Thursday, July 30, 2009

"Go Ahead. Shift My Paradigm."

I am not a Dirty Harry Fan. However, I love this scene in Sudden Impact. I love the extra sugar in Harry's cup which tips him off to the robbery, I love the militia-style massacre which puts everyone in danger but only harms the bad guys. I love the famous, "Go ahead. Make my day."

Harry is the iconic vigilante. He's also an icon for the paradigm shift. He does (mostly) everything he's not supposed to do which is precisely why we love and hate him. He defies our cultural expectations.

As storytellers, we need Dirty Harry. Yes, he's totally out there. He's a despicable dude. But that's not the point. Dirty Harry is important because he makes us think (for at least for 90 minutes) about about how we think about policemen, criminals and justice.

We need anti-heroes and heroines who prod us to ask questions about the issues and causes we care about. Because complex stories about complex characters help us change our minds.

As nonprofits, changing minds is our stock in trade. Whether we are advocating for a higher minimum wage, asking for donations to improve the quality of health care or soliciting donations for microfinace, we're all in the business of changing attitudes and beliefs. Turns out the only way to do this is to (sorry for the unscientific phrase) mess with people's heads.

"We are very much prisoners of our paradigms, attending to information that confirms them and cleverly reducing anything that is dissonant. The only way to escape from the paradigm is to stop its automatic processing...

What captures our attention and stops our automatic processing, according to neuroscience, is the new...One way of thinking about the new is that it is anything contrary to our expectations. It stops us and forces us to stand back and reflect."

- from Why Feedback Doesn't Work and Other Surprising Lessons from the Latest Brain Science

Do you have an anti-hero in your organization? Do you have a less-than-favorable but ultimately redeeming story to tell about your journey? How about those skeletons in your closet? And what have your learned from your biggest mistakes?

We're tired of only hearing about what is working well. Talk about the difficulty in keeping your coalition together and why you had to say goodbye to some nonprofit friends. Tell the truth about how you converted a cranky donor into a lifelong friend. Better yet, tell the story about the volunteer who has never donated a dime and why.

We're human too. We want to hear your true stories about how you stand, stumble and survive.


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Adding Personality to Your Marketing Mix

Next week I have the privilege of doing a new webinar called Your Nonprofit's Face : Adding Personality to Your Marketing Mix with my frolleague Kivi Leroux Miller, author of The Nonprofit Marketing Guide.

Nonprofits have mixed feelings about marketing, branding and personality. On the one hand, we know we have to get people to notice us if we’re ever going to get them interested in our causes. On the other hand, our causes are important enough to stand on their own. Right? Wrong.

Here's the truth. Most people don't care about your cause and they definitely don’t care about your organization. And it's not because they're callous or ignorant or insensitive. It's because they're busy!

Think about it. Most of us spend every waking moment tending to kids, careers and home care. We don't and won't spend our precious time decoding difficult nonprofit collateral or websites, regardless of how noble the cause. It simply takes too much time.

Luckily, there is this thing called personality that you can use to stand out in the marketplace and break through the clutter. Personality is the sparkle you add to your marketing mix. It’s the inspired and inspiring feeling that you engender in others that makes them want to come back for more. Think Care. Think Apple. Think The Nature Conservancy. All of these "causes" use personality to make you feel like you are connected to something bigger. To make you care.

In preparation for the webinar, I've been searching for both good and bad examples of nonprofit websites. While websites are not your only communications tool, they are a highly visible mark of your nonprofits’ personality. Your goal is to project an image that helps vs. hinders your cause.

Above is an example of a group that's doing it all wrong. While their cause seems worthy, they are projecting an image that detracts and distracts from their work. Here are just some of the problems I see:

  • A static website template – Template-based websites are a no-no because they make your organization look out of date and I’m sure this is not the image you want to project. The good news is that with blogging and other inexpensive web software you can create a good-looking website that is also easy to update.
  • Bad colors and fonts. – Choosing colors and fonts for your website and collaterals is like choosing your wardrobe. Do it carefully. While you want some variety, you also want the all the pieces to all fit together and resonate with what you do. So for an environmental organization, like the one above, this might mean choosing blues and greens – the colors of the earth. It also means choosing a more beautiful and friendly font.
  • Stock images – Like static website templates, stock images are “out.” They are also unnecessary since the birth of sites like Flickr* which make it possible to find and use amazing photographs from all over the world. No more excuses! Stop using stock images or silly graphics in Microsoft PowerPoint on your website or anywhere. *When using others’ photos be sure to give the proper attribution.
  • Content that is grammatically incorrect – Here’s another no-no. Don’t write content that is poo.** If you can’t afford to employ a copywriter, have someone else review your content before publishing it to the web. A good editor can do wonders for your writing and your image by catching errors that you will miss.

While fonts, images and content are only part of your brand identity, they are an important part of your organization’s personality. Choose wisely.

It’s not easy to market. You have a very short time to grab someone’s attention and people are distracted, but having a great organizational personality can help.

To learn more about adding personality to your marketing mix, read Personality not included Why Companies Lose Their Authenticity – and How Great Brands Get it Back by Rohit Bhargava.

And please join us on Aug 6th. We can help.


**Thanks to Mark Rovner, Principal of SeaChange Strategies for reminding us that bad content is bad content. It won't work on a train or on a plane, in car or in a bar... "No I won't read it Sam I Am!"

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Join Me Today at The Bridge Conference in DC!

I'm on a panel today at The Bridge Conference in DC. See my part of the discussion above.

One of the key questions we're all trying to answer in the Connected Age is who should we pay attention to and how?

Thanks to the incredible reach of the Internet there are so many more potential prospects for our causes and so many more ways to communicate but this also makes it hard to know where to start, especially with limited resources.

See slide 10 for my take on the key questions to answer before engaging in social media or any marketing for that matter. I'd love your thoughts as well.

1) How are you bridging the needs of your audiences with the new tools available to market, activate and communicate?

2) How are you ensuring that your decisions about marketing are informed by the limits/possibilities of your human and financial capacity?



P.S. If you're in town be sure to stop by at 3:00 pm! I'd love to meet in person!

Monday, July 20, 2009

What's in a Name? Almost Everything.

'Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What's Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call'd,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take all myself.

- From Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, 1594

I've decided to co-chair the annual stewardship campaign for my church. For those of you non-Episcopalians out there, stewardship is the word many of us church folks use to describe our "responsible use of and care for the gifts we are given in this life." The problem is that this word as defined above is too broad and confusing. Plus, it's often seen as a euphemism for another "bad" word - fundraising.

With this knowledge in mind, the first thing I've decided to do as co-chair is change the name of the campaign! So, rather than calling it the 2010 Good Shepherd Stewardship Campaign. (Yuck! Not compelling, clear or aspirational.) We're going to call it the 2010 Joyful Giving Campaign!

We take names and naming for granted. After all, what's in a name? Names are just window dressing, right? It's the substance underneath that matters. Sorry Juliet. You were right and wrong. While a name can't make or break your program - the work that you do also counts substantially. A name can make or break your opportunity to get noticed in the first place.

Whether you're launching a new organization, program or campaign, don't take names and naming lightly. They are a key to your success in the marketplace.

First and foremost, names should resonate with your audience and in this day of Search Engine Optimization, where Google is every one's first-stop shop for finding out everything about anything - names should also be intuitive.

OK, but what about Google or Bing or Twitter you say? What's so intuitive about these names?

Well, OK. If you've got the capital to create and launch a new brand then go for it! Create a remarkable/unusual name and then promote the hell out of it. But if you're like most nonprofits, you'll need your name to work for you on a meager budget. So choose wisely. Think about a name that describes both what you do and who you do it for. You'll thank yourself later.


P.S. For a laugh and some examples of BAD brand names, check out Fritinancy. For more on naming and branding, see Art of the Start by Guy Kawasaki. For more on the importance of finding and using keywords to improve your success with Search Engine Optimization, see HubSpot.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Become a Better Editor. Bake a Better Cake!

  • S: (v) edit, redact (prepare for publication or presentation by correcting, revising, or adapting) "Edit a book on lexical semantics"; "she edited the letters of the politician so as to omit the most personal passages"
  • S: (v) edit (supervise the publication of) "The same family has been editing the influential newspaper for almost 100 years"
  • S: (v) edit, cut, edit out (cut and assemble the components of) "edit film"; "cut recording tape"
  • S: (v) edit, blue-pencil, delete (cut or eliminate) "she edited the juiciest scenes"
Unless you've been hiding under a rock, you're well aware that there are these services on the Web - one is called Google, the other is Bing - that exist to help us make decisions. Whether it's buying a new car, meeting a new beau, giving money away or keeping it in the bank, search engines play a huge role in how we currently learn, shop and navigate the world.

These services are great because they serve up a sea of information but - and hears the rub - too often the information they generate is not molded, organized or aggregated in any particular way and that makes it unnerving and annoying. In short, way too much!

Don't get me wrong, I'd rather go to Google than my local library to look up a fact and it's an amazing privilege to have "the world at your fingertips." But like they said in Schoolhouse Rock - Knowledge is Power.

Knowledge is not the same thing as information. Knowledge is about making meaning out of all these data points about dragons, duct tape and donations. And although some software companies will say otherwise, it's my humble opinion that it still takes a person to sort, sift and contextualize all this material. It takes an Editor to bake an information cake!

Luckily, some nonprofits are good editors (and bakers too!). After all, we are the experts on myriad subjects. We know how to avoid environmental degradation, raise healthy and happy kids, and keep international conflict at bay. Who better than us to "organize the world's information?"

Here's my advice. If you want to ensure that your nonprofit has a place at the table in the Connected Age, become a better editor. Don't just serve up information, serve up the most useful links about your cause. Point out the inconsistencies (and consistencies) in the news stories we read. Create a coherent narrative out of the reams of research out here.

I promise. If you learn to edit well, you'll become the trusted source for KNOWLEDGE about your issue and that means more power (and icing) for you!


Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Don't Kvetch About Your Coverage. Use the News to Get More Ink!

You may not like the news. In fact, if you're a "good progressive" (you know who you are) you probably abhor the way MSM (mainstream media) chases the money-stories, hops from one story to the next, ignores real world events like human rights violations in IRAN and capitalizes on our prurient interests.

Sorry and tough!

Rather than lament a news cycle that will never give you the real estate you deserve, join 'em! Yes, stop kvetching about your coverage and use the news to promote your cause.

Sierra Club has done an excellent job here of using the "news" of the day - the scandal surrounding Gov. Sanford's infidelity to promote the Appalachian Trail. (See above and below.)

Sound like a stretch? It is! But it also works and it's sticky.


P.S. The only thing I don't like about this appeal is the postscript. It's not necessary. It makes Sierra Club sound pretentious instead of humorous. Besides, I can make this inference on my own.

Dear Friend,

We heard the governor of South Carolina had some trouble finding the Appalachian Trail last week. We don't want that to happen to anyone else, so now's a perfect time to let you know about our new online community: Sierra Club Trails.

Members of the community are adding trails from around the country, sharing spectacular photos, and discussing topics such as whether guns should be allowed
in our national parks.

But so far only two sections of the Appalachian Trail have been added by our members. No wonder the governor got lost!

If you've hiked the Appalachian Trail, join the Sierra Club Trails community and add a stretch or two. Share your photos of the trail, too!

If you haven't hiked that trail but have other favorites, we'd love you to share them on Trails as well.

Just click the "join" link at the top of the Trails homepage and you'll be on your way!

Thanks for all that you do to protect the environment.

Greg Haegele
Deputy Executive Director, Sierra Club

P.S. -- Don't forget your (moral) compass...