At a meeting a few days ago, a Marketing VP said to me: "I want this to go viral as soon as possible. Is there a way to email this to everyone in Boston?"
Marketing Directors-- the great ones I've worked with-- have one thing in common. They're optimistic. They're enthusiastically optimistic. They're believers even when no one else is.
They’re great are what they do because they’re optimistic even though they know that at best, only one in ten people gives a damn about their organization's mission. And for them, it's all about making sure that one person in ten is exposed to their message.
When I think your idea is bad, my face shows it. And this marketing VP saw that, way before I could come up with a response. So she explained, "everyone in Boston should care about this," which made our conversation a whole lot worse.
If Web 2.0 has taught us anything, it's that we are deeply social. We are voyeuristic and narcissistic. We want to watch and be watched, love and be loved—in our own way. And interactions in which that cycle is incomplete are unfulfilling.
The hurdle that nonprofits seem to stumble over is that real connections, which are essential for attracting the involvement of young people, are difficult to create in the sterile, one-size-fits all paradigm of website marketing.
Social media is about personal connections, even when it's not. I don't know you, but when you tweet about how much you love real mayonnaise or about how your morning commute looks very 'Soviet,' I feel like we're a little bit the same.
People want to know who you are, and that doesn't mean your resume. Their interaction with your organization will be through you or your staff, whether they're writing a check, volunteering, or requesting services. So are you worth working with? Do you connect? Are you real?
No one is generic, and no one likes being treated generically. When you produce content for a general audience that is broadcast via a person-to-person network of social media, the vast majority of people are turned off—including the people who could really love your mission.
Like the marketing director who wants to email everyone with an address, I think nonprofits are still very afraid of missing out on identifying those few who will care about them. And social media is one medium that will work amazingly well-- if you’re willing to accept that casting a wide net is exactly what you don't want to do.
If you had your tech-savvy 6th grader set up your iphone, there’s a good chance that you’ve been taking a pass on understanding new media tools, as well. But while it’s fine to delegate app store duties to a minor (you might suddenly be in-the-know about the latest High School Musical sequel), knowledge of new media applications is a critical part of reaching your goals.
If you’re providing vision and direction for your NPO, it’s important to understand the parameters of the tools that are going to shape your presence in the foreseeable future. That’s because our thinking is often limited to our experience of what is possible. And online, the rules of what’s possible change every day.
Perhaps even more importantly, understanding new media means that you will be able to communicate with donors more effectively and delegate to staff more efficiently.
It used to be that connecting with your donor constituency was as easy as figuring out what newspapers and magazines they read. Internet users have identified separate criteria for establishing credibility, and standards for opting-in to new content. So if your website looks shoddy, you don’t appear in relevant searches, or your media is buried three or four clicks deep, you will be missing or turning off potential donors and collaborators completely.
And if you plan to delegate the task of managing new media to support staff, make sure you’re getting the benefit of the bigger picture. Know what the tools are capable of, see how they’re being employed, and figure out if they have an application to filling a need within your organization. To your employees, the directive “we need an online presence” is not nearly as valuable as “we need an online presence that accomplishes X, Y, and Z.”
Finally, it's a truly exciting time to be involved with new media. Users, by their vote of participation, are determining the future of how digital and interactive media will look and operate. And it's never too late to learn. So check it out.
Last week I attended CIMIT’s 2008 Innovation Congress in Boston, a meeting designed to encourage collaboration and innovation among clinicians in academia, government, and industry.
Since Wednesday, the keynote address given by a Senior VP of Medicine and Technology at Medtronic, the world's largest medical device company, has stirred up a lot of controversy.
The speaker's thesis is that when biotech comes to fruition, the medical devices industry must adapt, converge, or become obsolete. He didn’t say that his company would participate in this convergence; rather, his speech was a call for innovation and forward thinking in the field of health sciences.
Some criticized the speaker for being “pessimistic” about the future of medical devices. As part of the audience, however, I found the comments in line with what I already know about Medtronic—and that is, Medtronic is incredibly dedicated to affecting the best patient care possible through its devices, collaboration, and philanthropy.
A few years ago, I worked on Laurel Chiten’s documentary film Twisted, which followed patients who were implanted with a Medtronic device that is used to treat dystonia and other neurological disorders.
Twisted was broadcast nationally on PBS in 2007, and it was not a blanket endorsement for one of Medtronic’s pet devices. The treatment provided by the Medtronic device was an overwhelming success for primary (early onset or genetic) dystonia, but less successful for secondary dystonia. Furthermore, Twisted elucidated the fact that there is a great deal about medicine and the human body that we don’t understand.
However, Medtronic went on to promote, screen, and provide further funding for the film.
Why? Because the film publicized a little known disorder that was tragically under diagnosed. And it informed patients and clinicians about the symptoms and treatments for those suffering from dystonia.
How often can we say that a company’s heart is in the right place? The Senior VP's comments show that leadership in Medtronic thinks critically about best quality patient care. Medtronic’s funding for controversial projects—like Twisted—demonstrates Medtronic’s dedication to informing the public, patients, and doctors about the forefront of medicine.
I do think that Medtronic is a fantastic company. And I also think that this controversy is a great example of the challenge facing industry and non-profit collaboration. Non-Profits are mission-based organizations that aspire toward an ideal—a better society, a more educated population, or the next game-changing discovery in health sciences. When industry is open to innovation within its own field, it recognizes that Non-Profits are designed for discovering the next step because they are not bound to the life span of a product; they are bound to realizing an ideal.
Non-Profit innovation reinforces the ideal for everyone. Even a Non-Profit working to further the biotech industry, which will eventually compete with medical devices, helps industry to understand how it must adapt for the future. And when industry and Non-Profits collaborate in creating that future, the best minds, research and funding converge. But does the public—and will investors and shareholders—see the value in industry and Non-Profit collaboration? I certainly hope so.
Change is scary. Welcome to it.
Seth Godin thinks it's a good idea to be the dumbest partner in a room full of smart people.
I work at a great nonprofit organization that is doing great things in the world, one that’s attacking daunting problems in a powerful new way. I believe in what we do, and think that we may be catalyzing a shift in how the world fights poverty.
So why did one of my mentors – someone with a lot of experience in the non-profit and public sector – tell me not to take this job? “Be careful,” he said, “You’ll get pigeon-holed. Once a fundraiser, always a fundraiser.”
He misunderstood what job I was taking.
Look around you at great leaders who you know or respect. What do they spend their time doing? They are infused with drive, passion, vision, commitment, and energy. They walk through the world dissatisfied with the status quo. They talk to anyone who will listen about the change they want to see the world. And they build a team and an organization that is empowered to make that change.
How good is your idea? How important is your cause? Important enough that you’ve given up another life to lead this life. You’ve given up another job, another steady paycheck, another bigger paycheck to do this all day long, every day, for years if not for decades, to make a change in the world and to right a wrong.
How much is your time worth? Start at the low end: if, instead, you had worked at a big company or started your own company or worked at an investment bank or a consulting firm, how much money would the world pay you for your skills? A few hundred thousand dollars? A few million dollars?
That’s your baseline. Now ask yourself: how important is the problem you’re trying to solve? Are you trying to make sure that women have a safe, affordable place to give birth? Creating a way for people to have clean drinking water so they and their children don’t fall ill? Protecting refugees from genocide? Providing after school tutoring for at-risk kids? Giving people with chronic disease a place to come together and support one another?
Sounds pretty important.
Our political system is mostly broken, but the fact that candidates have to go out and convince millions of people to get out and pull a lever for them matters. This communication defines the terms of the debate; it defines what issues will and won’t get addressed. And it defines accountability. If Barack Obama really becomes President of the United States, don’t you think he’ll be just a little bit more accountable to the one million people who donated directly to his campaign?
What’s your theory of change? How much change happens through the services you deliver? And how much change happens by convincing the rest of the world that the problem you’re trying to address, and the way you’re trying to address it, is worth paying attention to? It’s both, it’s not either/or.
Breast cancer has an unbelievable level of awareness in the United States, definitely ahead of all other cancers. Yet breast cancer is actually the 5th leading cause of cancer death in the United States, behind lung, stomach, liver and colon cancer.(2) So why does it get the most attention and the most funding?
It’s because of Nancy Brinker.
Nancy’s older sister Susan Komen died of breast cancer in 1980, at the age of 36, three years after being diagnosed with breast cancer. In her sister’s memory, Nancy Brinker created the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, which has since raised $1 billion for breast cancer research, education and health services – and promised to raise another $2 billion in the next decade. Breast cancer research is the best-funded of all cancers,(3) and that is because of Nancy Brinker’s leadership. Nancy decided that fighting breast cancer was worth fighting for. Because of her efforts, drastically more resources (public and private) are in play to find a cure.
This is not about competition for resources, this is about increasing the size of the pie. We’ve seen an unprecedented growth in global wealth in the last two decades: there are currently 95,000 ultra-high net worth individuals in the world – people with $30 million or more of investable assets.4 On top of that, there are more than $60 trillion worth of investment assets in the market today, with an increasing amount of this money thinking more long-term about the big problems facing the world: energy and water scarcity, greenhouse gases, global commodity shortages, healthcare and education delivery, poverty alleviation…you name it.
The allocation of these resources matters.
Convincing the most powerful, resource-rich people you know that allocating some of their capital to the issues you’re addressing matters.
You’re devoting your life, your spirit, your energy, your faith into making the vision you have of a better future into a reality.
So why are you so scared to ask people for money? Why do you feel afraid to say: “This problem is so important and so urgent that it is worth your time and your money to fix it. I’m devoting my whole life to fixing this problem. I’m asking you to devote some of your resources to my life’s work too.”
Maybe it’s because:
1. People think that asking for money is all about asking for money. It is and it isn’t. Most of the time it is about inspiring someone to see the world the way you do – with the same understanding of the problems and the same vision of how it can be overcome – and convincing them that you and your organization can actually make that vision into a reality. The resources come second.
2. People think that storytelling is a gift, not a skill. Learning how to do this – to be an effective storyteller, to consistently connect with different people from different walks of life and convince them to see the world as you do and walk with you to a better future – is hard, but it’s a skill like any other. It’s true that some people are born with it. But it still can be learned and practiced, and if your nonprofit is going to succeed, you’d better have more than one or two people who can pull this off.
3. Money = Power. Our society has done a spectacular job of creating enormous amounts of wealth. At the same time, wealth is associated with power, and not having wealth can feel like not having power. So going to someone who has money and saying, “You have the resources, please give some of them to me” doesn’t feel like a conversation between equals.
How about this instead: “You are incredibly good at making money. I’m incredibly good at making change. The change I want to make in the world, unfortunately, does not itself generate much money. But man oh man does it make change. It’s a hugely important change. And what I know about making this change is as good and as important as what you know about making money. So let’s divide and conquer – you keep on making money, I’ll keep on making change. And if you can lend some of your smarts to the change I’m trying to make, well that’s even better. But most of the time, we both keep on doing what we’re best at, and if we keep on working together the world will be a better place.”
4. I’m terrified you’ll say ‘no.’ We all hate rejection. Being rejected when asking for money is a double whammy. You were already scared to ask, and then the person said no. They have all the power. You walk away, head down, empty hat in hand.
Get over it. You’re still devoting your life to this work. You shared an idea with someone. You didn’t convince them today, but you probably got their attention. Maybe you’ll convince them tomorrow. Maybe they’ll tell a friend. Maybe you learned something that will make your pitch better the next time. At least you got your story out there to the right person.
You made a change – you just didn’t get any money in return.
I’ve met too many nonprofit CEOs who say “I hate fundraising. I don’t fundraise.” If you’re being hired as a nonprofit CEO and the Board tells you that you won’t be fundraising, they’re either misguided or lying.
Tell them they’re wrong. Tell them that your job as a CEO is to be an evangelist for your idea and to convince others about the change you want to see in the world. Tell them that if this idea is worth supporting then they should jump in with both feet and support it with their time and money and by telling their friends it is worth supporting.
Spending your time talking to powerful, influential people about the change you hope to see in the world is a pretty far cry from having fundraising as a “necessary evil.”
Do you really believe that the “real work” is JUST the “programs” you operate? (the school you run; the meals you serve; the vaccines you develop; the patients you treat?) Do you really believe that it ends there? Do you really believe that in today’s world, where change can come from anyone and anywhere, that convincing people and building momentum and excitement and a movement really doesn’t matter?
Of course your programs or investments are real work. But so is evangelizing, communicating, sharing, convincing, cajoling, and arm-twisting. So are videos and images and stories and ideas.
If your ideas and programs and people and vision are so great, shouldn’t people be willing to reach into their pockets and fund them? If it’s worth spending your life doing this work, shouldn’t you or someone in your organization be able to convince someone else that the work is worth supporting?
In the for-profit world, nothing happens if you don’t have a compelling product with a compelling story that wins out in the marketplace of ideas and gets people to act. People get so excited about Apple’s products that they blog about the next release, scour the Internet for registered patents, spread ideas and rumors about what is coming next, and convince the people around them that Apple = cool. Do you think this would happen without Steve Jobs living and breathing the brand each and every day?
So how is it that in the nonprofit sector we create this illusion that growth and change and impact can happen absent this kind of energy and engagement?
There’s this unspoken idea floating around that “fundraisers” can go about their work in a vacuum, having quiet, unimportant conversations with nameless, faceless rich people, while all the while the people who do the real work (the program folks) can go about their business, separate from and unconnected to this conversation.
What a waste.
Don’t you think that creating a tribe5 of connected, engaged, passionate evangelists for your cause will create a positive feedback loop that will amplify the change you hope to see in the world? It doesn’t matter if that tribe is 300 powerful, smart, wealthy people or 3 million regular folks who believe in you and the change you hope to make. If they are passionate and engaged and you give them a way to help, you will amplify your impact.
If nothing else, then, we need a new word. Fundraising is about a transaction – I raise funds from you, you get nothing in return.
I’d rather be an evangelist, a storyteller, an educator, a translator, a table-pounder, a guy on his soap box, a woman with a megaphone, a candidate for change. I want to talk to as many people as I can about my ideas – whether in person or in newsletters or on Facebook or Twitter or in the Economist or at the TED conference or at Davos – and capture their imagination about the change I hope to see in the world.
Part of what makes us human is our ability to mimic. In a sense, our ability to mimic is our imagination. We see an action, and we can imagine how we might do it ourselves.
And that’s a huge part of being human. We don’t just reproduce an action that is demonstrated to us, we internalize the concept that we can reproduce the action, even if we don’t have the same tools or materials. It inspires us. And we innovate.
Moviegoers love this; we all do. We become Indiana Jones, or at least, we feel like we could be him. Why not? It all right there: he leaps through the air, dodges the bullets, and lands safely out of harm’s way. Heroes exhilarate us and villains terrify us because they let us follow along with a progression of actions that leads to an unimaginable outcome.
Good media tell a story, of course, but media that pull people in and inspire people to get involved with an organization—that does something else. Great media allow people to envision themselves as that person who has the power to change the world. And it does this by showing us the actions, step-by-step, and letting our imaginations place us there.
Non-Profit media shouldn’t look like For-Profit Media.
Companies that sell commercial products need to create public desire for their product, and particularly, their brand. Most commercials don’t actually sell a product—they sell the vision of who you can be if you buy that product: Thin. Beautiful. Organized. Happy.
This kind of commercial first demonstrates to consumers that they are not what they want to be. You are not thin, beautiful, organized or happy. But the product will transform all of that.
One of the smartest guys I know, Andrew Webster of the Kingbridge Centre and Institute, recently reminded me that non-profit is a tax status, not a business plan. And Andrew is absolutely right. But the commodity you furnish to the public is unique, far and beyond consumer products and services. Non-profits provide hope. Non-profits work for their vision of a better tomorrow. And Non-Profits allow every day people to become heroes.
And that’s what inspirational media convey: not a sense that donors or volunteers will become better if they give, but that they are already capable of doing amazing things. You’re just making them aware of a need that impacts us all, and illustrating that through one or two simple steps, they can change the world.
How do you translate that into a New Media Strategy?
Here’s the difference between commercial media and the movies: commercials tell us that we need a product to be the hero, and movies tell us that we were always a hero; we just needed the right circumstances to see it.
So, let your media reflect how venerable your target demographic already is. Don’t ask them to change; rather, show them how they will change the world. Show them the circumstance that is a call for their action. Demonstrate the simple steps they can take, and the immediate and measurable outcome their action will have. Let them see their opportunity to become a hero.
I am a do-it-yourselfer. I love solving problems, getting my hands dirty, and even when I’m in over my head I give it at least an hour or two of tinkering before I call in an expert. Or someone stronger. Or taller.
For the layman or even the dedicated amateur, it can be difficult to know when to consult an expert. The do-it-yourself approach can be tempting, especially when it comes to online video. Like most people, you probably own a camera, and you might’ve used iMovie to cut together clips of your golden retriever dressed up for Halloween as Optimus Prime. But can you really save some money and do at least some of your video-production in house? Here’s my list of how to Save, and when to Pay:
I didn’t mention the power of using your network—and that’s because it can be tricky. If you really can’t afford the price tag of a professional production, you certainly don’t want to waste resources by consulting the wrong people. And the problem with video production is that there are a lot of people in your network who think that they are the next Steven Spielberg.
However, streaming video can be one of the most powerful ways to connect with virtually everyone and everyone virtually. A well-produced video is dynamic, informative, and it’s something you’ll be excited to show people. So if the cost of video production has been holding you back from exploring your inner Spielberg, maybe it’s time to give it a shot.
What’s better than spending $25,000 on a fabulous promotional video that showcases your incredible mission and the ripple effect it has in every part of society? Realizing that you won’t have to sign an additional check to have DVDs pressed.
The truth is, nobody is watching your DVD. Nobody.
It’s not that people don’t watch DVDs anymore, or that BluRay will eventually dominate the market; they do and it will. It’s that all forms of distribution besides one click media delivery are becoming obsolete. Simply, people are much more likely to click on a link to your video than to perform all of the required steps for watching a DVD.
Think of a link to a video like candy in the supermarket—stores stock candy in the checkout line to entice you to buy it, even though you’re only there to pick up juice boxes. They’re asking you to perform one, simple action, which produces an immediate reward. You’re already there, and if you have a sweet tooth, chances are you’ll be pulled in. When you send a link or post a video on your website or blog, someone who has even a little bit of interest in your organization has a decent chance of clicking on it because it’s a simple action with an immediate reward.
A promotional video can be an incredibly useful tool, and a tremendous asset to your organization. This medium is also within reach for NPOs like never before, because the cost of professional HD video content usually falls between $1,000 -$2,000 per produced minute, meaning that your 5-7 minute production can cost as little at $5,000. Online, you can monitor the success of your video by tracking the stats, and you can tell how effective the content is by tracking if and when viewers opt out. And video offers a way of experiencing the vibrancy and impact of your organization that can be inspirational for donors, participants, and collaborators alike.
So if you’re considering producing a promotional video, or if you already have, don’t fumble at the five-yard line. Video is a very worthwhile and powerful tool if you make it available in a relevant way. A streaming a video on your website is easy to distribute and low cost (or free, if you embed using a free service like Vimeo) no matter how many people watch it. And if it’s online, people will watch it.
Recently, I had an interview with the former Governor of Pennsylvania, who is now in his 90s. We had a number of topics to cover, but the Governor wanted to talk about one thing: the economy. At the end of our conversation, he left to call the Red Cross to see how he could help augment the cost of heating oil for struggling families.
What I learned from the Governor is that donors often have a preconception of what need exists, and their philanthropy is guided toward large, established organizations. Younger donors are more prone to respond to organizations that serve the youth, but they generally don’t seek out philanthropic opportunities. Overall, these two groups have one thing in common: they can’t get involved with your organization if they don’t know about you. So, here are a few basic strategies to help your organization thrive in a weak economy by meeting, sustaining, and informing donors:
1. Build your Network for Free
Here’s some good news: the most popular social networking sites are free, and so are a lot of new media. If you have a team of staff, volunteers and board members who are passionate about your organization, consider asking them to include your NPO in their existing social networks. This might mean creating a Facebook page for your organization, or asking your staff to join a professional networking site like Linkedin. If they’re passionate about your cause, it’s just a matter of time before their network becomes your network.
Another fabulous—and free—way to increase your network is by creating an interactive blog that lets everyone know what a huge difference you’re making. As I’ve mentioned, updating web content about your organization’s work is a key strategy to maintaining a relevant online presence, and publishing online will help your organization appear in searches with relevant keywords, exposing your NPO to a wide audience of possible collaborators and donors. And for your existing donors, a blog gives them the immediate gratification of knowing what your NPO is doing right now to help the greater good.
2. Stay Current
If you’re a non-profit that provides a service to the unemployed or disadvantaged, like Dress for Success, demand for your programs might have increased a great deal. So make sure your donors know that. Give them the opportunity to empathize with those who have been even harder hit by the economic downturn.
If you think that your mission doesn’t relate to the economy—think again. Maybe the after school program your NPO runs offers stability for kids who were forced to move because of foreclosures. The point is, everyone is affected by a bad economy, and your donors deserve to know how you’re responding to that.
3. Find Collaborators
Say your organization provides cello lessons for urban youth. As part of your mission, you hold concerts to give kids performance experience, expose a wider audience to music, and earn revenue. Even though you serve a demographic hard-hit by inflation and unemployment, you might have trouble attracting people to your organization and events. So, look for an opportunity to collaborate.
Maybe there’s a local NPO that collects donations of winter clothing. Partner with them to create a collection area at your next event—maybe with a discounted entrance fee—and tack them onto your advertising. You’ve created a direct association between your organization and an immediate need, and you’re establishing a mutually beneficial partnership.
If you’re thinking about extending your organization’s services instead, consider that collaboration allows you to work with the other NPO’s infrastructure, which already has a system in place for dealing with those extra donations. In addition, collaborating organizations have a constituency of donors and volunteers that will be introduced to your organization—increasing your network.
4. Learn from Wall Street, but don’t Look for a Bailout
Things will get better eventually, and now is your opportunity to create sustainable partnerships that will last beyond this financial crisis. If you divert all of your energy into landing a few big sponsorships or grants, you’ll be ignoring the most dependable and largest philanthropic group in the US—private individuals.
Adjusting your strategy to connect with a larger group rather than targeted individuals or offices gives you a better shot at finding lifelong collaborators, donors, and volunteers. So harness the power of new media to make everyone aware of your great work. And did I mention that most new and collaborative media are free?