Weekend Reading: Social Entrepreneurship for Social Good

We came upon this story from NPRthis morning: a Social Entrepreneur using his skills for Social Good.  Below is a small snippet of the story and you can read the full story on their website.

"Well over half the kids in this country don't have easy access to a community playground. That bothered Darell Hammond so much, he started an organization to create places for children to play. So far, over nearly 15 years, the group has helped build more than 1,800 playgrounds....Investment and capital — these are terms you hear a lot from social entrepreneurs like Hammond. They are taking terms from the world of finance and applying them to all kinds of social problems." (Read the rest of the story here.)


-Donor Power Blog


Inspiration to start the week

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



Fun week: Award-winning stupid nonprofit ad raises eyebrows (but probably no money)

This is one stupid doozy.


Done for the World Wildlife Foundation by DDB Brasil, this ad won a prestigious One Show award. WWF, to their credit, has denounced the work. One Show also stripped it of its honors.

(Read a good account of the fiasco in Fast Company: In Advertising, Stupidity Can Win You Awards.)

The real difference between this and all the other stupid nonprofit ads I present here is this: Everyone noticed. (Check out the blog buzz on Technorati.)

The ad is like so many others in its class: inept, abstract, and disengaged from reality. But it raised an uproar because of its shocking poor taste in the bizarre and illogical connection it draws between the 9/11 attacks and the Indian Ocean tsunami.

It also uncovered the agency award scam system: Agencies will approach nonprofits, offer to do free work for them. The work is specifically geared to win awards, not help the nonprofit. They actually place their ads so they're eligible for awards, but usually in out-of-the-way places. Then submit the work, and sometimes win awards for it.

So remember: Just say no to the agency award scam! I'll bet WWF is wishing they'd done that right now. Stupid nonprofit ads can do grave damage. But only if you allow it.

Just in case the print ad isn't horrifyingly stupid enough, there's also a TV version. Watch with care -- it's stomach-churning awful:

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Fun week: Postal Service shines in research

Ever get frustrated with the Post Office and their persnickety regulations? Maybe they're just a bit more flexible than they let on.

The very cool journal Improbable Research did some amazing postal delivery research, reported at Postal Experiments. Here are just a few of the items they sent through the US postal system:

  • Rose. Postage and address were attached to a card that was tied to the stem. Delivery at doorstep, 3 days, beat up but the rose bud was still attached.
  • Hammer. Card was strapped to hammer handle; extra-large amount of postage was attached. Never received.
  • Feather duster. The card with postage and address was attached by wire to the handle. Days to notice of delivery, 6.
  • Helium balloon. The balloon was attached to a weight. The address was written on the balloon with magic marker; no postage was affixed. The balloon was refused.
  • Coconut. Fresh green coconut containing juice, mailed in Hawaii. Delivery at doorstep, 10 days.
  • Lemon. Never received.
  • Deer tibia. 9 days.
  • Large wheel of cheese. The cheese was already extremely ripe (rancid) at the time of mailing. The cheese had oiled its way through the bottom of the cardboard box by the time of pickup, 8 days. The box had been placed in a plastic bag.

I'll never look at a pre-cancelled bulk-rate stamp the same way again.

Thanks to the Direct Creative Blog for the tip.

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Fun week: Stupid nonprofit ad and the transformation of the mud man

Here's a real winner from Oxfam Ireland:

Let's see if we can figure this one out: A man-shaped lump of dry mud is magically transformed into an actual man. While a desiccated landscape becomes a lush savannah. And that is supposed to awaken us to the fact that climate change is a bad thing.

Exactly how?

Forget the fact that the mud-to-man thing makes no sense, but why does it go from bad to good? Doesn't climate change go the other way?

What we have here is another case of message abstraction. Somebody that being unclear, un-literal, and completely conceptual would get the message across better than just saying what's up.

If you want people to face the impacts of climate change, why not show what it actually does? That's pretty horrifying: Babies die. The hopes and dreams of good people get destroyed. Beautiful things turn ugly. But no matter how severe climate change is, it doesn't turn dried mud into people. Or vice-versa.

Looks like ad agency work, though I don't know that for a fact.

If you don't want the tragedy of message abstraction to happen to you, don't let the ad people get to you.

Thanks to Osocio for the tip.

More Stupid nonprofit ads here.

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Fun week: New website is accurate, inept, or both?

Check the website of INEPD -- International Network for Enabling Poverty Development.

Their compelling goal: "Bringing poverty development to poor communities around the world."

Sad thing, this site is hardly different from dozens of real nonprofit websites. Amusing nonetheless.

Thanks to queer ideas for the tip.

It's time for a week of fun

I'll bet you could use a laugh or two. I know I could. So this week, it's all fun at the Donor Power Blog. No practical advice. No earnest sermons about taking donors seriously. No rants about bad fundraising -- well, actually there will be a couple of rants. I hope they're fun.

Let's start with a direct-mail fundraising joke. First posted here about three years ago:

Q: What's a passive-aggressive donor?

A: Someone who gives regularly, but always via white-mail.

If that makes you laugh, you are a serious fundraising nerd.

And for some further diversion, here's one of life's rarities, a public service annoucement that's truly funny and also effective. It's an anti-flu warning from the South Australia Department of Health.

Don't miss the rest of Fun Week!

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Keep it simple, smartypants

Just a reminder from F Minus to use short, simple words. Those big ones you're proud of? They don't get the results you need.  (Also, light type over a colored background and all caps make for hard-to-read copy!)


The Boy Who Learned How to Pick Up Girls from Fundraising Letters

Warning: useless material ahead! Inspired by a comment from Tom Ahern, I decided to make a movie from a little interpersonal vignette in a recent column of mine in FundRaising Success magazine.

The movie could be called "The Boy Who Learned How to Pick Up Girls from Fundraising Letters."

If you can't see it, go here to watch.

Four more years? Already?

This is Donor Power Blog post #1,029. Okay, that probably doesn't mean much, but four years ago yesterday (July 5, 2005) this blog was born. In blog years, that makes us ... I don't even want to think how ancient we are.

Back in 2005, there weren't many readers. Page views were in the dozens per day, quite a few of which were me, checking to see if my posts were really there. There were also hardly any fundraising blogs. I think this one was the third or fourth. There are now around sixty. It was an intense conversation between a few people in a small room.

My first post, an earnest little manifesto that nobody read, was called New Fundraising for the New Donor.

The first real "controversy" on this blog started with a post on November 8, 2005. It said:

How Google might look, if it were run the way many nonprofits operate today. It linked to this graphic:


The comments -- which by the standards of that time amounted to a tidal-wave worth -- are quite amusing. They are basically an argument whether or not the post is funny.

A lot happens in four years. I'm thankful for each person who's taken the time to read this blog. I'm especially thankful for those who have left comments. Even those of you who are wrong (heh heh -- I get to say that here). I hope in some way, however small, you've been equipped or inspired to do fundraising a little bit better.

I can't see four years ahead. But I hope something like this blog is still going. And I hope you're there too. Thanks.

Is video-game charity real or a joke?

As the middle-aged dad in the room, I'm often last to get the joke. So I could use some help here: Is Pixel Equity a joke?

It has many of the qualities of something you'd find in The Onion: It's a nonprofit with this compelling mission: "... connects those who want to share video games with those who want to play them."

That's right. Video games. Which, the website proclaims with a glorious lack of parallelism, help kids in these ways:

  • Exposure to different cultures
  • Learn to think scientifically
  • Follow directions and read critically
  • Develop social and communication skills

This is all shared with (I think) a straight face. There's even a mind-numbing Terms of Service page, as if the very existence of the charity is like a piece of software.

It's funny, but not quite funny enough to make me sure it's a joke. Another blog, Cashewman, takes it seriously and takes it to task with Avoiding More Useless Charities: 3 Questions to Ask Yourself.

But I can't shake the feeling that we've been had (or, more likely, pwned).

What do you think?

Thanks to Give and Take for the tip.

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Everything I know about fundraising I learned from Beatles songs

When I'm Sixty Four

Face it, your donors are older people. Get used to it. Treasure them. Too many nonprofits waste too much energy trying to activate a new generation of young donors. The rest of Western culture may be fixated on youth, but when it comes to charity, old is where the action is.

Can't Buy Me Love

If you think you can buy donors, think again. Yeah, you gotta pay attention to your budget, and you'd better be tracking the numbers, but fundraising is about passion, relationship, connection -- and love. Never forget that.

Act Naturally

The best fundraising "tactic" is to act (and write) like a normal human being. Act naturally, and you'll stand out in the crowd of others who are writing either like soulless robots or self-conscious poets -- or an unholy combination of both.

Cry Baby Cry

If you really want to motivate people to give, you'd better get emotional.

I Call Your Name

If you know a donor's name, use it. One's own name is the most motivational word there is.


If you need help, ask for it. Cry for it! Don't pretend you can go it alone. Fundraising works best when you humble yourself before your donors and say "help!"

I Need You

See the above song.

With a Little Help from My Friends

See the above two songs. You aren't going to make it without your donors. Don't forget that, and don't let them forget, either.

Please Mr Postman

If you use direct mail, get friendly with the Postal Service. Learn their strange ways. Speak their language. It can save you a lot of trouble and money.

PS I love you

Did you know that the most-read part of a letter is the PS? That's why you should never omit it, and why it should say whatever is the most important thing you have to say.

Thank You Girl

The other often-forgotten step in fundraising: thanking. When you thank a donor, you complete the circle. When you don't, you're like a mail-order company that doesn't send what people pay for.

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When organizational blinders blind you

From the excellent comic F Minus:


Sometimes you really know your stuff. But you can't adapt to the situation at hand.

Always do a reality check: Are we doing what we know best, or are we doing what's needed for the situation at hand?

Stupid heads: more fun with nonprofit ads

Does this image make you feel panicky?


It's a poster for Evergreen, a Canadian nonprofit that promotes "deepening the connection between people and nature." Sounds like a good cause to me; I'd like my city to be as full of trees, lakes, streams, birds, and (nonviolent) animals as it can possibly be. Even though I don't live in Canada.

(You can see other posters in the series here and here.)

But really now. This poster is hardly takes you where the organization wants you to go. Here's what it says:

Be the Root
Nature in the city begins with all of us. The harder we try, the more it will thrive. We need your help. Visit

First the headline: Be the Root. I think that's pretty good. It really could have gone somewhere -- to a call to action like giving or volunteering. But it doesn't. It falls apart with the confusing, misdirecting copy, which can't seem to make up its mind us "we" are -- everybody, or the people at Evergreen? And rather than be clear about what needs to happen, it just has us trying hard ... at, well, something.

But weak copy alone can hardly get you a Stupid Nonprofit Ad honor. And in this case, the winning ingredient is the insanely weird image.

When I think about being surrounded by nature, I tend to focus on fresh air, clean smells, gentle sounds. Not being buried head down.

Is that a look of deranged happiness on his face? Or is it a frozen mask for horror brought on by this sadistic torture of live, head-down burial with his neck grafted onto a shrub?

This poster is a symptom of the same impulse that drives most of the other Stupid Nonprofit Ads: Abstraction. The cause of naturing up the city sounds pretty straightforward, doesn't it? You'd think that donors' gifts and volunteers' work would translate pretty logically into concrete, understandable progress. Right?

The creative Zen-masters who designed the poster apparently didn't think so, and chose an abstract representation of how you can connect to the cause. Abstract and utterly wacko.

If you want to motivate people to join your cause, you're just going to have to tell them what you want them to do, and why. Be clear and compelling. Nobody who matters is going to laugh at the "obviousness" of your message.

Leave the abstractionism to avant-garde artists. They do it better.

Thanks to AdRants for the tip.

See many more Stupid Nonprofit Ads.

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There's just something about that control

Here's one of those "truth is stranger than fiction" moments, from James Read, creative director at Grizzard:

One of our clients was testing a new concept against a well-established control that had mailed at a certain time for many years. After we mailed the test, a woman called our client and said, "Can you send me the package I normally get? I want to give to it."

Maybe it's not so strange. Some of those long-established direct-mail controls just can't be beat. Maybe they actually build a constituency over the years of donors who know and love them.

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When the recession will end

From Dilbert, advice for organizations wondering about the recession: Glad I could be of help.

Marina's 10 tips for a good life

This is absolutely real. Wisdom from my five-year-old niece Marina. Follow these, and you'll do just fine.
  1. Love Marina.
  2. Always let the dog out.
  3. Have a good business plan.
  4. Always be helpful.
  5. Don't interrupt.
  6. In an important meeting, don't shout out, "I have to go the bathroom!"
  7. Never steal.
  8. Don't let strangers in your house.
  9. Always shake hands.
  10. Exercise every morning.

Stupid Nonprofit Ad: Pain avoidance

Here's a Stupid Nonprofit Ad that, amazingly enough, has no apparent participation by ad agencies. It's home-made Stupid, frankly a refreshing thing to see.

This one is from, an online Jewish book community. They created the following video, called "The Spiel, or Send Money":

(See it on YouTube.)

Now it's pretty cool to have Robert Pinsky as your spokesperson, especially if your cause is literary. But that's about all this video has going for it. Pinsky sings a little song that tells us two things:

  • The people at are "businesspeople, not idealistic schnooks."
  • "Jews buy books."

Neither of these is a reason to donate to In fact, both are pretty good reasons not to give. It seems they don't particularly need donors. They have superb staff and a bullet-proof business model. Where do donors come in?

But that's not why I'm classing this as a Stupid Nonprofit Ad. Anybody can stumble in their fundraising, and we all do. There's nothing Stupid about that.

No, what puts this video in the Stupid category is the organization's reason for doing the video in the first place.

As reported at Prospecting, the editor of found writing a fundraising letter "excruciating," "humiliating," "horrible," and "painful."

So rather than face the pain of asking people to join the cause, they created a semi-funny video that doesn't quite ask people to join the cause.

I can understand the agony of writing a fundraising letter. It's tough work. Well, I say agony, schmagony. If you have a good cause and you need donors to make it happen, get over it! You've got a job to do. Face it like the man or woman that you are.

Thing is, once you get past the discomfort of humbling yourself, once you figure out the mechanics of motivation, once you learn not to associate asking with being a pest and realize it's an important part of every community's and individual's life -- you'll see that fundraising is a transcendent, life-changing activity.

And then you can leave the sophomoric videos behind and start speaking clearly and directly to people who want to support your good cause.

(More Stupid Nonprofit Ads.)

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Stupid nonprofit ads: Leo Burnett edition

Leo Burnett was a legend in the advertising industry. He founded a venerable ad agency now called Leo Burnett Worldwide (warning: excessively conceptual website). I'm afraid Mr. Burnett is resting unquietly, given the stupidity of the work some of the shops bearing his name have done lately for nonprofits.

First let's look at a monstrosity created by the Burnett office in London for the UK housing charity Shelter:

(See it at YouTube.

As we pan across an urban landscape, we see that some of the buildings are constructed out of huge playing cards -- and they're collapsing like, well, houses of cards. This goes on for 41 seconds (it's a 60-second spot) before the voiceover begins telling us about the housing crisis in the UK. It ends with this stirring and highly specific call to action: Please help us provide urgent advice and support.

As we so often see when ad agencies work with nonprofits, this message wanders away from the actual cause and chooses instead to broadcast an abstract conceptualization of the cause.

Listen: The literal facts about the housing crisis are shocking and painful. It's not like houses of cards. It's much, much worse than that! Real people are suffering. Why create a fake visual of an imaginary situation to symbolize the crisis?

Music by Radiohead! Voiceover by a famous actress! Filming and post-production by some other famous guys! But in case you were worried, they assure us: "Everyone donated their services and time for free in support of this very worthwhile charity." Once again we learn that the value of free is often less than what it costs you.

Now we go to the opposite side of the world, where another Burnett office, Sydney, perpetrated this piece of goofiness for WWF Australia:

(See it at Vimeo.)

Let's cut to the chase: They're trying to make the point that your insignificant little action makes a difference, because a gazillion other people do the same insignificant action. Boy, that sure feels nice.

They do this by showing people making check marks in boxes that make statements about helping the environment (and, in a nice little ad agency design coup de grace, they're in ALL CAPS, just to add that little lagniappe of unreadability).


As people check these boxes, they fly off the page and somehow create lush landscapes, where happy animals frolic. It's rather pretty animation.

Finally, at the end, there's something that almost passes for a call to action: GIVE YOUR GIFT OF $25 NOW AT WWF.ORG.AU. Oddly, yet unsurprisingly, if you go to that URL, there's nothing evident for collecting that $25.

Like the house of cards spot, this one chooses symbolism over reality.


I've covered stupid nonprofit ads done by Burnett before. Same story. So here's a thought: Could we put out some kind of all-points bulletin to the nonprofit world to warn them about Burnett? Something like:

If a representative from any office of Leo Burnett Worldwide approaches you, do not engage them in conversation. They are armed with abstract ideas, and they are very skilled at making you think these ideas are good. Carefully leave their presence and make your escape before they draw you into the making of a Stupid Nonprofit Ad.

Thanks to Osocio for both tips. Many more Stupid Nonprofit Ads here.

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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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Why so many organizations are boring

You've seen this happen, right?


(From the excellent Brand Camp.)

If you want to be distinct, you have to be different. Being different is going to rub somebody the wrong way, and that somebody might even be inside your organization.

If you can't get past that barrier inside your organization, you're going nowhere in the marketplace. This is why so many nonprofits are look-alikes with others.

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Things could be even worse for Starbucks

I know things aren't going exactly gangbusters for Starbucks right now, but it is a company that general does good marketing. But suppose they freaked out and decided to learn their marketing from contemporary American churches?

The Beyond Relevance blog asks this question at What If Starbucks Marketed Like the Church? A Parable. And there's a video:

What if Starbucks marketed like a nonprofit? It would probably be similar to this: Speaking their own idiom, having trumpeting their own goals, blithely unaware how weird they look and sound -- and annoyed with their customers who don't "get it."

Is that you?

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Two more stupid nonprofit ads

When it comes to speaking in public, so many nonprofits seem drawn helplessly to acting stupid. Two examples today: Goodwill
If this one, from Goodwill, had only included the "Palin" side of the ad, I would rated it merely "odd," but not "stupid."

After all, the topic of Ms. Palin's upcoming clothing donation is well known. So the unstated message is, I guess, Goodwill is a great place to donate stuff you don't want. Okay, not exactly a clear and direct call to action. But at least it makes some sense.

It's the lame attempt to be "balanced" by bringing up Obama's $1,500-suits that lands this ad squarely in the "stupid" category: Whenever did Mr. Obama's suits ever become part of the conversation? It didn't, because there's nothing noteworthy about a public figure having decent suits -- and you can spend a lot more than $1,500 on a suit. And it's pretty safe to assume he's going to need his suits in the next four to eight years.

So rather than seem partisan by picking on Sarah Palin, they chose to be incoherent and a little bit mean-spirited.

Some nonprofits just shouldn't be allowed to have ad budgets.

Speaking of mean-spirited, this ad, appearing on city buses in London thanks to the British Humanist Association (and reported by the BBC: 'No God' slogans for city's buses)

Atheistbus Saying "There's probably no God" is to some people like saying "Your family is an illusion." What's the point? The goofball assertion that it'll "make people think" is baldly false. This is more like an adolescent attempt to be shocking and cynical and offending old ladies.

Predictably, these ads provoke an equally stupid reaction from a Christian "pressure group," whose spokesperson blustered, "Bendy-buses, like atheism, are a danger to the public at large."

I'm pretty sure God can take care of Himself on this issue. But the British Humanist Association should find better ways to spend its money.

Discover many more Stupid Nonprofit Ads.

Thanks to Adrants and Church Marketing Sucks for the tips.

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Which of your departments is strangling you?

Does this show a familiar situation? From Logic+Emotion: The Corporate Social Media Curve.


Every organization, commercial or nonprofit, has its idea-killers. They may or may not be the legal department. They are the fear-mongers who find reasons not to make progress. They have an audience because they promise to lower risk. What they never mention is the monster of risk they create: stagnation. These are hard times. It may be that some nonprofits are going to fold in the coming months or years. I don't know which ones those will be, but I can tell you which ones they won't be: It won't be the inventive, adventurous, full-speed-ahead organizations. Get rid of your fear-mongers and charge ahead.

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Science uncovers another benefit of charitable giving

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know that among the reasons it's great to be a fundraiser is that charitable giving makes your donors more happy, more healthy, and more wealthy. Science has uncovered a new reason to feel good about our job. Seems generosity helps your, well, social life (nudge, nudge, know what I mean?). Really. Check out the study reported in Dienekes' Anthropology blog: Altruism and sexual attractiveness:
... people (and especially women) find altruists more attractive. Thus, altruism can be seen as a sexually selected trait, and advertisement of one's propensity to be giving, and hence, presumably be a good parent and provider.
I'd hate to be one of those irresponsible bloggers who cites a scientific study out of context because it supports his beliefs. But this is science, for goodness' sake. I'm just saying. You can feel good about motivating people to give. Because you're helping them feel good.

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Does brand kill fundraising?

No. Of course not. A good, strong, clear brand can only help people know who you are and feel good about supporting you.

But so very often, in the real world, branding shackles fundraising. And the more involved the branding effort is, the more damage it does to fundraising revenue.


Why? Because the more directive your brand, the more likely it's about you, not your donor. And that's why it kills fundraising.

Strange thing is, it doesn't have to be this way. You could have a huge brand book that's all about donors. But I haven't seen that yet.

Keep your brand simple. And not about you.

Can you call it "philanthropy" when monkeys do it?

A widely reported study informs us that monkeys like being generous (to certain other monkeys). Here it is, as reported by Reuters: Monkeys experience joy of giving, too, study finds. Here's the key finding:

Tests in capuchin monkeys showed the animals consistently chose to share food with another monkey if given the option, suggesting they are capable of empathy....

I'm not sure what this tells us: Monkey generosity supports human generosity? If monkeys can do it, surely we can too? Philanthropy lives deep in our psyche, at some pre-human level that we don't understand?

But it does raise a question: Can we rent lists of these generous monkeys' names? Seems worth a test.

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Does your work make sense to others?

From F Minus, a dependably funny comic:


Is this your organization? Proud of your uniqueness, even though nobody else can appreciate or like what you do? Does your work make sense outside of your narrow slice of turf? Are you making fine handcrafted furniture out of stinkwood?

Synergy challenges best-practice stakeholders

Are you moving forward with your skill set, seeking engagement tools while wearing different hats? If so, you might do well in a game of Nonprofit Buzzword Bingo at Nonprofit Marketing

Highly recommended for those who like to laugh and those who'd like to improve their vocabulary.

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They can't stop the madness, much less the cars

An agency and their client go to work on creating the STOP sign. Raise your hand if you've seen this process before.

Group-think, multiple agendas, and fuzzy thinking all add up to failed work. It happens too often.

Thanks to Glory to God for All Things for the tip.

Evil geniuses create a stupid nonprofit ad

In a wicked critique of an ad for the World Food Programme, Cause-Related Marketing envisions a BS-laden speech by an "artsy creative director" ...

We'll put actresses like Rachel Weisz Drew Barrymore in PSAs, in print ads and on Oprah. Imagine stark, beautifully-shot images of Drew feeding darling doe-eyed kids in Kenya in haunting black and white. The images will underscore that issue of hunger in the Developing World is black and white...


See: Keep Artsy Creative Directors Away from Your Cause-Related Marketing Campaigns.

As a creative director, I want to be offended. But I can't. It's too sadly accurate: Creative directors are basically a race of evil beings. (For the record, a few of us have vowed to use our dark powers for good, and must battle our own wicked hearts; this would make a great movie.)

Creative directors become very adept and persuading others to trade aesthetics for effectiveness. That's no doubt why this ad has a stark and beautiful black-and-white photos, rather than a "real" looking color photo.

And the photo isn't the only problem with this ad:

  • It has an almost totally abstract, noncommunicative headline. The creative director no doubt loved the "impressionistic" quality of this headline.
  • The headline's type is so tightly kerned, it looks like a printing error of some kind. CD might have said, "It signals a kind of embrace within the headline." Putting the headline above the photo is a design no-no that CDs love and practice constantly for aesthetic reasons.
  • The entire ad is in reverse type, which is significantly harder for people to read than regular type. But it sure looks gorgeous, doesn't it?
  • No clear call to action. There's a seed of an offer, but they just couldn't quite make the leap to actually including a sentence that directly challenged the reader to participate. (Concreteness is like kryptonite to creative directors; if they get anywhere near it, their pretension starts to shrivel.)

What can I say? That's what creative directors do. But you can say no to them. Then watch the hissy-fit.

Many more Stupid nonprofit ads here.

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Support Hunger: Do nothing

Thought you might enjoy this video about what you can do (or not do) about hunger in America today.

As we said yesterday, it's tough to motivate compassion with humor; humor is by nature a less compassionate state of mind. But maybe humor can get the word out?

(Disclosure: America's Second Harvest is a client of Merkle, and I was involved in the production of this video.)

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Stupid nonprofit ad: Extreme Abstraction

Another Stupid Nonprofit Ad. This one brings weird to a whole new level.

So in response to the tragedy in Burma, warplanes from around the world converge on Burma and drop flowers? We respond by blanketing the human-devoid landscape with sympathy blossoms? Excuse me, but could you go over that concept again? And what exactly is this intended to motivate people to think, feel, or do?

Then, as if to make sure we don't transition into something comprehensible, the ad gives the URL where you are greeted by all-caps copy over a dark and varied background (maybe they don't want you to read it because they know they're not saying anything useful), and continued abstraction about the suffering people of Burma.

Following the footsteps of the many other Stupid Nonprofit Ads, abstraction, confusion, and lack of audience awareness combine to create a goofy puzzle.


Thanks to AdGabber for the tip.

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I'm it, and now you are

I got tagged by one of those goofy blog memes, where you're asked to post something odd and tag more people to do the same. A long time ago, I vowed I wouldn't participate in such exercises. Then I realized I enjoyed reading them in other people's blogs when I saw them.

So today I break my vow. Here's what I've been tagged to do:

  1. Pick up the nearest book.
  2. Open to page 123.
  3. Find the fifth sentence.
  4. Post the next three sentences.
  5. Tag five people, and acknowledge who tagged you.

(At least I don't have to reveal something embarrassing.)

I'm thankful that the nearest book wasn't some geeky fundraising, marketing, or nonprofit management book -- there are plenty of those around. That would have been so boring.

The nearest book, A Manual of Eastern Orthodox Prayers, was less than 123 pages long. So I picked up the next nearest book, The Secret History of the English Language by M.J. Harper, which yielded a delightfully out-of-context passage:

How many Latin-speakers do you suppose a 2nd-century shepherd in the Auvergne is going to come across in the course of his lifetime? What, in your opinion, is the likelihood of him meeting, then marrying, a Latin-speaking shepherdess and raising Latin-speaking children? Apparently they all did.

The person who tagged me was Michael Hovnanian of the Bass Blog.

I tag the following bloggers:

This tagging has no teeth -- no curse if you don't obey or good luck if you do. But it could be interesting if you want to play along.

How to trick your donors into giving

Does getting donors to your website under false pretenses work?

I don't know, but I kind of doubt it. Here's a fake hearing test from the Red Cross of Norway that relies on subterfuge to generate sympathy.

The inner dialog of someone who's looking for an online hearing test seems dramatically different from that of someone who might donate to help children. Can you turn from one to the other without getting emotional whiplash?

Thanks to Adrants for the tip.

When helping goes bad

From The Onion:

Child Bankrupts Make-A-Wish Foundation With Wish For Unlimited Wishes

Look out for those kids! They're fiendishly clever, and they'll get you every time.

Stupid nonprofit ads gone wild

(Or view it at YouTube here.)

The spot is for The Samaritans, a UK help line. What's it "about"? Well, I didn't know either, until I went to the blog of the ad agency that made the spot, where I found out (in the comments, not the original post) ...

... we've used the visuals that represent sound to convey the mindset of a potential Samaritans caller.... In basic terms, it's 50 seconds of someone's negative emotions followed by a challenge (Could you listen to this?) and a call to action.

Nice. So let's see if I have this right:

Someone sees the spot. Bowled over by the visuals, they run to YouTube see it again. They manage to find it. Then they find the blog of the agency that produced the spot. Scrolling down through the comments, they find out that it's meant to recruit volunteers. The abstract moodiness of the whole thing impresses them so much, they decided to ring up the Samaritans to volunteer. Fortunately, they're already watching it online, so they can pause it and get the phone number, which is on screen for exactly two seconds. (Why do I have this strange suspicion that nobody answers the phone, or that you just hear Morse code or a ticking clock?)

Likely, huh?

Alternative explanation: British people are better conceptual and abstract thinkers than Yanks. What may seem a total conundrum to thick Americans is crystal clear and highly compelling to UK viewers. In fact, Brits don't respond to being told what the call to action is. You have to approach them in a highly roundabout way. (Don't laugh; I've heard that one before.)

I was thinking if you wanted people to volunteer at a helpline, you'd remind them how good it feels to help others and -- I don't know -- maybe help overcome some of the common objections to volunteer work. You also might give the phone number a little more than two seconds, maybe even offer on online way to respond. But what do I know?

I just hope The Samaritans didn't pay for this work. And I hope a few more nonprofits will be warned about the advertising snake-oil salesmen out there trying to win awards on your dime.

This post is part of a popular ongoing series, which also includes:

(If you're amused or puzzled by this topic, you also may be interested in Why advertising is so bad.)

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Focus groups shoot down the good stuff

Here's a wicked parody of the useless information you can get from focus groups:

(Or view here.)

If you've watched a focus group at work, you've seen this happen.

Don't say you weren't warned!

(Next week: more videos to make fundraisers laugh.)

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Bigger logo = more success

Maybe you need some Make My Logo Bigger Cream.


Help for jargon addicts

God help you if you ever use the verb "access" where you could have said "get." If you work for a nonprofit, you have a better-than-average chance of doing that.

While you wait for God's help, here's a resource: The Communications Network's Jargon Finder.

Don't miss this chance to sound more human when you talk and write. You'll probably raise more money.

Thanks to Tactical Philanthropy for the tip.

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Juicy Paris Hilton nonprofit gossip

What are we going to do? The philanthropic event of the century has been postponed: Paris Hilton's Rwanda trip postponed.

I was hoping she'd be so transformed by her visit that she'd change her name to "Kigali Hilton."

The vague-missioned organization that was sponsoring the trip, Playing for Good is postponing because of "restructuring." No -- really?

But the most touching thing is the apparent life-transformation Ms. Hilton has undergone: She told Newsweek, "before, my life was about having fun, going to parties -- it was fantasy. But when I had time to reflect, I felt empty inside. I want to leave a mark on the world."

Thank goodness for celebrities who want to leave a mark!

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Fun with focus groups

A focus group pretty much proves that 2 + 2 = 5.

Be careful what you research.

View it here on YouTube.

See also Down with focus groups!

Thanks to American Copywriter for the tip.

Three cheers for the Naselle Marimba Band

I've just been through one of those airline-induced trips to hell that are so common these days. Rather than dwell on my sufferings, I'll share this photo I took last week with my cell phone from inside the car.


If this doesn't make you smile, you're probably at least eight hours into a flight fiasco. Take a few moments from dreaming up suitable punishments for airline executives and think instead about the Naselle Marimba Band!

Two years old today

This is the 529th post on this blog.

Two years ago today, this blog had but one post: New Fundraising for the New Donor. It was my description of what "donor power" means -- at least as I saw it at the time.

If you want to see what the blog looked like back then, here it is as captured by The Wayback Machine.

Many visitors to this site come by way of search engines -- 35.4% of page views, as of last count. What they're searching for can be pretty enlightening ...

Most searched term:, a site I looked into more than a year ago. These searches come in waves, no doubt as this media-savvy organization gets mentioned on television or high-traffic websites.

Most misdirected search term: "Free address labels." These poor souls, looking for some free loot, find only an insider discussion of the effects of using address labels in fundraising: Beware of address label mailings.

Most disappointed searchers: Many people arrive here after searching for "Fundraising letter template." What they find when they arrive at The easy way to write a fundraising letter can't be very pleasing.

Odd searches: "goofy old man" and "God I need money for nonprofit." What I'd give to know the story behind those searches!

This blog generates quite a few comments and emails. My favorite so far is an email that came a few months ago:

I believe in Donor Power because my feeling just telling it to me, and I believe it.

Preach it brother! Let's try this for another year.

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Bow down to the brand, mortals!

Does this look like your organization?


More cartoons by Tom Fishburne here.

Thanks to Brand Autopsy for the tip.

Return of stupid nonprofit ads

Why do we do it?

What's this urge in nonprofits to create really stupid ads? I have some theories, which I'll share later. Of course, my theories are probably about as useful as the ads themselves.

But first, let's enjoy a look at the latest round of stupid nonprofit tricks:

This is for Vitae, a homeless organization in Portugal (the apparently incorrect grammar isn't in the original; it's just a poor translation). It appears on the inside of garbage can lids. As if you've interrupted this scruffy guy while he's rooting through the garbage.

That's it. No call to action. Just a weird moment that more likely than not reminds you that the homeless sometimes make you feel uncomfortable. They must assume that the brief shock someone gets from this catalyzes all their pre-existing inner guilt, which leads them to write down the name of the organization, seek them out, and give some money.

This one is for Actionaid India. It's as if the reader hadn't noticed there are people living on the streets. The ad-industry jargon is the real kicker, though: Did you know that normal people don't call billboards "outdoor advertising"? The pun is lost on them. Not that a pun would motivate behavior in the first place ...

At least this one has something that almost resembles a call to action: "Support homeless people" and a URL. I bet uncounted hoards of people surfed right over and supported like crazy.

Nonprofits and bad marketing: It seems to go deeper than simple incompetence. My theories:

  • They're aspiring to be like "real" advertising, which often relies on mind puzzles and cleverness to get attention in lieu of actually thinking through people's inner motivations -- and eschews concrete calls to action. Of course, it doesn't work in advertising either.
  • They're trying to win awards, not actually motivate positive behavior. (More on this sore subject at Why advertising is so bad.)
  • It's the work of ad people doing pro bono work for nonprofits. These folks seem to view nonprofit marketing as a rule-free playground where they can do any old thing. (Often, interns and/or people on performance probation get these assignments as a way of building or redeeming their portfolios.)
  • It's nonprofit self-loathing. They hate to admit that they need help from others, so instead of asking, they twist their messages into pretzel-shapes in hopes that people will think about their issue and spontaneously start giving.

If you're interested in the stupid nonprofit advertising genre check out these posts:

Thanks to Adrants for finding these.

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Nonprofits sing the blues

Don't miss this list at McSweeney's: My Nonprofit R&B Group's Set List.

This, of course, got us thinking at Merkle|Domain, and we've vastly expanded the nonprofit song repertoire:

  • Baby, Only U Can Help Me Meet Pro Forma
  • All Your Lovin' Makes My GYPM Soar
  • Let's You and Me Prevent Package Fatigue
  • I Wanna Lay You Down Here at Our Fiscal Year End
  • Severely-Lapsed Donor Blues
  • Her Response to My Request for Proposal was "No."
  • Honey, Your $1 Cash Gift Ain't but a Slap in the Face
  • There's a Hole in My Soul Where Your Signed Check Should Be
  • You Can Boost My Percent Response All Night Long
  • No Lovin' Like Core Donor Lovin'
  • I Know This First-Class Postage Gets U Hott
  • R-E-N-E-W-A-L
  • Girl U Undesignate My Funds
  • [expletive deleted] Address Labels [expletive deleted]
  • Let's Dance (Forget the Scanline Requirements)
  • Use My Courtesy Reply Envelope
  • My Old Lady Left Me 13+ Months Ago

(Thanks to word goddesses Sarah Onofrey and Amanda Shelden.)

We've hit the B-list

B-List BloggerWe've virtually hit the big time. The Donor Power Blog is a B-list blog. At least according to Kineda's Blog, where you can go and see which list your (or anyone's) blog is on. (B-list means you have 100-499 blogs linking to you in the last 6 months.) Thrilling.

Celebrities save Africa

You'll enjoy this.

Thanks to The $5 philanthropist for the tip.

Your dream donor



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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