Fri, March 14 2008

Gloom and Doom Are Downers

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Author, Robin Hood Marketing

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Filed under:   Fundraising essentials •

This is my latest column for Fundraising Success.  I print it here to share it with you, but also in response to this week’s Nonprofit Consultants’ Carnival, which is hosted by Sam Davidson and focuses on “green” in honor of St. Patrick’s Day.  I think this message is especially important for the environmental movement.

A few months ago, I saw a full-spread, anti-slave labor ad that featured shackled hands, one on each side of the two pages. Attaching them was a strip of paper that formed a chain holding the pages together. It was an arresting image that seized my attention.

Then it got even better. It got interactive. When you laid the pages flat, the chain broke.

But then it got worse. Underneath the broken chain was a message: “Ending slave labor is not this easy.” There was a tiny “ILO” logo in the upper right asking you to visit the International Labour Organization’s Web site to find out “how to help.”

I loved the handcuffs. I hated the message so much I blogged my disappointment. (Hat tip to osocio.org blog, formerly Houtlust Blog, for running the ad — that’s where I first saw it.)

Here’s why I hated it: I felt powerless to help because even the ILO admitted it was not easy to do anything about slave labor. How can I have faith that it will possibly overcome the problem? What in this ad makes me believe I could possibly make a difference? Nothing. I just felt weak and world-weary.

What if instead the message said, “You just took the first step to ending slave labor. Now take another one. Visit http://www.ilo.org – .” I would have felt inspired, not tired. I might have donated money or time.

If you haven’t guessed by now, I am not a fan of fear-based, gloom-and-doom messaging. I think it’s a downer; a downer as in diminished donations, dispirited advocates and doubting audiences. Feeling depressed yet? Me too.

That’s my point. In this edition of my forgotten fundamentals column, I want to focus on hope. And not just because my state is flooded with Obama ads — which I happen to think are very good, regardless of your political stripe. I want to focus on hope, inspiration and aspiration because they are the basis of a long-term relationship.

Here’s the problem with fear. It sometimes works — if we get scared into doing something quickly. But over time, our fear is going to erode, so we might not act again. (Think “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.”) Or, the fearful, gloom-and-doom approach can backfire. It can make us feel powerless. It can make us feel helpless. It can make us feel a problem is insurmountable, intractable and just plain permanent. It can make us want to run away.

The more drama you give your problem, the more risk you take. If the apocalypse is coming, why bother trying to make change? If you scare with scale, you’ll lose. If you empower with feasible steps to set things right, you’ll motivate — and affect social change.

Environmental campaigns often focus on negative consequences. That’s not all bad — but you need feasible, corrective steps paired with the negative consequences. If you’re going to try to fundraise with melting polar ice caps, you’re going to need to convince people their donations can stop us all from drowning. You need them to believe their actions can change things. You want them to feel hopeful — and good.

This logic doesn’t only apply to a good cause; it also holds true for lingerie. A Journal of Consumer Research study from February covered in The Washington Post found that when people buy gifts at the last minute, they are motivated by fear — specifically, fear of being in the doghouse. The whole experience of going to Victoria’s Secret the night before Valentine’s Day in a desperate shopping spree for your honey is negative, and the doghouse-dodging shoppers in the store don’t tend to get warm, fuzzy feelings about giving or about the brand. By contrast, non-procrastinators aren’t motivated by fear, and they tend to feel happy and loving about their gift experiences — and the brand.

In other words, The Washington Post noted, fear rarely wins people’s hearts.

We should keep this in mind. Scaring people into giving is about as effective as a holdup: Someone will hand over his wallet, but he’s not going to feel good about it or you.

Here’s a good rule of thumb: Threaten dire consequences only when there is an immediate, specific and feasible recommendation for remedying them. Show need alongside positive results. Give people a way to channel the emotions you evoke into real change.

That’s what we all want. We want to be able to change what’s wrong. We want to set things right. We want hope that things can be better. We want to aspire to be something more.

The last thing we want to feel is helpless. Remember that, and tap into those human needs as much as you can. Sell, don’t scold. Pair negative consequences of inaction with the uplifting image of action. Show the solution. Convince people that, together, we can handle the challenge, not just hand-wring our way into despair. In other words, break those chains of negativity. We want out of them.

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Thu, March 13 2008

Why People Give Redux

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Author, Robin Hood Marketing

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Filed under:   Fundraising essentials •

I scooped the New York Times.  Not really - but I did post on why people give a few days before the Times published a fascinating article on that topic.  And fortunately I was on the same philosophical page as the Great Gray Lady, who I think it’s fair to say has a bit more prestige than yours truly.

If you didn’t read the article, I recommend it.  (Registration may be required to read it.)  The article looks at rare research into giving through the lens of social psychology and the world of behavioral economics, and it’s fascinating.

Here are the key points:

-People aren’t very rational or clear-headed in how or why they give - it’s an emotional act. 
-Because this “warm glow” theory holds, giving is not a zero-sum game.  In fact, if a Warren Buffet gives $31 billion to the Gates Foundation, people don’t stop giving because they think there is not need - they are inspired to give because of the warm feeling the gift made.  People want to do what other, good people are doing.
-In line with the above idea, people are likely to give toward a campaign goal if you have seed money or a start toward a goal that makes it seem attainable.
-Matching gifts elevate response, but the amount of the match makes no difference.  So even though you’d think a 3-1 match would be more motivating than a 1-1 match, it is not.  It’s the presence of a match that matters.
-Seed money may be more important than matching gifts in fundraising, because it outperformed matching gifts.
-People give more money if they think other people are giving more money—unless the amount other people are giving is so huge they it feels irrelevant.  In other words, there is a donation sweet spot.  If people think others are giving $300 on average, they may give more; if they think others are giving $1,000 on average, it will not have the same inspirational effect.
-People gave more when they were told their donation made them eligible for a prize.

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Thu, March 13 2008

What You Need to Know about Perception

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Author, Robin Hood Marketing

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Many people think marketing is a battle of products.  In the long run, they figure, the best product will win.  Marketing people are preoccupied with doing research and “getting the facts.”  They analyze the situation to make sure that truth is on their side.  Then they sail confidently into the marketing arena, secure in the knowledge that they have the best product and that ultimately the best product will win.

It’s an illusion.  There is no objective reality.  There are no facts.  There are no best products.  All that exists in the world of marketing are perceptions in the minds of the customer or prospect.  The perception is the reality.  Everything else is an illusion.

These are the words of Trout & Ries in their must-own, classic book, The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing.  And it’s a law that certainly applies to us more than ever.

I quote them today because there are constant reminders of this law around us.  As well as cautionary tales about what happens when you do things to shake people’s perceptions in the wrong way.

Does Starbucks taste better that Pete’s or Caribou?  Or is it the perception of its taste - fueled by the ambiance of their stores and their first mover claim to that perception - that explains why there are more Starbucks outlets around?  Is growth slowing for Starbucks because the coffee tastes that much worse than before - or because it isn’t the perceptive experience that it used to be?

The great brands of our sector seek to own certain perceptions.  Kiva.org is about directly helping another person with an hand-up.  American Red Cross was about coming to our rescue - until that perception was shaken.  They are still recovering.

The perception of former NY Governor Spitzer was that he was squeaky clean and ruthless in holding others to lawful and moral standards.  When people learned something that flew in the face of this perception, he was finished - as a brand and certainly as a politician.  The product - his work as governor - is secondary in most people’s minds to the more primary (and primal) issue of whether he lived up to what he projected and what we perceived.

So what do you do about it?  You focus on your audience as much as your programs.  You show why you matter to them rather than trying to convince them to listen to what you do.  You seek to own a unique perception in the minds of your audience rather than trying to dislodge their perception of your competition.  You can fine-tune your programs or re-brand all day long, but until you connect to what is in someone’s heart or mind and create a perception, your “product” doesn’t exist for them.  If you do have a place in people’s hearts and minds, honor that perception with your actions.  People don’t like to have their perceptions proved wrong.  In fact, they hate it because they don’t like to be proven wrong.

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Mon, March 10 2008

Live from the Social Enterprise Summit

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Author, Robin Hood Marketing

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I’m at the Social Enterprise Alliance Summit here in Boston, where I’m presenting this tomorrow.  My favorite session today was by Jerr Boschee, who spoke about what makes a successful social enterprise.  (For the jargon-averse, a social enterprise is an organization with a double bottom line - it yields both social and financial returns.) 

He spoke about the importance of focusing on the one thing you do well - and getting rid of the rest.  I’m a huge advocate of this approach.  (My version of this advice is here.)  Jerr says focus yields a lot of good for everyone:

1. Have a sharp focus: Be great at one thing.  Contraction is good.  Kill programs that aren’t core to what you do best.  He calls this “organized abandonment.”

2. What happens when you focus?  Expanded impact.  You get more profound penetration into your area of focus - and greater social impact. 

3. You also get a revitalized culture.  Clear focus yields happy, productive and united staff.

4. Influence is also an important outcome.  The more power you have, the more freedom you get to speak the truth and do what you need to do.

I like his list. 

It is scary to focus.  But like all things that require courage, it is powerful.  Fuzziness and fear don’t make great organizations or significant social change.

It’s not always about what you should do.  It’s also about what you should not do.

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Fri, March 07 2008

How to be an fundraising princess

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Author, Robin Hood Marketing

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Filed under:   Fundraising essentials •

My daughters’ favorite book is a guide to being a princess - it covers dress, etiquette, conduct, etc.  The funny thing is, a lot of it is good advice.  It covers topics like “how to disguise you’re bored around others” and other tips that all of us could use in our work lives, particularly during long meetings.

So much of the advice on this blog is about good manners.  And superlative marketing is often based in princess-level manners.

For example:

1. Be polite.  Don’t interrupt or lecture imperiously at your audience.  Seek permission to hold forth with your audience.  In other words, don’t buy email lists and spam people.  Contact them when you have permission, and make it a conversation, not a lecture.

2. Be gracious and generous.  Thank those that help you, often and well.  Don’t be stingy about sharing information or resources with others.

3. Be loyal.  Keep up your relationships with others.  Even if they haven’t given you money lately, you can still show people you care by reaching out with a kind update.

Be sure to curtsy next time you see me.

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