Monday, July 25, 2011

The Bubble

There's a problem with all this wonderful technology that we have. It's probably the biggest problem that your non-profit marketing faces, and yet, you likely don't know it exists.

We have so many new and exciting things in non-profit marketing. First there was the Internet, then email. Remember multimedia? That came next. More recently, there's been social media -- Facebook, Twittter and all the rest. And now, we have the beginnings of a new mobile wave that will see all of the above and more run through a device in the palm of your stakeholder's hand. Compared to ten or twenty years ago there are literally dozens if not hundreds of more ways to reach your target audiences today. So what's the problem?

Technology works both ways. What serves to open a new communications channel to your stakeholders also serves to isolate them from us. I call this the Bubble.

Just think about it. Built into each wave of technology has been the ability to screen multiple messages and discard the ones stakeholders don't want. Email is a good example. A person can get literally hundreds of emails a day but they will only read just a few. Email trash cans are jammed with unwanted or unloved messages. And we have all become quite good at triaging our email browser quickly, efficiently and without mercy. Email has been a great liberator. It has allowed us to communicate in new and powerful ways. But it also has become harder and harder to reach people with email because email also has the ability to isolate people from messages you want to send.

Email is not alone. Social media is another good example. Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter can deliver hundreds of messages a day, but we all know that most will not get read. Again, the connectedness that these technologies give us also allows us to ignore, downgrade and dump messages just as efficiently as we receive them. The new mobile reality will be more of the same. Yes, new apps and other programs will turn our phones into powerful communications platforms, but they will also allow us to ignore more and more of those messages than ever before.

We think of our stakeholders as being ready, willing and able to receive a message from us. After all, there are so many ways to reach them. But the reality is that reaching their email, Facebook, Twitter and more doesn't mean we have in fact reached them. And that is the Bubble that non-profits face.

So, at the very time we are able to send more messages than ever before fewer are being actually digested.

Where does that leave us? We need to appreciate the Bubble. More than ever, we need to realize that a multi-channel approach is critically important. But more than anything else we need to pay attention to the message. At the end of the day the only thing that can cut through the Bubble is a well-crafted message that your stakeholders really want to hear. It will require us to change. We need to stop taking an organizational-focused approach to our communications and start taking a stakeholder-focused approach. In other words, we need to stop telling stakeholders what we want and start telling them what they want. We need to stop using our voice and start using theirs.

That's the only way to break through the Bubble.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Asleep at the switch

It used to be that everything you needed to control your image was in your hands. People read what you wanted them to read at your website. They saw what you wanted them to see in your internal newsletter. They heard what you had to tell them at your special event. The only real time you had to worry about someone saying something different was in a letter to the editor...and who ever reads those except the person who writes them, the editor who places them and the dozen or so PR flacks who react to them?

Those days are soooo over. Most non-profits now must deal with the fact that their image is not their own anymore. Anyone can go online and say anything about them. And they are.

When was the last time you did a search on your own non-profit? You might be surprised, even shocked what you find. Someone you know, or don't, may be out there saying all sorts of things about you. In the process, they may be stealing all your marketing and communications thunder.

For example, there's a national charity I know. They do good work and have an excellent reputation, but the wikipedia entry on them basically says they're out of business. No one at the charity knew about it until someone mentioned it to them, a very long time after it had been posted.

There's a local health care charity that long ago got rid of it's communications manager as a way to save money. They never bothered to ask him for the codes to their Facebook, Twitter or YouTube accounts, even though he would have been happy to hand them over. The result is that no one at the charity knows how to manage any of these accounts. So, for example, someone can no go online and post the most savage comment about the chariity and the hospitals they raise money for, and there would be no way to stop them. The charity can't remove the comment. They can't complain about being spammed. They're essentially helpless on their social media and will be until the end of time. And the best thing is that they are blissfully ignorant...none of them ever used social media, except the communications manager.

Wake up and smell the roses. The best way to take hold of your image is to actually keep track of it. That's not very hard to do.

Making donors cry won't work

This won't work forever
Here's another blast from the past. I ran this blog a long time ago and it seem to click. Take a look again and see if you find it still has the same BITE!


Maybe you’ve heard this one before. Some ad guru tells you that your fundraising advertising isn’t “emotional” enough. People give because of their emotional ties to your charity, she says. That means you need more “poor African children” content and less of the logical stuff that explains things. More stark pictures of people suffering, less pictures that show what you do. More on the problem, less on the solution.

These people might have a point to some degree, but the long and the short of creating fundraising advertising is that it must be a fine balance between emotion and logic, problem and solution.

The “emotion trumps everything” school of thought ignores the way people actually think. As my consumer marketing hero Gerald Zaltman says donors don’t actually think in a rational, linear way. People’s emotions are closely interwoven with reasoning, he says in his book Home Consumers Think. Although the brain has separate structures for processing emotions and logical reasoning, the two systems communicate with each other and jointly affect our behaviour.

Zaltman also points out the obvious – the understanding of emotions in an ad campaign is often superficial. Real emotions are far more complex. What about those ads on TV showing third world children? We know it has an impact on us seeing these children in poverty, but what is the real emotion in play? Guilt? Brotherhood? Piety? Compassion?

Then there’s the problem of “shock and awe” emotional pictures, like those often used by charities that help kids in third world countries. They initially work, but their value fades. If you see ten pictures of third world starvation by the tenth one your mind has taken over and begun to numb you to its effects. The glut of such images on TV serves to lower their impact overall. It is sad to say, but too much of the reality of the third world actually can serve to turn us off donating to help the kids who live there.

That leads to the issue of whether it is better to show the problem or the solution. This is more tricky. Like the “emotion” argument, an ad that paints a very real problem gets more attention. But here, too, there are challenges. Donors don’t give to problems, they give to solutions. Saying I bought a well so that a third world village can get clean water is more powerful a message than one that says I stopped that bad thing. That’s because donors know that usually the “problem” can’t be solve entirely. There will likely be third world poverty tomorrow and the next day, even if you donate. So, accenting the problem in your ad may actually serve to underline the fact that the problem can’t be solved at all.

The way to structure your fundraising ads is to find a balance. Yes, you do want emotion – in your pictures, in your words, in the testimonials you run. But you need to present the logic of your appeal at the same time. One needs to work closely with the other. Yes, you do need to present a problem, but you also need to tell your donors how the act of giving can provide a solution. And be honest in saying how much of a solution a donation can buy. Perhaps a donation can only help one child, one family or one village. Don’t make it sound that a donation will save the world if it won’t.

And if you want to see a good example try World Vision. While you're there you can make a donation and change the world.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Is Wal-Mart the future of fundraising? Maybe it should be.

Can we be like them?
This is a repeat of a blog I did last year. It was very popular so for my summer vacation I'm re-issuing it. Thanks to those who sent in their comments. Send more!


When I say “Wal-Mart” people have very specific reactions, many not positive. As the world’s largest retailer it has rubbed a number of people the wrong way. For some, it is a temple of the low brow – they would never be caught dead shopping there. For others, it is a palace of low prices. And for still others it is either a testament to American-style consumerism or a Mecca of the Chinese-led global economy.

What’s Wal-Mart got to do with fundraising? Plenty, if you want to find a model of how charities should be run.

What most people don’t appreciate is just how effective and efficient an organization Wal-Mart is. The way they operate is simply beautiful (forgive me, but I am an MBA – such things are beautiful to people like me).

48 years ago, as Canadians shopped at Eatons, Wal-Mart was an unheard of retailer from Rogers, Arkansas. In short order, it revolutionized retailing. Eatons is no more, but Wal-Mart now has 300 stores in Canada and 3,900 in the US. It operates around the world and last year it made $100 billion US in sales – more than the GDP of 100 of the world’s nations.

How did it do that? The long and the short of it is because it had a winning gameplan.

First, it had the perfect operating strategy – it will not be undersold. Its strategy is simple, robust and effective. Everyone who works for Wal-Mart knows what it means and what they have to do to make the strategy work.

Second, it has a plan to dominate the marketplace. Yes, they are aggressive, but it works. They set out to be the leader and they have never looked back.

Third, they do People, Technology and Cost-control better than any of their competitors. They have a strong culture that emphasizes the wisdom and input of local staff – managers lead from the front. They have the best technology set-up of any retailer. But it spends less on technology per sale thanks to its massive scale. They can track almost every item they sell. It sells for less by being aggressive in cutting costs. It starts with tough buying. It continues with higher sales per square foot. It saves more by running 85% of it’s goods through its own warehouse system. It advertises less because of customer loyalty.

Finally, and perhaps most important, they lead change. They are not afraid to take risks, and even fail once in a while. That’s what keeps them on top.

Non-Profits need to be more like Wal-Mart. Most of us don’t have very compelling strategies – we just exist, and most of our strategies simply justify our existence. If we had a clear and compelling approach to our fundraising business we’d be a lot more focussed and likely more successful. Competition is a dirty word in the Non-Profit world, but we know that we all have competitors. If we recognized this reality and actually begun to think like competitors it would make us more efficient. Most Non-Profits are people-poor, technologically backwards and use a cleaver for cost-control rather than a scalpel. If we actually invested in our people, technology and cost control, our businesses would be a lot leaner and more successful.

And now, the biggy. What if Non-Profits actually took risks like Wal-Mart? I don’t know how many times I’ve met people in our business who were averse to change or new ideas. You can’t sugar-coat risk, it is always a gamble. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. But by taking risks, like Wal-Mart, we will be better organizations that are closer to our stakeholders and donors.

So, is Wal-Mart the future of fundraising? Why not?

Monday, July 4, 2011

The stock photo model in this picture is really me

This is what I look like, honest
This Blog ran several months ago. Since then, many of you have commented on it, and even asked us to repeat it. So, here it is again.

A picture is supposedly worth a thousand words. If that’s true, than a stock image photo is worth about three. They are “use with caution”.

Let’s face it, Non-Profits don’t have very good pictures of themselves. They usually don’t have a professional photographer walking around snapping stills all day. At best, it’s the lowly communications officer with a camera designed for holiday snaps (purchased because it’s the cheapest, of course). If you’re lucky, they had some photojournalism training when they went to school. If not, there’s always you or one of your managers or secretaries who likes to take pictures of their kids’ soccer games for Facebook. These usually look rather terrible – the lighting is bad, there’s always someone with their eyes half closed so they look slightly evil, the poses are contrived and people generally tend to look like they are underwater. And this is the image that you want to give to the world?

It’s not surprising that many Non-Profits turn to stock photography as a solution. Why do you have to look like yourself when you can have a model do it for you? At least that’s the idea. Stock photos are very deceptive in the fact that they are easily found on the Internet, from a graphics supplier or even in some software you have already, like PowerPoint. You can find almost anything if you look hard enough – babies, sick people, depressed women, rebellious teens, happy couples, older couples and more.

No, this is me!
But stock images can often create more trouble than they’re worth. First and foremost, they aren’t real. You can tell a stock photo from a real photo because everyone looks like a model. Don’t believe me? Just look at the teeth. Yes, the teeth. Most stock photos have people with the whitest teeth. Then, there’s the hair, and, of course, the clothes. There’s something in these things that tells most people they aren’t real. That’s a problem when your Non-Profit wants to be authentic. If you use “fake” photos then what else is “fake” in your communications or fundraising materials?

Second, stock photos aren’t perfect. It’s easy to make a mistake with one. Next time you’re at a stock photo site or even Google image search put in terms like “security guard”. Chances are that the images you get back will be American. A rather large college near me just sent me a catalogue of courses, including one about how to train to be a security guard. The image is obviously American. The man in the picture has a US Sheriff-style brown uniform with a bright star on his chest. In Canada, most security guards wear black and have a mandatory “security guard” patch on their shirt – they don’t usually wear badges. In other words, the people who take this course will never, ever see a guard like this in their entire time in the security industry. What does that say about this college?

Thanks to the Internet the world communicates in images. The way to describe yourself in pictures is now more important than ever. This is a great opportunity for your Non-Profit. Why not take some real pictures of real people in your organization? It will give you the authenticity you want. When you ask for donations you will actually be able to show the person who will benefit from the donation or the person who delivers the service. That’s a powerful tool. It can also give you unexpected benefits. Taking pictures of your stakeholders, volunteers or employees can be a very positive morale-booster.

This could be me...
So, here’s what I recommend. Hire a photographer for a day. Do your homework and scope out what images you want and where. Compress a dozen or more shots into one day’s work. Then re-visit at least annually and do another photo day. Over time you’ll build up your own stock image library. That’s what I did for several organizations. I was so good at it other organizations started asking me how to do it and if they could borrow my stock images!

If that isn’t possible, or your Non-Profit has privacy issues that make it hard to find willing clients to photograph, remember this. Use stock images sparingly, and test to make sure they look “real”.