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.

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

For Facebook, is it really about time?

They say it’s about time—that’s Timeline, the new Facebook interface. But at the end of the day or week or month, I suspect it’s also very much about money.

I have been encountering many questions about what Facebook’s newest alchemy means to marketing and business—but somehow, we are all sticking with it and muddling through. The impact on our brands, businesses and personal communications remains to be fully assessed, but in the meantime, a little Facebook insight can help you navigate the sometimes murky online waters. As Mark Zuckerberg’s latest strategic offensive – particularly addressing Google+, this metamorphosis may have you more than a little perplexed, befuddled or even impatient with the ubiquitous Facebook phenomenon. That’s OK. Still, 50 percent of the more than 800 million registered users visit daily for an average of 14 minutes. That’s ample time to get in line.

In so many ways, Facebook is still the Internet juggernaut—even as sites such as Pinterest seem to be gaining momentum on the starboard bow. One of my sassiest Facebook pals posted recently, “If Pinterest is wrong, I don’t want to be right.” Interestingly, Pinterest is definitely doing something right—carving out a new niche or paradigm that is more about following content and less about “connecting” with people. Hey, let’s hear it for content! And with Facebook’s recent purchase of Instagram for $1 billion, Zuckerberg is definitely becoming much more image conscious.

Nevertheless, the latest series of changes signals that Facebook is about people sharing with their friends—not as much about brands sharing with people. Actually, Facebook is challenging brands to more effectively align with Facebook’s underlying user-experience philosophy and gestalt. As an early impresario of the “like” campaign for clients, I have mixed feelings about the latest changes that eliminate forced “like” landing pages to drive brand engagement. Intuitively, it was always a great concept, yet the reality produced questionable brand value with respect to “like” relevance, stickiness, and measurable brand ROI. And from a technical perspective, Facebook did not really make this kind of campaign an easy endeavor.

Brand pages can still offer action-focused, tabbed content–located along the middle bar. It is simply no longer an option to set it as a compulsory initial landing page to drive “likes.” As a visual junky, myself, I love the new masthead image bar. There are so many high-impact options to available for brands in that prime real estate above the fold. Just don’t include blatant contact information, such as phone numbers or arrows pointing to your flashing URL, or the “Faceboook police” may be knocking on your screen!

Back to the balance sheet–as Facebook has diminished the prominence of the “like” page and newsfeed presence, it has enhanced social advertising, pay-per-click and targeting opportunities. But, think about. Those are the money shots. Newsfeed exposure will still be important for brands–yet a harder nut to crack. We’ll have to work smarter creating engaging content and re-calibrating our publishing cadences since response currency, re-posting, and commenting will count more than the number of fans in determining message impressions and frequency. From a macro perspective, the latest changes have both expanded and refined the ways people can interact with each other on Facebook.

Here are the real tent poles:

Real-time interaction — Increased emphasis on real-time interactions with the introduction of the “Friend News Ticker,” in the upper right corner, which also integrates Twitter.

Image Focus — Larger spaces for pictures and video enhance the user experience and better prioritize the things users see in their news feeds. Plus, you can rank and filter some content, but for the most part, Facebook still decides!

List Maintenance — The new “List” feature, “borrowed” from Google+ and to some extent, Twitter, allows you to segment, tag, share and sort what specific friend categories can see on your wall. This basically pre-sorts audiences by actions and keywords. And yes, it’s all about enhancing advertising segmentation and sales. “But what about privacy?” you ask. Guess that’s another post.

Implications for Brands and Business:

1. Creativity and Activity — After one week of implementing the new Newsfeed, impressions (or reach) per post were down 33 percent in a study done by EdgeRank Checker. But likes and comments were up 17 percent, so it looks like Facebook is changing the dynamic as envisioned.

2. Frequency — Brands will likely need to alter tactics—publishing more engaging, relevant, fresher content more frequently to drive greater interactions rather than one-click passive likes/fans. If the average current fan access ratio is 10% or less, reach and impressions will take a short-term dip until we better understand and respond to changes in Facebook’s filtering algorithm.

2. Pictures and Videos Images are becoming larger on the page and much more important. If we need to get fans more engaged and spending more time, we’ll need to create and use more visuals more frequently.

3. App It — There will be more emphasis on building Apps that provide functionality and value to Facebook users to gain access to the Ticker, for instance. One idea might be loyalty points, interactive functionality, or useful tools, such as store locators to increase impressions and re-posting/sharing.

We’ll have to watch. We are already hearing rumblings that from some users that Facebook is becoming too complicated, too labor-intensive, or too intrusive. This is understandable. Many of us do not want to work that hard. We have enough to do in our lives. This won’t be the last Facebook iteration, and the impact is still unclear. However, it’s a platform you cannot ignore. The best strategy is to discover ways you can seize the opportunity.

What do you think of Timeline?

The Art of Social Enterprise

Elaine Gantz Wright is a social media coach — providing the practical tools you need to thrive in the brave new media world — listener, writer, blogger, speaker, creator, actor, mom.

I attended the 15th annual “Food for the Soul” Stewpot Art Program exhibition at the Bradshaw Gallery at the Dallas Public Library downtown today.  Impressive does not begin to describe the breadth and emotion of this remarkable work. Such raw energy and delight for souls in such turmoil.  On view through Dec. 28, this breathtaking show is part of is a community art outreach program serving the homeless and at-risk populations of Dallas through the Stewpot ministry at the Dallas First Presbyterian Church.  But it’s really so much more than that. I think this program exemplifies a new “brand” of social initiative that not only strengthens our nation’s rapidly fraying safety net, but empowers individuals through creative expression and supports financial self-sufficiency through micro-commerce. Love it!

I must admit I’m still struggling to synthesize by own artistic voice, so my heart is full when I see these developing artists talking about their work with such confidence and aplomb. Watching a program on ADD on KERA/Channel 13 tonight, I was struck by the quote, “We have found that success is not really depend on how much we know; it’s dependent on how we feel about yourselves – our self-esteem.” Well, these artists are definitely moving in the right direction—and what a win-win-win to support them. The artists receive 90% of the sales of their work, and The Stewpot receives 10%.

I found a small piece by Charles William I could not live without – an intricate ink drawing of intertwined harlequin figures. I was mesmerized by his precision and sense of whimsy–with a disturbing edge.

Take a moment to visit the show and be part of social entrepreneurship that’s part solution, part treasure and part blessing.

Hours are 1:00 – 5:00 on Sundays, closed on Monday, open 10:00 – 5:00 Tues and Wed., 12:00 – 8:00 on Thurs and 10:00 – 5:00 on Fri and Sat.

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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.

Organizing Chaos in 2010

Those who ponder the power and possibilities of social media—and its role in our organizations, lives, and culture are all positing predictions for 2010. But, at the end of the day, the big question on everyone’s lips seems to be, “What is the next big thing”? Will it be about catching the Google Wave, the open source document sharing platform—or will our growing mobile obsession drive the success of location-based applications like Foursquare and Brightkite?

Even the experts are unsure. However, I’m not sure forecasting the next Twitter is really the useful question—particularly for those us who focus on leveraging social media in a business context. Most thoughtful professionals I know—particularly in the educational advancement and alumni space—are looking for ways to harness the tools that are already in play more effectively and strategically. Approaching the social media landscape is a little like trying to take a drink from a fire hose—like organizing chaos. We all see the strength of the tools, but we wonder how it all fits and how it will make a difference in our organizations. With this concept as a backdrop, here is how I interpret my crystal ball:

1. Social Media Will Become Less Social.

First of all, I’d like to revisit the term “social media.” There is something about this nomenclature that sounds almost trivial or lacking in substance. I’d like to coin a new term – “engagement media.” It’s more active and deliberate. David Armano said on his Harvard Business School blog recently, “With groups, lists, and niche networks becoming more popular, networks could begin to feel more ‘exclusive.’ Not everyone can fit on someone’s newly created Twitter list and as networks begin to fill with noise, it’s likely that user behavior such as ‘hiding’ the hyperactive ‘updaters’ that appear in your Facebook news feed may become more common. Perhaps it’s not actually less social, but it might seem that way as we all come to terms with getting value out of our networks—while filtering out the clutter.” And I think David is spot on here. We will be looking for more sophisticated, relevant experiences—greater value and ROE, return on engagement.

2. More Enterprise Social Software Platforms Will Emerge.

As an extension of the above development, major software providers, such as IBM, SAP, and Oracle will continue to innovate and launch enterprise-grade social networking and Web 2.0 collaboration applications/suites. Already, Oracle has Beehive; Microsoft enhanced SharePoint with social media functionality, and IBM offers Lotus Connections. Targeted niche solutions will emerge to address industry and stakeholder-specific needs. Currently, many organizations are piecing together solutions with blogs on TypePad/WordPress—or investing significant amounts of time and money in developing in-house communities using tools such as Ruby on Rails.

3. Social Media (“Engagement Media”) Fundraising Will Become More Integrated.

Organizations of all sizes will see the value of fully integrated multi-channel strategies. Using social media channels alone for fundraising will not be as effective as designing coordinated campaigns and communication strategies that include traditional fundraising techniques. This includes email, your website, Google ads, face-to-face events, and managed promotion to the online and mainstream media. Beth Kanter confirms this predication and gives a great example. Just last week, GiveMN, a new online web site that hopes to encourage more Minnesotans to give and help create a stronger nonprofit community for Minnesota, raised over $14 million dollars in 24 hours using a multi-channel campaign.

4. Relevance and Ease Will Become Increasingly Important in Peer-to-Peer Fundraising.

There is no more compelling spokesperson for an organization or school than a passionate supporter. This is the core strength of peer-to-peer fundraising. And there are a range of scenarios—from a class agent soliciting annual fund gifts for his or her school, to a stakeholder requesting donations in lieu of birthday presents or wedding gifts for an organization. In fact, Facebook Causes now offers a birthday wish feature, and we will likely see more peer-to-peer fundraising applications sprouting up in the coming months. In 2010, I suspect donors will demand more meaningful interaction—not so much with organizations, but with recipients and “the mission on the ground.” Epic Change’s TweetsGiving 2009 connects friends around the world with Mama Lucy Kamptoni, who used income from selling chickens to build an innovative school in her village’s community in Tanzania. Last year, TweetsGiving, raised $11,000—with a goal of$100,000 this year.

5. Email as We Know it Will Become Passé.

As Erik Qualman says in his popular Social Media Revolution video, GEN X and Y already view email as passé. And the trend will accelerate—or rather, morph technologically. The New York Times iPhone application recently added functionality which allows a user to easily share an article across networks such as Facebook and Twitter. Many websites already support this functionality, but this next iteration of sharing behavior will gradually replace email list communications—particularly through the exponential expansion of mobile phone adoption. And this will provide renewed opportunities for withering content purveyors, such as traditional newspapers and network television. So, stay tuned. Fasten your seat belt.

It’s likely to be a wild ride! What are your prognostications?

Giving Thanks

We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.”
— Thornton Wilder

As we approach another Thanksgiving—dining room tables heaped high with the obligatory turkey, taters, and trimmings, it’s difficult to ignore the struggle and challenge so many of us have faced this year. Alas, it’s been a year of more slicing and dicing of budgets and jobs than of crudités. So many have lost so much.

That’s why it is more important than ever that we focus on gratitude—the active process of paying attention to the blessings in our lives and expressing thanks. Granted, this may require a little more creativity and resourcefulness than usual, but it is so important. How powerful it is that seek the silver lining in our most difficult situations and feel genuinely grateful for the opportunities to learn and grow.

Admittedly, that sounds a little pop-psychological. You may be thinking, “Yea, Elaine, easier said than done.” And, I agree to an extent. My year has provided many “learning opportunities.” With an unexpected “professional reinvention,” the vicissitudes of life as a single mom with two teenage boys, a failed relationship, and critically ill family members—2009 has been no picnic.

But I am grateful for so much. The road to self-awareness can be arduous, disruptive, and painful, but it reaps generous rewards. I have excavated buried treasure (and some trash for immediate disposal) from the depths of my own psyche. And, I am grateful to be making new discoveries daily about what I really want and what I possess that I can express to make the world a better place. Wow, with almost a half a century under my belt, I’m finally starting to figure some of “it” out. As treacherous as the road has been, it’s been productive, indeed.

My remarkable boys, faithful friends, family, and church home are all on my gratitude list. I also appreciate you and your interest in my writing. This blog is my passion and my pleasure. It is astonishing. The unpredictable Circle of Life has truly spun me in an exhilarating, new direction this year. And I am convinced that gratitude has helped me. The challenge is allowing ourselves to see it amidst the noise, clutter, and confusion of our lives—to be fully present and consciously aware. It pays to practice gratitude; it can:

Improve relationships. Think about those people who let you know they appreciate you. Doesn’t their appreciation improve your relationships? Be grateful for people, and make sure you let them know how you feel.

Reduce negativity.
It is hard to be negative about your situation when you are thinking about the positive aspects. One of the fastest ways to improve your mood or outlook is to count your blessings.

Improve problem-solving skills. When we think about a problem from the perspective of gratefulness, we open our minds up to new possibilities and connections. We enter a problem-solving situation with an attitude of opportunity rather than challenge or defeat.

Help us learn. Most dark clouds have a silver lining. Every problem can give birth to opportunity. Being grateful for your situation, even if you don’t like it, allows you to be thankful for the opportunity to learn something new.

Alleviate depression.
Try writing five things you are grateful for each night before you go to sleep. You may just start to see a ray of light piercing through those gray clouds. Developing an attitude of gratitude is one of the most important things that you can do for attracting and manifesting the things that you desire into your life.

Life is a series of choices. It is a combination of proportion and perception, and we must be deliberate about consciously choosing gratitude. I surrender my feelings of negativity and despair. I embrace the viability of hope. I actively look for humor, abundance, and joy, and I allow others to reach out to me with their gifts of love, laughter, and healing. I signal the world that I am open, engaged, and committed to fostering the greater good—today and in the years ahead.

Blessings to you and your loved ones this Thanksgiving,

Elaine

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?

Accounting for Generosity

We forget that there is no hope or joy except in human relationships.
— Antoine de Saint Exupery,Wind, Sand and Stars

moneyOne of my newest colleagues posed a provocative question last week. He actually has no shortage of insights, and I certainly appreciate living in an environment where questions are as highly valued as answers. Indeed, his inquiry is at the heart of what we do. What inspires alumni to give to their alma maters? More broadly, why do we give in general? At face value, this seems like a simple question, but the longer I work in the field of philanthropy, the more I understand its complexities. Actually, a myriad of responses come to mind—to address a critical need, to save a life, a response to the right appeal from the right person at the right time, a passion for a cause, a sense of obligation, guilt, helplessness, or quite simply— we are asked.

Traditional fundraising methods prescribe a deliberate approach built around the carefully managed steps of cultivation, solicitation, and stewardship. I remember hearing a development consultant stating that he could not imagine a better profession. He described an almost spiritual dimension—saying he felt truly privileged and honored to be in the presence of others when they are exhibiting generosity. And I think he had a point.

In fact, I addressed the sacred component of giving today. Though the Church historically and adroitly integrates giving opportunities into its core experience each week, the last quarter of the calendar year provides an opportunity to renew one’s annual tithing commitment. Making the direct correlation between generosity, one’s income, and one’s spiritual journey is quite powerful, indeed.

But research has shown there may also be a scientific component. I was fascinated to see the results of a study by Paul Zak, a neuroeconomist at Claremont Graduate University. The concept of a “neuroeconomist” is intriguing in its own right, but his work links the trait of generosity with oxytocin, a hormone released by the brain in response to social stimuli. The study showed that participants who were given oxytocin gave significantly more money to a stranger than participants who took a placebo. Whether or not there is a “fundraising drug,” (what a concept?) I think the epiphany here for all of us in the social media space is that meaningful, real engagement opportunities can create an environment that nurtures of generosity and an increase proclivity to give.

“The hormone causes a general feeling of attachment to other people, even strangers,” Zak says. That may help explain why people donate to victims of natural disasters or to others who are in need. “Oxytocin is a social glue that holds us all together and makes us care about other people,” says Zak, who has shown links between the hormone and trust in past research.

“If you have enough nurturing, if you’re in a safe environment, you might be more likely to release oxytocin the next time you encounter a positive social stimulus,” Zak says. Interestingly, he says that about 2% of people constantly have oxytocin being released by their brains, so they stop reacting to it. “Those people lack empathy,” Zak says. Although they can still learn appropriate behaviors, the reactions are not natural for them. Ha! I think I have met some of those people. Oxytocin means “swift birth” in Greek.

Whether you consider the hormonal reaction or not, it really all comes down to relationships—more about the intangible than the tangible. It is often first an emotional impulse of the heart, followed by a logical justification. We are all interconnected as part of a larger human web, and I’m not necessarily talking about the WWW variety here. We are human beings driven by:

Compassion. Regardless of cultural and familial experience, people everywhere are moved to respond when others are in need.

Pleasure. Brain scans confirm what we experience feeling of pleasure when we give. In a sense, it’s really “hard-wiring.”

Habit. If we watched our parents give, we likely internalized that impression. We understand—on even an unconscious level—that this is what good people do.

Belief. Whether we consider charity to be based on religious beliefs, philosophy, or universal values, we as humans recognize an essential imperative to take care of each other. These ideas are larger than self-interest and benefit.

Responsibility. When others are hungry, sick, frightened, without shelter and livelihood our society is put at risk. Our education institutions are driving solutions to many of society’s most pressing issues.

Legacy. When we give we know that we influence the future, sometimes only immediately and sometimes for a very long time. By creating a memorial endowment fund we keep our name and memory alive in the community long past the obituary.

The unknown. We may even have unknown reasons for giving—some even unknown to ourselves.

What do you think? And how is social media impacting generosity?

Elaine Gantz Wright writes about social media, fundraising, and other communications phenomena. Please post your comment below and join the conversation.

Hire me: elgantz@ yahoo.com.