marketing and sales executives from Silicon Valley

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Best Charity that No One Has Heard Of

I was reading the "Give Well" blog, when they posed an interesting question about how to tell the story of the "Best Charity" that they found. Few, if anyone, seemed to know about this charity, and even if they did, there was no gripping or compelling story that spread the word out about the charity. The core of the problem? said charity is "in the sector of health system logistics."

A challenge yes, but insurmountable, no. As I read the article, the author correctly points to the key success factors of fundraising - connecting contributions to tangible emotional impact. That should be it right? But yet they claim to need help with suggestions on telling the story. The real goal of the question, I suspect, is expand the "connection" strategy to implementable tactics within some budget, time frame, or other scarce resource.

My approach would be one of focusing on the tangible impact as a function of resource inputs. One reason why the charity was voted "Best" by Give Well, is its use of funds to create impact well beyond its budget.  Indeed, if the impact could be clearly presented in simple statistics such as a high Charity Navigator score where 95% of funds goes to disease reduction efforts, or every $1 spent insures delivery of 20 vaccines, then there would be an obvious starting point.

While there are many charities that will accept donations, there are only so many donors. The charities who often draw the most donors will either have longevity, track record, or infrastructure that helps them pull in donations. Without those key leverage points, charities need to find ways to draw and keep attention. That's where the emotion and reason come into play. Impact and results by a charity satisfy something I call the minimum logic requirement - that minimum about of proof where a donation is not a bad idea, and the charity has more or less equal footing for donation $. Then, the emotional aspect can kick in. If a donor has to choose from charity A or B after the logical stats have been evaluated, then the one with the biggest emotional response has the best chance.

The tactic I would suggest is creating print and video material showing both the success stats intermixed with compelling images/video of before an after scenarios. I could story-board it if I had the figures and some footage, but I'll try to explain here. Start with videos or stills with a voice-over from a local affected by the charity talking about before the impact, describing what it was like. Then follow that with a brief statement of what the charity does, then more video and stills with voice over from the same person, discussing what the impact has been. Repeat for each success/impact using several locals, being sure to include statistics that increase trust and credibility on the front end.

That's how I would tell the story - in as many media outlets as possible, sharing the content with all current and futures supporters, and encouraging sharing. I would also include instructions on how to share the content as well, asking supporters to identify and contact local and regional outlets to share their stories, using any connections to charity members.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Do you Survive like a Cockroach or Thrive with the Best?

"Survival of the fittest is not the same as survival of the best" was the quote that called to me from a recent article on MyVenturePad. It was such a nice and simple way to rethink the phrase "be a survivor". I've seen many co-workers give that recommendation to team members, telling colleagues to be a survivor and keep their heads low when times get tough. As the article continues "A cockroach is one of the most adaptable creatures on the planet. That's survival of the fittest. Do we want our organizations led by cockroaches?"

Seeing this statement made me think about Charlene Li's latest book, "Open Leadership", where she discusses leaders who, instead of sticking their heads in the sand when times get tough, take risks, innovate, and basically try something new to move their companies forward. While what she discusses makes sense and all employees should advocate for the company good, I'll contrast that attitude with other companies I've worked at.  I've seen senior managers instruct subordinates to "just do your job" and "don't take any risks", when in fact, it was the fear of getting fired and a blind adherence to tradition that insured that the company couldn't keep a leadership position even if it fell into one. One company I know was a leader in small router technology, but the founder had a policy of locking up all source code each night for IP protection. No one stole source code, but no development happened after hours or when the founder wasn't there, and, most importantly, no engineer dared to experiment with new ideas w/o the CEO's express approval. While that company is still in business today with decent technology, it's no longer considered a technology leader and rarely mentioned in discussions in SME router RFPs.

Maybe it's not the individuals at fault who want to survive, maybe it's the culture of the company that ushers employees into that mindset. If the company has a culture of fear stemming from firing anyone who takes risks or suggests products or services that might push the corporate comfort zone, then a culture of risk averse employees will be the ones who are hired and stay at the company - surviving until the a better competitor puts them out of business. On the other hand, if the company is willing to consider risks and learning from potential failings, then employees will feel comfortable pushing envelopes and boundaries where the next great product or service might be found. At one company I worked for, the 3D Avatar with stereo sound technology the company had was held at arms length, with most of the company not acknowledging it or its potential. I had a soft spot for it since it was used by the Klingon Language Institute. Fortunately, my CEO, Larry Samuels, and a customer both saw the value in the technology, which allowed me to manage a business development OEM deal that not only generated $1M+ in revenue, but also led to a $5M+ round of financing.  Some people told me that if we hadn't made that deal, the company would have shut down. I prefer to think of the opportunity, and how taking that risk gave us more opportunities and learning that would never have happened if we had killed the 3D avatar and audio technology.

So you might see some optimism bias in my discussion, and yes I prefer to see the glass half-full. I also prefer to believe that businesses are not built on cockroaches who just survive, but on smart risk takers who find ways to thrive.