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.

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

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

Does “Unfriend” Really Have Lex-Appeal?

This morning, Rex Petrasko, my savvy, smart, sincere executive vice president, closed our daily meeting with the announcement that the New Oxford American Dictionary had proclaimed the Word of the Year for 2009 to be “unfriend.” I smiled at him knowingly from across the room, because I had heard the confounding announcement hours earlier on NPR as I brushed my teeth.

When I heard the brief news byte, I paused for a moment, swallowed hard and considered the irony. First of all, how interesting that the Word of the Year would be a social media—even Facebook word. And “unfriend,” no less. How perplexing that the Oxford folk embraced the negative version of the verb-ized noun “friend.”

Unfriend: (verb) To remove someone as a “friend” on a social networking site such as Facebook. As in, “I decided to unfriend my boyfriend on Facebook after we had a fight.”

“It has both currency and potential longevity,” notes Christine Lindberg, Senior Lexicographer for Oxford ’s US dictionary program. “In the online social networking context, its meaning is understood, so its adoption as a modern verb form makes this an interesting choice for Word of the Year. Most “un-” prefixed words are adjectives (unacceptable, unpleasant), and there are certainly some familiar “un-” verbs (uncap, unpack), but “unfriend” is different from the norm. It assumes a verb sense of “friend” that is really not used (at least not since maybe the 17th century!). Unfriend has real lex-appeal.”

Christine, I think I beg to differ. “Unfriend” has a limited appeal, if at all, and it is particularly disconcerting in this age when people are desperate to connect on some level—electronic or otherwise. Friend, blog, text, comment, post, and tweet are all new inhabitants of the morphed communication lexicon. They are all terms for a new mode of behaving—a new way of being—not so much communicating.

I commented on my Facebook page status today that the Word of the Year might be indicative of the dark underbelly of social media. Merridith Branscombe, a Facebook pal and spirited, sassy woman from my Northwestern sorority days, commented, “It is fairly strange that friend somehow transformed to a verb; and that ‘unfriend’ is Word of the Year? I guess it’s not on the underbelly anymore, but in plain sight.

She is absolutely correct. It is in plain sight. We are connecting and disconnecting in plain sight—in front of God and everyone, and “there’s the rub,” as Hamlet said. Social media is less about communicating and more about behaving. At one point, my ex-boyfriend seemed more disturbed about my “unfriending” him on Facebook than about the actual breakup of the relationship. It gives me pause. Are we all more concerned about the virtual ramifications of relationships than the realities? Something to ponder—especially when we are all so hungry for valuable, real, authentic connection, and online experiences that are truly worth our time and attention in this choatic, often superficial world.

More and more, we are defining ourselves by how we interact, as opposed to what we say. The way we describe ourselves is really irrelevant. We are—how we are, as opposed to who we are. Same goes for businesses. Our customers are defining our brands—not vice versa.

“Unfriend” means that we no longer wish the “offending” person to be part of our online inner circles—our intimate online world, our defined universe. Our walls and tweet streams are sacred ground in many ways. They document our inner most thoughts and our profoundest dreams—our vulnerability and our humanity. As I have mentioned in other posts, “ambient intimacy” has come to describe the visceral nature of social media. Considering that an old boyfriend still might be lurking around as a so-called friend feels invasive, almost voyeuristic. But, how incongruent this seems in a word of open-source and “shareware.” It’s a paradox, indeed.

As the social web continues to explode with opportunities for connection and synergy, conversely, the need to maintain personal autonomy and control somehow intensifies. What do you think?

What are you?

ElaineGantzWright’s blog is for people interested in using the Web and online marketing to drive social change. Elaine covers social media for nonprofits, philanthropy trends, online giving, cause marketing, random life musings, and more. Find out more at SocialFuse.

ringquestion I am the first to admit it. I am an anomaly—a distinctive amalgam of eclectic experiences and pronounced passions. I am a seasoned, accomplished professional, schooled in the most traditional marketing media techniques; but I have also journeyed to the cutting edge of the vast social media abyss. It’s largely uncharted territory for my brethren “of a certain age,” so carving out my professional niche while straddling disparate worlds, approaches, and generations can be a challenge.

In fact, I am still processing a recent conversation with a respected nonprofit headhunter in Dallas. The silver-maned, super-savvy staffing pro peered over his polished tortoiseshell reading glasses, took a breath, and asked, “So, Elaine, what are you?” The silence was palpable. I’m thinking in my rattled brain things like—single mom, daughter, job-seeker, brunette, social media consultant, and . . . derailed.

He continued, “So really, are you a fundraiser, or are you a marketer? Which one? I think you need to decide.” My first reaction to that was, “Well, of course, I’m both, and that is the value that I bring to my clients and my employers.” I’m not sure he bought that, because he added, “Well, you have to understand that my client needs to churn out hundreds of funding proposals.” I think he was just a product of his context—his pre-Web 2.0 consciousness.

All weekend, I have pondered that three-hour conversation and its many nuances. Lots of food for thought as he expertly excised ever decision I have ever made since age four. Invasive yet thought-provoking. Later, I mused that I really do hate labels, but I understand they are a necessary evil in the recruiting biz—especially with this economy with such a buyer’s market. But, I suspect I do have to address the question—what (or who) am I, anyway? And what is it I am on this earth to accomplish?

I know I have I entered the social media space for a reason—even though I am not your typical demographic for the job. And I believe more strongly than ever that social media is becoming the new norm and the essential vehicle for product and service communication—whether it’s for nonprofits or for-profits. It’s merging the accepted definitions of marketing, sales, public relations, market research, customer service—and even fundraising for nonprofits.

socapThe recent Socap 09 Conference is a salient example of this invention and innovation. It exemplifies our morphing toolbox for addressing social needs. The whole realm of social enterprise fascinates me. Though the concept of the “social entrepreneur” may even seem like an oxymoron to some, it’s the emerging reinvention of society’s approach to achieving results in the social sector—a new way to think about ROI and change the world.

Socap09 in San Francisco brought together a unique mix of the world’s leading social innovators—traditional investors, impact investors, social entrepreneurs, philanthropists, new media evangelists, NGOs and nonprofits, wealth managers, development agencies, venture capitalists, MBA students, and other groups interested in the growing opportunities related to social capital. These folks account for a new breed of philanthropist—the social catalysts. Last year’s conference gathered more than 650 leading global investors and entrepreneurs from 26 countries. This year’s sold out again and featured speakers from the Skoll Foundation, Food Inc, LINKtv, Invisible Children, Global Giving, the World Economic Forum, Virgance, Kiva, Change.org, Ushahidi, McKinsey, The Economist, and many others. The opening keynote will be given by Sonal Shah, director of the White House Office for Social Innovation.

Founder Kevin Jones said, “In these turbulent times, social innovators in the public and private sectors, from foundations to social venture funds to development agencies to grassroots Web 2.0 activists, are working together to build a new economic foundation for the world.”

I heard about one panel that particularly intrigued me. Having worked with a fledgling cause website, I know this space can be tricky and challenging. “The Future of Social Innovation on the Web” panel was facilitated by Dennis Whittle of Global Giving and featured Premal Shah of Kiva.org, Jonathan Greenblatt of Our Good Works, Steve Newcomb of Virgance, and Ben Rattray of Change.org.

Beth Kanter attended and interviewed several of these guys after their presentation. She reported that Premal talked about the need for creating “magic for users” and building in workflow software that actively facilitates relationship-building through a clear process of engagement. In talking about the next Web transition, he said, “If Web 1.0 is about one-way communication, and Web 2.0 is about two-way communication, then Web 3.0 is about building a bridge between two-way online communication and offline actions and impact.”

Ben Rattray commented on the effectiveness of social media platforms—now and down the road:

“The vast majority of social good platforms have failed because they have modeled social-good platforms on commercial applications. We assumed that if we created a generic platform that people would start their own actions. They don’t. It isn’t as easy to throw up an action on the web as it is to throw up a video. The vision is to provide a platform for collective social action, so it is easy for people who care about an issue to connect. There must be catalytic organizations. If you build the platform, will spontaneous organizing happen? No! Synthesis of grassroots organizations is needed to channel social change.”

And from Premal Shah:

“Kiva is at the intersection of money and meaning. There is going to be a socially responsible investment. There is a third access – it is not about ROI or social impact. It’s the user experience that drives adoption. Never underestimate something that is fun and has short feedback loops. If we want people to engage, it has to be easy, fun, and addictive. Return on experience versus investment.”

Clearly, the line between for-profit and nonprofit is blurring. It’s less about “what you are,” and more about what you can achieve.

Stay tuned, hold on tight, and think about it . . .
“What are you?” or better yet, “What do you want to be?”

Finessing Facebook

facebook-currency
ElaineGantzWright’s blog is for people interested in using the Web and online marketing to drive social change. Elaine covers social media for nonprofits, philanthropy trends, online giving, cause marketing, random life musings, and more. Find her at SocialFuse.

Randi Zukerberg of Facebook delivered the keynote address at the recent Summer of Social Good Conference hosted by Mashable! It was the quintessential industry summit for social media and cause geeks. Randi’s presentation was covered by the Wall Street Journal – conjuring up the ubiquitous question I hear in the field – “I have a Facebook page. Now, what?” And that is the $64,000 question, isn’t it? Actually, $4000 would be nice—or even $40, for that matter.

Given this conundrum, one of the most interesting announcements was Facebook’s plan to pilot “virtual charity giving” to users. Initially, the proceeds will support micro-lender Kiva, Project Red, the World Wildlife Fund, and Tom’s Shoes. Plans are to roll out the feature more broadly after testing.

In a test starting this week, these alpha organizations will each offer 1-2 gifts at $5 or $10 each. Facebook users will be able to buy these gifts for friends, and the proceeds will go to the charity associated with the gift. This is essentially an extension of an increasingly popular offline concept – the idea of giving a gift to a recipient’s favorite charity as a present.

This isn’t the first time Facebook is experimenting with virtual gifts for charity—earlier this year, they launched a similar initiative upon hitting the 200 million member milestone. However, as Facebook moves further into gifts and payments, perhaps rivaling PayPay, charity gifts may become a staple of the site.

According a Facebook, “This is an alpha initiative and is not available to other charities at this time, but we may open up the program to new partners in the future pending the results. It is our goal to give our users a way to support the causes and issues that are important to them on a global scale.”

Still, nonprofit blogger Beth Kanter reported, “Skeptics in the audience tweeted about the limitations of tool-centric campaigns and wondered if, at the end of day, there was any on-the-ground social change. Or was it all hype?” To these folks, I say that the tools are only as effective as the strategy which drives them. They are just hype if they are not seen as an integrated component of an overall engagement strategy.

It’s really all about expectations. A one-off viral campaign may pull in a thousand dollars, a couple of hundred, or none — but the process of building awareness and affiliation for the duration should be is a core value. Creating real commitment takes time—and typically, a variety of contacts and “touches,” a we say in development. As a seasoned nonprofit professional, I cannot overstate the importance of the cultivation process. Seldom do you meet a new visitor at the door for your museum and say, “Excuse me, can you give me $50,000, today.” You date before you marry. Yet, there are cause sites on the web that are attempting to raise money in more of a “one-night-stand” style. “Hey, you know me. I like this organization. Give me money.” But to be effective in the long term, organizations must learn to capture that casual flirtation in the Facebook discussion sting and weave it into the overall cultivation effort. That’s why seamlessly integrating the Facebook page with the organization’s website is so important.

After all, Facebook has exploded in popularity, because it gives our intimacy-starved lives a way to forge and maintain human relationships in a frantic, chaotic world of drive-thrus, drop-offs, and pick-ups. We are communicating but not interacting. Though they may seem trivial at times, these online conversations are feeding us and the things we hold dear. But after all is said and done, nonprofits must first state their cases for support—then ask for investment.

So, even with the newest “virtual giving gadget” on Facebook, I still believe the gold in the online interactive community is just that – interaction. We are offering like minds and hearts ways to connect around life-changing missions. Isn’t that what we truly thirst for—shared passion and an authentic soul connection? You may be thinking, “Golly, Elaine, it’s a stretch to consider that self-actualization is a viable byproduct of Facebook, but the act of participation can help donors and advocates move along that path more rapidly.

Here are a few other high-level thoughts:

• Don’t rely on groups on Facebook. Be sure to create a “Fan Page” to take advantage of the viral potential. See the example of my SocialFuse landing page.

• More than 8 million Facebook users become “fans” of new pages each day, and the site’s fastest-growing demographic is users over 35, who are more involved in fundraising efforts.

• Be a little less “formal” and try a few fun updates and other content that communicates truth and personality sans spin—especially photos and videos.

• Try not to clutter your pages with too many applications. Leave room for conversation.

In addition, big companies, including Target, Intel and Kellogg, have been polling the site’s 250 million users as to where they should be donating money or goods, so an engaged Facebook fan base can benefit organizations on many levels.

What do you think? Let me know how you are using Facebook?

Tweet Surrender: The Truth about Twitter

tweet_twoThe decibel level of Twitter buzz only continues to crescendo. Harvard Business School is even studying the complexities of Tweet-ology. A Harvard MBA student examined the activity of a random sample of 300,000 Twitter users in May of this year—to try to understand the phenomenon that is Twitter. We hear it referenced almost daily—and more and more, you can follow just about anyone or anything on Twitter, but what’s really going on? And this begs the question—just how do we make it work for us?

Continuing along my own journey of social media comprehension, I have to admit I was startled by this recent data—especially in comparison to what I know about other popular social media sites, such as Facebook. The researchers discovered that 80% of those sampled were “followed by” or “followed” at least one user. By comparison, only 60 to 65% of other online social media site members have at least one friend (measuring these stats for sites at similar levels of development). This suggests that entrenched, active users really do understand exactly how Twitter works. (Unlike much of the non-Web 2.0 world.) The initiated get it — not really too much of a revelation, methinks.

However, it’s the metrics around gender behavior that particularly intrigue me. Although men and women follow a similar number of Twitter users, men have 15% more followers than women. And, men also have more reciprocated relationships, in which two users follow each other. This “follower split” suggests that women are driven less by followers than men, or perhaps they have more stringent criteria for reciprocating relationships. This seems somehow counter-intuitive, though—especially given that females hold a slight majority on Twitter—45% are men, and 55% are women.

Even more enlightening is— who follows whom:
• A man is two times more likely to follow another man than a woman.
• A woman is 25% more likely to follow a man than a woman.
• A man is 40% more likely to be followed by another man than by a woman.

This cannot be explained by different tweeting activity, either, because both men and women tweet at the same rate. These results are remarkable in light of previous social media research. On other social networks, most of the activity is focused around women. Men seem to follow content produced by women they do and do not know, and women follow content produced by women they know.

Generally, men receive comparatively little attention from other men or from women. The researchers conjectured that perhaps men and women find the content produced by other men on Twitter more compelling than on other social networks. And maybe, men find the content produced by women less compelling because of the lack of photo sharing, detailed biographies, etc. After all, men are visual creatures.

Or could the cryptic nature of the 140-character-post limit and truncated URLs inhibit more meaningful sharing—that women often prefer? It’s a thought-provoking question.

Overall, Twitter’s usage patterns are also very different from a typical online social network. On Twitter, there is a small, very active user group. Specifically, the top 10% of Twitter users accounted for over 90% of tweets. Oh, there’s that old 90/10 rule again! Fundraising 101, indeed. On a typical online social network, the top 10% of users account for only about 30% of all production.

From this perspective, Twitter is actually more of a one-way, one-to-many communication vehicle than a two-way, peer-to-peer network. Perhaps this is why it has logged greater success in the fundraising realm for nonprofits than some of the other more widely distributed social media options. Worth considering. The leaders initiate and the followers acquiesce. Hmmm . . . a whole new way to think about the social web? Perhaps a new social science. I wonder.

What do you think? @ellagantz

Will microvolunteering have a macro impact?

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I was very intrigued by the latest social media philanthropy trend I saw posted by NPR on my Facebook page—The Extraordinaires, a snazzy, new social media enterprise that delivers microvolunteer opportunities to mobile phones that can be done on-demand and on-the-spot. The article begins – “Got five minutes? Got a cell phone? Want to do good?” What a concept—weaving volunteer activities into the fabric of your busy, over-programmed day. Interesting concept, but does it make practical sense? When you are waiting at the doctor’s office or in line at the grocery store, might you have time or focus to translate an email newsletter into Spanish—or figure sum-of-the-years-digits depreciation on the purchase of a new copier? I wonder. It’s a great concept, indeed—multi-taking at the highest level of win-win efficiency.

Upon download, I realized the opportunities offered were almost universally photo-related—tagging images for the Smithsonian or cataloging images for the Brooklyn Museum. My mind was racing with other options or opportunities. Still, I was a bit bewildered. The app asked that I describe what I saw—one session asking me to tag what appeared to be 19th century French Genre paintings. Now, I’m thinking this is a bit freewheeling for a museum. Luckily, I took art history in college, but I’m not so sure I would trust the random, crowdsourced public to accurately catalog these esoteric works for posterity. Definite fact-checking and review required, indeed.

As I hit submit, I suspected that it was less about the task at hand, so to speak, and more about the experience. It’s kind of like taking one of those Facebook quizzes. It’s fun and enlightening in a pseudo-informational sort of way, but the value is questionable. However, I was surprised that there seemed to be no data capture—no way of engaging me further after my “micro” interaction. There was just a very cordial thank you for “making the world a better place.” So, the ongoing social media question looms—how do we bring those touched through casual encounters such as an iphone tagging exercise into our cultivation universes?

Extraordinaires co-founder Jacob Colker, 26, says, “We hope people might look differently at that ride on the bus and not just play video games.” He continues, “Microvolunteerism is perfectly suited for the Millennial Generation. They are used to text messaging, MySpace, Facebook, get-in, get-out, instant gratification. For them, going out and cleaning up a park—that’s not necessarily attractive to them.” So, is microvoluteerism the new media equivalent of a one-night stand? No commitments . . . no strings? I guess we’ll have to stay tuned!

I cringe to think the entire paradigm for volunteerism is shifting to micro tasks and instant gratification. I prefer to see this as fresh, innovative concept yet another option to attract “followers” and “fans.” I am reminded of the mission trip my 17-year-old son recently took to northern Michigan. The group of 35 students spent a week renovating a deteriorating campground for economically disadvantaged youth. They built Adirondack chairs, sanded fences, and painted cabins. They got their hands dirty and their hearts engaged. No cell phones were allowed. And, the gratification may not have been instant, but it was most certainly—genuine.

What do you think about microvolunteerism?

Nonprofit Social Media Savvy Outpaces Private Sector

Though nonprofits are often seen as late adopters on the technology frontier, a recent study conducted by the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Center for Marketing Research indicates quite the contrary with regard to social media. Results shows nonprofit groups are actually well ahead of their brethren for-profit businesses in their use of social-media tools such as Twitter, Facebook, and blogs. The soon-to-be-released study found that 89 percent of nonprofit organizations are using some form of social media. Fifty-seven percent report that they use blogs. Forty-six percent of those studied report social media is very important to their fundraising strategy.

It’s really not so surprising. Since the beginning of time, nonprofit leaders have been concerned with finding new ways to do more with less. They are necessarily lean and scrappy—so they recognized early on the cost-effectiveness of capitalizing on the interactivity, reach, and efficiency of social media tools to broaden their marketing efforts. It really makes sense on many levels. When I speak too nonprofits about embracing social media, I always mention the time-proven fundraising adage –“People don’t give to organizations. They give to people.” In a nutshell, that is the power of social media—harnessing the power of the personal appeal—in a new media paradigm.

Plus, any organization— from your local pet shelter to the American Red Cross can instantly establish a presence on many social networks, acquiring followers, fans, and benefactors it might never reach traditionally. The only investment is time. And a little expertise can help avoid the pitfalls and ramp up your presence more quickly and productively. The question is no longer, “Do you tweet?” It’s, “What’s your social media strategy?”

Face it, Facebook has a tantalizing appeal –even at first blush! It has an inherent attraction for development folks. Ideas such as “establishing a dialogue,” “engaging in the conversation”, and “cultivating interest” are all the very fundamentals of the development process. But alas, many organizations think it sounds great, but they never harness the real power. But, the truth our stories “sell” our organizations. It’s the emotional connection that makes social media magic.
Consider this – the cause-marketing consulting firm Cone Inc. has published the statistic—“93% of consumers now expect your organization to use social media. “ The University of Massachusetts study tells us that “89% of NPOs do. “ Perhaps, those for-profit companies wishing to remain so in these tough times should actually take a page out of the “nonprofit journal” to catch up to a whole new marketing philosophy that nonprofits are already embracing. The numbers tell all. Recent research reveals:

• Worldwide, 60% of execs and IT professionals “do not understand the potential social media offers employees or customers” (source: Avanade)
• Only 16% of the Fortune 500 companies have public blogs (source: US Web Central)
• Approximately 5% of small businesses use social media (source: eMarketer via Sage Research)

As a matter of fact, I discussed this issue just this week over coffee with a very high-powered business marketing exec in Dallas. We were exploring the nuances of the social media phenomenon, and he observed that the marketing concepts we all learned in business school are morphing in real time. It’s a completely different ballgame, and we need to rewrite the playbook. Whether you are a 501 (c) 3 or Sub Chapter S, now, it’s less about “building a brand.” It’s more about “creating a conversation.”

Do you have a nonprofit social media success story? Tell us about it.