Archive for September, 2010

The Power of the Story…

DATE: September 30th, 2010

There is a little boy, his name is Gilmar. He lives in a little village in the mountains of Guatemala. He knows little of the outside world — only the passion for planting seeds and growing crops. When the president of a Canadian international development agency came to his village he asked Gilmar if he had a dream. Gilmar replied: “I would like to have a school.”

The school in Gilmar’s village had three corrugated steel walls — one side of the classroom remained open to the wind and the rain. More than forty children crammed into that little school.

Gilmar could have said “I would like to have a soccer ball.” But instead he asked for a school. One year later the president returned for the dedication of the school Gilmar was in the crowd. He came to the group of officials and said: “Last time you came, I asked you for a little school, but you built a huge school.”

In our Canadian minds the little concrete two room structure was a simple, primitive school. But for Gilmar the new school will change their lives.

This little village is only 35 kilometers from Guatemala City, but in many ways it is a world away. Poverty has different meanings. For some, it means they don’t have second car or that they are unable to take a vacation. For Gilmar, it means that he doesn’t eat every day and that he has to miss school many days during the year to work in the fields to help feed his family. For Gilmar it means fighting each day to earn 35 Q — about $4.50.

On Tuesday (this week), I met Gilmar personally. He came down from the fields when the teacher called. His boots were caked with mud and his clothes filthy. He greeted us and then disappeared. A few minutes later he returned with a clean shirt.

He likes math… his eyes sparkling when he told us that math would help him count the money would earn! He wants to be a teacher…. when we asked him where he would like to teach, he just shrugged — where he gets a job.

Gilmar, because he is young, healthy and quite strong, works in the fields and often misses school. He should be in grade 6 or 7 but he is only in grade 4. Again, the dream to go to school is just a dream. It will take a miracle for Gilmar to reach his dream.

Walking in the muddy pathways of Gilmar’s village reminded me once more why I am working at Barefoot and why a large part of my professional life is dedicated to telling the stories of children like Gilmar.

Poverty, dirt caked and hungry, is real for hundreds of thousands of children. The school, the lunch programs, the teacher — all sponsored by charity — would not be there except for the kindness of men and women who give out of compassion and, more importantly, out of the hope that Gilmar will reach his dream.

I write this in tandem with the CBC article… because sometimes, in our quest for North American efficiency and balance statements, we forget the child who goes to bed hungry, the infant with fetal alcohol syndrome, the mother dying of breast cancer.

As communication and marketing professionals, let us work together with integrity and purpose — standing as a voice for children like Gilmar.

Power of words

DATE: September 22nd, 2010

Incensed…. that’s the only way I can articulate the puffs of smoke that are still blowing.
This morning I listened to an interview with Kate Bahen on CBC radio. You can get a glimpse of the discussion at The CBC article generated a waft of responses: all horrified at the immoral activity or, as Bahen says, the ongoing “arms race.”
The interview tossed out the horrendously large number of dollars spent on professional fundraisers. While left unsaid, the intimation was that this money was spent in the last year. But it actually represented 4 years. The massive number quoted as paid to “professional fundraisers” (the term was left undefined) actually only represented 10% of overall money raised. Those percentages were not revealed in the interview.
I’m not sure who Bahen was referring to when she used the term “professional fundraisers,: but from the description of their activity it seems that they are face-to-face and street teams and telemarketing personal. When analyzing the fund raising activities throughout Canadian charities these activities represent about 1-3% of fund raising efforts overall. But the sweeping statement caught the attention of donors who are abused by the professional (sneaky and underhanded?) tactics used by charities.
I rolled through Charity Intelligence’s web site and found a disproportionately small number of charities. The reductive statements made suggest that they can be applied to all charities. It’s hard for me to apply these kind of comments to ALL charities when so few charities have actually been analyzed.
According to the little online response on CBC’s article, this “study” (and I use that word generously) has caught a lot of attention. Unfortunately it does not represent the integrity of hundreds of thousands of charities who are working honestly and with integrity — even with professionals.
Listening to such a tremendously biased interview from a journalist I respect was disconcerting. Figures being tossed into the conversation without perspective quickly brought the conversation to a fury against the injustice to the donor.
Unfortunately, the conversation was naive.
Fund raising is a complex and strategic endeavor. Charities are not fund raising to cheat their donors; they are fund raising in order to accomplish the tasks to which their organization is committed. There are times when charities are communicating to a new audience and the cost of that communication will be much higher, percentage-wise, than when communicating to their closest friends. It’s easy to take those specific fund raising endeavors and use them as examples of misspending. But fund raising activities aren’t isolated, one-off events. Understanding the relationship building activities that go on in a charity to build sustainable funding sources is complicated.
Personally, I only donate to organizations that are diligent in hiring professionals to implement fund raising strategies because I know they will build a plan that maximizes the effectiveness of the dollars spent for long term donor growth.
I am a communications and marketing expert. I understand positioning.
This morning’s interview effectively raised concern by positioning a few undefined and unexplained statistics to slander fund raising professionals.

Direct Mail… traditions of excellence

DATE: September 7th, 2010

I received an email this morning that reminded me of the very basics of direct response. Whether you are a small business, a large corporation or a non-profit, understanding the very basics of direct response is critical.

1. People are bugged by your advertising, so don’t send stuff so often. We hear this all the time. Direct Response sophisticates call it customer or donor fatigue. Think again. Never (and I want to shout this, but I have resisted) assume that your customers or donors are tired of you. You are building an ongoing relationship with them — regular communication is essential.

2. Information overload. Corporations: stifle the temptation to list the “features” of your product instead of the benefits. Non-Profits: stifle the temptation of telling your donors your mission statement and everything you are doing instead of clearly articulating the need for their support.

3. Tell your audience what you want them to do. I read an ad in the back of a magazine telling me about the latest set of DVD’s available. They looked pretty interesting. Unfortunately they didn’t tell me they wanted me to order them, give a price or give me a place to call, email, write or anything. If I really want a response from my marketing I need to articulate that in clear statements.

4. Resist giving open ended requests. The buyer or purchaser doesn’t have the time or the will to choose from a complex list of opportunities. A friend of mine recently signed up for a digital communications plan. They chose the supplier on the basis of the simplicity of the offer. It was easy. Whether you are selling a product or raising funds for a charity, remember KISS.

5. Images. I admit, I cannot stand watermarks. yet because of their clear availability in photoshop and other newsletter formats, I am seeing them all the time. If you have a great image — use it. Tell a story using images.

6. Keep your audience in mind and speak to them as if they are really a person — because they are really a person. While this may be uncomfortable at first, the person reading your material will gravitate to personality. When you strip out the personality and try to appeal to everyone at once, you will lose the interest of your audience very quickly.

7. Lose the idea that the people you are speaking to personally linked to your product or charity. Most people have many relationships. Remember that. Be kind. Be gracious. Be generous in your communication. Always remember they can choose another product or charity.

Customers and donors are real people. They receive multiple opportunities every day to join, sign up, buy, donate. Treat them with respect. Position the benefits or need in a way that applies to them, not you.