Marketing firm puts spotlight on nonprofits


Jeff Terpstra and his team meet with clients on a monthly basis to discuss content, mostly for social media. Courtesy Scott Allen Creative

Telling stories is at the heart of the work Scott Allen Creative does.

The firm, founded by Jeff Terpstra in 1996, has clients from an array of industries, but its core business is helping nonprofits communicate.

“About 70 percent of our client base is nonprofits,” Terpstra said.

Terpstra said nonprofits often start out small, offering maybe one or two services, but over time, they have a tendency to grow, and before a nonprofit knows it, it’s offering a stable of services, employing a dozen or possibly hundreds of employees, and operating multiple locations.

With so many different audiences to communicate its message to — clients, donors, volunteers and staff — messaging can become tricky.

“A lot of nonprofits come to us for a communication need,” he said. “They don’t know how to speak about themselves.”

Terpstra said working with nonprofits often is more challenging than working with for-profit companies.

“It’s more complex because they are dealing with multiple audiences,” he said.

Terpstra added nonprofits offer a service or a promise of hope rather than a consumable item.

Therefore, he said the team at Scott Allen Creative always starts a project by focusing in on the “why.”

Terpstra said that question comes from the book “Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action,” by Scott Sinek.

“That book helped me clarify how we look at a brand,” Terpstra said.

He added, “Our goal is to find this golden thread of an idea that will lead and unify your brand.”

For instance, Scott Allen Creative recently worked with Phoenix-based nonprofit A New Leaf on how to weave four seemingly unrelated stories — two boys who ended up in foster care following an abusive situation; a veteran with PTSD; a domestic violence survivor; and a young boy charged with the attempted murder of his parents — into a single idea.

“For every one of those stories, either a staff person or someone in their life or the clients themselves believed, in spite of the tragedy they had gone through, they had a hope that today could be different. Our messaging now is around the idea of hope for a fresh start. That is the lead idea, the big idea for them.”

Terpstra said once the big idea is identified, the fun can begin.

“It becomes so much fun, because now we know what to do with the brand,” he said.

Creating content for its nonprofit partners is a big piece of what Scott Allen Creative does.

Terpstra said his team meets with clients on a monthly basis to discuss content, mostly for social media.

Terpstra said he advises clients not to focus on likes.

“We want to make sure the stories we are telling are personable. Don’t look for more likes. If you create meaningful content, the likes will come,” he said.

He also said getting the brand’s identity right is important.

“If you come up with an idea that is true to who you are and resonates with your target audiences, it should be an idea that lasts for a while. You can present it in a hundred different ways, but keeping that idea in mind with all the communications you develop as your filter, that is our goal.”

Terpstra said Scott Allen Creative’s work with Paws With a Cause in Grand Rapids is an example of how the right messaging can impact a nonprofit.

He said his firm took over the nonprofit’s social media a few years ago and by making a few changes to the approach, increased social media engagement by 72 percent within five weeks.

Scott Allen Creative quickly identified the love between Paws With a Cause pups and their owners and decided that “love story” should serve as the foundation for its storytelling.

He said the organization also has expanded the demographics it shows in its different materials to be more representative of the wide range of people involved with the organization, from clients to volunteers to staff members.

Terpstra said these changes, along with others, have helped Paws With a Cause tune in with its audience’s emotions, which leaves a lasting impression and cuts across the noise people are bombarded with all day long through social media and their devices.

Scott Allen Creative hopes to grow in West Michigan. The firm actively is pursuing new clients in the region. It also is working to grow its Phoenix business, which came about after a Grand Rapids client moved to the city and brought Scott Allen Creative along with it.

Terpstra said he’s seen the significant impact investments in branding have had on nonprofits, from increasing engagement on social media and growing donations to re-engaging staff members and volunteers who see their passion presented in an exciting way, and wants to help more nonprofits find success and advance their mission.

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