Upping Our Digital Media Game - An Interview with Abram Muenzberg
In this episode, Andrew interviews Abram Muenzberg, digital strategist for On Fire Media. Andrew invites Abram to share about On Fire Media’s mission and the work he does for his clients. The two also discuss digital media, messaging, and how fundraisers can improve their digital media strategy, making it more engaging and useful. Abram and Andrew both encourage listeners to be bold and proactive in consulting with experts to improve an organization’s online presence.
Abram shares with Andrew the winding, sometimes unpredictable, path he took to get to his current position with On Fire Media. In addition to speaking about his jazz band, funeral home, seminary, and Merchant Marine experiences, Abram tells about how his experiences in youth ministry and Catholic blogging encouraged him to seek job opportunities that allow him to serve Catholic ministries.
On Fire Media
Abram describes the mission of On Fire Media as “helping good people do great things.” On Fire Media’s primary goal is that of using basic marketing principles (e.g. website, social media, content management, SEO, etc.) to help their clients do better and perform better. One of their specialties is leveraging Google ad grants for their nonprofit clients, and Abram highlights the benefits that that Google ad grants have provided for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in St. Louis.
Digital Media Trends
When Andrew asks Abram about digital media trends that might be important for fundraisers, Abram calls attention to technology that leverages the integration of data. He refers specifically to customer relationship management systems that can pull data from a variety of internal and external sources and use that data to automate messaging, assist with audience segmentation, and allow for overall better nurturing of donors. In discussing the vast sources of available data, Abram reminds us that we don’t serve data; we serve people. We can, however, absolutely use data to make better decisions for serving people. Abram also talks about how AI (artificial intelligence) can be useful in determining how to send the right message to the right audience.
Creating a Digital Strategy
Abram and Andrew have a fruitful conversation about basic ways that ministries can get started on the journey of creating a digital marketing strategy, and the takeaways might be surprising. Abram shares that the most important work he does with his digital media clients might be that of refining their branding. Before they can discuss the specifics of their digital presence, organization need to know who they are and what they’re doing. After that, they can prioritize actions, including a digital media plan, that help best achieve the organization’s goal. Abram assures Andrew that the best things organizations can focus on improve their digital marketing are branding and determining their target market. From there, they can focus on email marketing, content management, etc.
Andrew and Abram close by discussing the need for organizations and leaders to be decisive and bold in their decision making. Too often cost becomes a deterrent for smart business practices. Though the hesitation to spend money is understandable, fear likely does more harm to good. In hiring the necessary experts, leaders take their organization, and in this case, their digital presence, to the next level.
- If you could fundraise for any organization or cause at any time in history, what would it be?
- I was made to live in the now; I was meant to be where I am today. Today, I am called to serve at the intersection of the world’s greatest needs and the skills that give me the most fulfillment. This is the point in history I’d want to fundraise for, and the organizations I’m serving are the ones I’d want to fundraise for. Or, in a completely bold move, I’d love to start a religious order focusing on religious art and web/app development.
- This is another difficult question. I’m not looking for investors or donors. I would rather have a beer with people I really enjoy, people I really like, and bring them into a group of likeminded people.
- Yes, there is. There’s enough money out there to pay people just wages to do what they’re passionate about. The question then becomes - is the money in the hands of the right people with the right passions?
- Smile more. I’m notorious for not smiling, but not smiling has gotten me in trouble. A smile is one of the simplest acts of generosity.
- My grandfather: He showed me what it means to live an undivided Catholic life.
- Patrick Lencioni: I’ve read almost all his books, and I love his writing style and how he explains business and leadership.
- Pope Leo XIII: His encyclical Rerum Novarum focuses on just wages and the business leader’s relationship with employees. He encourages me to lead and advocate for our employees, parish staff, etc.
- I’m a terrible fly fisher, but I love it. One thing that makes fly fishing even harder is that I have a rare skin condition, an autoimmune disorder, that makes me break out in hives when I get wet.
- The Order of Things by Fr. James Schall. It’s not necessarily my favorite book, but it is one of the most influential I’ve read. It ties into my understanding of priorities and how to live a structured life.
If you would like to connect with Abram, please check out the On Fire Media website at onfiremedia.com. If you’re a Catholic organization, On Fire Media has a site just for you - catholicwebsite.com.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I’m going to make my first takeaway that of mission and vision - again! I know we’ve talked about this a lot recently, but it goes without saying that your ministry’s clear mission affects all aspects of your communication and fundraising. In our last episode, Petrus Development Show episode 123, John Knowles shared about his work at the Ave Maria School of Law and how the school’s clarity of mission made his fundraising efforts more successful. John and I discussed how fundraising work starts with a clear mission, and today Abram told us the same thing in reference to how organizations can start to develop their digital strategy. As Abram outlined, before he and his colleagues can talk to a client about SEO, content management, and email marketing, they have to talk about branding. And, in this case, Abram uses branding as a synonym for mission. Abram describes how, before he can get to the digital details, he spends lots of time with clients refining their branding. He sees a lot of ministries that are unclear in their mission or how to communicate it, and that lack of clarity is a problem. His clients have to know what they’re doing, who they’re serving, and why. Sounds an awful lot like mission, huh? Once again, another expert is telling us just how important a clear mission statement is for all aspects of fundraising. Let’s listen to them!
And, speaking of experts, we get to my second takeaway from this episode. Abram shares his wisdom that we, as fundraisers, and the organizations we serve need to be bold in reaching out to experts to help us meet our goals for digital marketing and more. Abram and I discuss how we know that hiring experts can be expensive, and it’s hard to spend money on marketing and fundraising experts when there are staff to be paid and people to be served. That said, I loved Abram’s mention of his father’s quote that “it’s expensive to live cheap,” and how we as churches and nonprofit organizations often lose money and time by trying to save money. It’s such a cycle - an expert is very expensive, thus, we try to do things ourselves, but really, we don’t know how to do things ourselves, and so we spend so much time learning and revising and reviewing, and so much time and money is lost because we didn’t hire the expert. An expert can often do the same things so much quicker and better. I know it’s hard to swallow the price tag for that expert, but trust us, chances are good it’ll be worth it in the end.
My final takeaway comes from how Abram describes the Church’s role in technology and how he and the other leaders at On Fire Media approach technology and the ethical use of new technologies. I loved Abram’s response to my question about whether or not the USCCB has guidelines for the responsible use of technology. Instead of referring to a technology specific document, Abram speaks about Catholic social doctrine and how our tried and true Catholic social teachings serve as his guide for morality in technology. The principles of common good, the preferential option for the poor, solidarity and subsidiarity can guide our use and implementation of technology in our personal and professional lives. We can’t use technology simply as a self-serving profit generator. When we look at emerging technologies in the years to come, we have to consider how these technologies better our ability to serve people. Let technology be the tool for how we care for God’s children and grow His kingdom on earth.
00:30.31 aggierobison Great. Well, hello, everyone. Welcome back to another episode of the Petrus Development Show. I am Andrew Robinson, and I am thrilled that you are with us today. Today, I've got a very special guest, Abram Muenzberg, who is coming to us from On Fire Media. Abram is a digital strategist, and he's got a fantastic background in youth ministry and theology and, obviously, in digital strategy and marketing messaging branding, all of that stuff. And so I'm just really excited to talk with him. We're going to talk about digital media. We're going to talk about messaging, and we'll talk about fundraising, as we always do. So I hope that you enjoy this. But right now, I'll kick it over to Abram. Thanks so much for being here, man.
01:11.47 Abram Hey, thanks for having me. It's great to be here. I'm a big fan. I've been following you and your work for a while. So I'm really excited to be here.
01:20.12 aggierobison Great. And tell our listeners where you're calling in from today.
01:23.64 Abram I live in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, and I'm in my home office. I'm a work-at-home remote worker.
01:29.64 aggierobison Awesome! Fantastic! Well, good. Well, the audio sounds great, so you may need to rebrand your office as an office and podcast studio because it sounds great. I love it.
01:40.11 Abram Thanks.
01:42.68 aggierobison Right. So Abram, why don't you start us off? Tell us a little bit about your background. How did you become a digital strategist for On Fire Media?
01:52.86 Abram Yeah, it's an interesting story, a long story, but it starts, I guess, in seventh grade when I quit jazz band and dropped out of jazz band in order to take an HTML elective.
02:06.58 aggierobison Awesome.
02:09.36 Abram You know, the internet was still pretty young, and websites were still being built just written in HTML. And so I did that, and then just over the years, I've had a lot of really weird jobs. Um, I worked in Northern California milling lumber and felling redwood forests.
02:24.56 aggierobison Awesome.
02:26.93 Abram I worked at a funeral home, restaurant industry, construction. At one point, I even joined the merchant marines, but I never actually sailed, so that died. I was in when I was living in Northern California. I went and got my z card, as it's called, my merchant mariner's license.
02:34.20 aggierobison Ah, in New Mexico or this was still in your California days? Okay.
02:43.60 aggierobison Okay, that's awesome.
02:47.70 Abram And so because, ah, because I became a merchant marine, I ah, I, and at that time, I couldn't find work, I ended up going back to Colorado broke, and I was living in Colorado at the time, and I tried applying to a lot of different places, ended up applying at the local parish, and I got a job as a paid sacristan, and that eventually led me into applying for the seminary and discerning priesthood. I graduated from the seminary with a bachelor's in philosophy and discerned out of the seminary, went on to study theology at Ave Maria University for my master's degree, and that's where I met my wife.
I met my wife while working in admissions at Ave Maria. I did some copywriting and graphic design work during that time period, but I left that job in order to pursue a career as a college campus minister for the Diocese of Pueblo. I left that job because the pay was too low. My wife and I took jobs in Pennsylvania, and I started blogging full time.
From there, when my wife got pregnant with our first child, she wanted to cut back on hours, so I got a job in New Mexico at a parish working as a youth and young adult minister. When COVID started and we were expecting our fifth child, everything got shut down, and the loss of income at the parish spurred me to look for new work. One day, I got online and went to catholicjobs.com and saw a job posting for On Fire Media. Everything that was described in the posting, I thought I could do, so I sent in my resume within half an hour of getting off work. The next day, I got an interview, went through an aptitude test, building a website, and eventually got offered the job. I have been doing this for about two and a half years for On Fire Media, and I love what I do.
Now I use all this experience, all this weird, generalist experience, to do things like digital marketing networking, falling trees in Northern California, and working with purpose-driven clients.
05:43.70 aggierobison: That's awesome. Well, I want you to tell us a little bit more about On Fire Media. But before that, tell us what you were blogging about full time. That is fascinating to me. What year was this?
05:52.77 Abram: Yeah, don't go back and look at it. It's not that good. The um, I was still pretty young, but the um, I was doing a lot of running for Ignem Today Titu Ortes.
06:05.78 Abram: Had put together a group of people trying to find young people, up-and-coming, down youngsters blogging. Um, and Dr. Stacy Trasancos but kind of was the one that reached out to me initially. She was my editor, and she's at the St. Philip Institute in Tyler, Texas, and so I was doing a lot of just like, you know, Catholic blogging on theology, philosophy, life. A lot of my focus was on liturgy. Um, I did a book review on, I think her name is Alyssa Bormet Bormis, um, on the Catechism of Hockey, like how hockey and the Catholic faith or how hockey is a good analogy for the Catholic faith and how it can teach us a lot about the Catholic faith. A lot of stuff on liturgy, which was always contentious. Anytime you say something about something as personal as the way somebody prays, there's always a lot of tension there, but that kind of got my name out there. In fact, two of my blog posts, in particular, one was on altar servers, um, and then the other one on different signs that we get wrong at mass, ultimately led to or what it got me enough notoriety that when I applied for the jobs here in New Mexico, two of the parishes that I had applied to and interviewed with had read those blogs prior to me even applying.
07:35.86 Abram: So they knew who I was, and they kind of knew the way that I thought, and that was interesting. One of the priests interviewing me said, "I read your blog, and I want you to know I disagree with you," and I said, "That's great. That's awesome because I just really just restated what's in the general instruction of the Roman missile or in the no TC from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline and the Sac."
07:35.94 aggierobison: Ah, that's awesome.
07:54.82 Abram: The general instruction of the Roman missile or in the no TC from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline and the Sac. So.
08:03.46 aggierobison: That's hilarious. There you go. Well, um, I know we kind of connected through LinkedIn initially, and I've gotten pretty active on there, posting a lot, and it's interesting to think about, you know, 10 years from now, two years from now, five years from now. Whatever, there you know, somebody could say, "Yeah, I read this post that you put up there in October of 2022, and I'd like to say I think you're an idiot." So, oh, okay, it lives forever, right?
08:28.94 Abram: Yeah, unfortunately it does. When I was in the seminary and posting everything on Facebook, I looked at it and realized I was way more political then. Now I just want to focus on me, my family, and my community. I want to build up those relationships more than what some politician says out there.
08:54.24 aggierobison: Yeah.
09:03.70 aggierobison: Tell us a little bit about On Fire Media. What are you guys doing there, and what is your role specifically as a digital strategist?
09:16.45 Abram: Our focus is helping good people do great things simply. When we say good people, we mean purpose-driven clients. Our focus is how we find people that are trying to do good work, helping people, and help them to do it better. What we focus on is taking marketing principles and applying them to the work that they do. Helping them develop a robust marketing strategy that focuses on everything from their website, which is usually the first thing that people see, all the way through to social media, SEO, content management, content marketing, and even cost per click advertising. One of our specialties at On Fire Media is leveraging the Google Ad Grant for non-profits to get them $10,000 a month in pre-ad spend. We help St. Vincent de Paul Society find volunteers, offer employment for those thrift stores and get noticed by connecting with new donors and benefactors.
10:38.36 aggierobison: Yeah, I'm familiar with the Google Ad Grant, and we've recommended it to a couple of clients. But for those listeners who aren't aware of what that is, can you explain that in a little bit more detail, let them know who's eligible and if they are, how they can take advantage of that?
11:02.48 Abram: Just about any 501(c)(3) is eligible. The 501(c)(3)s that I know are ineligible are hospitals and schools. Google allows nonprofits to spend up to $10,000 a month in advertising. It's not real money, but they track how much it would normally cost. Every time somebody clicks on your ad, and they all have to be search ads, so when you go to Google and search for something, there are usually four search results that appear first that are actually ads. Those top four search results are search ads and have the highest click-through rate and the highest conversion rate of any kind of cost per click advertising. It's really powerful. There are a lot of different rules as far as how those have to be created and what they do, but you can use up to $10,000 of Google's money to get out there, get in front of people, show up like the search result as an ad, and build brand recognition, generate more leads, get donations, or even just to teach people about whatever your cause is, so engagement type campaigns.
12:18.71 Abram: We use it to generate volunteers for St. Vincent De Paul in St. Louis. Finding volunteers is usually really difficult, and this is just one of those ways that we generate leads. I think the thing that's most valuable to St. Vincent de Paul in St. Louis is actually with their volunteers. If they weren't using volunteers, they would be paying staff for those hours, and so this saves them a ton of money. On a monthly basis, they're probably saving somewhere around $3000.
14:14.76 Aggierobison: Wow, that's real money, right? So, you take that over to an organization that maybe is doing a fundraising campaign or a capital campaign, or just an awareness-building campaign. Being able to not just know that exists because that's one piece of the digital strategy, but then working with somebody like yourself to figure out how do you position that, how do you write the copy, how do you present that in the best way that it's actually going to drive more gifts? That could be huge for lead gen for future donors, for actual donors coming to find your giving website. Those are all really great resources that a lot of nonprofits just don't know about.
15:13.48 Abram: Yeah, along those lines, the most difficult thing is always driving donations. There aren't a lot of people that are out there googling for very specific donation opportunities.
15:22.89 Aggierobison: Right, yeah.
15:24.87 Abram: But especially between November and December, during that giving season, there are people out there that are just looking for charitable contribution opportunities. That's a great time of year to leverage the Google Ad Grant to try to find donors and to get what you're doing out there in front of people who want to give for no other reason than to get the tax benefits. Beyond that, no donations are really difficult as far as getting what we call conversions. And so those conversions, when somebody actually takes that donation action on your website, doesn't generally happen just because of an ad. That's where that lead generation and engagement campaigns really come in. It's because you're so focused on building the relationship that eventually leads to the donations, everything.
16:03.47 Aggierobison: Is it just me or...?
16:09.59 Aggierobison: Yeah.
16:20.32 Abram: Everything that we do is really focused on relationships from building a website. The website doesn't solve your customer's problem. You solve your customer's problem, and so putting you in contact with your customer and building that relationship is the focus. And when it comes to marketing, it's the same thing. If you need a donor, then we want to give you a relationship with that donor and not just that one-time gift. We want you to build a relationship that brings that donor into your overall mission, your long-term strategy that presents that vision and allows them to actively participate with you for the next decade or so.
16:57.60 Aggierobison: That's awesome, and that makes a lot of sense. We know that just from a fundraising standpoint that people are rarely driven to give or certainly given in a meaningful way based on one interaction. It takes cultivation. It takes engagement. It takes multiple people.
17:13.31 Abram: A question that I have for you because you live in the space of digital advertising and digital content: what are some trends that you're seeing that are important in digital media or in the work that you do that fundraisers that are either directly related to philanthropy or that fundraisers need to be aware of so that they can raise more money?
17:52.12 Abram: So, trends that help philanthropists or the nonprofits raise more money. One of the technology trends that we're looking at is technology that leverages integration of data, unified data. You're seeing more donor management systems and customer relationship management systems that are focused on unifying that data and using AI to give you a sense of when to make the next big ask or that helps automate the messaging so that you can segment your audience and have more contact and better nurture. Those clients that are more likely or those donors that are more likely to give larger gifts, we relate to different people in different ways, and some people it's just about the nurturing content, you know. So if we're working with one of our clients, the association for catechetical human own ministry, and they serve catechetical leaders up both parish and diocesan levels, and so if we wanted to segment those audiences on a marketing level, it's about knowing who is a diocesan catechetical leader, who is a parish catechetical leader, who's a pastor, who's a bishop. And knowing what content needs to be delivered to them. And when it comes to advertising, it's the same thing we can segment audiences pretty accurately, really precisely.
Targeting what they would be searching for using search terms and keywords to be very specific about what content we want to put in front of what group, and the more unified the data is, the better our information is about how we're going to target that specific audience.
Yeah, and so is that data that the nonprofit is tracking from their attending events, and so you want to log that into the CRM so that then or is it data that is available through the internet channels that is linked to their profile either through their Facebook account or their Instagram or however that works.
Yeah, it's all the above, right? So information comes from your marketing channel. So if you're using cost per click advertising on meta if you're using cost per click advertising with Google if you're using YouTube Analytics, your website's analytics google search console, you know. So we've got our friends Relattu.org, right? Relattu uses the, they take a lot of data, they use surveys during the online events that they're hosting, and they feed all that into software that can then be shared with marketing agencies. And so it's not just about hosting an online event but then also using the data from that online event to nurture those donors in the future. And the place, the question is how do you create a single database for all of that information, and there are tools out there like Zapier that are allowing you to automate the information being pulled from one place and send it to another. And so it's all about getting that information to a single database and making your decisions based on data, but it's important to also keep in mind that we don't serve data that we serve people, and the vendors that we're looking to do business with understand that they understand the power of data, and that decisions need to be made around that data. That data is critical, but it's critical for serving people. And so that's a trend that we see, especially in the Catholic digital world, is that more agencies are stepping up, and they're integrating not just best business practices or best marketing practices or best technology practices, but they're integrating it with Catholic Social Doctrine. They're integrating it with good solid ethics. And, you know, that's one of the dangers of working in the digital sphere is that there's a tendency to rush headlong into new technology. And you know, the three leaders at Onfire media all have master's degrees in theology. So we're naturally reluctant to adopt new technologies quickly, and we're constantly looking at what's the morality or the ethics on this particular technology and how are we using this for serving people rather than just making a profit.
22:52.93 aggierobison Yeah, and I think that's, you know, a really good point. And we've had conversations on this show with some Catholic investment firms, right? And they have some guidelines from the USCCB about how to invest. You know, from a fiscally responsible standpoint, but a morally responsible standpoint. Are there similar guidelines or benchmarks or just perspectives that you have seen, or that you guys use or have developed yourself to be in alignment with Catholic social teaching as well? Or are you guys like you said, you have this background in theology, and is this world of digital advertising meets the Catholic Church so new that you're sort of, you know, having to develop some of those guidelines yourself?
23:46.90 Abram Yeah, I'd say the principles are there. The principles have always been in place. It's not, you know, everything comes back to those first principles and the same principles that you have laid out in Catholic social doctrine. You know, the common good, subsidiarity, solidarity, preferential option for the poor, etc. And so all of those things are there for us. There is more that comes out, I would say, particularly with Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and now with Pope Francis, that there's more sense of how we're using technology to serve people. And they're writing more things about it, and Pope Francis has been, you know, sometimes critical of capitalism and encouraging more concern for impoverished or marginalized groups, and all of that's contributing to a better, clearer expression. But I think the earliest social teaching that we have from Pope Leo XIII is still pretty clear about the same basic things about how we need to serve people. And so those principles just from a business perspective are there. You know, people can't be treated as consumers and they can't be treated as workers, right? They need to be treated as people, as sons and daughters of God made in the image and likeness of God with human dignity. And those principles are unchanging, and that is a better guiding principle than a really specific document about how to use Zoom, you know, but...
25:18.50 Abram Right. They need to be treated as people, as sons and daughters of God made in the image and likeness of God with human dignity. And those principles are unchanging, and that is a better guiding principle than a really specific document about how to use Zoom, you know, but...
25:35.31 aggierobison Yeah, yeah, you mentioned earlier, you know, this use of AI, which is, you know, everybody, if you've spent any time online or listening to anything, you know that AI is huge in marketing and in digital communications.
25:45.13 Abram I...
25:50.75 aggierobison You know, and a lot of people would say, well, that sounds terrifying, you know, I don't want robots using my data and using... But what is it in reality? How have you seen AI used in some of this digital marketing work that you do that is not a terrifying, scary, sort of dystopian type of frame?
26:11.67 Abram Yeah, I mean, I wouldn't say that it's not scary. It's definitely scary, especially if people that are programming don't have, you know, solid ethics. But at the same time, it's...
26:28.25 Abram: You know it's important that we still try to get our message out and that we get our message out through the channels that allow us to do it. Best. Um, you know one of the issues that comes up if we don't use technology and the technology at our disposal, we tend to become insular, right? We tend to isolate ourselves away from preaching in the Market Square. Um, and we end up preaching in backrooms of people that are already like-minded, and that's a dangerous place to be. Um, so we don't want to do that, and a lot of the.
27:05.79 Abram: Marketing that's out there, um, the tools such as Google ads, make it more difficult for us to target who we want to target, but at the same time, those are the rules that make it difficult for us also what's protecting us from becoming too insular. So, for instance, we're not allowed to target Catholics as such, we have to target people that are interested in Catholic websites or in Catholic books. If we targeted just Catholics, it's like there's less benefit in it for us. Um, you know, religion is considered by Google to be a sensitive audience the same as if you had a particular disease, and that protects those religious groups, that protects those people with particular diseases from being targeted and manipulated. Um, and so there are a lot of good moral decisions being made about those sorts of things. Um, and does it mean that our ads sometimes get shut down because we say Catholic in it or we try to sell a rosary? Yes, sometimes that happens, right? And you know, the concern is, well, they're just doing that to me because I'm Catholic, and it's like, well, no, not exactly. And, you know, where they're doing that to me because they're trying to protect Catholics from being taken advantage of. Um, and so that stuff is there, but that there's still a danger, and so when it comes to AI.
28:35.94 Abram: You know AI is looking at your interactions in the advertising world, your interactions with websites, your interactions with blogs, whatever, and it's saying based on this activity, this person is more likely or less likely to take the action that you're trying to get them to take. And the benefit to our organization and to our clients is what that means is that it keeps advertising costs reasonable. Um, and you know, if everybody was, if it was just a matter of spending more and more money to get in front of people just.
29:02.96 AggieRobison: E.
29:14.74 Abram: Paying for the highest place, then people without money would never get there. But it's about having the right message, the right product, the right service for the right audience, and that's where AI really comes in handy.
29:16.79 AggieRobison: Right.
29:27.90 AggieRobison: Yeah, and I appreciate you framing it in that way. That was a perspective that I had never really thought about about, you know, protection of, you know, a group, meaning, you know, a religious group, um, from being manipulated in that way. I think that's a really, ah, great perspective, and you know, certainly, you're right. If Catholics can use the resources to lower their cost to get their message out, like that's a good thing, right? Because it means that more people can hear that message. Um. I want to ask you a question about implementation, right. If someone is listening to this and they are a fundraiser, a nonprofit leader, or work in Catholic Ministry and they say, "Abram, this sounds great. I want to do this. I want to have more. I want to get our message out. I don't even know what to do. What are some basic ways that they can start on this journey of creating a digital strategy or a digital marketing plan?"
30:38.50 Abram: Boy, that's a loaded question because there are a lot of different places I can start. And for us, one of the values that our company has is empathy – really listening to our clients, listening really well to their needs, and starting with what their needs are. Because a lot of times, the first need has less to do with advertising and more to do with branding and being really clear about who we are, what we're doing, why we're doing it, and who we're serving.
30:56.70 AggieRobison: Um, yeah.
31:10.93 Abram: And developing language and imagery around that so there's a really clear sense every time we show up where our audience is, that they immediately recognize us, and that we're immediately building trust and that we're immediately building relationships. So, in a lot of ways, the first step is just-
31:30.73 AggieRobison: Um, yeah.
31:30.88 Abram: You know, to really refine their branding. That's generally the first thing that we look at, and that can be a really expensive process. There are a lot of organizations out there that are already really clear about it, but there are a lot of organizations out there that are really unclear, and this even happens with a lot of Catholic parishes. They don't know who they are or what they're doing or why they're doing it for their community. And it can be really time-consuming to sit down and go through those things little by little, to refine all of those different elements. But I would say branding is the first place to start. Once you have a really clear sense of who you are and what you're doing, then you start prioritizing those actions, right? What are the behaviors that are helping you achieve your goal? And once you know what those behaviors are, those behaviors are going to lead you into what are the marketing channels that are going to have the biggest impact for you. One of the more confusing things that we talk to clients about is how do you reach your audience, and it's generally not a matter of just targeting your target audience, but a matter of targeting the people that influence your target audience. And not just targeting the people that influence your target audience, but targeting the influencers of the influencers that influence your target audience.
33:00.89 Abram: Right. And knowing that and going through that really simple practice of kind of laying out who all of those different people are gives you a much better sense of which market is going to have the biggest impact for you because you know-
33:01.24 AggieRobison: Ah, go.
33:17.70 Abram: You may try to target your target audience on Facebook, let's say, right? Maybe your target audience is 55-year-old women who are in knitting groups. That's great, going out, targeting those knitting groups can be great. But if you target not just that knitting group, but all of the five different people that influence that knitting group, then you're going to have a much better time or much easier time targeting that one audience. And so those basic strategic practices upfront of branding and determining your market is really, I would say, where most of the fruit is, and that's generally where the greatest meat is with most of our clients. Once it comes down to the content management, the email marketing, things like that, they're pretty simple. Once you know what your boilerplate copy should look like, what it should sound like, what your voice and tone for your brand is, all of that falls into line right out, and you know after you make those really big strategic decisions.
34:25.61 Aggierobison Yeah, and I think that you nailed it, right? And, you know, sometimes there's this idea or fear when you're going into - maybe it's creating a fundraising plan, maybe it's creating a marketing plan - of like, "I don't know where to start, so I'm not going to start anywhere." Yeah, this is like paralysis. I don't know if "paralyzation" is a word. The paralysis - there we go, paralysis. Oh boy, wow, it's today. Ah, the paralysis. Um, by analysis, exactly right? So it's this like, "I don't know where to start, so I'm not going to start anywhere." But then there's the other side of it, of, you know, "Well, I know where to start, but…"
34:45.55 Abram Paralysis by analysis.
35:01.82 Aggierobison I don't know. Ah, you know, I don't know how we're going to find the resources to pay for it or I don't know if we have the people on the team that can help to, or the people in our sphere that can help us answer some of those hard questions. And, you know, truthfully, the answer to the question on the front end, right, is, you know, start somewhere, right? Find somebody who is an expert or has some background in this and help have them help you develop a plan, right? So that's, you know, that's one way to get started and avoid the analysis on the cost side. You know, there's a very real cost to not doing anything, right? These organizations that you work with that don't have a brand that don't have a clear message, that are sort of spraying their, you know, this sort of spray and pray method of advertising or marketing or even fundraising, to some extent, there's a cost to doing it that way, and it is a confused audience that doesn't know what you're asking them to do or even who you are. And so, you know, it really is - it's a tough, you know, nonprofit leaders and fundraisers and marketers are, you know, they're challenged by some of these questions. But, um, if at the end of the day, our goal is evangelization, it's the spreading of that message. It's the spreading of the gospel. At some point, we have to make decisions to move forward, and, you know, finding experts like yourself from a digital marketing standpoint, like Petras from a fundraising standpoint.
36:33.52 Aggierobison Um, you know, like, ah, you know, we have some friends that we work with. Um, Spirit Juice videos - they make great videos, right? Like it doesn't, you know, find experts who know what they're doing and then, um, allow them the freedom to help guide you through what can sometimes be a confusing path.
36:56.45 Abram Yeah, I feel that when it comes to, you know, the cost, a lot of the people that we work with make decisions based on fear. "I'm afraid of spending that money. I'm afraid of how much it costs." But it's one of these things my dad used to always say, right, and it's a pretty common expression, is that it's expensive to live cheap. And I will tell you from 17 years of working in the church in paid and unpaid positions, the church loses a lot of time, a lot of money, and sacrifices a lot of personal relationships by trying to save money and time.
37:22.42 aggierobison: But yeah.
37:38.30 Abram: And they have no strategy behind it, and that's costing so much more money, right? Our websites are so unfocused. When it comes to parish websites, they look as cluttered as the parish bulletin, which is not a compliment.
37:43.82 aggierobison: A.
37:56.89 aggierobison: All right.
37:59.13 Abram: As a youth minister, because I was the youngest guy in a parish office, it was constantly me who was told to run the website, to edit the website. How many hours were wasted on me changing words or pictures on a website rather than being out there and ministering to the actual youth, being at the school? Because they're in school, it's like, "Oh, well, then you can't minister to them." So you're just going to edit the website. It's like, no, I could be there on campus during lunch. I could bring a Little Caesars pizza and show up.
38:35.80 aggierobison: Right.
38:35.60 Abram: And engage with them and talk to them and get to know them and build relationships and lead them to Christ if I'm there. But if I'm working on a website, I can't do my job. And that's where a lot of it is. The other thing is there's a lot of fear that paying an expert costs a lot of money. It's like, "Does $150 an hour sound expensive?" Yeah, it sounds expensive. But if you're paying somebody to do the same job or to do a job that they're not the expert at, and the expert can do it in one-fifth the time, you can often save significantly more money.
39:11.81 aggierobison: Right, yeah.
39:14.55 Abram: Paying the expert for a certain amount of work, and that's not expensive. That's an investment. That's the less expensive way to go. And often, because they're experts, they're going to do a better job, right? And so you're not just getting it.
39:29.39 aggierobison: Yep, my wife is a graphic designer, and she can use any Adobe product and put something together in 30 minutes that's beautiful. I stumble through three hours of Canva, and it's like, yeah, it's fine, right? So, you know, it's about, ah, yeah, yeah. Give up. Andrew just said it to me next time. Yeah.
39:32.37 Abram: Yeah, your rhythm is off, the balance is off. There's way too much negative space. What are you doing?
39:44.75 aggierobison: Ah, well, Abram, this has been fantastic, and I think your points are all so spot-on. I want to ask you one question before we wrap this part up. What is it that you love most about this work, right? What gets you up every morning ready to take on another day?
40:15.91 Abram: Ah, I look. What gets me up every morning is that I love my family. Um, I love the people that I work with. I love the clients that I serve, um, and anything that you do when it's done with love is easy to do. Um, in serving the poor and serving poor nonprofits and serving poor parishes, it's way easier to see the face of God when you're serving.
40:47.60 Abram: Ahdida, when you're serving Nike, it's like it's hard. It's hard to find God in that, it's hard to find joy. But when you're serving people that have real need and that are doing good work and you're doing it out of love, there's no burden. It's easy.
41:02.93 Aggie Robison: Yeah, I love that. I appreciate you sharing that, and I think that really resonates with a lot of our listeners who are like you, right? They're in the trenches, they're doing good work. They're serving in ministry, and if they can get a little bit better and be a little bit more efficient in their time and successful in some of their efforts, then that just makes it even more rewarding. Great. So, what do you say we switch over to our lightning round?
41:29.60 Abram: Absolutely.
41:36.84 Abram: Let's do it.
41:37.84 Aggie Robison: Ah, hi, all right, question number 1 of our lightning round. If you could fundraise for any organization or cause any point in history, what would it be?
41:48.35 Abram: Um, I think that's a bit of a difficult question just because of certain beliefs that I was made to live in the now. I was made for this time, right now. I'm meant to be where I am today. And I'm called to serve at the intersection of the world's greatest needs and my skills that fulfill me, that give me the most fulfillment. And if I could help an organization to fundraise, support the work that I do, to serve parishes, nonprofits, that's probably where I would, you know, that's so this is the point and in history that I would want to fundraise for. These organizations that I serve are the organizations that I want to fundraise for. But I've always had this dream that if I ever had an endless supply of money, I would start a religious order that focuses on digital art, that focuses on web development, app development. You know, we've got nuns and monks out there that make vestments or iconography, and it would be really cool to be able to support a religious order to do that same work and serve the church in a unique digital way.
43:14.25 Abram: Um, and serve the church in a unique digital way.
43:18.81 Aggie Robison: Oh, that's super cool. Yeah, and you know, with younger women, younger men hearing the call to religious life, right? Like, they're coming into religious life with a Facebook account and with a knowledge of a TikTok account, and, you know, it's like.
43:33.26 Abram: Um.
43:36.26 Aggie Robison: At some point, right? Like, we're going to. We're going to see, you know, this blending of evangelization and gospel sharing and religious order. So that's pretty cool. That's a cool question number 2. If you could get a donor meeting with anyone in the world, living or dead, who would it be with?
43:55.31 Abram: So, our organization is. We're a bunch of bootstrappers. You know, we didn't build the organization from going out and finding venture capitalists or anything like that. And so I guess that's another difficult one. You know, we're not looking for new investors or anything like
You know we're not looking for new investors or anything like that, but when it comes to a donor meeting, it's all about relationships. Building great relationships is key, just like my principal from before. It's about finding like-minded people who are passionate about the work. CS Lewis talks about this in The Four Loves - he says that two people become friends when one says to the other, "What, you too? I thought I was the only one." To me, it doesn't matter if it's a donor or a homeless person. If you're passionate about the work, you can achieve much more together than alone. It's more about building relationships with like-minded people.
Question number 3 is: is there enough money out there for every organization doing good work?
Yeah, Jesus says the poor will always be with us, so money is not going to solve all the problems. Money is not going to eliminate the need for doing good work. When it comes to money, it's a matter of whether there's enough money out there to pay just wages to the people doing the work. I firmly believe that there is plenty of money out there to provide people with financial freedom to do what they're passionate about, but the question is whether the money is in the hands of people with the same passion. If it takes two people who are passionate about the same thing, is the money in the hands of the right people? I don't know, but I firmly believe that no matter what the situation, God will provide. God will see to it, so I'm very confident that enough will be there.
You make a great point about whether the money is in the hands of the people with the passion. This goes right back to the call for evangelization and the call for the gospel. If they don't have that passion right now, how can our work transform hearts and evangelize those people so they do? The gospel message is a message that is more easily received by the poor. That's a hard thing to think about. It's easier for the rich man that God sent away, right? He couldn't get it.
47:41.65 Abram: Yeah, it's easier for a camel to pass through the eye of the needle than for a rich man, and that's a real poverty too, and that's something that we have to focus on. That's why it's so important that when we focus on the wealthy, we're recognizing that.
47:47.18 aggierobison: E.
48:00.44 Abram: Their money is, in itself, a kind of poverty, and that we are called to serve the poor, right? And so the wealthy have a different kind of poverty, right? It could be a real poverty of confidence in God. It could be real fear that they're only ever going to be used. And so that wealth is not necessarily a good thing. And so we have to approach those people with that same gospel message but maybe take a different path in to help them understand their own poverty and their own need.
48:37.14 aggierobison: Yeah, great. Love it. Question 4, if you go back in time and offer yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?
48:46.22 Abram: Smile more. I am notorious for not smiling. But not smiling has gotten me into trouble. I get very focused on things and forget to smile, and smiling is the simplest act of generosity that we can share with another. And so if I could go back and just train myself earlier on to smile more, that's where I'm going to see the most value.
49:14.77 aggierobison: That's awesome, and I love that smiling is what you say the simplest act of generosity. Yeah, love that. Question number 5, who are three people who have most influenced your professional development?
49:17.79 Abram: Absolutely.
49:28.25 Abram: My grandfather Leo Cordova. He's the one that showed me what it meant to live an undivided Catholic life, to be living in the world and not of the world. And said like that's when it comes to work. You know there's a reason why I've spent most of my time working in the church, is because it was the easy way to live an undivided life, and now that I work for a web design and marketing agency, you know, it is. It's easy still because it's a Catholic company, and that we're serving mostly Catholics, and living an undivided life is so important, and a lot of what attracts different team members to our company is that. But I think that's an important lesson. I've sacrificed a lot of different things in my life to live that undivided life, but I think it's ultimately where a lot of happiness lies. Patrick Lencioni is another big one. I've read just about all of his books. There's a new one out that I haven't read yet, but I love his writing style as simple as it is and the fable approach to explaining business and leadership and things like that. And that's, you know, I don't follow everything he says, but at the same time, it does come from a good place. It comes from a Catholic perspective, and it's easier to digest in that way. And probably going back to Catholic social doctrine, Pope Leo XIII's Rerum Novarum was, you know, it started a conversation about just wages and business leaders' relationships to their employees. And so a lot of that has really affected the way I view myself either as an employee or as an employer, leading people and advocating for people that our company employs, or even parish staff.
51:40.94 aggierobison: That's awesome. Yeah, and like you, I have people in my life who have influenced me, and then I have authors that have encouraged, motivated, challenged, and inspired me as well. So I can definitely relate to that. Question number 6: What is something interesting about you that people may or may not know?
52:02.86 Abram: Um, so G.K. Chesterton says, "Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly," right? That even if we're not good at something, we should still attempt to do it if it's worth doing, right? And I am a terrible fly fisherman. Um, I love fly fishing. It's like an act of mindfulness, being out on the water and not focusing on catching a fish, but rather focusing on the right movement of the fly rod, on the right presentation of the line on the water. Um, and focusing on the process rather than the end is really an awesome thing. But what makes this interesting isn't so much the fly fishing and the fact that I'm terrible at it, but I spend time standing in water, and I have a really rare skin condition called aquagenic pruritus. I'm allergic to water, and I break out in hives when I get wet. Um, so that's what makes fly fishing an interesting thing for me. Um, but I love fly fishing. I'm terrible at it. I didn't know that this was a real issue for me. I thought it was just normal to get really itchy when you get wet. I didn't know this until a couple of years ago. I went through Exodus 90 with a bunch of guys, and for 40 days, I was taking cold showers in cold water.
53:32.37 Abram: Cold water affects my skin more than hot water. So 40 days of cold water and 40 days of breaking out in hives and 40 days of intense itching, fiery burning for like, you know, an hour and a half at a time. That was, that was, that's what makes life interesting. Yeah.
53:51.23 aggierobison: Enough to ask the questions, right? Oh my gosh. Wow, oh man. Well, that's crazy. Yeah, I never thought that I've heard of that condition, but to your point, it's interesting. I had a buddy of mine back when I lived in Colorado, and he was allergic to peanuts. And it wasn't like, you know, I know some people have a peanut allergy that can be deadly. His was not, but he would feel awful. He'd get super sick. He'd be laid up, but his favorite thing in the world was Reese's peanut butter cups. And every now and then, he would be like, "You know what? I need a Reese's peanut butter cup, and I'm just going to deal with the consequences. So don't call me. Don't come for me for the next four hours because I'll be laid up, but that Reese's peanut butter cup is going to be something else."
54:32.65 Abram: Um, yeah.
54:38.93 Abram: Yeah, and it's not a true allergy. It's, I don't know, you know what the classification is like an autoimmune disorder, but my autoimmune system goes crazy when my skin gets wet. Um, and so it's not a true allergy.
54:55.97 aggierobison: Yeah, might as well be. Goodness. Wow, well, that's fascinating. Yeah, thanks for sharing with us. Right, and question number 7. What's one book that everyone should read?
55:09.12 Abram: This is the worst question in the world for book lovers, I think. There are so many good books that it's really, really difficult to answer. Um, you know, I love the writings of Aristotle, I love Shakespeare, I love all the classics. Um, but I would say that probably one of the books that set me off on a certain path that had the greatest impact for me is, ah, "The Order of Things" by Father James Shaw. And that book kind of, you know, it ties into a lot of my understanding of priorities and higher ends and aiming for the higher things and how those higher things influence the order of lower things. Um, you know, it even influenced the master's thesis that I chose to write. So I would say "The Order of Things" is one of those that, it's probably the most influential book from a turn perspective. It's not my favorite book by any means, but it is one of those books where, like, just giving you a theological and philosophical sense of ah, how to live a more structured life. Um, and where that structure comes from is important. So.
55:42.79 aggierobison: Okay.
55:54.53 Abram: Priorities and higher ends and aiming for the higher things and how those higher things influence the order of lower things. Um, you know, it even influenced the master's thesis that I chose to write. So I would say "The Order of Things" is one of those that, it's probably the most influential book from a turn perspective. It's not my favorite book by any means, but it is one of those books where, like, just giving you a theological and philosophical sense of ah, how to live a more structured life. Um, and where that structure comes from is important. So.
56:32.86 aggierobison: That's awesome, and that's "The Order of Things" by Father James V. Shaw, and we'll put the name in the show notes. Well, Abram, it has been fascinating. We've covered a lot of topics, including digital advertising, AI fundraising, branding. Um, autoimmune disorders, you name it, and we covered it. So, I appreciate you coming on, taking the time, and if people want to get ahold of you or learn more about what you do or reach out, how can they get ahold? How can they get in touch with you?
56:55.93 Abram: Um.
57:03.73 Abram: Yeah, we've got two websites. There's onfiremedia.com, which is our catch-all website for secular and Catholic organizations. Um, but if you're a Catholic organization and want to know exactly what we do for Catholics, that's a little bit different. Catholicwebsite.com is the website to go to.
57:24.99 aggierobison: Awesome! Great! Well, Abram, it has been amazing and it has been enjoyable, and I hope that people go and check out your work, and if they have questions, reach out to you. For those of you listening, thanks so much for being here. I hope you have enjoyed this conversation as much as I have. And ah, God bless you and God bless your work.
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