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January 2009

Slogans: Too artificial for the real world

Want to know another reason so much advertising, marketing, and fundraising is bad? Dan Heath and Chip Heath (authors of Made to Stick -- reviewed here) have a theory in Fast Company: Made to Stick: The Anti-Slogan Argument.

They've noticed that attempts to motivate people devolve into sloganeering -- catchy little phrases that no mentally healthy human would use in conversation. You know: taglines. They're meant to capture the essence of whatever you're talking about in a clever, memorable way.

Trouble is, it just doesn't sound real. As the Heaths say:

People don't speak slogan-language today unless they're trying to put one over on you. So when you hear one, you immediately become cynical. (Just imagine your prickly reaction if your kids started minting slogans: "If you love somebody, get them Wii.")

The solution: Just start telling stories. The way you do with your friends.

Slogans, taglines, advertising, brand guidelines -- that stuff is over. If you want to motivate people, act like a person.

Thanks to Brains on Fire for the tip.

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Direct mail fundraising mistakes

There's a good series running in FundRaising Success magazine: Fundraising 101. This month is on Direct Mail. Especially commend your attention to the article, 7 Rookie Copywriting Mistakes to Avoid.

Here they are:

  1. Not having a clear plan
  2. Starting with the letter
  3. Overlooking the response device
  4. Failing to consider donor benefits
  5. Avoiding the ask
  6. Writing 'purple prose'
  7. Forgetting that the letter is a letter

It's worth admitting that rookies aren't the only ones who make these mistakes.

Go read it. It's good advice that can save you some trouble and boost response to your direct mail.

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Who will tell your story?

Here's something to think about:

Great marketers of the future will not be measured by how well they tell stories to their audience, but rather by how well their audience tells stories about them.

(From a presentation by Tim Smith, posted here.)

Want to jump over this recession and start growing like crazy? Do something so cool, so show-stopping and exciting that people can't help but talk about it.

Thanks to Andy Sernovitz for the tip.

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More blasted email fundraising resolutions

Happy Chinese New Year. You can add some more resolutions, right?


Try these from ClickZ: Ten Resolutions to Make 2009 a Better E-mail Year:

  1. I Will Listen to Feedback
  2. I Will Give My Subscribers More Control Over What They Receive
  3. I Will Monitor More Than Open/Click-Through Rates/Revenue
  4. I Will Practice More Segmentation for Increased Relevance
  5. I Will Practice Good List Hygiene and Trim Inactives
  6. I Will Pay Attention to the ISPs
  7. I Will Work to Send Great Content
  8. I Will Make it Easy for Recipients to Know Who I Am
  9. I Will Be More Careful About Whose E-mail Efforts I Emulate
  10. I Will Banish the Word "Blast" From my Vocabulary

I especially like that last one: Why do we use the word "blast" to describe something we hope will be a meaningful part of a relationship?

How does this sound: I'm going to blast a thank-you note to Grandma.

Email marketing is pretty technical. You're screwed if you don't have the technical part down. But it's also about relationships. Resolve to remember that.

Thanks to BeRelevant for the tip.

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Distractions keep you from being effective

It's hard to be creative and original, to dream up a new idea and see it through. Heck, it's tough just to be competent.

But there's a magic ingredient that can help: Focus. That's what New York Times columnist David Brooks noted in a recent review of the book on remarkable people, Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell: Lost in the Crowd. Brooks noted something about these people that sometimes gets missed:

Most successful people also have a phenomenal ability to consciously focus their attention.... Control of attention is the ultimate individual power. People who can do that are not prisoners of the stimuli around them. They can choose from the patterns in the world and lengthen their time horizons. This individual power leads to others. It leads to self-control, the ability to formulate strategies in order to resist impulses.

How much control do you have over your attention? Are you hypnotized by the steady stream of info from Twitter, from IMs, your BlackBerry?

If you are, it's costing you. Big time. Your creativity, your intelligence, your basic effectiveness -- they're all being slashed to ribbons by lack of focus.

So free yourself from the noise. At least part of the time. Believe it or not, you are in control of all those tools and devices. You can say no to them any time.

And, in fact, you should say no. Turn them all off. Concentrate on one thing at a time, even if only for part of your day. Do it. It will pay off.

See also this article in The Atlantic: Is Google Making Us Stupid?, and, if you want help, see this article in Locus Magazine: Cory Doctorow: Writing in the Age of Distraction.

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It's not about the "perfect shot" any more

posted by Andrew Rogers

The Wall Street Journal's inauguration-day edition has an interesting article about Emmett Beliveau, executive director of President Obama's inaugural committee and a former campaign advance man. Almost in passing, the piece makes a vital point:

Working on another Democrat's Senate campaign in the fall of 2006, he met Mr. Obama, and their collaboration began. Both men eschewed the standard campaign mantra begun with Ronald Reagan to go for the "perfect shot" at a big event. With Mr. Beliveau's roots as a field operative and Mr. Obama's as a community organizer, the pair focused more on the attendees. "Starting in Iowa, we wanted everyone to leave feeling good about Barack Obama," Mr. Beliveau. "It was never about playing to the camera but to the people," says his advance deputy, David Cusack.

That says a lot about the changing nature of American politics, but it says even more about the Obama campaign's insight into the changes in our media. With today's decentralized news sources and the rise of bloggers, social-networkers (Twitter's "tweets-per-second" count was five times the normal rate as Obama was being inaugurated), and "citizen journalists," the days when Michael Deaver could carefully stage the precise image that showed up on the TV news that night are long gone.

Your brand is no longer the image you lovingly create in your "perfect shot."

The people talking about you -- in the media, on blogs, or in their own homes -- may not recognize your perfect shot and almost certainly don't care about it. They're driven by how you make them feel. Are you "playing to the camera," or focused on making sure everyone leaves feeling good about what they're achieving by interacting with you.

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Try the Air Force approach to social media

I can guarantee you this: A lot more people hate the US Air Force than hate your nonprofit organization. For that matter, a lot more people love the Air Force. And that means people say all kinds of things about the Air Force in blogs and other social media places.

And the Air Force is doing something about it. With no air strikes involved, as far as I know. They could teach the rest of us a little about how to equip your people to engage with social media in constructive ways.

Read about it at the Web Ink Now blog: The US Air Force: Armed with social media.

The Air Force doesn't just have its own blog, it intends to equip all 330,000 of its people to be part of the Air Force conversation wherever that conversation is happening.

And here's the cool part. Rather than just throw their people into the fray, they have a methodical (downright military) flowchart that guides responses to anything from a scurrilous rant to a reasonable question.

If there's any conversation about you or your work out there -- or if you want there to be -- you could use this flowchart:


You can download this flow chart here at a readable size (PDF).

Thanks to The WOMMA Word blog for the tip.

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Obama isn't faking it about his BlackBerry -- but ad execs would make it seem like he is

"I'm still clinging to my BlackBerry. They're going to pry it out of my hands."
Barack Obama

You can't buy advertising like that. But if you could, according to a recent New York Times story, it would cost you something like $50 million (For BlackBerry, Obama's Devotion Is Priceless).

It works because it's real. He's not spouting a slogan. He's not repeating the tortured platform from the brand guidelines. He's just saying, in his own words, that he likes the product. Oh, and he's super-famous and generally admired.

That's the kind of endorsement you want -- the kind that can super-charge your marketing and fundraising. It's rare, but it happens (Bill Clinton did it for Kiva -- see it on YouTube).

But here's how not to get it: From an ad agency.

One ad industry guy quoted in the Times suggested this tagline for the Obama/BlackBerry campaign: "If Blagojevich can pick my replacement, I can pick my device." Another described a print campaign that looks like this: "In the foreground, you have the desk, but instead of having the proverbial red phone, you have a red BlackBerry, with the tagline 'Shot Caller.'"

Leave it to ad people to come up with such utter authenticity and make it false, glib, and artificial.

Advertising is so over.

Do you do something really, really cool? Be real about it. Don't "advertise."

Do you do something pretty ordinary and not likely to capture anyone's heart or imagination? Well, you might need to advertise. But it's not going to help much -- like doing CPR on a skeleton.

Authenticity is the heart of great marketing. Advertising, as the saying goes, is the penalty for having an ordinary product. And the way ad agencies work these days, it's a very high penalty.

(Want examples of how advertising mangles the good work of nonprofits? See Stupid Nonprofit Ads.)

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Face hard times without fear


Here's my column in this month's FundRaising Success magazine, Face Hard Times Without Fear.

Teaser: Being relevant is one of the most effective "tactics" you can practice in fundraising. Pretending the biggest economic crisis in recent memory isn't happening is a stunning exercise in being irrelevant. You might as well show your return address as 1 Fluffy Dreams Lane, Cloud-Cuckoo Land.

Happy New Year, stupid nonprofit ads!

Here's another example of a nonprofit falling victim to ad agency abstraction of their message:

This was done for the Greater Chicago Food Depository by the Leo Burnett ad agency (I don't recommend clicking through; it's one of the most overblown, hard-to-navigate websites you'll see all week).

The same campaign also has some print ads that you can see here, here, and here.

I just hope the Food Depository didn't pay for this work.

Why can't ad agencies create work that comes right out and says what the problem is and how the donor can be part of the solution? It's not that hard!

But these ad guys (or maybe their interns) jump through hoops to create abstractions and philosophical conundrums. In this case, it's all built around the notion that for some people, food is an unattainable "luxury," and that's just wrong. And they use the conventions of luxury advertising, applied to food.

Okay. It's a thought. But in what way does that motivate anyone to take action?

If anyone takes the trouble to figure out the puzzle, all it leaves is a vague sense of outrage. Or a bemused smile at the upside-down values of our world.

But donations to food banks? I wouldn't bet on it.

The need for food across the US (and around the world) is extreme right now. I strongly urge you to support the work of your local foodbank. A small gift will go a long way (and a big gift will go farther).

But please -- I'm talking to any ad agency types now -- don't give them any more abstract messaging. It does more harm than good.

Thanks to Adrants for the tip. And here's where to find even more Stupid Nonprofit Ads.

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Fundraising from introverts

Have you thought about the people you fundraise from? Most marketers don't, says Roy Williams, in his MondayMorningMemo: Introverts and Extraverts.

The population is split almost evenly between introverts and extraverts, but you wouldn't know that by the way marketing and communication is done:

Focus groups measure the opinions of extraverts. Churches plan social events for extraverts. Companies hand out promotions to extraverts and sales trainers teach us how to sell to extraverts.

Too much marketing and fundraising is aimed at the extraverts. That means it misses the other half of potential buyers and givers. It's fine to aim squarely at one group. But if you forget the other one exists, you're writing off a lot of support.

The error can go both ways: As a certified introvert, I'm always dumbfounded that telemarketing works. If I paid attention to my instincts, I'd never have anything to do with telemarketing. And that would be a mistake because telemarketing works. It works because extraverts are perfectly comfortable with it.

Some people (introverts) figure stuff out in their minds before they talk or take action. Other people (extraverts) figure it out by talking about it. Each of us acts one way or the other. The best fundraising allows both types to function.

Your own way of thinking is not the only way. If you think it is, you're missing the other half of the human race.

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Don't miss out on the power of a unique landing page

Here's a common but easy-to-avoid mistake a lot of nonprofits make: Sending donors to your homepage when you want them to make a gift (or take any other specific action.

An article at Performance Insider, Unique URLs Vs. Homepage URLs: The Best Method For Lead-Gen?

You spent a lot of time and money to make that homepage really, really cool. Of course you want everyone to see it, experience it as a brand-friendly "front door" into your organization. But doing that will cost you, in two ways:

By sending responses to your homepage URL, you will be virtually blind to the actual response of the dollars spent. Even worse, your homepage will need to perform multiple tasks -- provide the general information for the casual visitor AND instantly allow traffic driven by lead marketing dollars to complete the task without distractions.

Double whammy! You lose a bunch of transactions, and you can't measure the effectiveness of your marketing.

Resist the temptation to over-control the user experience. If someone clicks through from an email (or anywhere else), they were probably motivated by a specific call to action. That should be the one thing going on at the page they reach.

Thanks to Miriam at Generation Y Give for the tip.

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How to make your donors trust you

Wouldn't it be great if your donors to trusted you more? There's one way to get them to do that: trust them.

That's the message at the Neuromarketing blog, Show You Trust Your Customer.

Apparently, when you perceive that someone trusts you, that stimulates the production of oxytocin, the "magical neurochemical" that helps us build relationships. (We've talked about the importance of oxytocin in fundraising before.)

Neuromarketing suggests that companies that want to engender trust with their customers do things like making loaner or trial products available or make it easy to establishing credit terms.

Do you have policies designed to protect you from potential evil donors might inflict on your organization?

You might be signaling your distrust with small and symbolic things like those legal email signatures that warn, "don't misuse this email or else."

Or you might be doing it in huge and systemic ways, like not allowing donors to designate their giving -- because you're afraid they'll screw up your programs.

Get rid of policies like those. Let your donors in. Show them you trust them and consider them meaningful partners. (And don't just show it -- believe it!)

When your donors see that you trust them, they'll return the favor. And that can only boost fundraising.

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Charity Navigator to truly empower donors

If you believe in empowering donors, you pretty much have to like charity rating services, like Charity Navigator and GuideStar; they provide donors with objective outside information that help them make their own giving decisions.

Trouble with both of these organizations -- as well as nearly all others like them -- is they rate nonprofits solely by their efficiency, as measured by their ratio of program expense to overhead. Which doesn't tell you very much about how effective an organization is.

Efficiency matters, and an out-of-whack expense ratio should give a potential donor pause. But it's only part of the picture. Effectiveness is more important. The type of work a nonprofit does can inflate or deflate its efficiency. The charity raters ignore this fact, leaving the very complicated question of effectiveness up to individual donors.

That's why it's great to read an announcement from Ken Berger, CEO of Charity Navigator that his organization is interested in giving donors more information. You can read about it at Ken's Commentary blog, A Measure of Outcome.

Hats off to this fine organization for embarking on the important (and difficult) project of finding a way to better equip donors. I wish them well, and look forward to what they come up with!

Hints for powerful subject lines

If you're communicating with donors by email, you should be putting a lot of energy into crafting great subject lines. More than any other single factor, subject lines determine the success or failure of e-fundraising. So here's some help from iMedia Connection: How to craft irresistible subject lines. Good advice includes:

  • Give a sense of urgency.
  • Consider current spam trends -- the filters can knock you out of contention if you aren't careful, and the words they're looking for are ever-changing.
  • Limit subject lines to 30 or 40 characters
  • Hackneyed old cliches like "tips," "tricks" or "secrets" can really work magic for you.

Thanks to BeRelevant for the tip.

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How not to raise funds

A lot of things work in fundraising. But here's something that doesn't work: Talking about your cool activities.

That's what Tom Ahern says in his About Donor Communications E-Newsletter, at Would you buy a mattress from this charity?

... nonprofits talk way too much about their activities, and way too little about their accomplishments. Sorry: wrong audience. Only insiders care deeply about what you do: the details, the nuts and bolts, the daily grind, or the underlying theory. Outsiders ... care mostly about your results.

It's tempting to sell to yourself when you're trying to sell to others. That's why so many fundraisers think they have good fundraising when they can say I'd give to that.

Actually, when you reach the I'd-give-to-that stage, you've almost certainly created poor fundraising.

Here's how to think about this: You are not your donor. If you describe what you do in the way that sells it to you and your colleagues, you're missing the boat.

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Fundraising resolutions for 2009

Two recommendations for you to make this year a better your for your nonprofit organization:

Evangelize fundraising.

You already get it. But I can almost guarantee there are people in your organization who think of fundraising as a dirty job, a necessary evil, an embarrassing add-on to the real work.

That attitude does more to hobble the work of nonprofits than anything but pure incompetence. If there's an anti-fundraising attitude in an organization, it will always end up shooting down good fundraising and instead practicing a lame, half-hearted, old-school fundraising. Which means less revenue and less public support.

So spread the good news: Fundraising isn't just about money. Giving helps donors be better people -- happier, healthier, more conscious. The more that's believed within your organization, the better off your fundraising, your mission, and your donors will be.

Be not afraid.

Or at least act like you're not afraid. These are tough times. We face hard choices and painful situations.

But if you let fear drive your thinking, it's going to be a lot worse. The fear-driven nonprofit that cuts fundraising and crawls into a hole will stay in their own recession one to two years after the general recession ends.

That's because when you stop filling the pipelines with new donors, you end up in the following year with few second-year donors. The second year after you stop acquiring donors, you have a shortage of core donors -- your best, most committed, most valuable donors. And the empty donor class continues to echo through your fundraising, hurting you for years into the future.

At the very least, keep acquiring donors.

Better yet, ramp up your donor acquisition. You may find that the fear-driven cutbacks of other organizations have left donor mailboxes less crowded.

What is this blog all about?

If you're serious about raising money from donors, you need to get serious about donors. More than ever before, donors are insisting that you share power with them, not treating them like passive ATMs. This blog is about the ways you can do that -- and the rewards that await you and your donors when you do.

About the Blogger

DonorPower Blog is penned by Merkle's Power Blogging Team, led by Greg Fox, our senior vice president of strategy. Working with Greg is a police line-up of guest "artists", fundraising pros all, who like to pose as blogatorialists when the sun goes down. You can reach this blog, and any of our regular contributors, at
donorpowerblog [at] merkleinc [dot] com. See this blog's policies.

A great partner for the nonprofit that wants to get donor-powered and grow revenue like crazy!
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