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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Advocacy, Conservation, Marketing, Non Profit Innovation

Do Environmentalists Ever Get Laid – Part 2

Bad pickup lines are the stuff of Hollywood movies (and a particular fascination of mine.)  You know the type, the guy or girl who’s convinced they have the killer pickup line, the one that never fails?

And that’s the second reason I have to wonder if conservation advocates ever get laid – they are solemn believers in the absolute power of message.  And as a result, they spend literally millions of dollars on research and consultants searching for the perfect message, like Ahab searching for the white whale.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  Message is important.  Research is crucial.  And far be it from me to question the wisdom of hiring smart consultants.

But it’s the damage caused by the false hope that there exists some set of words that will have such transformative power, if only they can be discovered.  I’ve sat in hours of meetings with groups looking for “the” message on climate change.  And those meetings have been both sad and funny.  “Drowning polar bears!”   “Your barbecue grill is safe!”   “Changing your light bulb will save the world.”  Conservation advocates are true believers in the fundamental rightness of their own values, and utterly convinced that they can convert everyone to their church.  Utterly convinced that there is some magic phrase or set of words that will magically convert Homer Simpson into Al Gore.

Just look at history.  In a single generation, we completely changed social norms around drinking and smoking while pregnant.  In the 80’s and 90’s the gay community adopted safe sex, (but then began to abandon it in the 2000’s.)  Across the globe, advocates have been able to achieve targeted behavior change, but message is only one part of a complex puzzle.

And yet still the conservation community searches for the perfect message.  The problem isn’t just that it’s wrong.  The problem is pursuing a single strategy almost totally to the exclusion of the broader range of strategies and tactics.  When you bet the house on a single bet, you’re risking everything.

There’s not one audience.  There’s not one message.  There’s just sound strategic marketing & communications, fully integrated and based on data to be sure you’re meeting the customer where they are, not where you want them to be, or where you are.

It’s time that conservation advocates moved out of their parent’s basement, learned the value of authentic engagement with their intended, and practice some adult relationship skills.

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Advocacy, Conservation, Marketing, Non Profit Innovation

Do Environmentalists Ever Get Laid? Part I

Ever have that experience where too soon after meeting a romantic prospect they try to close the deal? They haven’t even bought you a drink at the hotel bar but they’re inviting you to their room? Or they lay some line on you that makes you want to barf, a line they KNOW is just irresistible.

Creepy isn’t it. You quickly escape, shaking your head and asking yourself “does that EVER work?”

But those creepy guy moves seem to be the fundamental advocacy strategy of the environmental movement.

First, about courtship, or the lack thereof. Surf on to almost any enviro groups website and you’re bombarded by “TAKE ACTION” buttons everywhere. Sign this petition. Send this letter to your Member of Congress. Pledge to only wear clothes made of hemp. You get the idea. You just wandered in, and they’re trying to close the deal. You barely know them, you’re not sure you trust them, and they’re asking you to sign up for their cause, to surrender your personal information and put your name next to theirs.

And even worse, once you’ve taken that first step, you might get a thank you, but most likely you’ll just get a hundred emails asking you to take a very similar step again. If you let them get to first base, they’re just gonna want to stay on first base. Or they’re going to dump your name into the fundraising pile. The non-profit equivalent of dumping you onto their unattractive friend who can’t get dates on their own.

This doesn’t happen in the commercial sector. Commercial marketers have a highly refined vision of something called the customer journey – the path an individual takes starting with identifying a need, then beginning to research online, asking friends on social media, and then perhaps taking a first step, trying a small bite. After that, if the experience is good, you might buy the item. Hopefully become a regular purchaser, and perhaps even a recommender to others.

At every stage you are engaged, your actions reinforced, and information is gathered to help move you to the next level. But they aren’t asking you to recommend the product to your friends before you’ve become a loyalists – they aren’t ever that creepy guy.

Because it doesn’t work.

It doesn’t have to be this way. First of all, the advocacy folks could walk down the hall to talk to their colleagues in fundraising, who have a slightly better sense of the customer journey. But even there, it’s far from perfect. They acquire donors talking about saving fuzzy animals, and then at some dollar level suddenly switch the conversation to climate change. A classic bait and switch. Donors are surveyed but no one reads the results. Those surveys are just bogus engagement device, not a learning tool.

The best thing the advocates for conservation action could do would be to spend more time shopping online – I recommend Amazon. Notice how they cultivate their customers. Notice how they survey you – did you like your purchase? Were you satisfied with how it arrived? And they don’t just ask those questions to make you think they care, they actually act on the data to improve their customer experience and to improve their stewardship of you. They are constantly attuned to how they can take friction out of their systems and make it easier for the customer to take the journey.

The other place that conservation advocates should study is behavior change programs related to health – smoking cessation, HIV/AIDS prevention programs, teen pregnancy prevention efforts, etc. Based on decades of behavioral research, the best of these programs have a pathway toward the desired behavior, and an understanding of the support and reinforcement required to sustain individuals on that pathway.

In the meantime, until you can learn proper courtship behavior, stop turning off potential mates.

Because they always remember the creepy guy.

Next time – the killer pickup line.

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