Deep in the Heart: Giving in the Wake of Disaster

“And the multitudes asked him, saying, What then must we do?”  Luke 3:10 (ASV)

Inconceivable. The destruction. The devastation. The suffering.

As a state and a nation, we are all struggling to find a reason, a context ― or some sort of meaning in the horrendous natural disaster that is Harvey.  We talk of heroic rescues, Texans pulling together under adversity and Divine order; however, the enormity of the hurricane’s wake still exceeds our capacity to comprehend. It’s almost impossible to fathom the numbers (as of Sept. 1):

  • 27 trillion gallons of rain water falling over Texas and Louisiana
  • 50 lives lost
  • 51.88 inches of rain ― the greatest amount of rainfall over land for a single storm in continental U.S. history
  • 40,000 + people forced from their homes and currently sheltered in the state of Texas in 239 facilities
  • 2,882 animals currently being sheltered in Texas
  • 1,000-year-level flood

Yesterday, I purchased a giant box of Luvs diapers and baby wipes for the first time in about 20 years and made a contribution the TrustedWorld.org, which is efficiently managing the logistics of contributed items. I attended a prayer service, but I’m still searching . . .

So, I remembered this article I wrote almost exactly 12 years ago following Hurricane Katrina. I think many of the messages still resonate today.

Reconciling the Overwhelming | Fall 2005

As we continue to grieve the devastating losses of Hurricane Katrina and her aftermath, our nation’s nonprofit sector now faces daunting challenges ― both immediate and long-term. Frontline relief organizations will continue to require sustained financial support as they scramble to manage the biggest displacement of Americans since the Civil War. Thankfully, Americans care deeply, and they are exceptionally generous.  Within two weeks following Katrina’s landfall, almost $1 billion was contributed to causes serving those stricken by the disaster. Unprecedented in American history, this pace of giving overtook historic rates in the early weeks for both the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and the Asian tsunami of 2004. And amazingly, this outpouring of generosity is expected to represent only one percent of the total amount Americans are likely to give to worthy causes this year.

However, we must not neglect the frontline nonprofits after the breaking news fades. Even after support spikes have subsided, these organizations must be relentless about maintaining consistent funding levels. Still, as nonprofit leaders in a post-Katrina world, we might be feeling reluctant to actively raise funds for other worthy causes ― hindered by the overwhelming needs burdening so many. Understandably so. These unprecedented tragedies require our undivided attention, and it may be hard for some of us to go about our daily activities ― haunted by the shadows of those struggling in the ongoing anguish of disaster.

But this fierce commitment to humanity and our communities must help us stay focused ― working in the true spirit of philanthropy.

Let us embrace the power of generosity by leading our organizations with a vision of abundance, as opposed to scarcity.  As Americans continue to open their hearts and wallets in inspiring ways, let’s envision an expanding philanthropic pie. In fact, historical data proves that as donors increase their giving levels, they tend not to slide back to former habits. As we build compelling cases for support, giving will increase.  And what a privilege is it is to be part of the growth of the philanthropic sector ― as giving assumes such a prominent position in the American consciousness.

Impact Beyond the Gulf Coast.

Whether you are providing food and shelter for the displaced, education for our nation’s youth, or solace for the spirit, now is it the time to communicate directly and authentically with your donors.

Honor the situation, but do not apologize or shy away from contact on behalf of the cause you represent. Let’s reassure our donors that our organizations are strong and that we are grappling with new needs and shifting priorities. If we are confident and centered, our constituencies will have confidence in us and our missions.

In the long run, dedication to our causes will inspire donors who have already made our organizations priorities in their lives. This is a time for all of us to reflect carefully on our own giving commitments and clarify the impact we hope to make.  Now more than ever, let us strengthen our support of the organizations that speak to our personal truths, knowing that we can make a difference ― across the street or around the world.

Making it Matter: The Results

Here is my third and final chapter in my series ― “Inspiring Response: 5 Ways Story Can Turbo-Charge Your Message.” Measure your success and impact ― for the organization, as well as the donor or partner.

wishing-wellThis is where you construct your narrative thread to communicate your relentless commitment to outcomes ― measurable, repeatable and impactful.  Romance and tout your results with authority and conviction. Celebrate the victory, because triumph is compelling. And let you story do the heavy lifting. Make it multisensory, multidimensional and visceral. Help the donor feel and even “be” the result.

What does it look like, feel like, taste like, smell like, sound like? Bring the obstacle, need, conflict and/or solution to life for the reader. Also, what does it mean for the donor and the mission as a whole? This is area the can also include strengthen a sense of connection to purpose and something bigger ― another key motivation for giving. But always, always, always include the prospect, friend, donor or evangelist in the equation ― whether you are able to deliver a “happy ending” or not.  Describe impact with laser intensity.

Make it matter by making it intimate.

Beatriz stood at barely 4 feet 8 inches.

But the petite, slender  widow was pulling the weight of someone twice her size as she stumbled barefoot across the dusty, scorching-hot remote rural road outside a small farm in Bolivia.  She was all alone ― struggling tirelessly to survive . . . a nearly impossible job without access to safe, clean, clear water. A small, hand-dug well was her only source of hydration.

Every day, she hoisted enough 30-pound buckets of water out of the dank, dingy well with a tattered rope to briefly sate her two cows, vegetable garden and her own perpetual thirst. Not only was the water contaminated, but the decaying interior walls were crumbling and collapsing into a thick pile of jagged rock and muck that reeked of rot.

But thanks to the compassion of friends like you, Beatriz is receiving a miracle ― CLEAN, HEALTHY WATER.

Today, her new well, lined with sturdy concrete rings, protects her precious, life-sustaining source from contagion, filth and debris. And a hand pump makes her water easier to retrieve and more hygienic. For Beatriz and others, your gift is quenching more than thirst. You and other generous friends are saving almost 8,000 fragile lives worldwide ― providing hope, health and possibility ― now and for years to come.

So, your captivating story is crafted. What’s next? Well, now you are ready to build the ecosystem to leverage its power ― across platforms, media and constituencies.

Develop a strategic marketing plan that orchestrates owned, paid, shared and earned media buckets. Urgency, calls to action, other testimonials/success stories, social engagement, and effective relationship management are some of the key components. But start with the story. Can’t wait to see how it ends . . .

If you’d like to learn more, reply below. To maximize your appeal, start with the story one.

The Rest of the Story

scrabble-wordsWhen I speak to groups or clients ― I like to describe myself as a translator of sorts.  I interpret a need or message for a specific audience. I help make that high-voltage connection that triggers the response or behavior desired.

In our first installment, we covered components one and two of the high-octane story or appeal:

  • The Pain
  • The Problem

And to review ― we structure the story intentionally to address all key information receptors/processors in the brain ― the emotional, logical and habitual brain circuitry. After all, we learned from Dr. Joe Dispenza in Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself that “our conscious minds comprise only about 5% of who we are. The other 95% is a composition of our subconscious minds ― our habits and behaviors that have been deeply programmed on our mental hard drives throughout our lives.”

Next, let’s tackle the elephant in the room. The Solution.

I always start with the questions. How are you changing or improving lives like the one featured in the appeal? How are you delivering differentiated value? How are you uniquely positioned to effectively deliver this solution and make a measurable impact? What will happen if you don’t act?

Begin with the specific and broaden to a vision of scalability that can happen only with the donor’s involvement. It’s not “we.” It’s “us.” Involve the donor or customer in the solution. As an example, here’s a story about an organization* that provides medications to isolated, under-served communities worldwide:

“Our mission of providing essential medicines to those in the remotest locations around the world is very personal to me,” says Sam Doe, president and CEO of [Organization Name]. “Born in Thailand, I contracted polio as a child and lived in an orphanage until I was adopted by a family from the U.S. at age eleven.” 

Now, Sam wakes up each morning in America and pulls on his full-length leg braces — a daily reminder that he did not receive the polio vaccine as a boy. “On the bright side,” Sam teases, “since my shoes are attached to the braces, I never have to look for them.”

Last year alone, [Organization Name] delivered enough medicines and supplies to treat more than 25 million girls and boys in desperate need around the world. More important to Doe, each treatment represents one face, one child and one life — one more son, daughter, sister or brother who is receiving healing, health and hope.

With your help, suffering cannot prevail.

[*Where appropriate, I have changed names to protect client confidentiality.]

So, we have set the stage with the possible. We’ve created the case. What’s next? Now, it’s time for the climax of our story.  As Samuel Goldwyn said, “We want a story that starts out with an earthquake and works its way up to a climax.”

OLG_visionThe Ask

This is Fundraising or Sales 101. The whole letter or email is moving toward this pinnacle ― building on the “Why you, why now, why here?”  And this is often the place we falter in writing these critical communications. We forget to ask ― and do so directly.  We paint the picture and talk about what we do ― but this is where we drive it home.

Web/Digital Example from the University of Dallas:

JOIN US ON OUR LADY’S JOURNEY

The Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe is a special space on the University of Dallas campus devoted to our Blessed Mother Mary. Conceived as a sanctuary for students, alumni, faculty, staff and the community, it serves as place to meditate, worship, reflect, breathe and be — amid the chaos and commotion of Dallas/Fort Worth, the fourth largest metropolitan area in the nation. 

Situated atop one of the highest observation points in the Metroplex, the Shrine also incorporates the ancient, treasured stone of Tepeyac ― positioning UD among the globe’s most significant sacred locations for the Catholic community. Inspired by Our Lady of Guadalupe’s story as patroness of the Americas, we look forward to finishing the permanent grotto, fulfilling the vision of the Class of 1997 ―and completing the campus’ miraculous spiritual destination.

SHARE THE STORY OF THE SHRINE AND UD <links>

  • Explore a Shrine and Synchronicity: Our Lady of Guadalupe and the University of Dallas
  • Experience the Creation of a Shrine: The Art of Faith: 
  • Marvel at the Miracles of the Madonna: The Science of Faith: 

Support the Shrine and Learn More<Link to info signup and giving.>

There will always be a place to pause— and a candle to light . . .


Only one final installment remains in the story of the story. Take a deep breath and stay tuned.

If you’d like to learn more, sign up on my website. I would be honored to review one of your appeals, as well.  It’s all about maximizing your appeal. It all starts with the story one.

Inspiring Response: 5 Ways Story Can Turbo-Charge Your Message

writeheart“Story is the DNA of all meaning.”  – Annette Simmons

Do your appeals have undeniable power? Do you enthrall, captivate, motivate ― and drive response?

With only weeks remaining in 2016, the cavalcade of carefully crafted requests will soon commence. For most of us, they will arrive from all points, directions and media ― email, snail mail, APPs, Facebook, texts and tweets. What will grab us? And more important, what will snag the  imaginations of our prospects? What will be deleted? Filed? Ignored? Dismissed? Or worse . . . unnoticed?

Some will be cloaked in gratitude. Others will lament the ubiquitous budget gap or unexpected organizational need. Still others are likely to promote a seductive donor challenge, captivating contest, new initiative, capital effort or recognition group.

But they should all have one thing in common ― a compelling story.

What’s the hook? And I’m not talking about a cheesy advertising gimmick or giveaway.  The power to resonate comes from the human, emotional connection.

Big, looming, seemingly logical organizational problems ― like deficits, shortfalls and even unmet needs are just that. The organization’s problems. As communicators, we must focus on the donor’s or prospect’s needs ― they are often triggered at an imperceptible, emotional and even subconscious level.

Though Marshall McLuhan might argue, the message is just as salient as the medium in this case ― especially given the media miasma engulfing us at every turn.  As I wrote in a prior post, I feel effective messaging must address the entire brain ― engaging the emotional, logical and habitual brain circuits.

Behavioral economist George Lowenstein confirms “our subconscious explains our consumer behavior better than our conscious.  Ninety percent of all purchasing decisions are not made consciously.”

Working as a writer, communicator and crafter of hundreds (maybe thousands) of appeals and calls to action throughout my career to to date, I have identified a few key elements that are absolutely essential.  [Where appropriate, I have changed names to protect client confidentiality

The Pain

This is probably the most important concept. And it’s personal.  What is the emotional state ― or discomfort your message can resolve for the prospect or donor?  According to brain theory, everything begins with an emotional nudge, which connects to the cerebral cortex or executive function of making a decision.  And the most important thing about framing a powerful request or appeal is articulating the pain in an intimate, relatable, visceral way. Compare these two.

        “I was deployed in Saudi Arabia on 9/11 . . . And I can still hear the screams . . .”             

         Corporal John Ray’s* battle-weary voice cracks and catches in his throat.

        “We were in combat overnight . . . and we weren’t prepared,” says the slight, sandy-haired U.S. Army veteran ― as he slowly brushes a single droplet of sweat from his brow. 

       “The nightmares never stop, but I just wish I had enough to eat . . . “

                                                                       (versus)

       “Veteran hunger is a growing problem in America . . . And their struggle is significant.”

The top copy is weaving a human story that’s drawing the reader into a specifically defined conflict ― not a daunting global cause that is difficult to quantify ― or feel. More to the point, one tells and one shows.

The  Problem

The next step is the core challenge or problem.  How does this pain manifest, and how does your organization or operation contextualize the issue you are addressing? Get granular. Explain why is your mission is significant, and why should we care? Again, it’s important to construct a very personal, human narrative. Here’s an excerpt form a letter:

It was January 2007. I was on a mission trip that rattled me to my very marrow ― and ultimately changed my life forever. We brought more than 285,000 nutritious meals for hungry, struggling children who were barely surviving in the war-torn squalor.

Shockingly, the meals ran out too soon. There were just too many suffering, vulnerable girls and boys like Maribel  . . . in such dire need.

 We simply did not have enough to go around . . . All  I could do was stand there and weep. So, I had to do  something. 

Are you hooked?  And better yet . . . are you wondering about the next three components? Well, you’ll have to stay tuned for these and other stories. It’s a real cliffhanger . . .

In addition to the five pillars of a great appeal, there are  many other components of your content concoction. Of course, we must artfully integrate urgency, all calls to action, testimonials/success stories, various digital platforms, and customer relationship management (CRM) interfaces. But start with this formula. Start with the IMPACT ― and you will definitely turbo-charge your results.

If you’d like to learn more, sign up below. Tell me about your project. Also, watch for the next installment.  Maximize your appeal. It all starts with the story of one. 

It’s All INREACH: Marketing Revisited

Inreach_sand“How odd I can have all this inside me and to you it’s just words.”

― David Foster Wallace, The Pale King

I hear nonprofits use the word “outreach” frequently.  We are doing an “outreach.” This can refer to everything from mission-driven programming — to marketing to fundraising.  They may even have an “outreach” department.” And many have even made it a verb. “We are outreaching across the globe.” But this brings to mind a sort of broad, cast-the-net-style effort, as opposed to a more targeted, precise, systematic approach — focused on engagement, conversions and revenue generation.  It’s like using the term email “blast,” versus “campaign” or “appeal.”

Recently, when I was working with one of my “heart” projects, I had one of those light-bulb moments. I really think there might be a more useful way to think about marketing for nonprofits — specifically digital tactics. And, actually, I suspect this can be applied across the board to other enterprises.

Ending the Silence is an important and powerful new program designed to help begin the conversation with adolescents about mental health and diminish the stigma that is so often a barrier to treatment.   The National Alliance of Mental Illness of Dallas (NAMI Dallas) is launching this region’s program in high schools, community centers and churches with high-impact, resource-rich presentations on how to recognize the warning signs of suicide and potentially life-threatening conditions, such as bipolar disorder, depression, borderline personality disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, schizophrenia, and others.

The dedicated volunteer team is passionate about creating a solid foundation for growth — and is recognizing the value of building a sophisticated digital lead-generation engine.  To underscore this importance, I proposed a mental flip.  “Let’s think about outreach as INREACH.”

In reality, when we use targeted marketing tools effectively, we are actually attracting suspects, prospects, and clients/donors based on their terms and interests.  We are simply opening the door— allowing the momentum of their needs to flow— satisfying their unquenched desires for life-changing experiences — inside. It’s just a different way of looking at the process.

Feeding the Beast

Consider SEO and SEM – the alchemy of Google — great examples of “inreach.” They are both cottage industries and sciences in their own right that intertwine.  Basically, Google is hungry beast; it’s favorite food is content — (and, of course, paid advertising.) But we as content producers want to create content Google craves — and that’s content that allows us to be FOUND when people search. SEO best practices (and white-hat tricks) help us do that.  Keywords give us the clues we need to tell us how our prospects are looking for us.  As digital marketers and humans, really, we would probably be better served if were more focused on “inreaching,” in general, as opposed to outreaching.   If we think more about how we can frame our missions in ways that satisfy the needs of our donors/partners/clients—instead of how that donor (or partner) will satisfy us, we will be much further down the success highway.

After all, when you think about it, we are all merely facilitators of desire . . .

What are you reaching for on the outside that has been inside — all along?

“If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own back yard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with!”    — Dorothy

2011: From “Oh, Wow!” to “So, How?”

Elaine Gantz Wright is a social media coach and consultant — providing the practical tools and action plans you need to survive and thrive in the brave new media world. She is a listener, writer, blogger, speaker, actor, and mom. Contact her ellagantz@sbcglobal.net

What have you always wanted to know about social media but were afraid to ask? Register for Breakfast and Blogs, a very social session with Elaine to find out. Start off your New Year with real social media sizzle.  Thurs., Jan 13  — 9:30 a.m.– 12:00 p.m., $10 at La Madeleine Preston Forest.

I’m really not sure how many people do this sort of thing, but I am actually going back to my predictions for 2010 – to compare them to what really happened.  It was as daunting and perplexing a task as I imagined. Especially since social media evolution is anything but linear. One thing we do know it that Google Wave never quite hit the beach.

My most significant memory from last year’s missive was actually my delight when Chris Brogan actually chimed in. Wow. Now that’s what I call social media He wrote:
I like and agree with the first four. I disagree with 5. Email is still the main protocol of the Internet age. I *wish* it were different, but definitely not in 2010. Great post.”

My number #5 was: “Email as We Know it Will Become Passé.”
So, I guess we’ll begin with the end – #5. Well, as Chris Brogan said, email did not go away in 2010. But, I venture to add this was probably just slightly premature. With Facebook’s Messaging Hub beginning to bubble up and mobile technology/SMS infiltrating our lives in terms of behavior, I think we are looking at more of an email mutation than elimination.  When Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg made her prediction that email is “probably going away” at the Nielsen Consumer 360, many balked, but her point about teenagers is well-taken. Stats she cited indicate that only 11% of teens email daily, and as we know, teenagers are really “the beta testers” for future techno-media trends. In fact, I have my own focus group right here in my own home. My 18-year-old would rather text than talk. He has Facebook up on his laptop whenever it’s turned on, sends very few emails and never uses the speaking function on the phone. My 14-year-old son is really text only. Good thing I have unlimited texting, or I we would be under a bridge somewhere. He never opens up email or even Facebook. Should Mark be worried? Hmm. We’ll just wait and see.

The most interesting shift between late 2009 and late 2010 is that the questions people are asking have changed dramatically. People don’t seem to be asking, “Hey, what’s the next big thing?” “What’s the next Twitter?” It’s more about implementation and impact – “What’s the most effective platform for my business?” “How do I integrate this into my daily operations?” “Where’s the best ROI?”  It’s no longer “oh wow!” It’s “so, how?” Social media tools and behaviors are now a given, our modus operandi. We just need to figure out how to do it. The old advertising model of trading money for attention is the anachronism. The new formula is trading time (even  energy) for attention. The activity is just as important as the message.

“Social Media Will Become Less Social.”hmm
I’d still like my term – “return on engagement.” It’s more active, deliberate and participatory. However, I think our trajectory has been very different from what I expected — largely due to the meteoric growth of Facebook. Engagement is now defined by the quality of the experience itself, rather than some tangible outcome. The value I spoke of last year was a slippery concept, because “value” can now be defined in brave, new terms, as well. Who knew Farmville and Mafia Wars would become the new American pastimes? Who could have predicted you can actually buy Facebook points in the grocery store? And the metric that “one-third of women 18-34 check Facebook when they first wake up in the morning,” according to an Oxygen Media study?

“More Enterprise Social Software Platforms Will Emerge”oops
Enterprise platforms continue to exist, but boy was I wrong on this one. I did not see the mobile app locomotive, powered by Apple, flying down the track. I think the branded in-house community concept has quite literally jumped the rails. And, to think, I was once so on board with that idea.   Simply, there is an app for that – in fact, what many signify as the emergence of Web 3.0 – targeted, segmented, defined and delivered to the user on demand. So, interesting how things can change in a year. Still, we may be moving in this direction yet.  Fast Society, a new iPhone app, allows the user to create small groups to text with on the fly, and the groups last for three days. Facebook is also providing ways to communicate with smaller networks. Facebook’s new Groups Feature allows segments friends into personal, professional and interest-based communities to better manage privacy. Watch for more of these smaller, closed networks to launch in 2011 as people seek deeper connections online.

“Social Media (Engagement Media) Will Become More Integrated”bingo
I think I get the winning buzzer for this one. Organizations of all sizes are embracing the value of fully integrated multi-channel strategies. Using social media channels alone for marketing, customer service or fundraising will not be as effective as designing coordinated campaigns and communication strategies that include traditional communication techniques. This includes email, website, online ads, SEO, face-to-face interactions, print advertising, social media platforms, blogs, events, and managed promotion to all media. This has become pivotal to social media success in general. Integrate and align with overall objectives. It’s a must.

“Relevance and Ease Will Become Increasingly Important”yep
There is no more compelling spokesperson for an enterprise or organization a passionate customer, employee, or supporter. This is the core strength of word-of-mouth advertising and peer-to-peer fundraising. And there is a range of scenarios—from a class agent soliciting annual fund gifts for his or her school, to a customer making a recommendation for a new restaurant on YELP! The brand voice is now filtered through the customer in his or her own geographic and psycho-graphic universe.

As we look to 2011, we can’t deny or ignore the brand power of Facebook “likes,” which will become the core advertising and promotional objective for many businesses on Facebook. “Like” strategies will become increasingly sophisticated and integrated into the overall marketing strategy.  For instance, instead of doing A/B testing between two photos to see which generates more Facebook “Likes,” the savvier brands and agencies will be leveraging technology that can simultaneously deploy 10,000+ ad variations to yield the lowest CPA (cost per acquisition) of those “Likes.” The art and the science.

Finally, there’s mobile and SMS. The app has arrived and has consolidated the expansiveness, chaos and clutter of the worldwide web to the simplicity and focus of a tiny button the size of a stamp that fits in the palm of your hand.  . . . Oh, wow!

What are your predictions for 2011, infinity . . .and beyond?

Will Social Media Make the Grade?

Integrating social media into business in a meaningful way is more difficult than I thought it would be—academically speaking, of course. In fact, it’s really ironic. Though higher education is ostensibly about forging trails, igniting discourse, and driving innovation, the reality is that the business of academia is still working on how to maximize the high-octane power of social media. Methinks it’s probably just a little too out-of-control and outside the box for those venerable educational brands.

I think the real rub is the expectation of immediate results versus the fear of unbridled conversation. But it really comes down to justifying the opportunity cost (now that’s a vestige of my 25-year-old MBA trickling out of my baby-boomer psyche). Truthfully, social media may even be the ultimate paradox. In a world of 24/7 e-commerce, instant gratification, and auto-responses, business leaders want immediate profitability and irrefutable ROI. But social media in business is more about the journey than the destination. It’s process. And that’s very hard to justify in a dollar and cents world—especially in today’s, re-orged, laid-off, downsized, bailed-out, and bedraggled business climate.

As many experts have said about social media, it is more a mindset or behavior that a channel or tool, in the traditional marketing parlance. More and more, I see how companies really need to transform from the inside out. We must radically rethink everything—communication, marketing, and sales to truly maximize the power and effectiveness of social media—and marketing, in general. The online social media space is not an environment where ROI can necessarily be calculated based on standalone, one-off calls to action—but where we build an intertwined, 3-D, online “ecosystem” that enables customers, constituents, or alumni to respond—whether it is buying the latest alumni directory, dog food, or a tax preparation service.

It also means integrating a company’s brand and grassroots employee behavior into the rhythm of the social media dance. To be successful, we can no longer be afraid of engaging through our own profiles, website, and presence. We as small business can carve out a more profitable future if we are willing to fully engage in the opportunities. Granted, social media for business is a revolutionary concept. We must be willing to test, test, test, experiment—and even fail. We must also be willing to allocate time and resources. Some ideas:

1. Perhaps this means training a core group of employees (or volunteers for nonprofits) or interns to nurture, tend, and cultivate social media farm, as Chris Brogan calls it.

2. Start from square one on the brand, value proposition, and core products. It is important to analyze and synthesize online behaviors to best understand how to trigger them. Online activity is a very different behavioral energy from the traditional one-to-one sales call transaction. We must understand the dynamics of both.

3. We must spend as much time listening and participating online at posting calls to action. Social media expert Chris Brogan emphasized this in his recent Dallas presentation. This means actively posting, conversing, and responding on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, FourSquare, Gowalla, YouTube, the university website, and blogs. The rehearsal is just as important as the performance. It’s about igniting behavior, interest, and activity – then making the pitch.

How will we know that we are successful? When we have increased our goal of social media lead generation and revenue impact, we will know. In addition, web response tools help us continually clean email addresses, physical addresses, and contacts. Streamlined e-marketing can also drastically reduce dependence on snail mail, thus enhancing the profit margin of each project.

What are the appropriate metrics to track? We will implement a series of initiatives and promotions for each type of product offering. We will measure their effectiveness based on fans, followers, click-thrus, and incremental increases in revenue. Key indicators:

• Brand activity and campaigns on Twitter, Facebook, Digg, blogs, online communities, and more traditional news.
• Website traffic.
• Conversions of social media traffic to leads and sales.
• Daily user engagement via online communities.
• Benchmarks for measuring the impact of social media efforts.
• Content on multiple blogs and syndicated content.
• Competitive programs and initiatives within the online product/service community.

A well-meaning, yet hopelessly pedantic friend recently sent me this quote that resonates for me in this context:

“Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.
Begin it now.”

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

ElaineGantzWright’s blog is for people interested in using the Web and online marketing to drive social action. Elaine covers social media for education, nonprofits, philanthropy trends, online giving, cause marketing, random life musings, and more. Contact her — elgantz @yahoo.com

Peer Factor

In his epoch-defining book, The Long Tail, WIRED editor-in-chief Chris Anderson explores the statistically rooted theory of the same name. He suggests, “Our culture and economy are increasingly shifting away from a focus on relatively small number of hits (mainstream products and markets) at the head of the demand curve, and moving toward a high number of niches in the tail.” He romances this theory in the context of dominant market forces, including the diminishing physical requirements of distribution and the proliferation of individual content producers empowered by the Internet and new media technologies. His clarifying point is critical,“The Long Tail starts with a million niches, but it isn’t meaningful until those niches are populated with people who want them.” Ay, there’s the rub.

The Democratization of Production and Distribution.

Everything really comes down to the basic economic concept of demand and supply. The difference now is that the cost of reaching niches is reducing dramatically -– thus driving the democratization of production and distribution. In his addendum chapter, Anderson addresses the “the Long Tail of marketing.” The premise of this chapter is that the fragmentation of markets is requiring the fragmentation of marketing. More important, as I have proposed in earlier posts, the user-driven Web is turning the paradigm of traditional marketing communication on its ear.

“(With) individuals trusted more—institutions trusted less—the most effective messaging comes from peers. Nothing beats word of mouth, and as we’ve seen, the Web is the greatest word-of-mouth amplifier the world has ever seen.”

Understanding the Dynamic of Influence.

The integration of the multimedia Web and mobile technologies has forged a brave, new frontier. The medium is really no longer about the message. It’s about the relationship. Therefore, businesses and institutions must shift focus away from managing the message and move toward relating with the influencers. This means leveraging personal affiliations, relationships, and their voices. It also means listening and monitoring through resources, such as:

TechnoratI
Google Trends
Social Networks

The hyperlink is, indeed, the new response device. Traditional metrics, such as audience size and readership are becoming increasingly stale and even irrelevant. Now, response is measured in real-time interactivity—clicks and click-thrus. Action. Anderson says “The hyperlink is the ultimate act of generosity online.” Placing a hyperlink in content signifies tacit endorsement of the associated content and simultaneously gives the author a new brand of authority—the power to refer.

The Power of the Peer.

Given this new focus on the influencer, we as fundraisers could not be in a better place. The development “sweet spot” has arrived. We know that that people give to people, not institutions. And now, the cultural evolution of communication is giving our volunteer fundraisers more power and influence than ever before.

We just need to find the right tools to make them the most successful “askers”— and us the most effective “impresarios” of generosity. Let us know what you think. Ask a question, or leave a comment. Tell us know what you are doing to lake advantage of this rare moment in history.

Elaine Gantz Wright writes about social media that matters. Find her at elgantz@ yahoo.com

Tactics for Tough Times

“It is the nature of man to rise to greatness if greatness is expected of him.” –John Steinbeck

Whether you are large or little, flush or floundering, it’s never too late to chart a course to flourish in the New Year. Even though recovery is still looming as a faint glimmer on horizon, we need to be vigilant about honing our skills to work smarter and make the most of the new economic realities. Here are some scrappy, do-more-with-less things you can do to jump-start your marketing program in 2010:

Contact your lapsed donors. Appeal to them via snail mail or better yet, through email. Reactivated donors can have higher lifetime value than new donors, because they’re already invested.

Express gratitude. Curtailing donor-acknowledgment activities as a means of cost-cutting can be counter-productive–and even devastating. In fact, messages of appreciation will be more potent than ever.

Take risks. Yes, even in a time of uncertainty, new tools can help you differentiate yourself in a sea of solicitations and a cacophony of causes. Social media can help you expand your base and leverage the viral power of peer-to-peer fundraising in dynamic, new ways. Discover exciting ways to streamline your process and empower your volunteers. In this Internet age, the medium is definitely the message, as well as the method!

Innovate. Effective fundraising is dependent on innovation. Everything is testable, and any idea can lead to a stronger program. Whether it succeeds or fails, there is something to be learned. The biggest mistake you can make during tough times is to retreat to a defensive position and make decisions out of fear.

Put the “Donate Now” button on everything. Don’t be shy about the “Donate Now” button. So many schools and universities, in particular, are shy about using this. It’s one of the easiest ways to increase online giving–by asking!!! Some key places to put it include:
• Your homepage.
• The homepage of your online community.
• Every email, every e-newsletter you send.

ENGAGE in social media. If you have not already, create a Facebook page that will automatically post status updates to your Twitter account. (Set that up, too.) And, investigate your LinkedIn groups. You may find that that there is already an active community of support burgeoning on these sites. Build a bridge, and interact with online savvy groups.

Investigate mobile applications. Whether you are providing mobile access to a unique resource, to volunteer offerings, or to giving opportunities, everyone is going mobile. We need to communicate to our donors and alumni where they are — in the palms of their hands — through mobile applications, texting, and mobile-friendly rendering of our communication devices. This will be essential in 2010! According to IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker, vendors shipped a total of 43.3 million units during the third quarter of 2009 (3Q09), up 4.2% from the 41.5 million units shipped in 3Q08, and up 3.2% from shipments of 41.9 million units in 2Q09.

Whatever you do, keep trusting — and testing, testing, testing . . . And remember to take time to breathe and celebrate everything you have accomplished this year.

Elaine Gantz Wright writes about social media that makes a difference. Contact her at elgantz @ yahoo.com.

Literary Device


I admit it. I like texting. I don’t know if it is the writer in me, the social media maven, mom, or bon vivant, but I am hooked. It took me a while to embrace it, but I have found the direct access to those I care about quite appealing. I can receive a quick text at work when my son gets home from school—or a little casual banter with a flirtatious friend—without the formality a phone conversation entails. I guess it’s part of the “instant,” byte-sized culture we are creating.

So, I suspect that’s why I haven’t stopped thinking about Stanford University professor Andrea Lunsford’s five-year examination of college students’ writing in the Stanford Study of Writing. From 2001 to 2006, she collected 14,672 student writing samples—everything from in-class assignments, formal essays, and journal entries to emails, blog posts, and chat sessions. What she discovered might surprise you. The reality is that the most popular technological tools and social media platforms continue to receive plenty of sanctimonious slander—from Facebook’s narcissistic drivel, to PowerPoint’s bullet-point prose, to Twitter’s unintelligible prattle. But in true train-wreck fashion, we just can’t seem to stop looking.

As many traditional academicians, such as University College of London English professor John Sutherland have moaned, social media and texting are “dehydrating language into bleak, bald, sad shorthand.” However, the new media guard thinks differently. The truth is that communication is evolving and morphing as breakneck speed, and we are right smack in the middle of maelstrom. Granted, it’s hard to achieve the perspective needed to make sense of it all. Professor Lunsford suggests:

“I think we’re in the midst of a literacy revolution the likes of which we haven’t seen since Greek civilization. Technology isn’t killing our ability to write. It’s reviving it—and pushing our literacy in bold new directions.”

The first thing she found is that young people today write far more than any generation before them. That’s because so much socializing happens online, and it almost always involves text. Moreover, they are writing more than any previous generation, ever—in history. They are immersed in a complex, often confounding, new space where writers and their audiences are now enmeshed. “The consumer has become the producer,” says Professor Clay Shirky. The rules of the game have changed, and communication mores have been literallyturned upside down.

Lunsford pins her findings to the pervasive psycho-sociological trends defining our culture. She says, “More than earlier generations, young people today are aware of the precarious nature of our lives. They understand the dangers that await us. Hence, writing is a way to get a sense of power.” Interestingly, comparing the Stanford students’ writing with their peers from the mid-1980s, Lunsford found that the writing of today’s students is about three times as long today—they have “the ability to generate more prose.” I guess expressing ideas about hard things requires hard words. And when grappling with hard things, “I don’t think it can be worked out in 140 characters,” Lunsford contends. How ironic.

Of all the writing that the Stanford students did, a stunning 38 percent of it took place out of the classroom. Lunsford calls this “life writing.” Those Twitter updates and lists of 25 things about yourself add up. The fact that students today almost always write for an audience—a real switch from the prior generation—gives them a different sense of focus and message impact. It’s almost as if we are narrating our own lives. In interviews, students defined good prose as something that had an effect on the world. For them, writing is about persuading, organizing, and debating. It’s about finding a voice and taking a stand—even if it’s a review of the latest movie.

The Stanford students were almost always less enthusiastic about their in-class writing, because it had no audience but the professor. It didn’t serve any purpose other than to get them a grade. How about texting those LOLs and emoticons? Are they eroding the sanctity of academic writing? When Lunsford examined the work of first-year students, she didn’t find a single example of texting speak in an academic paper.

At the end of the day, texting has it’s time and place. And, there’s the rub. It represents a fascinating dichotomy of communication. It is simultaneously immediate and intimate, yet passive. It finds you any time of the day or night (no matter where you are—except driving, I hope) in the soft, fleshy palm of your hand. But at the same time, it gives you the power to choose when and how you want to respond. To engage or not to engage—the new “text-i-quette.”

Some psychologists warn against this intimate anonymity—that it encourages risky behavior. Elisabeth Wilkins wrote in a blog post that “texting can rob our kids of the ability to interact socially”—diminishing the importance of body language and facial expressions. I think the evolution of email and texting has radically changed the way we communicate and how we express ourselves, but I’m not sure it’s something we can condemn or alter. It simply is. It is the new communications behavior and landscape, which is inextricably intertwined with the technological innovation that enables it.

What do you think of texting and the changing patterns of communication? How are they affecting us as human beings?

Elaine Gantz Wright writes about social media that makes a difference. Contact her at elgantz @ yahoo.com