Tacky plastic

Some thoughts for the upcoming holiday season.

A few years ago my wife and I bought my son a beautiful, wooden, ecologically friendly, made-in-Thailand-from-recycled-materials airport set.

Guess who they’re selling that product to?  Me.

Guess who never played with it?  My son.

It took us a while to admit that our kids want the big, tacky, plastic toy with the characters they recognize.  As a parent I get to choose how much I want to try to change this, but my starting point had been getting them what I wanted them to want instead of what they wanted.

How often do we do this with our customers?  Any person who is successful at building relationships, at selling, at partnership will tell you that the key is “good listening.”  The word “listening” causes confusion because (especially to someone who’s not a good listener) it sounds like it’s talking about the literal act of what the person is saying.  To me, “good listening” means consistently hearing what the person is actually saying (irrespective of the words being said).

My kids were saying they wanted Disney or Star Wars stuff with lights and sounds.  Your customers might be saying that they want something other than what you hope they want or think they need.

What are your customers saying?

Thankful

To my kids for their wide-eyed, wide-grinned, bright-eyed, PJ-clad good morning smiles.

To the internet for telling me how to keep the iPhone from skipping songs when I run or walk – something that had been bugging me for ages.

To my wife for making playlists with upbeat top 40 I’d never listen to otherwise – getting me up the hill fleet-footed

To these crazy Vibram shoes for letting me run again and to Christopher McDougall for teaching me that I (and you) were born to run


To my body, and my left knee in particular, for (mostly) putting up with my crazy schemes.

To holidays that bring families together, even if it seems awkward and sometimes painful – in this day and age, if not for this, when would we reinforce these connections?

To all of you for reading and for keeping the bar high

It’s a good day to give thanks. Try it. You’ll like it.

Philanthropic milkshake mistakes

Thanks to a reminder from Katya on her Nonprofit Marketing Blog, I finally went ahead and bought Clay Shirky’s most recent book, Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity and a Connected Age, which is about the digital age, the demise of TV, generosity, and the rise of interactive and user-generated content (among other things).

Clay tells an instructive story at the start of the book, one that got me thinking that most conversations about philanthropy leave out the central question – what problem does giving the gift solve for the donor?

Once upon a time, Clay recounts, McDonald’s wanted to improve sales of milkshakes, so they hired a handful of researchers.  Most of the researchers went out and asked customers what they wanted more or less of in the milkshake (sweetness, flavor, temperature, containers, etc) – which sounds like a good, customer-centric and solution-centric approach, right?  Wrong.

One of the researchers, Gerald Berstell, did something different.   Gerald “chose to ignore the shakes themselves and study the customers instead…

He sat in a McDonalds for eighteen hours one day, observing who bought milkshakes and at what time.  One surprising discovery was that many milkshakes were purchased early in the day…the buyers were always alone, they rarely bought anything besides a shake, and they never consumed the shakes in the store.

Berstell’s insight (explained in this Harvard Business Review article, by Clay Christensen, Scott Anthony, Gerald Berstell, and Denise Nitterhouse) was to ignore the milkshake as a product and instead ask, “What job is a customer hiring that milkshake to do at eight A.M.?”  And so Berstell understood the milkshake for what it really was: a portable, slow-to consume, not-too-messy breakfast – a core insight that all of the other researchers missed entirely.

When we discuss sales strategies – philanthropic or otherwise – we inevitably focus on the milkshake: is our story compelling, clear, memorable, and sticky?  Does it resonate with the worldview of our customer?  What tactics are we using for outreach, referrals, etc?

All good questions, but if we stop here we’re making a milkshake mistake.  We have to ask: what job is the customer hiring this philanthropic gift to do (in their lives)?

Being an effective philanthropic fundraiser is challenging for a host of reasons, not least of which because there’s no obvious product that’s being sold, so it’s so easy to forget about (or underplay) the fact that giving is serving a very real, very tangible purpose for the donor.

A good test to see if you’re paying enough attention to this: if you think everyone is giving for the same reason and/or if you think the reason they’re giving is because they believe in your mission then you haven’t dug deep enough.

Clay tells an instructive story at the start of the book, one that got me thinking that most conversations about philanthropy leave out the central question – what problem does giving the gift solve for the donor?

Once upon a time, Clay recounts, McDonalds wanted to improve sales of milkshakes, so they hired a handful of researchers.  Most of the researchers went out and asked customers what they wanted more or less of in the milkshake (sweetness, flavor, temperature, containers, etc) – which sounds like a good, customer-centric and solution-centric approach, right?  Wrong.

Frankly my dear…

I saw a woman today ringing her bell for Salvation Army holiday collections – mostly what I noticed was her big yawn and the fact that she was texting while ringing her bell.

She’s just doing a job.  But you’re not.

If you’re not fully invested, we aren’t invested at all.

Hunt for thank you opportunities

Ari reminded me of a study I’d heard about but forgotten.  Donors to nonprofits were divided into three groups:

  1. A group that was called and personally thanked
  2. A group that was called and personally thanked and invited to a subsequent event
  3. A control group

The not-surprising finding is that the first group was more likely to give in the future than the third group.  The surprising finding is that the second group (“thank you” + “would you do this other thing”) was LESS likely to give again than either group 1 or group 3.

Here’s another way to summarize these findings: people are really good at smelling a rat.  We know when you’re faking, know when the “thank you” (or, as Ari prefers and I agree, “I’m grateful”) is pro forma so you can get on to the real reason you called.

This is why I hate newsletters that sounds like boring impersonal newsletters, why form thank you notes that are for anything other than tax purposes are a no-no, and why it’s a mistake to take any shortcuts at all when thanking people (meaning: if you can choose between thanking 10 people personally and 40 en mass using some clever Outlook email trick, do the 10 real ones).

It’s also why I’m going to search even harder for opportunities to tell the people to whom I’m grateful that I’m grateful, and I’m going to fight the temptation to say “thank you AND….” with all my might.

NextGen:Charity mini-roundup

Here’s my completely non-exhaustive and non-definitive mini-roundup of  the 2010 NextGen:Charity conference where I had the chance to speak last Thursday (with a heavy bias towards the talks I was able to attend).

Some things I’ll keep thinking about long after the conference:

  • Scott Harrison (charity:water) has a knack for storytelling, creativity, and creating a compelling message (including video) from which all nonprofits can learn a LOT.  You shouldn’t try to copy charity:water’s brand and story, but looking at what they’ve done makes it hard to accept the current (sad) state of nonprofit branding and storytelling.
  • Nancy Lublin’s (DoSomething.org) Donald Trump/MilkDuds story reminded me about gumption – that we can always go further than we think we can.
  • Scott Case (Malaria No More) is right that all nonprofits should aim to go out of business (because they’ll solve the problem they set out to solve).  This mindset will open up a world of possibilities, forcing  focus on solving the problem you set out to solve…instead of caring most about the organization you are building.   They’ve said they want to end malarial deaths by 2015.  How’s that for clear and being willing to fail? (plus this viral video wins the prize for gutsiest thing I’ve seen a nonprofit do in a while).
  • Joanne Heyman taught us how the “scarcity fallacy” (scarce resources, scarce creativity, scarce investment) limits our thinking and actions in the sector.  How can resources be scarce, she asked, if we’re a $3 billion sector with more than 1 million nonprofits employing 7% of the nonfarm employed population?
  • Jonathan Greenblatt shared insights on the big trends in our sector – mega (gifts), micro (gifts and connection, like Kiva), mobile (nearly as many mobile phones as people) and markets (growth of impact investing, B corporations).
  • Seth Godin never fails to make me smile when he pulls out his deluxe rubber chicken.  I loved his notion that all the problems that are left are the perfect ones, because all the imperfect ones have been solved.  He also posited that if you’ve never been thrown out of a fundraising meeting, then you’re not pushing hard enough.
  • Aaron Hurst demanded that companies bring as much smarts to their philanthropy as they do to their core business.  I wish I’d been surprised to learn that there’s actually a nonprofit that has a room that they’ve designated as the “painting room” – the one that corporate volunteers come to paint over and over again as their volunteer project.  Maybe if I’m extra-nice to Aaron he’ll invite me to see the room.
  • Ami Dar made a beautiful presentation about a new platform Idealist will be launching – beta in NY – to enable citizen action.  If you’re a connector in NY and this sounds interesting, you should contact Ami.  (he also made me wonder where he got that cool inverted paintbrush font.)
  • And in the closing talk, Ari Teman, one of the conference’s organizers, made me think in a new way about gratitude, made me want to read his book, Effective Gratitude for Organizations and Individuals, and made me want to think harder about the relationship between gratitude and generosity.

I heard great things about lots of the other talks, many of which I was unable to hear.  I’m told there will be videos of all the talks (including mine) available soon…I’ll keep you posted.

NextGen:Charity talk tomorrow

For those in the NY area, I’m speaking tomorrow at the NextGen:Charity conference.  It’s an exciting line-up of speakers including so many people I admire and respect…too many to list them all, but folks like Seth Godin, Scott Case (Malaria No More), David Saltzman (Robin Hood), Jonathan Greenblatt (Worldchanging.com), and Joanne Heyman (Heyman Partners), to name a few.

Tickets just sold out but you can follow the conference on Twitter and as soon as I find out about video (either simulcast or after the event) I’ll post the link here.

Here’s the list of speakers (click for details)

 

For those in the NY area, I’m speaking tomorrow at the NextGen:Charity conference.  It’s an exciting line-up of speakers including so many people I admire and respect – too many to list them all, but folks like Seth Godin, Scott Case, David Saltzman, Jonathan Greenblatt, and Joanne Heyman, to name a few.

Last I heard a few tickets were still available with a discount.

For those in the NY area, I’m speaking tomorrow at the NextGen:Charity conference.  It’s an exciting line-up of speakers including so many people I admire and respect – too many to list them all, but folks like Seth Godin, Scott Case, David Saltzman, Jonathan Greenblatt, and Joanne Heyman, to name a few.

Last I heard a few tickets were still available with a discount.

For those in the NY area, I’m speaking tomorrow at the NextGen:Charity conference.  It’s an exciting line-up of speakers including so many people I admire and respect – too many to list them all, but folks like Seth Godin, Scott Case, David Saltzman, Jonathan Greenblatt, and Joanne Heyman, to name a few.

Last I heard a few tickets were still available with a discount.