Marketing for Non-profits: Telling the Story and Measuring Brand Awareness

Guest: Catherine Davis Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, Feeding America

Catherine Davis knows how marketing for non-profits differs from marketing in the for-profit sector and she succeeds at both. From building her marketing foundation at Leo Burnett and Diageo to her current role as the CMO of Feeding America, Catherine has mastered the ability to distill powerful stories into tangible pieces that entire populations can connect with. Through strategic brand tracking strategies and working to solve an issue that she is passionate about, Catherine is proving that the role of a CMO as a storyteller has never been more important.  

As Renegade Thinkers Unite meets its 101st episode milestone, Catherine Davis and Drew sit down to discuss why a career in marketing does not have to be linear to be successful. Catherine also explains how to capture individual stories, overcome challenges in brand awareness, and manage a non-profit CEO’s expectations. In this episode, Catherine will walk you through what it takes to communicate what your organization stands for and how to break down big issues into personal stories.

You’ll be inspired to make your marketing matter catch the full story now.

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What You’ll Learn

Catherine works to capture individual stories – a skill she learned early on in her marketing career

Catherine picked up on 2 major lessons that have laid the foundation for her career in marketing for non-profits. The first is to identify and select a marketing strategy. Then, you have to break down that strategy into emotional and logical components that can be woven into stories, statistics, and campaigns.

She explains that people find it much harder to dismiss individual stories from real people struggling with hunger. By encouraging people to have conversations about the bigger issues in America, even if they aren’t necessarily “measurable,” Catherine can begin to see how the tides are turning for the hunger problem.

Measuring progress in marketing for non-profits – it doesn’t come down to quarterly reports

Both Drew and Catherine agree that you can’t begin to measure your non-profit’s success if you don’t use a brand tracking study. Even Feeding America, the 3rd largest non-profit in the United States, couldn’t measure their level of brand awareness without using a study – one that gave them valuable feedback into their brand and messaging. Catherine and her marketing team discovered that across a 2 year period, Feeding America’s level of brand awareness and passion for solving hunger went up from 24% to 51%.

Catherine explains that measuring the impact of a campaign often doesn’t occur after just a few months – solving an issue like hunger can take a decade or more for progress to be made. She outlines how to maintain support from your CEO and more on this episode.

Key pieces of advice for CMOs in non-profits

There are a few key takeaways from this episode that every CMO should hear. Catherine explains that in order for marketing for non-profits to be effective, CMOs need to be 100% clear on who the organization is and what it stands for. Then, you must execute in a way that people understand – avoid academia-type language that isn’t easily understood. Finally, you cannot assume that people believe in the same ideals as you do. By speaking with a single, focused, and passionate voice, you can find success in your marketing efforts.

If you visit the Feeding America website and donate now (tag Renegade Thinkers Unite,) the Renegade Team will match up to $250 in gifts from listeners. What a Renegade way to make a difference today in the lives of fellow Americans. #SharingIsCaring


  • [0:30] Having a foundation in classical marketing strategies allows Catherine to flourish
  • [13:01] Feeding America and its place in the American non-profit industry
  • [17:55] Catherine works to capture individual stories – because people can’t ignore a person’s story of hunger
  • [20:47] Catherine’s proudest marketing moment at Feeding America
  • [24:45] The biggest differences being a CMO for a non-profit vs. for-profit organization
  • [32:38] Bridging the gap between brand awareness and unawareness
  • [35:43] 2 do’s and 1 don’t for CMOs of non-profit organizations

Connect With Catherine:

Resources & People Mentioned

Connect with Drew

Meet the Guest

As Chief Marketing and Communications Officer of Feeding America, Catherine Davis works to increase public awareness of hunger in America. She is responsible for identifying innovative ways to engage the public in Feeding America’s mission, as well as enhancing the organization’s reputation as one of the most-admired non-profit brands in the country. In addition, Catherine heads up philanthropic operations.

Prior to joining Feeding America, Catherine oversaw the U.S. McDonald’s and Esurance businesses at Leo Burnett. An established leader in her field, Catherine also previously held senior-level marketing positions at Diageo, Morgan Stanley and Discover Card and was a media agency president. Her areas of marketing expertise include retail, consumer packaged goods and online businesses.

In 2018, Catherine was named one of Advertising Age’s Women to Watch, as well as an Ad Age Media Maven in 2015 and an Adweek 2014 Media All-Star. Active on social media, she made Forbes’ list of 100 Must-Follow Marketing Minds on Twitter 2014. She also has been featured in Fast Company, Real Simple, Huffington Post and Inc.

Committed to her community, Catherine served as a committee member of the World Economic Forum Sustainability Committee and as a board member for Make-A-Wish America and The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

Quotes from Catherine Davis

  • My number one role across my brand and communications and marketing teams is to create empathy.
  • As non-profit and issue-based marketers, people tend to default to how many people, the numbers, the statistics, which is fairly easy to dismiss. What people can't dismiss are real people and individual stories.
  • We need to do things that make people feel and think. We cannot be wallpaper. One of the things I feel really strongly about is that one person is accountable for every message.
  • Be really clear about who you are and what you stand for. Then, execute it in a way that people can't turn away.

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