an ad with a story or a video, it only reaches so a finite amount of people on Facebook.

I think we have really good family stories right now, but to spend a whole bunch of money like a for-profit company, to drop hundreds of 1000s of dollars on an ad to share that story broadly isn’t something that we’ve put in the cards. And for good reason. We haven’t necessarily been able to justify doing that yet because we haven’t necessarily played around with the dollars if that makes sense.

Patrick Gilbert: I hear that. You could also look at it from a different angle and say, well, the family stories, we know that they work, but maybe there’s something we haven’t tried yet that doesn’t work. What level of investment would be necessary for us to actually prove that or would it be a waste and then we would have to live with that? And that’s very tough.

Personally, one of the things that I think is undervalued from the whole Four Diamonds ecosystem is the fact that it’s so unique, and that there are so many students that go through either Penn State Dance Marathon or all these other Mini-THON organizations. What are the numbers on Mini-THON involvement?

Michael Ringenbach: Last year, we had about 275 schools involved with about 90,000 participants.

Patrick Gilbert: That’s incredible.

Michael Ringenbach: It’s a lot of students and it’s a lot of individuals who all have great stories. It’d be amazing to do a video on each one of those events. About every year at Penn State Children’s Hospital, we have about 100 kids that come in who are newly diagnosed with cancer. It’d be amazing to capture and tell every single story and all those journeys, but there are only so many people that we’re working on. There’s only so much budget.

Patrick Gilbert: Yeah, it is incredible, though. We’re talking 90,000, basically, high school students plus an additional, I don’t know what the numbers are for the THON involvement if it’s 10, or 15, or 12. Somewhere in that range and all these people that are impacted in such a meaningful way,

A lot of people think, “Oh, that’s a nice thing that you do.” I will forever say that my involvement with that was the cornerstone experience that helped me in my career. The leadership experience, the project management experience, being able to bootstrap with no budget. I really believe in this, that everything that we’ve been talking about is how hard it is to learn how to sell an idea and the skills you can learn from being involved in a philanthropic organization.

You have the side of it where you’re raising money for a great cause that you believe in. And that is incredible in its own area. But the other benefits that come with it of having to figure out how to drive a fundraising organization with very little budget that most people don’t get access to. And being a high school student, and trying to organize your friend group, to be able to also buy into this concept of raising money and getting their friends and family involved, and so on and so forth. It is absolutely remarkable.

I think everything that you guys are doing is so great. It’s been incredible to watch you guys grow over the years. I can’t believe now, when I see the numbers of how many people you have on staff, how many labs now exist that are doing research, how many researchers are on staff; it is absolutely remarkable. And you guys should be incredibly proud of it.

Michael Ringenbach: Well, thanks, Patrick. That was nice of you to say. And it takes effort to do that. It’s putting a strategy in place and then executing that strategy. We’re lucky that we have some of the best supporters in the world, and we’re helping an unbelievable cause. And putting a strategy in place to really catalyze or empower those supporters to continue to help us has been a really meaningful part of my career. It’s something I’m very grateful for.

Patrick Gilbert: Amazing. If you were to give advice to somebody that had similar interests to you on the data side, a little bit of experience in a few different areas, what sort of advice would you go back and say, “Hey, this is really what you need to learn and what you need to do to be able to understand what needs to be done to achieve what you’ve achieved.”?

Michael Ringenbach: This is a skill set that I think is essential in an agency or a for-profit business or a nonprofit business if we’re in such a competitive environment that you need to be able to learn and adapt and figure out how you learn. I was a biology major in college; I do marketing and data analytics and fundraising and analytics for our organization. I had to teach myself.

I had a good background in science and the scientific method, but I’ve had to teach myself throughout the years how to do a lot of this, and figure out ways to check myself to make sure that I’m doing it correctly or get people to double-check things or to check with external advisors.

Being able to learn and adapt throughout your career is essential. And then figuring out how to take what you’ve learned, and transform the company that you’re working for, or the nonprofit organization is just as valuable of a skill. It’s, “I know how to do this on Google Analytics,” or “Here’s what I know about automation and Facebook ads.” “Here’s how I can teach my staff members or co-workers how to do this so we can implement it across our agency, or our organization, or nonprofit.”

And then having the humility to say, “This is what I’m not that good at,” or “This is what I don’t really understand.” And then hiring somebody who’s better than you at it. And that’s someone that you learned out of. I think that’s something that we’ve done really well at Four Diamonds. We’ve brought in a lot of really smart people who I love working with. And any agency or any for-profit organization, or any nonprofit that can do that, I think, has a really good chance to be successful.

Patrick Gilbert: I love that. I completely agree. Everyone that we’ve hired is leaps and bounds smarter than me at least. I have to ask, you did read Join or Die?

Michael Ringenbach: I did

Patrick Gilbert: So, Join or Die: Digital Advertising in the Age of Automation, a book that was released in November of this year about all the stuff that we talked about all the time, Mike got a copy and it was a very nice thing. I was like, “I really appreciate it. That’s great.” And then he texted me a few weeks later and was like, “I’m like halfway through the book. I have a couple of questions for you.”

And I was like, “Dude, you shouldn’t be reading this. You don’t work in this space. I appreciate it enough that you bought a copy; you don’t have to suffer through it.” Then you’re like, “It’s actually helpful.” Be honest, what is your take on it?

Michael Ringenbach: First of all, I thought the book was really good. And I’m not just saying that because I’m your friend. As a non-marketer, and I’m not in Google AdWords doing pay per click stuff every single day. I have a familiarity with that, but I’m not doing all that stuff. But the concepts that you described in the book are really excellent.

I like how you were able to translate them across a lot of business fields. So it’s an awesome book. Everybody who is looking to learn more about digital marketing and not just someone who’s in the field should definitely read it. I will say you probably undersell how bad of a fantasy football player you are, but at the end of the day, the book is very good.

Patrick Gilbert: Thanks for that.  I didn’t mean to turn this into putting you on the spot for a positive review. That wasn’t my intention. But I will say, Mike, I was a marketer coming out of college, and all this other stuff was foreign to me. I could barely do basic functions in excel at the time. And it was because of your guidance and somehow helping me find an interest in all these things that all this became possible. So I really do appreciate it.

What do you think is next for Four Diamonds for fundraising? Are there any closing thoughts you have on this whole topic?

Michael Ringenbach: Yeah. It’s obviously been a really interesting year in the world of fundraising, but I’m really excited about the opportunities from things that we’ve learned over this past year, moving forward. For example, we’ve done more patient support groups and panels and virtual settings, where we’ve been able to have more Four Diamonds teams participate in support groups because they’re doing it from their homes. We’ve been able to engage a lot of past supporters or past alumni using virtual events, Facebook Live, and different Zoom meetings.

We’ve been able to take what happens inside of the hospital and really broadcast that to the world in different types of live settings. I think it’s going to be an exciting time in fundraising if we can figure out how to continue to connect with people in a meaningful way, using these new technologies that we’ve all gotten so much better at over the last year.

Patrick Gilbert: Amazing. All right. Well, I appreciate it. Thank you so much for coming on. Looking forward to seeing everything you guys accomplish. I’m really proud of what you guys have done to pull off everything through all the adversity over the last year. It’s incredible. Please send my best to the rest of the team at Four Diamonds.

Michael Ringenbach: Thanks so much for having me.

Patrick Gilbert: Thank you. Thanks for listening, and we’ll be back next week.

Isaac Rudansky: Thanks, Mike. This was fantastic.

 

About the author:

AdVenture Media is one of New York's fastest-growing digital ad agencies, managing over $50 million in media spend. As educators, we're the only agency that has trained over one million students in Google Ads, landing page design, remarketing and Facebook Ads.  

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