I’m still trying to process everything that’s happened over the last 72 hours, but I’m pretty sure we did it: we created Generosity Day!
It’s too early to dissect all the lessons learned from this experience since in many ways we’re still in the middle of it, but here are a few thoughts from the eye of the storm.
First, Scott Case is 100% spot on in the theme he chose for the Social Media Week panel that inspired this whole thing: social media successes start and end in the real world.
On the panel, Scott rightly focused more on the “end” part of the equation – to remind us that since we are in the business of social change, a nonprofit’s social media campaign by definition cannot be a success if it doesn’t result in honest-to-goodness social change in the real world. The rest is just idle (online) chatter.
What I’ve seen since last Friday is how the “start” part of the equation must also be firmly rooted in the real world and in personal connections. This campaign may have exploded online and in the Twitterverse but it would never have happened if Scott, Katya and I hadn’t spent a day brainstorming together last year with a great group of folks that Jennifer McCrea pulled together (the brainstorm resulted in the creation of the Executive Education course in Exponential Fundraising that Jennifer will be leading at Harvard this year. I highly recommend it for nonprofit CEOs).
Once Scott, Katya, Ellen and I hatched the idea on Friday morning (4 days ago!) and committed to support it, we each reached out personally to people with whom we have real-life relationships of trust and mutual respect, and we did it quickly. Within minutes of my first post going up, I was emailing folks like crazy to tell them about the idea; so were other members of the initial brain trust, as was my colleague James Wu (who created the Search for the Obvious site for Acumen, which itself helped inspire Generosity Day) and many others. As we started to gain momentum over the weekend, we continued to share to let people know about our progress, to give everyone a sense that momentum was building, and to recruit new folks to the cause.
The first slew of bloggers was enough to give the idea critical mass, but that’s just dead weight if you don’t have velocity. The idea itself – of rebooting Valentine’s Day as Generosity Day – determined the velocity. Chip and Dan Heath wrote the book on sticky ideas (and I’m sure they have a mini version of sticky social media ideas in the works), but “Reboot Valentine’s Day as Generosity Day” has a lot of sticky characteristics: simplicity, concreteness, unexpectedness, emotion…. Without an idea that had its own legs and was built to spread, this never would have gotten out of the starting gate.
Taking a step back, and moving beyond lessons about success in social media, I’m left reflecting on some broader themes. Why has there been so much enthusiasm for Generosity Day – with no marketing budget or PR firm, and virtually no lead time? It’s not just a social media win, it is a reflection of a particular idea and its power at a particular moment in time.
My take is that Generosity Day was successful because there’s an increasing yearning for genuine connection and a deep desire in all of us to be the people we know we can be. We’ve been oversold and over-pitched, we’ve bought too many boxes of expensive chocolates and too many pieces of jewelry because there was a holiday that said we should – instead of seeing the perfect thing at the perfect time (a gift, a meal, a thank you) and sharing it right then and there. There’s nothing wrong with holidays, and certainly nothing wrong with romance, but we’re maxed out on fabricated emotion and are craving things that are genuine. Generosity Day is a chance to get in touch with what we’re longing for: to be the best version of ourselves, to connect with one another, to help.
My first Generosity Day was absolutely incredible. I can’t wait for the next one!