As Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer at National 4-H Council, Artis Stevens is responsible for reinvigorating 4-H as a modern brand and thought leader. Artis’ leadership, creativity and mission-focused approach has enabled 4-H, the country’s largest youth development organization, to experience unprecedented growth in revenue and reach. Since joining National 4-H Council four years ago, the organization tripled revenue through alumni influence; increased Board giving 36X; and quadrupled the value of 4-H’s earned media coverage.
Let’s Take 5 with Artis to learn more about his AMA Nonprofit Marketer of the Year award and his influence at revitalizing the 4-H brand.
As the 2018 AMA/AMAF National Nonprofit Marketer of the Year, what’s the one piece of advice you would give to your nonprofit marketing colleagues? Place purpose and the authenticity of what your brand stands for at the core of your growth strategy—it’s important that everything connects back to your organization’s mission, from storytelling to business objectives and shaping organizational culture.
Leading with purpose and passion can create impact as well as drive talent towards shared goals and outcomes. It’s not just about the destination but how we get there, how we treat each other and foster a culture that people want to work in. It’s empowering talent to do great work for an organization with a compelling mission, clear ROI, and results, alongside other dedicated staff. I had a mentor who always told me to find a good parade and get in front of it, and it’s advice that has stayed with me ever since.
A note to readers: Nominate someone you know for this prestigious award! The deadline for nominations for the 2019 AMA Nonprofit Marketer of the year is May 15, 2019.
What was the biggest challenge you faced as you led the revitalization of the 100-year-old 4-H brand? Like many legacy non-profits, our biggest challenge was establishing our relevance among today’s consumers and staying connected to the audience we serve. Four years ago, when our brand evolution journey began, public perceptions of 4-H were largely focused on our rural roots, dating back to our start as an agricultural organization over a hundred years ago. In reality, 4-H now impacts nearly six million kids in rural as well as urban communities with diverse programming in science, healthy living, civic engagement, in addition to agriculture. We needed to reposition our brand image to capture the modern organization 4-H is today.
4-H is made up of a powerful yet complex program delivered by America’s Cooperative Extension System within 110 universities, over 3,000 local field offices, as well as 4-H’s government partner, the National Institute of Food and Agriculture within the United States Department of Agriculture. This mammoth organizational structure, which serves each local municipality, made it difficult for us to implement a singular brand message across the country. As a result, 4-H was unable to maintain relevancy in the marketplace, which had implications for its most underutilized asset—its network of 25 million alumni, including 4-H moms, influencers, corporate leaders, celebrities, Members of Congress, and more. These alumni were built-in supporters who were shaped by their childhood experiences in 4-H but had lost touch with the brand over time, becoming less informed about the true diversity of its programming as well as its changing demographics over time.
In response, we laid the groundwork for a fully integrated, multi-platform national brand campaign that centered on engaging alumni as well as their networks and platforms, to drive organizational growth. Using a marketing strategy to leverage change in an organization that was over 100 years old was game-changing.
This alumni strategy became the foundation of 4-H’s Grow True Leaders campaign, which launched in 2016 and continues to be infused into every part of the organization, from business development to celebrity outreach, as well as board recruitment, HR practices. 4-H has broadened its reach, become more relevant, and increased its revenue – all by unifying the organization through a consistent, coordinated and cohesive organizational brand strategy.
What creative corporate partnerships are in place for 2019 that represent your transformation to a more modern organization? As we continue to evolve our brand and position our organization for the future, we recognize the importance of continually adapting to changing industry landscapes as well as the demographics of the youth we serve. Our corporate partnerships are a critical component in our work to help young people understand the world around them and find success in the careers of tomorrow.
Take our partnership with Microsoft as an example. To prepare young people for an increasingly digital and technology-driven world, we want to ensure 4-H’ers become producers and not just consumers of technology. Through our work with Microsoft, 4-H will reach nearly 100 communities with new youth-led technology training by 2020. From our 4-H Tech Changemakers program, which encourages teens to utilize technology to solve community problems, to 4-H Digital Ambassadors which empowers teens to serve as teachers and bring digital learning to their rural communities, this partnership develops essential workforce skills across the country, particularly in rural areas that don’t have broadband internet access.
What do you wish people knew about 4-H? 4-H impacts young people for a lifetime. Our alumni often share that the life lessons, skills, and values they gained from their 4‑H experience still motivate and influence what they do today. In addition to the tangible skills they learn from 4-H’s science-backed programming, 4-H youth and alumni gain valuable characteristics such as confidence, leadership, resilience and compassion, which position them for success in life and career.
What experiences in your cause career do you draw on most in your present position? I am always evolving as cause marketing leader so my experiences with thought leaders I have met and worked with has been most valuable for me. There is not one instance or one person, but many instances and people who help me draw inspiration through seeing best practices in innovation, passion and outcomes. I believe my best experiences to draw on for my role are yet to come!
Five Fun Facts About Artis:
- Favorite App: LinkedIn
- Last Book Read: Warriors by Erin Hunter (pre-teen book series I’m reading with my daughter)
- Hobby: I’m a Movie Aficionado (Love all types)
- Favorite Place to Unwind: Beaches along the South Carolina, Georgia and Florida coast
- Guilty Pleasure: Butter Pecan Ice Cream