Fri, November 02 2007

How nonprofits can tell a good story

Katya Andresen's avatar

Author, Robin Hood Marketing

Filed under:   Marketing essentials •

Katya’s note: This is Part Two of a post by Robert Dickman (left) and Richard Maxwell (right), master storytellers and authors of a new book called The Elements of Persuasion.  You can read Part One here.


Each of the five elements of a story (discussed yesterday here) offers unique problems in a not for profit story. For example – by definition not for profit volunteers are passionately connected to their cause. Passion is like fire. It is the energy that drives the story, but if it is too intense it drive listeners away. Passion needs to be carefully modulated to work its magic.

The choice of a Hero is often difficult for not for profits. In our commitment to make a difference we naturally see our clients as the heroes of their story (and in one sense they are) but they may not be the best point of view from which to tell it which is what we mean by the story element Hero. For example: It is hard to identify directly with suffering. A good not for profit story knows that and makes adjustments. Instead of focusing solely on the victim of abuse, the story might be told from the point of view of a mentor (maybe a former victim) who came to the victims aid. If you are looking for volunteers or funds that is who you want your listeners to identify with.

The struggle with the Antagonist provides the emotional hook of most stories (think of the look on a starving kitten’s face and tell me you don’t want to give to the Animal Shelter) but Antagonist need to be kept at a size where we know we will win the struggle. Being overwhelmed with the problem is a big turn off (as well as a major cause of volunteer burn out) so framing your story a doable step at a time is crucial.

A good story always gives us a few facts (not many) that make us Aware of the world in a new way. When I find out I can feed a child for only few dollars a month, or that changing a few light bulbs will be my part in taking the equivalent of millions of cars off the road to fight global warming I get inspired and want to pass the message along. Word of mouth works. Getting others to tell you story for you is the best use of your time. 

Finally, don’t be shy. What you do changes the world. It does. So let us have closure in your story. Let us see how you are transforming things for the better. It is the end of every good story, and leaves us ready to here your next one.

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Thu, November 01 2007

Blog Guest Stars on the Elements of Persuasion

Katya Andresen's avatar

Author, Robin Hood Marketing

Filed under:   Marketing essentials •

Katya’s note: Pictured here are Robert Dickman (left) and Richard Maxwell (right), the authors of a new book called The Elements of Persuasion.  This book, which helps you use storytelling to do all of your work better, is a favorite of mine.  I liked it so much that I cited it heavily in Network for Good’s recent Nonprofit 911 Call on Storytelling, which you can listen to for free here.  I invited the The Elements of Persuasion co-authors to do a guest post here at my blog talking about how their book can help nonprofits, and they not only agreed, they’ve done TWO guest posts.  Very nice!  So enjoy this first segment today - the second will run tomorrow.  They are also bloggers, so be sure to check out their regular musings here.


As important as having the right story is to any organization, it is even more important in the not for profit arena. There are lots of reasons for this. Turning people on to your issue requires a great elevator pitch that doesn’t seem like one because you never know when you will run into a good volunteer or a donor ready to give. A good story helps people see that your issue is their issue too. And word of mouth is both the cheapest way to get your message out and the most persuasive form of fund raising. The right story, well told can make all the difference.

In our book The Elements of Persuasion we define a story as “a fact wrapped in an emotion that compels us to take an action that transforms our world.” A good story needs to be both emotional and truthful to work.

To be a great story it needs to use what we have identified as the Five Story Elements. Every successful story has all five – the PASSION with which the story is told, a HERO who provides the listener with a point of view to enter the story and see it as their own, an ANTAGONIST or problem that the Hero must overcome, a moment of AWARENESS that allows the Hero to prevail, and the TRANSFORMATION that results in the world.  To find out more about these elements operate, you can read the first chapter here. It’s free.

Tomorrow: How you, the nonprofit, can use each of these five elements.

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Wed, October 31 2007

Occam’s Razor Cuts Deep

Katya Andresen's avatar

Author, Robin Hood Marketing

Filed under:   Marketing essentials •

I gave the title of this post a goulish spin for Halloween, but Occam’s Razor is anything but scary—it’s actually our way out of hell.  The hell of being misunderstood, of boring our audience, of failing to move people to action.

In case you can’t remember what Occam’s Razor means, don’t worry, I had to look it up because I suddenly had amnesia about the term today.  Wikipedia explains here:

“All things being equal, the simplest solution tends to be the right one.” Originally a tenet of the reductionist philosophy of nominalism, it is more often taken today as a heuristic maxim (rule of thumb) that advises economy, parsimony, or simplicity, often or especially in scientific theories.

In other words, what is simple is best - and not just for explaining science.  Simplicity is key to inspiring understanding and to being understood.  Simplicity is essential to good writing, design, and, of course, marketing.

Yesterday, I was “tagged” by a meme on the blog Occam’s RazR. In plain English, that means Occam’s RazR blogger Ike talked about something and then asked me to talk about that same topic.  The something was “media snackers”—Internet users who:

are not in it for the “long haul”
want quick, easily digestible bits
want to consume info where they want, when they want, and how they want

Ike caters to snackers very well.  That’s not surprising given the name of his blog.  His question was, how do I cater to media snackers? 

This is what I think: if I do my job right, every single thing I do is catered to snackers.

Everyone is a snacker in this day and age, and not just online.  Who on earth has time for the equivalent of multi-course meals of information throughout the day?  No one has time to read a tome on our topic, to sift through an overwrought appeal or to idly sit around and listen to us getting to the point.  They may sit down for a four-course “meal” on occasion, but they are going to dine on something very important to them personally.  And that something is not likely to be what we’re dishing out.

A few weeks ago, I was going to do a post that started, “My life kicks my ***.”  I never got time to do it, but the point was, I am absolutely overwhelmed by all the things I need to do each day.  And what I wanted to say was, I’m NOT special. I’m like 99% of the world out there, just trying to get most of what needs to be done, done, each day—and nearly never succeeding.  So I try to do the important stuff and let the rest go. 

If you want to communicate to someone, whether it’s website visitors, donors or your Aunt Betty, you must remember that’s how they feel.  Their time on this earth is beyond valuable, and if they give us any time at all, it is our duty to use it efficiently by communicating in a way that is poetic and beautiful in its economy.

Occam’s Razor cuts deep, but not in a surgical or scientific sense.  It slices straight to the heart of our work as marketers.  Stick to simple language, clear ideas and concise thinking.  It’s your best hope of getting a nibble.

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Wed, October 31 2007

Guest Star CK’s Roadmap to Social Media

Katya Andresen's avatar

Author, Robin Hood Marketing

Filed under:   Social Media •


Katya’s note: Pictured here is today’s Guest Star Blogger CK, who not only knows good marketing and savvy social media practices—she also apparently knows good books (note what’s in the bag) and fine footwear.  CK has an excellent blog, which is where I read the following post.  I asked if I could share it in its entirety with nonprofits here on my blog, especially since it is an easy guide to all her content on the topic, and she graciously agreed.  I’m very pleased to share the following smarts, gathered from her experience working for and advising the for-profit world.  CK also hosts the Marketing Profs Book Club, which is discussing that book in her handbag starting November 13.  More information here

CK says:

In attending an event this week I promised attendees that I would feature a post to point them to some of the information we discussed.
While social media is certainly not new to everyone…newsflash!’s new to most people and professionals. My regular readers might have already seen this information, but, in the case you haven’t, well then it’s new to you.

Here are some of my posts centering on best practices and the core principles of social media:

Don’t pass the “Web 2.0 Go” without a guide. Learn why a guide for social media is essential right here.

What’s that you say? Learn the value of listening to social media conversations—and what you should be listening for—right here (psst: not every company needs to blog, but every company needs to be listening).

It’s about share. Learn why, through a riddle, this environment is most aptly called “The Share Economy” right here.

Bad can be good. Learn why engaging your critics and leveraging their feedback is the best move, right here.

Why blog? Find out the myriad value that marketing professionals receive through blogging in this unique collage right here (PDF version), or go here for the rich media version (that graphic on the below right is a snapshot of the piece).

No, really…why blog? An interview with me by Folio Magazine focusing on “Why Blog?” is right here.

One must modernize (or face irrelevance). In using the British monarchy as a metaphor for social media…find out why it’s important to modernize, and why it’s critical to reach out to your constituents (if you want them to like you) right here.

Please follow the rules. Looking to pitch products, services and stories to bloggers? Go forth with caution and care—as consumer and business bloggers are very savvy!—best to first read my rules right here.

Hard because it’s simple. Learn why social media is “hard because it’s simple” right here.

Your blog has a mantra? Yep, it’s right here.

Here are some books focusing on social media you might find worth your while:

Citizen Marketers: this book focuses on the word-of-mouth phenomenon of “citizen” marketers. I was fortunate enough to review several chapters of the book before it went to print and we featured it as the inaugural selection in the book club I host—a Q&A with the authors is right here.

The New Influencers: this book also features information and implications on today’s “new influencers.“I contributed an essay to this book and an interview I conducted with author Paul Gillin is right here.

Join the Conversation: this book just launched and details why companies should participate in the global conversation. Buy the book through this link here and a portion of your purchase will benefit charity.

The Age of Conversation: this book is unique in that it features over 100 chapters (1 page per chapter) by over 100 active marketing bloggers from all over the globe, including a chapter I contributed. It’s also unique in that all profits of the book benefit charity. Post about the unprecedented initiative is here. eBook, softcover or hardcover versions can be purchased here.

Enjoy marketing books? Wish you could discuss them with the authors and other marketers from the comfort of your own home or office? Now you can! Join the book club I host and created with MarketingProfs right here.

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Fri, October 26 2007

Boo!  This is scary.

Katya Andresen's avatar

Author, Robin Hood Marketing

Filed under:   Marketing essentials •

I got asked today, “What scares you?”

What’s downright horrifying, besides the fact that I’m in a hotel lobby that has a Kenny G CD on endless repeat, is how easy it is to fall into the missionary mode and forget to be marketers.  We think people care just because we have good intentions.  But here’s thing—in the words of a People magazine writer who gets a lot of pitches from charities, “NICE IS NOT ENOUGH!”  That’s true, and it’s also terrifying.

Today at the well-organized, thoroughly enjoyable NC Nonprofit conference, where I was speaking, I asked people to answer the following four questions - and take a fifth step - before saying a word to anyone.  Since nice is not enough, you’ve got to answer all of these for your supporters:

1. Why me?  Why should people care about you, and how are you revelant to their lives, their values, their priorities?
2. What for?  What do they personally get out of supporting you and what social good will result?
3. Why now?  What’s so urgent about your appeal?  Why should people act now?
4. Who says?  How credible is the messenger?  Who thinks this is worthwhile? 

The four one is a new one.  I’ve been talking about the first three for a few months, until I realized that in marketing today, the messenger has become even more important than the message.  People look to friends and family for what to believe and how to act.  We need to find many messengers speaking on our behalf to their own circles of influence.

Hence the addition of, “Who says?”  I hope the answer is not just you.  That would be scary.

The whole presentation is here if you’re interested!

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