Branding, Conservation, Marketing, Non Profit Innovation, Tourism

Donor Engagement FAIL!

Imagine a group of potential donors driving several hours and paying for an immersive experience in your mission. Then imagine providing such a terrible experience that they leave confused about what you do and why you do it, regretting that they wasted their time.

Seems unlikely, but it describes a day I recently spent with a reforestation project in Costa Rica.  And it highlights three key lessons that should apply to every nonprofit.

#1 – Don’t Promise What You Can’t Deliver – If we’d just visited the website we would have come away convinced this nonprofit is doing excellent work with local farmers and landowners planting sustainable crops and trees to sequester carbon.   Based on the website, we likely would have taken them at their word, and simply made an online contribution to offset the carbon impacts of our trip.

But no…………..they offered really exciting immersive experiences.   We fell for it.  And they failed to deliver.

#2 – Hone Your Message – Can you imagine spending five hours and coming away understanding even less than when you started?   I can.   The problem started from the beginning, when it became clear there was no elevator speech summarizing what this organization did.

If you can’t summarize your mission in a few sentences, then how can you hope to engage a donor?

Beyond the elevator speech, any site visit should illustrate the problem you’re in business to fix, and illustrate that problem with urgency.   Then lead directly to your solution to the problem, using storytelling to make your solution come to life.

We all need narrative to structure information.    Don’t make us struggle to construct our own narrative from your random outpouring of information.

#3 – Train Your People – Not every staff member has the skills and personality to engage donors.  And that’s fine.   Select your staff carefully, and then be sure to train them well – enthusiasm and bubbly personality isn’t a substitute for skill.   The staff member needs to understand they represent the organization, not themselves.  So gratuitously offering personal opinions on the organization’s finances, the role of global agribusiness and the impact of astrology on farming detracts from the organization’s mission and message.  (It also made me want to jump out of the van and risk plummeting to my death in a ravine.)   Good speakers know to balance the amount of time talking and the amount of time listening.  Solicit feedback from your donors – and adjust your approach.  They’re telling you how to be successful – why ignore them?

And the final fail was no follow up – after arranging this experience well in advance, paying for it, and then spending several hours on site, we never heard another word from the organization.

Not.  One.  Word.

Use this worst case example to audit your own donor engagement experiences:

  • Do you accurately set expectations before the donor arrives?
  • Do you have clear compelling messages that are more than just a recitation of how hard your organization works?
  • Is whoever will be guiding the donor well chosen and well trained?
  • Do you know the follow up plan before the donor steps through the door?

 

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Branding, Marketing, Non Profit Innovation

Rebranding – Usually the Wrong Strategy

“Sometimes you have a PR problem, and sometimes, you just have a problem!”

I can’t count the number of time my mentor, Marcia Silverman, said that to clients.   And it always brought them up short.  After all, they were asking us to sprinkle some magic PR fairy dust on their very real problems in order to make them magically all go away.   Lots of firms would have taken the money and sprinkled vigorously.  Marcia always had us take the harder path, the one with integrity, and tell the client what they didn’t want to hear.

I’ve been reminded of that recently when major brands opted for the fairy dust of rebranding hoping it would cover up the stink of serious problems.

First, Wells Fargo, who’ve recently endured more than two years of devastating scandals, record setting fines from a series of Federal regulators, CEO and top executives fired and stripped of benefits, Congressional hearings………….it just goes on and on.   In April of 2017 they launched a campaign to restore consumer confidence, with the rather tentative slogan: “Building Better Every Day.”  Which translates to: “We don’t suck as much as we used to.”   A real rallying cry.

Then when that didn’t work (go figure!) they decided that what they REALLY needed was an entirely new brand…….. one that looked exactly like the old brand.  What?

Here’s the rebranding spot: https://youtu.be/1rrivHxCeeY

And the tag line is: “Wells Fargo.  Established 1852.  Reestablished 2018.”  Accompanied by promises to stop doing all the bad stuff they got caught doing.

Stay tuned for next year’s rebranding.

Closer to home is the rebranding of the giant Ogilvy & Mather, the company where I got my start and where I was lucky enough to work for Marcia Silverman.   They’re in a world of hurt – digital disruption of the advertising industry itself; an antiquated agency model; stalled growth; and tremendous instability at the parent company, WPP.   The Ad Week headline was unintentionally revealing:

https://www.adweek.com/agencies/ogilvy-rebrands-itself-after-70-years-with-new-visual-identity-logo-and-tagline/

“Ogilvy Rebrands Itself after 70 Years with New Visual Identity, Logo and Organizational Design

Agency also plans to promote more women to partner.”

Nothing fixes serious institutional problems like a new logo and corporate font.  Oh, and by the way, we’ll take some token steps towards a 20th century talent strategy.  Never mind 21st century, we’re content to take tentative steps away from an agency run by old white guys.

If anyone should know better its Ogilvy.   I can’t think of a clearer signal to the marketplace that they’ve lost their way.

Rebranding for the sake of rebranding is always a mistake because it’s using PR flim-flam instead of authentic communication to try to address previous failures.  And that’s true for corporations and non-profits.

Marketing consultants who do branding work should have the integrity to tell that to our clients and guide them to a better solution.  Or we should walk away.

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Marketing, Non Profit Innovation

Gaffe: When You Accidentally Tell the Truth

Journalist Michael Kinsley famously described a gaffe as “when a politician tells the truth – some obvious truth he isn’t supposed to say.”

The same thing happens in the non-profit world.

Exhibit A is this video from Mission Health, a large healthcare system in Asheville, North Carolina, where the CEO attempts to make the case for philanthropy.

http://scope.connectwithmhs.org/content/community-we-give-one-all-video

(scroll to the bottom to see the video)

This is what you hear from the CEO:

  • “Financial analysts consider us too small to survive in the long run.”
  • “Our margin is very thin.”
  • “Philanthropy has a 50 to 1 leveraging ratio compared to additional net revenue.”
  • “We lose money on more than 70% of the patients we serve.”
  • “It costs $4 million per day just to keep the doors open.”
  • “For us to raise $1 million in income, we would have to bill probably north of $100 million, and actually collect $50 million, just to net out that same $1 million.”

This is what you don’t hear: a single example of a patient helped by philanthropy.

Not.

A.

Single.

Example.

The truth that he was inadvertently sharing is this: “Our business model is failing, and we don’t have a clue how to fix it.  The healthcare system is broken and we don’t have the courage to challenge it.  Could you send us a few dollars so that we can postpone our inevitable collapse?”  

My mentor in communications, Marcia Silverman, famously used to say to clients “Sometimes you have a PR problem, and sometimes, you just have a problem.”

Mission Health – you have a problem!

And while we’re at it, Exhibit B, also from Mission Health.   Another video staring the CEO.  And only the CEO.  (Someone enjoys seeing himself on video!)

http://missionfutureready.org/

The first ¾ of the video is a recitation of bricks and mortar projects, followed by his assertion that their new initiative is about “far more than just bricks and mortar.”

Really?

Again, we never see, much less meet a patient or caregiver.  We do see construction sites and architects renderings of new facilities, which apparently is the sum of their “vision for the future.”  Another gaffe.

To be clear – I’m not suggesting Mission Health needs to fix its communications.

Mission Health needs to fix itself.

Anyone have any other cringe-worthy videos they want to share, where the truth is accidentally exposed?

Please send them to me and I’ll post.

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Branding, Marketing, Non Profit Innovation

Seize the Day

Last Thursday night, in one of the most electrifying moments of the Democratic National Convention, Khzir Khan, father of a Muslim U.S. soldier killed in combat, challenged Donald Trump by saying: “Have you even read the United States Constitution?” and then pulled his copy from his pocket, offering to send it to The Donald.  http://www.cnn.com/videos/politics/2016/07/29/dnc-convention-khizr-khan-father-of-us-muslim-soldier-entire-speech-sot.cnn

Less than 24 hours later, the ACLU launched a promotion giving away free pocket constitutions until election day in November – a very smart, low cost new member acquisition strategy.  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/aclu-pocket-constitution_us_579e6a6fe4b08a8e8b5e6f45

Every non-profit should look at this move by the ACLU and ask themselves three questions:

  1. Do We Really Know Our Own Brand? The ACLU is so clear on their brand and what they stand for that they could see that moment during the convention and realize it was about them – their brand IS the constitution.   How many non-profits could do the same?   Sadly, not many.
  2. Are We Open to Good Ideas? I don’t know for certain, but I would bet that the idea to do the free pocket constitution promotion didn’t start at the top, but started somewhere in the middle of the organization, where most good ideas come from.   The ACLU’s culture apparently nurtures innovation, which also makes them rare.  Does yours?
  3. How Quickly Do We Make Decisions? Finally, to turn an idea around and be in the market in less than 24 hours requires very clear decision making authority dispersed throughout the organization.  Innovation often dies on the rocks of consensus.  But empowered decision makers can seize opportunities.   How quickly can your organization turn around a big idea?

On the back end, the ACLU had the infrastructure to take advantage of this.  Promote through social media, fulfill through an online store, and then seamlessly integrate acquired names into a communications program.  (I’ve already started receiving well-crafted emails.)

When your moment comes, and you’re suddenly thrust into the spotlight, will you be able to seize the opportunity?   If not, then get to work now.  Before it’s too late.

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Branding, Consulting, Marketing, Non Profit Innovation

Quality Control

“I worry whoever thought up the term “quality control” thought if we didn’t control it, it would get out of hand.” –from “The Search For Signs Of Intelligent Life In the Universe”, Jane Wagner

 

A very smart friend of mine likes to explain to clients that a strategic choice is the choice between turning left OR turning right.  “Both” is neither strategic, nor physically possible.  Yet that is so often the choice made in so called strategic planning sessions.  And it’s why so little “strategy” ends up being effective.

One of the classic strategic choices most organizations face is between quantity and quality —  of customers, donors, or constituents.  And most make the wrong choice, for quantity.  Sure, quantity is easier to measure than quality, but that’s the wrong reason for choosing it.

A year ago I surveyed the membership of the major environmental organizations on behalf of a client.  I asked about their strategic choices, and frankly was stunned by how many opted for quantity, telling me things like “Our internal staff goal is to grow gross revenue” or “our goal is to mobilize millions of people.”

Some admitted that after years of acquiring a high volume of low value donors, they were beginning to rethink their goals.

But none of them said they had identified the donors with the highest lifetime value to the organization and were focusing entirely on them.  None.  Some had chosen the illusion they could pursue both, but none had opted for acquiring and stewarding only high quality donors.

For an opposite, and much happier example, visit Montana.  Seriously.  Visit Montana – it’s spectacular!  But I digress.

Tourism is the number one economic driver of the economy of Montana, having pulled ahead of ranching and mining.  Several years ago the leadership of the tourism industry took a hard look at their strategy, and acknowledged that success defined in terms of quantity — bringing in hordes more tourists — would threaten what was fundamental about Montana, spectacular unspoiled nature surrounded by charming and vibrant small towns.

Working with National Geographic, Montana identified a high value segment of the travel market, called “GeoTourists”— people who want to be somewhat off the beaten path, who want unspoiled places, and want their visit to support the preservation of the place, by buying local, eating local, staying local, etc.  Then they put all their marketing against this segment.  An act of courage and leadership, particularly by a government entity answerable to a range of political stakeholders

The results?  After four years of disciplined implementation, they’ve seen only incremental growth in the total quantity of tourists – 6%, but major growth in overall revenue – close to 40%!  Pursuing quality over quantity pays off, generating more revenue with existing capacity and preserving the fundamental Montana way of life.

So the next time you’re in a strategic planning meeting, as the group struggles to choose between quality and quantity, and someone argues for both, tell them to go to………………..Montana!

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Branding, Culture, Marketing, Non Profit Innovation

Failure to Launch: Innovation in the Non Profit Sector

Recent airplane time gave me a chance to catch up on some back New Yorker articles, and one in particular really grabbed me.  It’s a very fascinating article about Google, their approach to innovation, and the search for a self-driving car.

http://www.newyorker.com/services/referral?messageKey=763ba3ab33e644e6d3da06ced22222ce

Several points jumped out at me as relevant for the non-profit sector.

First, all the tech companies and almost all manufacturing companies have a significant R&D function – well staffed and well resourced.  Non-profits don’t have R&D – everyone works 110% on operation of the current program, with incremental improvement a vague goal, but no serious R&D.  That seems to me a systematic barrier to innovation coming from within.  It may also be a cultural barrier against adopting innovation from outside.   Most organizations are like organisms – they have finely developed cultures that function as “immune systems” – resistant to outside ideas.

Second, all the innovators have an idea of the “moon shot” they’re pursuing, whether its self-driving cars, Google Glass, Amazon’s delivery drones, etc.  The non-profit sector doesn’t even have a vision of what the “moon shot” would look like.  So of course there’s no serious pursuit of it.  The sector is left idling on the launch pad because it hasn’t identified a destination.

And third, innovation is often produced by unorthodox methods.  DARPA’s use of the Grand Challenge is a great example of how they did something fairly out-of-the-box, particularly for a government agency, and by so doing, spurred tremendous innovation by a significant number of contestants.  All for not very much money, in the scheme of things.  The line that jumped out at me was that “in one year, they’d made more progress than their contractors had in twenty!”   The non-profit sector is fairly risk averse – reluctant to change vendors, reluctant to adopt strategies from outside the sector, etc.

It all starts with the vision of the moon shot. 

Imagine convening a dozen major non-profits from different sectors – innovative legacy organizations like Audubon, Habitat, ACLU, etc., along with a few disruptors like Charity Water and Do Something – for a private summit to envision what the moon shot could be.  And then add in some genuine innovators from outside the sector – people accustomed to breaking through conventional structures and systems.

That could be a powerful start.

Or we could continue to languish on the launch pad.

Idling our engines,,, burning fuel,,, wasting time.

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