The messenger matters: why nonprofits should have authority figures on their side

Earlier this week, I wrote this post about a great TV ad Prudential did.

Einstein: a go-to authority figure
Einstein: a go-to authority figure

Did you notice who the pitch man was for the ads? You might’ve seen his name flit across the bottom of your screen. That’s Harvard Professor Dan Gilbert. He wrote Stumbling on Happiness and has done some great TED Talks.

Gilbert is The Man (aka a leading authority) on the science of decision-making and happiness and other cool, brainy stuff. Stuff like persuasion.

In Claxon University’s course Words on a Mission, students watch this video about the Science of Persuasion. There are six principles that the authors have found to be truly effective when it comes to persuading people to do things…things, like, oh let’s say donating to your nonprofit.

One of those principles is about authority. We like to hear from authority figures. It makes us feel better about our decisions. The authority is smart, therefore we will be smart if we do what they are suggesting.

The Prudential ads didn’t really play up Gilbert’s as an authority figure. And missed an opportunity to further persuade people to invest in their retirement.

Is your nonprofit missing out on a similar opportunity? Is there an authority figure in your field who could speak out on your behalf and/or validate your approach? Note that this persona might be a professor or a researcher, but someone who has walked in the shoes of the people you serve is also an authority figure.

[Bonus: Since we’re talking about videos, take a minute and watch this gem by the Rainforest Alliance. #NailedIt]


You are Yoda. Not Luke Skywalker.

Yoda, Luke Skywalker, audience, presentations,
Yoda: small, fierce, and effective

As 2012 winds down and we start thinking about 2013, here’s something to ponder: For your dreams to become reality, you need to channel your inner Yoda.

Nancy Duarte makes this point as it relates to presentations. In her TEDx talk, she points out how easy it is to think you’re the hero when you’re standing on stage delivering a presentation. The really good presenters, the ones that have the audience wrapped around their proverbial finger, take their audience on a journey in which they, the audience members, are like Luke Skywalker (or Princess Leah)–on an adventure, kicking butt, taking names and generally being and feeling awesome.

When you give people the opportunity to be awesome, they get on your side.

You have the opportunity to let people be heroes all the time: in your website copy, in your annual appeals, in your annual reports, in your newsletters, at meetings, in speeches, and every time you pitch someone on your idea.

We could add this as a fourth reason to the three already offered as to why bad pitches happen to good people: you act like Luke Skywalker instead of Yoda.

Yoda may not have youth, big biceps and good hair on his side, but he’s who you want to be like if you want your ideas to take hold, your donors to give, your clients to buy, or your kids to listen.

Let them be the hero. Show them the path and get out of their way.


Do you communicate as effectively as you think?


Do you communicate as effectively as you think?