Tue, May 26 2009

Cervix, seals and celebs: Proof Nonprofits Can Be Funny

Katya Andresen's avatar

Author, Robin Hood Marketing

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Filed under:   Marketing essentials •

I’m delighted today to have a guest post from Margaux O’Malley.  Take it away, Margaux—we are dying to see actual humor here.

Margaux O'Malley Margaux O’Malley is the president and co-founder of Grand Junction Design, a Washington DC-area studio that works with nonprofits to create social change through effective websites.

Those of us who are working for social change run into a lot of sensitive and challenging issues. Sometimes it helps to lighten things up a bit. Even when you’re dealing with sensitive subjects, a little humor can go a long way toward:

  • getting people’s attention,
  • helping people get more comfortable with the subject, and
  • creating a viral effect that helps spread the word for you.

Here are some examples I’ve seen of humor in nonprofit communications.

E-Postcard: Cervical Cancer Prevention for Mother’s Day
This year for Mother’s Day, the Pearl of Wisdom Campaign to Prevent Cervical Cancer created some pretty e-postcards that could be sent to mothers everywhere, encouraging them to get tested for HPV, the virus that causes cervical cancer. The most popular postcard was the funny one—kudos to Barbara Baracks for the clever idea!

Contest: LOLSeals
my favorite lolsealThe Humane Society of the US sponsored a contest called LOLSeals where people could add captions to cute photos of seals, in the LOLcat style. Wild Apricot Blog summed it up well:

LOLseals begins with eye-catching photos of baby seals posted on the Humane Society’s website. Viewers are invited to add their own amusing LOLspeak captions - and it’s all done through a web-based image macro application that means tech skills are no barrier to anyone joining in.

With a click of a button, too, Facebook members can share with friends on social network without leaving the HSUS site. Submissions are posted to the Humane Society’s Flickr page, and celebrity judge Nigel Barker of the popular television show, America’s Next Top Model, will choose the winning entry. The winner will receive “a prize pack filled with Protect Seals gear,” and all of the entries will be displayed in a slideshow on the website at the close of the contest.

By combining a light-hearted bit of creative fun with celebrity shine, and by making it easy for each website visitor to take part and spread the word in various ways, the Humane Society is converting a passive viewer to an active advocate for their cause.

Check out the winners!


Celebrity Videos for Human Rights
Here are two examples of nonprofits using celebrity endorsement combined with a bit of humor.

Joss Whedon’s speech for Equality Now
Joss Whedon is a great screenwriter who is known for creating strong female characters. Almost every time he’s interviewed, he’s asked about this.

He’s also a long-time supporter of Equality Now, which works to end violence and discrimination against women and girls around the world.

So when he gave a speech for Equality Now in the summer of 2006, he tied these two ideas together. Joss is just a funny guy in general, so he kept it light-hearted; but still, when he finally delivered his point at the end, it packed a serious punch.



DarfurFast event organized by STAND, the student-led divison of Genocide Intervention Network.
To promote STAND’s DarfurFast event, Emmy-Award winning actor Bradley Whitford and Melissa Fitzerald (of TV show The West Wing) agreed to record a quick announcement. When the actors stumbled over the script during filming, STAND used their blooper footage to create an ad that begins with a humorous introduction, but ultimately arrives at a serious message.



In conclusion: don’t be afraid to be funny! Remember that humor is just a tool to engage the audience. Once they’re engaged, you can transition to the sensitive subject. The humor is not about the actual subject - nobody is joking about cancer or genocide - it’s just a way to help approach something to which people might otherwise be resistant.


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