Thursday, December 3, 2009

Viral Video

What makes a video go viral?

Clients often suggest that we post a video from their organization on YouTube and then wait for the thousands of people that will watch it. Not so simple. Consider this information from

In the first month on YouTube:
  • 70% of videos get at least 20 views
  • 50% of videos get at least 100 views
  • Fewer than 20% of videos get more than 500 views
  • Fewer than 10% of videos get more than 1,500 views
  • 3% of videos get more than 25,000 views
  • Around 1% of videos get more than 500,000 views
Most organizations have more than 1500 contacts on e-newsletter or mailing lists but yet fewer than 10% of videos posted on YouTube will be seen by that many people. (Granted these numbers are for the first month but I think its fair to assume a video will garner maximum buzz in the first month).

For an organizational video to be something people are prepared to pass on to others it must have value in one of three ways:
  • It is entertaining - funny, zany, outstanding performances, unexpected outcomes
  • It is informative - essential information, not available from other sources, applicable to a broad range of people
  • It touches the heart - emotional, authentic, inspiring
I'm not sure that there's a formula for creating video that will go viral but here's a great example. I haven't even been able to verify the story that was part of the email that accompanied the YouTube link. Supposedly, the person who created this video works for a medical supply company in Portland and the deal was that if this video received over a million hits (as of today its at 2,750,877), the company would make a huge (but unspecified) donation to the hospital involved and offer free mammography to the community. Regardless, you'll see that its spirit and authenticity give it both emotional and entertainment appeal. And I can almost guarantee you that you'll pass this on to at least one other person. Perhaps there's something we can all learn from this.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Content Trumps Design

When it comes to any e-communication, content trumps design every time. As a lover of design and someone who has earned his living providing design services, it pains me to have come to that conclusion but I believe it is undeniable.

I am talking about the full gamut of e-communication from websites to e-newsletters to social networking applications. In every case, if the content isn't valuable - if it doesn't inform, entertain, inspire, or somehow engage the reader/visitor/follower, design - even good design - cannot save it.

Proof of this abounds. Many of us still receive text based e-newsletters that we read every time because the content is valuable. The most watched You Tube items are often shaky, amateur video. Blogs, almost by definition, succeed or fail on the basis of their content. And, there is little room for design in a 140 word Tweet. Even as it relates to websites, where good design is probably most important, content is king. People look at sites quickly, scanning for the essential information. What's this organization (cause) all about? What do they do? Am I interested? You've probably noticed that Flash introductions are being used much less often and that the trend is to cleaner, less complicated layouts. In the extreme I would contend that a badly designed website with great content will get more traffic and achieve more than the converse.

To be clear, content is not just narrative copy. It includes video, images, testimonials, links and perhaps even embedded applications.

All of this is not to say that design is unimportant. Perhaps, it just better defines the role of design in these applications which is to make it easier and more likely for the reader to absorb the content. Good web and other e-design puts the content on a pedestal.

What are the practical implications? When developing an e-application whether its the website, a Facebook page, a YouTube channel or a blog, before you call in the design team, think about content first. In particular:

  • Does it make the organizational MVP (Mission, Values, Philosophy) clear? Even better, does it provide a sense of direction or movement? Does it make the aspirational inspirational?
  • Is it organized intuitively so that it's easy for the reader to see what's available and navigate easily.
  • Finally, does it guide the visitor where you want him or her to go? That could mean making a donation, providing information, adding their name to a petition or printing a document. Make sure the content is driving the goals you have established for your e-application.
If you recognize the true superiority of content over design and apportion resources accordingly, there is no doubt you will make your fundraising marketing work better.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Empathy Still Rules

The fundraising marketing world is awash in data. And much of it is very valuable. There are fascinating studies on on-line giving and behaviour. You can find the latest trends on shrinking email open and click through rates. Direct mail specialists will give you the most up-to-date analysis of response rates for various types of mailings.

In addition, smart marketers are doing their own research by polling and/or running focus groups with their organizational donors and constituents. Alternatively they are using studies conducted by similar organizations or the results of omnibus studies conducted by leading research organizations.

But at the end of the day, empathy still rules. I define empathy as the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes - to think like they think, to see what they see and ultimately to feel what they feel. The data can point you in the right direction, but to really connect with the donor or prospective donor, you have to know what’s in their head and more importantly their heart.

So, how can you gain this empathetic insight? Part of the answer is to always keep it top of mind. When I look at data, I am always thinking, “what does this tell me about my target group? What are the messages that would emanate from this data? What does it tell me about how people might react?”

Another obvious (but often overlooked) ingredient is just listening - and better yet eavesdropping. You need to know what people are talking about but accept the reality that when donors talk to a representative of an organization, they are likely more guarded about what they say. It may be frowned upon socially, but standing within earshot of a group of people and just listening can be very fruitful. And, the conversation doesn’t have to be about your organization or philanthropy. Some of my most inspired ideas have come from listening to what people are saying about seemingly banal topics. I heard one communications analyst say that the one of his most important tools was knowing what was being talked about on Oprah. Clearly, monitoring social media (blogs, facebook pages) is also a critical part of eavesdropping.

But finally I have to say that the ability to be empathetic may not be accessible to everyone. I actually believe its what distinguishes marketers who are able to get results. In the same way you may be prepared to pay for research, you may ultimately have to hire the talent that will allow you to make that research really work for your campaign or organization. It’s probably the best investment you can make.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Right 1000 Words

OK, we’ve all heard it. A picture is worth a 1000 words. But are they the right 1000 words? Choosing the right photos to appear on your web site, e-newsletters, and in print collateral is critically important. People form an irrevocable first impression based on visual elements. Even when working with a design firm, it’s likely you will have to supply photos. So, how can you pick that photo that’s going to be the difference between an online donation or just another website visit? Here are some tips:
  • Content - We’ll talk about photographic and technical considerations later but first, you have to ensure that the content of the photo fits your strategy. Do the people or situation in the photo reflect the way in which you want prospective donors to perceive your organization? This can involve elements like ethnicity, dress, grooming, activity and facial expression. Look at potential photos in great detail and critically. Solicit opinions. Ask people what the photo makes them think or feel. Better yet, would it influence their decision to give? If you’re not getting the right answers, keep looking.
  • Composition - Close ups of faces will have the greatest visual impact. Faces convey character and communicate. Consider the amount of space you’re setting aside for the photo. How many people can be accommodated in the space so that you can still clearly see their faces? For sure, less is better. Large group shots are visually meaningless. You may want to think that it will demonstrate the breadth or diversity of the organization. But the person viewing it isn’t likely to get it and will probably be bored. Photos of lectures and seminars in progress have the same problem. You’re better off with a photo of one smiling lecture participant because it will capture the reader’s attention and make it more likely that the ask or the article will get read.
  • Photo Quality - There’s a host of technical/photographic issues to consider. Is the space being allowed for the photo vertical or horizontal and can it work in that space? Is the photo in focus? Does the photo have enough resolution? This is more of an issue for print applications but you should always take digital photos at the camera’s highest resolution setting to avoid situations where you have a great photo that just can’t be printed. Is the photo too dark or too light? Don’t assume your designer can fix this. There’s a limit to the miracles that can be worked in Photoshop.

It may sound like a lot of work but there’s no question that the right photos - and the right 1000 word - can lead to fundraising success.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Direct Mail Lives On

Direct mail is far from dead. I have spent an amazing amount of time in the past few weeks working with clients on direct mail campaigns and issues like:
  • Is it worthwhile to use brokered lists?
  • Who is the best person in the organization to sign the letter?
  • One page or more?
  • Will the incremental costs of segmenting bring results?
These are real life issues that organizations are grappling with. The answers aren’t always simple, but here are a couple of things that I strongly recommend:
  • Invest in the tools and resources that will maximize the value of your database. The more you know about your donors and prospective donors, the more effective your direct mail campaign will be. Can you segment your list geographically, by donation amount, by dates of donations or asks? Whether it means acquiring/updating software or providing the manpower to ensure that data is entered and kept current - do it.
  • Segment and target - however you are able. This doesn’t have to be difficult. Different letters can be variations on a theme. There are probably 2-4 paragraphs that can be the same in each letter. But a letter that for example acknowledges and speaks to a recipient as an alumnus of an institution or as a member of a profession or as a previous donor will undoubtedly be more successful.
  • Test. If you are trying to decide what will be more effective (like who signs the letter), do some one way and some the other. Just make sure you have a way of tracking results - like a code on a pledge card. It’s not perfect because there are other factors that may be at play, but if the results sway dramatically in one direction, you’ve probably proved something.
Most studies say that direct mail is still a tremendously effective fundraising tool. You can maximize its value through forethought, planning and preparation.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Whys of your Web Presence

A recent study about why people use the internet says a ton about how you should be developing your organization’s web presence. Ruder Finn’s Intent Index asked 500 internet users why they go on line, providing them with a list of 295 possible reasons.

And the results? 100% - everyone - uses the internet to pass time. Some of the others in the top ten - educate, connect, share, research, be entertained, be informed. And those reasons that you might think are most related to fundraising? Join a cause - 26%, sign up for e-mail list for causes/organizations - 23% and get this - donate money to a cause - 12%.

So what does that tell you? People clearly aren’t going on line to make a donation. If you want to attract people to your cause, you’re going to have to satisfy their needs and provide opportunities to educate, connect, share and maybe even entertain.

For many of us this study simply corroborates what we have been saying for a long time. To have a successful web presence you need to:
  • Create community - provide forums for people to share information and experiences, to tell their stories, to meet other people, to help other people. This can be done directly on your site or through the use of Facebook or other social media applications.
  • Create value - give people a reason to come to your site. Provide useful information, an opportunity to ask questions, photos, videos and maybe even a little humour.
In the end it’s all about taking a customer (prospective donor)-centred perspective and thinking about the whys before the whats.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Obama & The Big Idea

Many of the hundreds of articles that have been written about the Obama marketing campaign and in particular the digital campaign make it seem that the techniques that were successfully used by Obama can be easily integrated into your organization’s marketing efforts. I’m not so sure.

You might think it’s a matter of budgets. Yes, the Obama campaign had resources that most organizations can only dream of. Imagine having individual directors for each of online advertising, email marketing, social media marketing and mobile marketing - and each of them with a large dedicated staff. And that’s in addition to similar leadership and resources in traditional marketing channels.

But its not money that stands in the way of most organizations being able to capitalize on the Obama experience. It’s the lack of a big idea. You see, what really drove the Obama campaign was the powerful concept that captured the hearts of Americans. The “Yes We Can” message of hope, optimism and individual empowerment was irresistible. The entire campaign was built on the strength of that message and its ability to connect with and engage Americans.

With a big idea, even organizations with limited budgets can use the Obama marketing principles of empower, engage and evaluate to achieve some success. Finding that powerful emotional driver isn’t simple but here are some places to start:
  • Talk to donors, board members and volunteers about why they support your organization. Look for the visceral, not the intellectual. The likelihood is that it’s a personal (not organizational) motive and has something to do with an individual circumstance - either theirs or that of a family member.
  • Review or solicit or testimonials from constituents or clients.
  • Find out what other people are thinking and feeling. Go to the websites of polling companies. They frequently release studies on a variety of issues. Listen to radio call in shows. Watch Oprah. Read the letters to the editor.
You’re looking for the emotional common denominator that can drive your campaign and once you find that big idea, you have the potential for big results

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

For the Greater Good

I'm really pleased and proud that this blog will now be part of the Nonprofit Marketing & Fundraising Zone, a topic hub featuring some of the industry's leading experts and practitioners.

Having worked in both the for-profit and nonprofit worlds, I am still often struck by the willingness of those in the not for profit sector to put aside competitive instincts and share ideas and insights for the sake of the greater good. After 20 years, I think I'm getting used to it and I hope that this blog will help others make their marketing programs work better and achieve their fundraising and other goals.

And, if you like the blog, you'll probably enjoy a conversation about what you're trying to accomplish and how we can help. So, feel free to be in contact. (Well, I guess some of that for profit sensibility never goes away).

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Keeping creative on track

Sometimes the creative stage of a marketing project can derail the whole initiative. Decision makers in the organization get frustrated because they are not seeing what they want and the designers are feeling exasperated – not only because the client doesn’t like what they’re doing but also because they are now putting more time into a project than they’re being paid for. Cutting through means either paying more than originally estimated for creative or having a difficult decision with the design firm. Inertia sets in. Before you know it, the project is going nowhere.

Here are two quick suggestions on how to avoid this all-too-familiar predicament.

  • Make sure that those who are making the decision regarding creative issues have the opportunity to meet with the design firm before any work is done. This would apply when professional staff is working with the designers but lay people are making the ultimate decision or when the design firm is briefed by a staff person but more senior staff are making the final decision. There may be lots of push back in terms of making the best use of the time of lay people or senior staff but a face-to-face meeting between designer and decision maker will ensure that everyone is on the same page. It will provide the design firm with a deeper understanding of the strategic objectives and the opportunity to get “inside the heads” of key stakeholders. You may even have to pay the firm to attend one more meeting but any additional time and money will yield better results.

  • Have the design firm provide two or three distinct options for whatever is being designed. Make sure the firm understands you want different options and not just variations on a theme. It will cost more but in the end will avoid a project-ending impasse. There is little more frustrating or more useless to a designer than hearing the client say, “I don’t like it but I can’t really tell you why or what I would like better.” Where do you go from there? And who pays for it? Having the additional points of reference that more choices bring will almost always guarantee the possibility of “mixing and matching” between options to arrive at a sense of creative direction. This effect is magnified in a committee situation where multiple minds must meet. There is little chance that everyone will agree on one option but with multiple choices there is a very good possibility of building consensus.

After over 20 years of experience, I can guarantee that these things works and will help you keep projects chugging along.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Does Less Choice Create More Success?

Consumers want choices – lots of co choices, right? Maybe not. According to a recent blog by marketing/motivation guru Scott Ginsberg, that may not be true. Other than reassuring me that I’m not the only one who suffers a kind of paralysis when standing in front 50 different cold medicines at the pharmacy, it made me think about how this notion of less choice can be applied to fundraising marketing.

Scott’s blog references a study on choice saturation conducted at the University of Minnesota and offers this quote from one of the researchers. “While mulling over a few options may weigh heavily on your mind, finally choosing one may just plain wear you out.” The study’s conclusion was that the simple act of choosing caused mental fatigue.

There is something that intuitively rings true about these findings. Too many of us have had a moment in the cereal aisle or staring at the fast food menu or ordering coffee or roaming the aisles of our local video store. And what happens when it’s something we’re not committed to buying. Does “choice anxiety” actually get in the way of making a sale? Maybe less is more powerful when it comes to choices.

We offer prospective donors the option of annual funds, endowment funds, capital campaigns, planned giving (with all its options) and various individual projects to support. And while the notion of allowing donors to find the giving opportunity that is most meaningful remains sound, perhaps it's all a little overwhelming. We need to find a way to capitalize on the donor's interest while not driving them away with too many choices. Here’s a couple of ways that you may be able to bridge the gap:

  • Create a simple, uncluttered landing page for the ‘Support” section of your website that presents a very compelling (which means very visual) and succinct case for giving and offers the donor only two choices. One is “I would like to support ABC organization. Please contact me.” The second is “click here to discover the many ways you can support ABC Organization.” The second option would take donors to the full “Support” section.
  • Create a campaign that has only one available donation amount. Make it an amount that is accessible to a broad range of supporters and make the ask very simple. Yes, you may leave some money on the table but if through its simplicity, the campaign allows you to connect with new donors, it’s a success.

There are lots of other ways of using this approach but in keeping with the subject matter I certainly didn’t want to offer too many choices.

Maybe the “simple” mode is a way of zigging while everyone else zags and cutting through all the clutter that confronts donors.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Puppies and Pandemics

According to a recent study of fundraising organizations in the U.S., it would seem that in terms of charitable giving, puppies and pandemics are the hot sellers. My question is why.

First, a little background. The Index of National Fundraising Performance tracked direct mail donations to 75 charitable organizations in seven categories. The study is comprehensive, measuring a wide array of factors like new donor acquisition, donor retention, average gift and number of gifts per donor. In total, the study summarizes the activity of 36 million donors, 68 million individual gifts and over $2 billion in revenue - so; its statistical base is sound. And the two categories that fared the best in the past year? Animal Welfare and International Relief.

While all other sectors are clearly showing the effects of the lagging economy, these two sectors are doing just fine. According to the study, “The animal welfare sector has been arguably the highest-performing sector in the index over the past three years. These organizations do not appear to be experiencing the negative effects of the struggling economy.” And, “Relief organizations had positive growth in both donors and revenue in 2008, at a time when almost all other sectors saw declines.”

The study in part attributes the performance of the Animal Welfare to the conviction of football star Michael Vick on dog-fighting charges and offers no explanation for the healthy performance of the International Relief sector.

I have my own explanation. I was taught early in my working career that sales is a transfer of emotion. Every sale – and make no mistake, a charitable gift is a sale – is made primarily on the strength of emotion. These two categories - animal welfare and international relief - are eliciting the greater emotional response. Yes, I know that every charitable gift has an emotional component but there is clearly something about helpless animals and those caught in the wake of natural disaster that is making people respond more generously. These causes are touching the hearts of donors and I think its because donors feel a pressing need. In the end, it’s not about the organizations. Rather its about the people and animals that need help.

How can we learn from this? Fundraising marketing should focus on the impact that an organization is having on the individual. Tell stories. Use testimonials. Make it personal. Even organizations that don’t provide direct service can cast the benefits of support in terms of the effect on the lives of real people. Time and time again, emotion sells. Touch the hearts of your supporters and you will get results.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

A Hunch about Fundraising Success

I have a hunch about why some fundraising organizations are faring better than others during the recession.

We have a client that has unfortunately been just about decimated. This is an organization that depends on fundraising for about 90% of its operating income and has lost 60-75% of that revenue. The result is not difficult to predict. Programs have been curtailed, staff has been laid off and the organization is being forced to accept new standards of success.

On the other hand, we have client organizations that are coping far better. Donations may be down from last year but they are maintaining sufficient revenue streams to be effective and in some cases, to even launch new initiatives.

So, what’s the difference? I'm sure detailed analysis would reveal several factors but here's my hunch. From the organizations that I am familiar with, the more broad based their fundraising was going into the recession, the better they are doing. Organizations that depended on a small number of large donors (like our client above) find themselves with no revenue and nowhere to turn. All they know how to do are large gifts but the lead time to cultivate new five or six figure donors makes it a futile response to the current situation. And where do you find the new prospects to cultivate?

Organizations with strong annual campaigns or some other form of broad based giving have a pool of revenue and more importantly, a pool of donors to cultivate. As those donors who have been harder hit step back, there are others that are in fact increasing their support. But it’s the base of small to mid size gifts that is allowing these organizations to sustain themselves.

A recently released study in the U.S. indicates that 2008 4th quarter fundraising revenue was down about 5% on average and the number of donors was down about 7%. While disappointing, the results are not catastrophic. The organizations whose results form the basis of the survey are for the most part ones with a large donor base and developed annual giving.

When working with fundraising organizations we always advocate for the establishment and/or development of annual giving. While this may seem to be so simple that it's trite, you'd be amazed at how many organizations resist. If my hunch is correct, the recession will provide another argument in favour of broad based giving.

By the way, if you know of any studies that can corroborate (or contradict for that matter) my hunch, I'd love know about them.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Target the Solicitor AND the Donor

The best campaign brochures are developed with the solicitor in mind. Yes, yes, I know that campaign collateral must address the donor. But brochures that consider the solicitor as much as the donor will lead to more donations. Because as W. Clement Stone said, “Sales are contingent upon the attitude of the salesman -- not the attitude of the prospect.” So, let’s discuss the ways in which the brochure can influence the attitude of the solicitor.

A well-designed brochure creates immediate impact. It commands attention, makes a positive statement about the campaign, conveys thoughtfulness and credibility and demonstrates the organization’s commitment to its fundraising efforts. When solicitors walk into a meeting knowing they have a great brochure in their hand, they are absolutely more confident.

A well-written and presented brochure will allow the solicitor to walk the donor through the campaign, highlighting key points and images. That means that the solicitor doesn’t have to fumble with Powerpoint presentations and doesn’t have to remember a contrived script. It’s all in the brochure. Ultimately it means the solicitor can be relaxed and spend more time focusing on the donor. On top of that the strategically created brochure will anticipate the donor’s responses and actually guide the solicitor through the solicitation.

No two solicitors have the same style or personality – and that’s a good thing. It’s the uniqueness of the solicitor/prospect relationship that makes a solicitation powerful. The great brochure anchors the solicitation by always allowing the conversation to come back to the fundamental tenets of the case for support. So even tough there are many solicitors involved in the campaign, there can always be consistency to the solicitation. And when the conversation goes off on a tangent, the brochure is there to bring the discussion back home.

After the canvas, the prospective donor may have talk to other family members or advisors about the campaign. In a perfect situation, the donor is left with a feeling of warmth, sincerity and confidence from the solicitor and has all the key facts and statements in the brochure. It’s the best of both worlds.

A couple of last but not least points. Solicitors must be donors themselves. Every time they take a donor through the brochure they validate their own decision to have given. The better the brochure, the greater the sense of validation and the more positive the solicitor’s attitude. Finally, don’t think that all of this doesn’t apply to professional staff who are making solicitations. Their ability to make a quality solicitation will definitely be enhanced by a well-created brochure.

So the next time you’re working on a brochure and want to it to really contribute to the success of the campaign, start thinking about the solicitor.