The Psychology of Color

Color Post Image

Creatives love color. We hate to admit that sometimes a simple black and white envelope beats a stunning four-color photo in the mail. That’s because we know that color can be a powerful marketing tool.

Colors evoke emotion, create associations and even prompt action. Pink, once a symbol of femininity, is now the official color of breast cancer. There’s not a person in America who doesn’t know exactly what it means when they see a pink ribbon pinned on a shirt. Splash red and green on something and it’s suddenly Christmas.

Even colors that don’t have strong symbolic ties like breast cancer or Christmas have powerful emotional associations. Here’s a quick recap of a little Color Psychology for you:

Black – Authority and power
White – Innocence, purity and in some cases cleanliness and sterility
Red – Intensity and love
Blue – Peace and tranquility and in some cases loneliness, cold and depression
Green – Nature and wealth
Yellow – Happiness

So what does all this mean for your fundraising campaigns? Here are a few quick ways to apply some color psychology to your work: 

1)     Black envelopes create intrigue. When used appropriately, they can be very effective.

2)     Red commands attention! Put a bunch of colors on a page and your eye goes to red first. It’s a bold color that cannot be ignored. That’s why they make stop signs red. Red is so effective it has been proven to stimulate faster heart rates and breathing – and it inspires people to take action. Use it for urgent callouts.

3)     Yellow may be fun and happy, but yellow text is incredibly hard to read. Plus neither fun nor happy is exactly an emotional driver for donating. But that’s a topic for another blog post to come later.

Remember, much to your creatives’ dismay, sometimes a plain white envelope beats anything else. So test, test, test. And still try to splash in a little red for good measure.

-Angie MacAlpine

Angie is the Associate Creative Director in Merkle's nonprofit vertical.  She chooses to Do What Matters because "when I leave my son and go to work everyday, I want to know it's because I'm helping to make the world a better place for him.  The amazing clients we work with allow me to do just that".

If you pay attention to only 1 thing digital this week...

Make sure to keep an eye on what is planned on Twitter for World AIDS Day on Wednesday, December 1.

Led by Alicia Keys, a slew of celebrities, with millions of followers, are going 'silent' on Twitter on Wednesday for World AIDS Day. The celebrities plan to stay 'silent' until $1 million has been raised for AIDS efforts.

According to the AP, "[f]or the campaign — which also includes Jennifer Hudson, Ryan Seacrest, Kim and Khloe Kardashian, Elijah Wood, Serena Williams, Janelle Monae and Keys' husband, Swizz Beatz — celebrities have filmed 'last tweet and testament' videos and will appear in ads showing them lying in coffins to represent what the campaign calls their digital deaths."

We already know the impact celebrities can have on influencing high volume donations--witness the Haiti relief efforts and Keys' appearance on American Idol last year. How long celebrities may have to stay silent (and will they be able to refrainfrom sharing their every move with the world in the name of do-gooding)?  We are eager to find out on Wednesday.

Follow all the tweets (or lack of them) on Twitter under the following hashtags: #BUYLIFE, #WAD, #AIDS, #HIV, #WorldAIDSDay and some of the participating celebrities.

(can't see this video? check it out here.) 

The Power of Authority

Recently, on my drive to work, there has been an ominous warning posted on electronic signs above the highway. "SLOW DOWN. AUTOMATIC SPEED CAMERAS MAY BE IN USE."

Instinctively, everyone slowed down, including me. Even thought I did not see a speed camera van the entire way home, even though there were no police cars pulling people over, even though the threat was only a "may" not a "definitely", just the implied potential consequence was enough to slow everyone down.

I wondered to myself whether there was even a need for the actual speed camera or if the implied threat was enough. Likely, as with speed limits that many people ignore, if there was a prolonged period of threat with no consequence (no pictures of all of us speeding with tickets arriving in the mail), everyone would likely start ignoring the ominous electronic sign and go  back to speeding.  But, at least in the short-term, the impact was immediate and effective.

Of course, as with everything I do in life, this got me thinking about whether there is a way to use the same concept for donors.  How can we, as fundraisers, get all of our donors to pay attention, give  us a gift, care, by using our well-worn mission statements in a different way? Should, and can, we threaten donors with consequences if there is no action? Will the new threat be enough?

Perhaps donors are tired of hearing that children are going hungry,  diseases need to be cured, rights upheld, arts projects funded.  Perhaps the threat of lives lost if we don't do something doesn't resonate anymore.  So, what would be the equivalent of the highway billboard to get donors to pay attention again, to believe they MUST act even if the threat is only a potential loss of something?

I'm going to spend some time this weekend contemplating ways to do this. I hope you do too!

-Miriam Kagan




Inspiration to start the week

We came across this video this weekend.  Multiplier+ impact+ celebrities=powerful message.



How not to dump garbage on your creative team

Too many people think writers and designers can work wonders in a vacuum: Just tell them to make something good, and they will.

As with many other things, with creative professionals, it's garbage in, garbage out. Here's help from an article in Target Marketing than can help you work well with your creatives: 4 Secrets to Help Your DM Creative Team Succeed. The secrets:

  1. The most precious thing you can give a copywriter is time.
  2. The aim of design is clarity and involvement, not fancy-pants visuals.
  3. Make your key people available for interviews.
  4. All changes and corrections should be collected and communicated to the designer at one time.

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How to get the most from other people

People are not machines. At least, not the good ones. That's why the secret to getting others to do good work on your behalf is to win their enthusiasm.

That's the useful message in Michael Hyatt's blog at Five Ways to Energize Your Team.

Hyatt points out that if you want the best from people, "you have to have their hearts. You can't demand this or even buy it with a paycheck. You have to earn it." And here are some pointers:

  1. Assume others are smart and working hard.
  2. Listen intently and ask thoughtful questions.
  3. Acknowledge the sacrifices others have made on your behalf.
  4. Express gratitude for their effort and their results.
  5. Remind them why their work is so important and the difference they are making.

I've been on the receiving end of "push-button" management that assumes you can intimidate or ignore folks and never bother to thank them or treat them like fellow human beings -- and expect them to churn out quality work. It always crashes and burns. Every time.

Follow Mr. Hyatt's advice. It works much better.

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How to work with your genius

How to work with your genius creativity

Here's a great TED Talk by Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat, Pray, Love.

Her liberating point is that genius isn't something you are, but something you have -- almost an outside force you work with to achieve greatness. (It's about 20 minutes.)

Or go see it here.)

If you don't have the time, here's the nub of what she says (it's toward the end):

Don't be daunted. Just do your job. Continue to show up for your piece of it, whatever that might be. If your job is to dance, do your dance. If the divine, cockeyed genius assigned to your case decides to let some sort of wonderment be glimpsed, for just one moment through your efforts, then "Ole!" And if not, do your dance anyhow. And "Ole!" to you, nonetheless.

Go for it!

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What exactly are you afraid of?

... the only thing we have to fear is fear itself -- nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.
from FDR's First Inaugural Address

These are tough times. There's a lot to worry about. But I have to say, a lot of nonprofits these days live in a bath of fear. All the time. And it was like that long before the economy started to nose-dive. It almost seems as if some nonprofits are fear factories, where people try to outdo one another in the production of reasons to be afraid.

Fear that donors will complain.

Fear that someone will get mad (often expressed as fear of lawsuits).

Fear of failure.

Fear of losing the good opinion of respected peers.

Fear is scary. It makes you mediocre -- or worse.

Ask yourself: What are we afraid of?

How bad will it be if donors complain? (If you're smart, you'll turn any complaints into chances to deepen your relationship with those who care enough to complain.)

How bad is someone's anger, really? (If you're doing anything at all, you're making somebody angry!)

Have you noticed that you always recover from failure -- and that failure is a necessary part of attaining success? Frankly, failure is the doorway to success in a lot of ways.

Follow your fear-thoughts through to their logical conclusion. You'll usually find that you're afraid of nothing. Fear is most powerful when it's unexamined.

Here's what you should really be afraid of: Sooner or later, there's going to be an organization that doesn't operate under fear. They're going to get stuff right. And your donors are going to migrate over to that organization.

That's the only thing you have to fear: Fear itself.

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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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A fun tool for better fundraising copy


Here's an idea for improving fundraising copy that I'm stealing from Fundraising Coach Marc Pitman, posted at Donor-centered fundraising or schpeal-centered?

It involves the odd-but-inspiring tool Wordle, which takes any bunch of words and makes a "cloud" of them. The more often a word appears in your bunch of words, the larger it appears in your Wordle cloud.

So here's the trick: Make a Wordle cloud out of your next fundraising appeal.


Do you see in the resulting word cloud? human connection, cause, warmth, conversation?

Or do you see a dull, twisted, self-centered set of words that look like they could have been drawn from a position paper or a Form 990?

Guess which kind of cloud gives evidence of a more effective fundraiser?

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Improve your fundraising in your sleep

Just when we could really use some, here's good news: A recent New York Times story uncovers the value of the good old-fashioned nap: We'll Fill This Space, but First a Nap.

Turns out, they say, sleep makes you work better:

Sleep enhances performance, learning and memory. Most unappreciated of all, sleep improves creative ability to generate aha! moments and to uncover novel connections among seemingly unrelated ideas.

So go take a nap. You'll come out ahead.

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Little stuff makes the difference in fundraising

Everyone wants some big new idea that changes everything. But is that the right thing to look for?

Ask direct doesn't think so, at The art of being 15 minutes ahead:

Don't waste your time searching for the one big idea that will transform your fundraising like a magic bullet. Instead, concentrate on just being that little bit better, quicker, smarter, more personal, more evocative, more attentive....

I love big, game-changing ideas. I've seen a few of them happen. But it's true: They don't come along very often. Big ideas turn out to be big failures more often than not.

Just getting stuff right may seem a little boring. Like getting receipts sent out quicker. It's not going to win you an award or a cover story in the industry press. But getting stuff right will make you better than almost everyone else.

And I can promise you that if you do the small stuff well, you'll be a lot more likely to get the big stuff right too. Greatness does not exist in a vacuum.

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Shut up and make meetings better

Pretty much everyone hates meetings. That's because so many meetings are hateful. There are a lot of things that make them that way, and at the top of the list is people talk too much in meetings.

Right? Well here's something that'll give you pause: Maybe one of the motormouths who's making the meeting into a torture chamber is you.

It's worth considering, and a place to start is the Chief Happiness Officer blog post, Five simple ways to STFU in meetings. Those five ways are:

  1. Put your hand over your mouth -- literally. It'll help you stay quiet.
  2. Ask some great questions -- encourage others to talk.
  3. Keep track of how often you blab.
  4. Notice how you feel when you're quiet
  5. Ask yourself a simple question: "Is what I’m about to say something I need to say or something the other participants need to hear?"

Meetings go better when there's more listening than talking. That's something each of us can all help bring about.

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To be the best fundraiser, go away

I hope you're getting a vacation this summer. Really get all the way away. No email. No urgent calls. Just you and as much nature as you can take without stress. It'll recharge your creativity and ability to think.

Everyone knows that, including the excellent Presentation Zen blog: Creativity, nature, & getting off the grid ...

I talk a lot about the importance of getting away from the computer, getting off the grid and finding time alone. This is crucial to keeping the creative spirit alive. Time alone is necessary, and time alone with nature is even better. It's important for fueling and nurturing the creative spirit to take the time to be completely present and appreciate nature's unaffected beauty and simplicity.

It works. Here's where I'm going:


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The two elements of a story

Here's Ira Glass, host of NPR's wonderful This American Life, on how to effectively tell a story.

He's talking about broadcast stories, but it works for fundraising stories too:

  • The anecdote -- the series of events, one leading to the next -- that pulls us in.
  • The "moment of reflection" -- the periodic "here's why I'm telling you this" that gives it shape

Thanks to Copyblogger for the tip.

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Be cool, or raise funds: which would you rather do?

Here's a way to write more effective fundraising copy, from Copyblogger: Unleash Your Inner Dork to Become a Better Copywriter. That's right, be a dork:

Enthusiastic copy isn't cool.... In fact, it's usually kind of dorky. Any creative person who's worth a damn has a dorky side. Good creative work can't survive cynicism. Being a dork just means you can get insanely excited about something that not everyone can see is cool.

It's true: Powerful fundraising copy has a distinctly dorky, geeky, nerdy tone. It's obsessive, it's too enthusiastic, it's unaware how out of style it is.

Not at all like the pose of ironic detachment that so many people these days cultivate.

Unfortunately, too many fundraisers would rather be cool than raise money. They're genuinely troubled by over-the-top, goofy, and just uncool tone of effective fundraising. Tone it down, they say. This stuff is embarrassing!

If you find yourself thinking this way, check your priorities. Just how important is the persona you think you're projecting? Is it really more precious than revenue raised for the Cause?

Something most people discover as they mature: Trying to be cool is a completely bogus goal. It's basically impossible to succeed, because the standards are subjective, changing, and deceptive. Even if you do somehow get a little bit cool, it gets you nowhere at all. (This is the source of the much of the conflict between adolescents and their parents.)

So give up the quest for cool. Just be a dork. And raise more money.

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When copyediting wrecks copy

Seth Godin makes another of his good points, this time about the role of copyeditors, in Sucking all the juice out.

Seems a copyeditor got her hands on something he'd written and turned it all "boring and dry and mechanical." Trouble is, many copyeditors (and all kinds of others) think their job is to "normalize" copy, taking out everything that makes it eccentric, unusual, and non-standard -- that is, everything that gives it life and makes it memorable:

If the job description of your lawyer or boss or editor or client is to make sure everything is pure and perfect and proven and beyond reproach, they are making things worse, not better.

Amen. Just say no to boring copy. And to the people who think it's their job to make copy boring.

The world is filled with lifeless, dull writing. If you have a writer who's capable of the kind of crazy, energetic writing that grabs attention -- leave it alone. Correct the spelling. Put the commas in the right places. Fix any inaccuracies. But leave the rest alone!

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You need to write like a human being

So often, fundraising copy just sounds wooden, artificial, and inhuman.

Here's a sample, pulled at random from the Donor Power Fortress of Charity Junk Mail Vault:

Winter disasters and other emergencies are on the way. And your gift to [name of charity deleted] is critically important. Please send your gift of $35, $25, $50 or more right way. Use the enclosed envelope, or simply call [phone number deleted].

There's nothing flat-out bad about this copy. It's clear and readable, which is more than you can say for a lot of copy that gets written and published. There's just one thing:

It doesn't sound like a human being. No mentally healthy person would speak those sentences. It sounds like a robot.

Here's what we need to get into our heads: Nobody wants to hear from a robot any more than they have to! We waste too many hours with voice-mail menus, voice-recognition bots, auto-generated emails, and inhuman notifications from our banks, insurance companies, utilities, and others.

It's soul-crushing. People shouldn't have to put up with it. Increasingly, they're refusing to put up with it.

There's nothing forcing you to write that way. When you write to donors -- whether you're asking for money, thanking them for a gift, telling them what their giving accomplished, or even taking care of details -- keep it natural, warm, and human. Make sure you're awake from the organizational stupor that can strike.

And then write like a human. Your donors will thank you for it.

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Conquer the power of negative thinking

If your organization is a place of idea genocide, here's a post at John's Blog (for entrepreneurs) you should read: 8+ Ways To Train Yourself To Be Creative. There are a bunch of good ideas there, but here's one that can really set you free:

Whenever you want to do something but your mind tells you that you can't, write that thought down and then next to it write down 2 or 3 reasons why you can. Do this quickly and often. Soon you will notice that you have trained your mind to automatically react with a positive thought whenever you think of a negative one.

Do this right now! Make it a habit. Get everyone you work with to do it too.

So many nonprofits are hobbled by negative thinking. One new idea after another is shot down before it's even fully formed because someone, anyone, can conceive of a downside.

Building a mental habit of looking for the good in ideas is the only way you're going to get them.

Great ideas are risky.

Great ideas are unfamiliar.

Great ideas are hard to find.

Great ideas are necessary to your survival.

Take it seriously.

Thanks to Lifehacker for the tip.

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Hints for doing good work

Fundraising requires a lot of creativity. Most good ideas don't work -- so you need an awful lot of good ideas. A heightened level of creativity is an absolute necessity.

The Brain Based Biz blog has a treasure trove of creativity boosters at 10 Tactics to Jumpstart Creativity in Your Work. Among them:

  • Stimulate yourself with a variety of new sounds, sights, ideas, conversations, tastes, people etc.
  • Take a child's approach to your task without any fear of the process.
  • Just the right music can help her achieve writing flow ... and cut down on writers' block.
  • Increase creativity by setting deadlines.

There's lots more. Don't miss.

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Chances are, you were right the first time

One of the biggest enemies of excellence in fundraising is overthinking. Wait -- no ... it must be something else.

Brain Based Biz reports on recent research into decision-making: Conquer Overthinking in Decisions.

Trust your instincts. You're more likely to perform well if you do not think too hard and just trust your intuition. Snap decisions are more reliable in many cases, according to a University College London study, than decisions made using higher-level cognitive processes.

That first thought is often the one with the energy, creativity, innovation, and clarity. Subsequent thoughts bring in confusion and doubt. And if you really want to over-think, put a committee on the job.

Two caveats on the value of first thoughts from my experience:

  1. The more educated and experienced you are on the subject at hand, the better your intuition; an experienced instinct beats an ignorant intuition any day.
  2. If you're annoyed, angry, or afraid, your first thought is probably faulty. Let some time pass, then try again.

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Are you doing backward-brained fundraising?

As you know, your brain has two hemispheres, each with different strengths: The right side is emotional, qualitative, connective. The left side is rational, quantitative, sequential. Success at almost anything means integrating both sides -- being right-brained when that's called for and left-brained when that's needed.

I've worked with many nonprofits that approach fundraising with very integrated brains. Unfortunately, they have the hemispheres flipped.

Here's how it goes:

Right brain goes into high gear:

  • Let's talk about Topic Y, not Topic X, because we like Topic Y much more than X. Emotional decision. What you like may not be what others like. Look at the facts about your topics.
  • Let's be professional, not urgent -- that really embarrasses us. Emotional. How your communications make you feel is not important. If you want to get people's attention and motivate giving, you should be as urgent as possible -- as long as you're telling the truth.
  • Don't write to anyone who's given more than $100 -- they won't respond. Emotional again. Look at the facts and find out whether that's true or not. (I can almost guarantee you it isn't.)
  • Exclude everyone who's given in the last six months. They'll just be annoyed if we ask them again. Emotional. The facts may -- in this case, almost certainly will -- tell you otherwise.

Then comes time for messaging. The left brain leaps into action:
  • There are five reasons people should give right now. Let's focus on them. People don't give to reasons. They give when their heart is touched. While reasons may be valid supporting material, you need to lead with emotional material.
  • Avoid those schmaltzy emotional stories and word-pictures -- totally unconvincing. Stick to numbers and facts. People don't know things until they can "see" them. That's why you need to use plenty of visualization. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a word-picture is worth 2,000 numbers.
  • Keep it short and to the point. State the case and stop wasting time. If people were computers, this would be the right way to go. We aren't, and it isn't.

If you see your organization in this exercise, work to turn those hemispheres around. Put your left brain on high alert when you're planning and strategizing. Make sure your decisions are rational and fact-based. Then when you're creating your message, send lefty away and activate your right brain. Find the emotional core of your message and build around that.

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How to write copy with soul

Charitable giving is an activity of the soul. People give because it feels good. Or because they love others. Or they want better karma or to add jewels to their crowns. Or they believe God wants them to give.

All soullish reasons that motivate them long before their income tax deduction becomes a factor.

Copyblogger recently looked at this very issue: Once More With Feeling: Has Your Writing Got Soul? How do you know if your writing has soul? Well, according to Copyblogger, you can bet it doesn't if it's "... a million-point mission statement, painfully crafted by some dreary committee and signed off by a gray-suited and grayer-haired chairman."

We'll let Copyblogger's slur against gray-haired people slide, because the larger point is good:

The old stuffy, sterile, forced, detached formal relationships are being replaced with more human, warm, touchy-feely, authentic interactions. More people are choosing to deal with human beings rather than faceless organizations.

If you want to connect with people at the soul level -- which is what you need to do to successfully raise funds -- you need to use the language of the soul. You need to sound human. Here are three things you can do to get there:

  • Have one person write your copy. A committee will never, ever create copy with soul.
  • Put your brand guidelines aside. They're meant to keep you from sounding like an individual human. Write about the matter at hand with the materials and passion that are relevant.
  • Read copy out loud. Stilted, inhuman prose will stand out for what it is if you say it out loud.

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Dilbert's secrets to good writing

On his much-followed Dilbert Blog, Scott Adams talks about good writing in The Day You Became A Better Writer.

Writing a comic strip is tough (I know, because I used to write one, which, thankfully, was pre-Web and can't be found anywhere); Adams knows his stuff. Here are his rules:

  • Keep things simple.
  • Your first sentence needs to grab the reader.
  • Write short sentences.
  • Learn how brains organize ideas.

This, according to Adams, is 80% of the rules of good writing. (Meaning, in theory, there's just one more rule; I guess we're on our own for that one.) But these are good rules. Follow them, and you're writing will be stronger, more clear, and more effective.

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Five steps to bad writing

When was the last time you read some lifeless, confusing, ineffective fundraising copy? For me it was this morning. In my mail. Just another lousy appeal letter from an organization that really wants to do a good job.

Bad copy is everywhere.

The weird thing is, when copy is bad, it's seldom because of a lack of writing skill or attention to the job. Bad copy is nearly always actively forced into badness.

There's a blog about this very thing. It's called Bad Language, and recently posted The fall and rise of the case study. It's talking about corporate case studies, a very different creature from fundraising, but a lot of the same forces for badness are at play in both media. Including these:

  • Too many cooks.
  • Too many steps.
  • Overzealous brand policing.
  • One size fits all. No sense of different audiences and different media.
  • Over-loaded content.

Want good copy? Call off the dogs and let your writer write.

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How to get un-stuck creatively

Ever get stuck? Go outside. That what it says a the Brain Based Biz blog at Tap Into Your Naturalistic Intelligence.

It's worked for me for years. But I didn't know why until now. It seems going outside boosts your creativity in several ways:

  • You get more oxygen to your brain, and that helps it functions well.
  • Outdoor things (like animals, birds, plants, scenery) can give you new ideas.
  • Your subconscious gets freed to work on your challenges.
  • Being outside reduces stress, which helps you think better.
  • Walking stimulates blood flow, which means more oxygen to your brain.

Nice, huh? It's pleasant, and it works.

There are two other re-starters that work for me. (I'll wait for someone to research why they work.):

  1. Drink a glass of cold water.
  2. Do something useless and unrelated to what you're stuck at -- read something funny, listen to music, whatever.

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Do more by doing less

With cell phones, Blackberries, free wifi nearly everywhere, and small computers we can easily carry around, you can just work all the time.

Isn't it great?

Probably not.

An article in Adweek looks at the ways being "always on" could be hurting us by never giving us down-time to recharge and let the subconscious attack our problems: The Unprofessionals

We all have to create the time and space for thought, to respond to e-mail when it suits us, not as soon as it arrives, to find the "off" button on our cell phones and Blackberries, to get out of the office once in a while, to create some distance. And when we leave work, we should leave work. Our brains will carry on working whether we like it or not; we will simply be more effective if we are relaxed and reenergized.

If you care about your work, you won't do it all the time. Be on when you're on, but off when you're off. Take vacations (no email allowed!). Consider taking a whole day all the way off every week (a Sabbath); it really helps, and more than makes up for the time off in added productivity and energy.

The work you do with nonprofit organizations matters. Don't let that truth blind you to your need for rejuvenation.

Thanks to Think Personality for the tip.

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The two ways to listen to your donors

Is there a down side to listening to your donors? Some business thinkers say there is. When you really pay attention to what they want, you risk blocking breakthrough innovation.

Read about it on the Living and Working in the Creative Sector blog, at Are Current Customers Innovation-Inhibitors?:

Asking customers about what they like or dislike about the current product or service will cause them (and you) to focus on incrementally improving what's current. . . . this focus won't lead to innovation. To innovate, we need to focus the customer on describing their needs and aspirations. We need to know what it is that they hunger for at very deep levels.

Think about it: Your current donors are the group for whom the status quo works (assuming it works). Chances are, paradigm-busting innovation will mess things up for this group. If your donor cultivation program is humming along with good levels of net revenue, a good ROI, and sufficient growth, you should be listening to them and focusing on incremental growth.

Here's when you need wild innovation, the kind the comes not from studying what's okay and not-so-okay about your marketing, but what beliefs and needs are close to donors' (and prospects') hearts:

  • If your program is broken -- you're losing donors faster than you're gaining them.
  • If some old reliable source of donors has dried up.
  • If you want to grow revenue at a rate that's beyond what's achievable now.
  • If the marketplace shifts under your feet -- as it probably will in the coming years with the generational change in donors that's just around the corner.

Small, incremental innovation -- the kind you can get from knowing your current donors inside and out -- is good. Don't snub it.

But huge, off-the-charts innovation, in addition to being rare, is necessary in certain situations. That's when you move away from what you and your donors know. When you ask deep, tough questions about what it means to be human.

It's the two kinds of innovation -- and the two ways of listening to donors -- that build a great fundraising program.

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Where does good copy come from?

Good copy is a precious and powerful thing. It crystallizes your thinking. It clarifies your goals. It mobilizes others to join you.

Given all the good things well-written copy can do, why do we see so little of it in the world around us?

Well, excellent writers are rare. But there's more to it than that. Even the best writers can produce bad copy. The Bad Language blog takes a look at some of the reasons this happens in Why good writers (occasionally) produce bad copy.

While it's sometimes the writer's fault, there are some outside forces, including:

  • Dirty briefs. (i.e., lack of clear direction)
  • Group-think.
  • Brand Nazis.
  • Editing by committee.
  • Death by redlining.

(There are more. Go read it.)

Copy is never produced by just one person. Forget the image of the lone writer in a garret, pounding out inspired prose in a steady stream. In any marketing endeavor, copy is just one link in a long chain that includes:

  • Content. The writer needs to have something good to write about.
  • Strategy. Doesn't matter if the copy is brilliant if the strategy is flawed. The world's fastest runner will lose the race if he's running the wrong direction.
  • Offer. The call to action needs to be something people actually want to do.
  • Alignment. Everyone who's involved in the project should have the same goals. (This is one of the hardest parts to achieve.)
  • Good design. The design should be pulling in the same direction as the copy, with the same emotional message. And it should be readable.
  • Error-free production. Stuff that's printed wrong or lost in the mail doesn't do much good.

If you appreciate the power of good copy, you'll not only hire a good writer -- you'll get the other stuff right too.

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Trash your stock photo books: real is better than fake

In his excellent Freaking Marketing blog, Robert Rosenthal fires a great salvo: Fight the Real Enemy: Stock Photography. "Stock photography," he says, "is one of the biggest contributors to mediocrity in our industry."

The industry he's talking about is marketing, not specifically fundraising, but the truth applies to us too:

People who pull together concepts by rifling through stock photo books take an ass-backwards approach to creative development. We're supposed to start with an idea -- then figure out how to properly pull it off. We shouldn't begin with an image that needs an excuse to be used.

It's even more important in fundraising to stay away from stock photos. Because for fundraising to work, it has to be perceived as "real." And stock photography is inherently fake. It's set up, lighted, framed, and shot in ways that never happen in real life. The people are unusually photogenic and dressed in clothes that perfectly accent their features and look just right in their surroundings. These shots are so fundamentally different from real photos of real people, anyone can spot them as fakes.

You might as well put a big red label on your material that says NOT REAL.

And if seeming fake is bad, being fake is worse. If there's a stock house out there that sells real or real-looking photos, they're still not the real people and situations your organization is involved with. Unless you're okay with lying to your donors, you can't say, "This is a hungry child in the area where we're at work," or "Here's the family your generosity helped last Christmas."

Finally, there's the embarrassing situation that sometimes happens with stock: certain images get used again and again, with the same models showing up in print and on the web in unrelated -- even competing -- messages. Read about the "Everywhere Girl," who appeared in marketing for both Dell and Gateway, as well as a boatload of other ads and websites. Funny, but embarrassing.

So please: splurge on real photography. It's worth it.

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Wishful thinking: saying it doesn't make it so

When you really want something to be so, sometimes you spend your energy in the wrong place.

I'm not going to pile on the new "slogan" for Seattle (my home). I'll just note that it's not exactly getting great reviews.

The slogan: "Metronatural." Really.

(There's a good summing up, including links to some of the blog noise about it at the Strategic Name Development blog: Slogans: Branding Seattle as a Metronatural Takes the Cake.)

What strikes me most about it though, is some copy you can find on the Metronatural website:

Say "metronatural" a few times and you will never forget it. Metronatural works by combining the two words that most eloquently define the experience of Seattle. 

Metronatural also has a decidedly modern feel to it. Although new, the word is familiar in tone and easy to grasp the meaning of. Upon hearing it for the first time, people will quickly "define" the word for themselves, leading to a personal connection with the brand. 

In other words, metronatural works by sticking around and standing out. It works by being unique and meaningful. It works by being just like our city: impossible to forget.

I sympathize. I really do. But doesn't the fact that your idea needs this much defense clue you in to the thought that it's not such a great idea?

This need to the audience us how our work should make them feel is common. We all do it. You'll see it often in branding guidelines: long, detailed arguments that these guidelines are brilliant, they really are. Those are the guidelines that really suck.

So next time you find yourself spending a lot of energy on defending your idea, take a step back. Maybe the problem is with your idea, not the understanding of your audience.

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Do the right thing -- now

If you treat donors well, you'll get better fundraising results. Right? Duh.

Well, it must be a bit tougher to grasp than "duh," because hardly anyone in the nonprofit world is doing it.

Don't miss this great post on the Creating Passionate Users Blog: Why "duh"... isn't. When it comes to doing the right thing, the answer is usually pretty obvious. But not everyone gets around to doing it:

Eating healthy is a "duh." Exercising five times a week is a "duh." Saving money is a "duh." Keeping our kids off TV is a "duh." Flossing is definitely "duh." Managing stress is a "duh." Greeting your significant other and kids with a smile and full attention is a "duh." Empowering our employees is a "duh." Changing the oil is a "duh." Being on time is a "duh." . . . 
There's a big difference between saying, "Eat an apple a day" and actually eating the apple.

It's more than knowing. It's more than going to an inspiring session at a conference and nodding your head. It's more than reading a good blog.

You already have 90% of the information you need to be a truly Donor Powered organization -- and radically improve your fundraising results. So go out there and do it!

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Maybe you're killing ideas

We need all the good ideas we can get.

The best way to get good ideas is to get lots of ideas. Including bad ones.

And the best way to get lots of ideas is to encourage, foster, and reward ideation.

Not easy. The Casual Fridays Blog takes a good look at whether your is pro-ideas or anti: 10 Signs You’re Shooting Down Good Ideas. Here they are:

10. You know whether or not an idea is good based who proposed it.
9. You observe from a distance rather than being lead down a path to the idea.
8. You believe every idea is improved with your input.
7. Listing the top 10 ideas from your department this year, half or more are your own.
6. Brainstorming means narrowing down to the best idea, instead of hearing all of them.
5. All ideas must be proven.
4. You only want BIG ideas.
3. You have no effective mechanisms to foster, collect, review, and implement ideas.
2. Your competition is your main source of ideas.
1. No matter how much you’ve talked about ideas, collected them, praised them, in the end you don’t use them.

These behaviors are very common. And they're costing you. Remember -- you don't have to implement every idea that comes along. The important thing is to get lots of ideas from every source so you'll have a lot of good ones.

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Cast out your fear

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration."
(from Dune, by Frank Herbert

Why are nonprofits so often ruled by fear? So often, innovation (and even common-sense) is shot down by wild worst-case-scenario fears. Is it a plot by Evil Lawyers?

The Squawk Box blog has a great example of nonprofit fear in a post titled Email Signatures. Your email signature could be used to highlight news, opportunities, public-relations initiatives -- all kinds of cool things. Yet ...

Most email signatures I see from non-profits are legal disclaimers telling me to destroy the email and forget what I've read if I'm not the intended recipient.

Seriously, do you really need to do that? Of course not. Only if fear rules your thinking and you'd rather give up the opportunity to use your signature real-estate to further your mission in exchange for illusory protection from the outlandishly tiny possibility of information going astray.

This is a small example. Multiply it to hundreds of decisions made every year -- small and large -- where fear distorts the thinking and the outcome. You might as well be wearing a millstone around your neck.

Cast out fear. Your cause -- and your donors -- deserve your best, not your worst.

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When not to be practical

Maybe they told you it's good to be pragmatic and cautious. They were only half right. Risk avoidance can be one of he most risky of strategies. Mike Wagner at the Marketing Profs Daily Fix Blog tackles this issues in 5 Questions that Kill Your Brand. The five questions are:

  • How will we do it?
  • How long will it take?
  • How much will it cost?
  • How do we measure it?
  • How have others done it successfully?

Not bad questions, but if you're trying to do something great, stay away from them. Determine greatness first, shoot for it. Then figure out what the problems and details are. As Wagner put it:

There will be plenty of time to be practical once you know what you really want to do. Don’t kill your brand with premature pragmatism -- give it a fighting chance.

Your mission is too important to let "premature pragmatism" choke it off. And your best ideas will seem just a little bit crazy.

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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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