Moby Dick, Pinkwashing, and Bums in Seats

Image credit: Rhode Island Humanities

Not sure if it was the caffeine or the sunshine or some combination thereof, but we had a LIVELY discussion at Claxon’s monthly forum this morning. Here are a few of the highlights:

  • Seeing a Little Red about Pink Think: October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Everything from NFL players’ shoes to the chocolate dipped graham crackers are pink right now. Our discussion centered around what this does from a brand perspective. How do we feel about merchants or companies who go pink for a month? Does it make us more loyal to them? The jury was out on this. The question is: what’s the impact of all this pink? In good iSector form, Komen for the Cure and other breast cancer awareness organizations have done an incredible job of raising inspiring innovation and investment, but what’s the impact? (For more on this, here’s a short piece from the Chronicle of Philanthropy and here’s a piece from Stanford School of Medicine wondering about Pink Think in 2007.)
  • Newsletters: Technology is making it easier to deliver content that is tailored by participant group (a.k.a. target audience). Take advantage of it! This doesn’t take as long as you’d think. Identify your most important participant group (e.g. individual donors), create content for them, and then tailor for your other groups. Most organizations find that 75-80% of the content stays the same and it’s a matter of fine-tuning the language and the subject line. The extra effort goes a loooooong way! (If you care about kids and math, sign-up for Explorations in Math’s e-news. They have just started tailoring for different groups–and are getting a great response!)
  • Detractors (a.k.a. Atheists): Yet again, we realized that we’re preaching to a lot of atheists. STOP IT!!! You can’t convert them. For every minute you spend worrying about what they think, you have one minute less to engage people who can help you advance your mission. Nuff said.
  • Bums in Seats: If you’re asking staff, board, volunteers, and other fans to invite people to an event, make it 1) clear who they should invite and 2) easy for them to do so. Give them copy for an email and sample tweets/Facebook posts. Even if they don’t use the short format stuff, it will force you to whittle down your message to 140 characters and, by default, you’ll get to the essence of why someone should come. Clarity of purpose + ease of outreach=more bums in seats.
  • White Whales: It’s a learned bunch that shows up for these forums and so, not surprisingly, they throw around some lofty literary references. For instance, white wales. That’s right, all organizations have white wales, just like in Moby Dick. It is that partner, that donor, that project, that funder who you try to engage (hunting sounds like you’re a stalker…not what we’re going for), yet eludes you. Every once in awhile, an opportunity presents itself where a natural connection or alliance can be made. Will you know it when you see it or will it swim passed you? Know who or what your white wales are.

So there you have it. The lively and wending discussion from this morning. We clearly had a lot of thoughts on these topics–what are yours?


Being human

April’s theme is elevator pitches–the good, the bad and the ugly. So when we gathered for our monthly Meet-Up, we talked about just that. What to say, how, when, tone of voice, words, meaning. We covered all that. But when you get right down to it, what we talked about was being human.

Here’s what I mean.

We spend so much time crafting pithy, punchy responses to the question, “What do you do?” that they end up feeling contrived. Robotic automatons are not engaging. No offense to C3Po, but robots aren’t generally inspiring. They don’t make us want to ask follow-up questions. If they inspire anything, it is efficiency, i.e. how quickly can I get through this conversation and move on. You’re human. Play to your strengths!

Here are some tips we covered for being more human when you’re getting a conversation started:

  • Remind yourself that an elevator pitch is a door opener, not a deal closer.
  • Don’t call it an elevator pitch. The term conjures up visions of grinding metal, gunky buttons and cloying perfume. Call it your snappy one-liner or your lean-in line or something that makes you smile and want to say it.
  • Talk about a specific person that benefits from your work, not the millions that could potentially. For instance, if you work with orphans in India, talk about Rajit, a five year old who has lived in an orphanage in Delhi since his parents died of AIDS two years ago. Your listener can relate to Rajit. He or she can’t relate to the 31,000,000 orphans living in India. It’s too big. Contrary to popular opinion, bigger isn’t always better.
  • Draw comparisons we can wrap our brains around. Make it easy to visualize. For instance, if you work to end water-related illnesses say, “We’re on a mission to end water-born illnesses. Why is this so important? Because more children die every day from these preventable diseases than live on Bainbridge Island. Imagine if Bainbridge just disappeared. It happens every day. And it doesn’t have to.” Pick a town close to where you live or, ideally, where your listener lives. I can visualize Bainbridge Island disappearing and it’s shocking.

What’s your compelling why? Do you make it specific, relative and human?

Relativity, Narrowness and Names

My son, who is three and a bit, is obsessed with organizing things by size. Cups, toys, trains. Is the red cup bigger than the yellow one? Is the brown bear smaller than the white one? It’s all about relativity. Why is this?

At a workshop I gave in Bellingham on St. Patrick’s Day, I shared that there were 36.5 million people of Irish heritage in the U.S. That’s nine times the population of Ireland. Which number do you think they remembered at the end of the workshop: 36.5 or 9? That’s right, 9. And not just because it’s smaller. But because it was relative.  We train our brains from a very early age to compare and contrast. Absolutes are tough to wrap our brains around. My son will not grow out of his penchant for comparing; he’ll grow into it.

We spent a fair amount of time at Tune-Up Tuesday thinking about relativity as it relates (ha, ha) to messaging.

Lesson: use relativity to your advantage so people remember your organization and mission.

Two other key take-aways from this month’s meet-up:

  1. Personas are powerful. They are also hard to do. They force us to be specific and think deeply about one type of person who cares about our cause rather than the universe of people who might. Lesson: Deep and narrow beats shallow and wide when it comes to messaging.
  2. Names matter. A lot. If your organization goes by an acronym, be consistent about using that acronym. If you have an acronym AND you use the full name, you’re managing two brands. That’s expensive and erodes brand equity. Lesson: When it comes to names and acronyms, use one or the other but not both.

For those that were there, anything to add? For those that coudn’t join, what were you hoping to cover?

Down with jargon & the general public

Here are key take-aways from the bevy of convos I’ve had this month about messaging and the Nonprofit Messaging Roadmap, including at yesterday’s Tune-Up Tuesday:

  • There’s still a lot of jumping to the how and what of your work. Say it with me: “Why first. Then what and how.” If you’re on a mission to eradicate adult illiteracy (for instance), you’ve got to share that first. Then you can move on to the fact that you’re doing this by mobilizing a cadre of passionate literacy advocates, etc. etc. etc. Frame it up before you serve it up.
  • Jargon. Egads, do we ever love jargon. Even if you think your audience knows what ‘wrap-around services’ or ‘field-tested diagnostics’ are, there’s still probably a more straight-forward way of saying it. Say it that way.
  • Everyone and the general public still aren’t target audiences. Sorry. Your nonprofit doesn’t have the resources to market to ‘people’. You have the resources to market to your best supporters, your believers. Who are they? If you don’t know, figure it out.
  • Messaging should reflect your organizational goals and strategy. Check out this great post on the Getting Attention blog for some food for thought on this.

Since identifying and engaging target audiences is still such a significant roadblock for many nonprofits, March’s theme will be (you guessed it!): Identify Target Audiences. Here are some of the things you can look forward to:

  1. Writing Target Audience Personas (no more than 3).
  2. Building an Editorial Calendar based on the experience of one of your ‘Personas’.
  3. Organizing a Communications Advisory Committee made up of your best supporters who fit your ‘Personas’.

We’ll have templates and how-to’s so as long as you read the March newsletter and blog posts, you’ll be all set.

If you’d like some in-person support, we’d love to have you join us on March 15th for our next Tune-Up Tuesday at the Hearing, Speech and Deafness Center in Seattle.

Any other lessons learned or thoughts to share on all this?

Social Networking

Participants’ Key Take-Aways

1. This confirmed my feelings about how social media is about establishing relationships rather than just getting followers.

2. I want to explore separating our online channels to focus each tool on one audience or creating two accounts within a certain tool that each target a separate audience.

3. I know I need to work with my board to talk about our long term goals. We need to know our key messages and audiences.

4. I like the idea of using a donor-centered approach to our social media rather than an organization-centered approach.

Conversation Re-cap

Social Media Concerns and Questions Discussion & Conclusions
We have too many target audiences and we have a hard time figuring out what to post since we have different audiences. Pick one tool per audience. Find out where your audience is online and what they are doing before you choose a tool. [Tip from Erica: If your organization has more than 5 target audiences, you probably have more than you can manage well. Narrow your list!]
How do we get our supporters to be involved and share with each other on our online portals like Facebook. Know your audience so that the content you provide will spark a discussion. Some organizations have personally asked their best supporters to stimulate conversations online. [Tip from Erica: Be clear on your goals. Some organizations use their Facebook feed as a way to stay top-of-mind with supporters and therefore wouldn’t be concerned if their “likers” weren’t actively engaged in discussion. Lack of “likes” isn’t always a terrible thing.]
Older donors and supporters who are offline are saying that they don’t see any marketing materials anymore. Go back to your goals. Are you meeting them? If you are meeting your goals and you have a limited budget, you’re doing fine. [Tip from Erica: Just because you “could” doesn’t mean you “should”.]
We see other nonprofits doing matching campaigns on Facebook where you advertise that your organization is getting $1 for every new “Liker”. Is this effective? It depends. Who are you reaching out to? A local organization that was effective at this reached out to former tutors who were very engaged with the organization at one time. They asked them to like their page because they’d get $1 for every new like. This worked to engage the former tutors to become re-engaged. [Tip from Erica: Except in select instances, use Facebook as a way to deepen relationships so your asks are more effective, rather than a vehicle for making the ask.]
We’ve struggled with knowing how fun or personal we can be on social media sites. We’re not sure about what rules to create. Social Media Policies can be helpful. Once you are clear on your audience and messaging, that will inform your social media decisions. You’ll understand your audiences better and be able to make more informed decisions about what to post and where. [Tip from Erica: Having a Brand Dashboard can help you address this issue, as well.]
There seems to be new tools all of the time. Tools will change. Geolocation is becoming all the rage for example with tools like Foursquare and Facebook Places. Don’t over-invest in a tool because people will move on. [Tip from Erica: If you invest in knowing how to decide which new tools to use based on your goals and target audience(s), you’ll be in good shape long-term!]


November Handouts and Resources


1. Read the Nonprofit Social Media Decision Guide.


2. Watch Idealware’s Video: Facebook vs Twitter.


3. Read ‘5 Must-Follow Non-Profits Making a Difference With Social Media’.


4. Download and Review the ‘Claxon_4 Social Media Tools for Nonprofits‘.



5. Check out Social Media Club Seattle The Seattle branch of Social Media Club, a national organization with the purpose of sharing best practices, establishing ethics and standards, and promoting media literacy around the emerging area of Social Media. Our members are present across a wide variety of networks and we encourage you to reach out and join us. (Thanks for the tip Eileen!)



Thanks to our Special Guest: Carrie Zanger

Carrie Zanger of True Good Creative shared her technical expertise with us as well as a story about the It Gets Better Project initiated by Dan Savage. Why did this become viral? There was an authentic moment and people related to that very deeply. It immediately inspired and sparked great interest. Thanks, Carrie!

Do you communicate as effectively as you think?


Do you communicate as effectively as you think?