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Changing people's minds

IMGP1494 Most of our attempts to convince people to back a social or political point of view are wasted effort.

I was recently interviewed by a radio station on "Changing People's Minds." The audience was home schooling parents; home schooling is an increasingly mainstream educational option and many homeschoolers are outperforming even their top public and private school peers, but home schooling also carries with it some challenges in terms of ideological insularity. As it happens, home schoolers are less and less unique in that respect.

We had a great chat about how to persuade people of differing viewpoints; I hope I was able to do some good!

Listen here:

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Original audio link

"You need to understand your audience as people and love them as people, not as projects to be fixed or enemies to be vanquished."

Check out some of our services here, or email me to talk through how my team might be able to help. We bring over 50 combined years of communications experience as well as up-to-the-moment knowledge to your situation! __________________________________________

Transcript:

Do you want to talk about something controversial without your listeners tuning you out? Brian Brown is here to help. Listen to his tips on today’s Home School Heartbeat.

Mike Smith: We’re joined today by Brian Brown. He’s the founder and CEO of Narrator, a consulting firm that helps nonprofit organizations with strategy, communications, and fundraising. Brian, welcome to the program!

Brian Brown: My pleasure! Thanks for including me.

Mike: Brian, it can be hard to discuss controversial social issues—especially when people disagree. Why do we need to really be able to talk winsomely about these issues?

Brian: I think people need to be able to talk winsomely about anything important. One of the big challenges of our current culture is that we’re really segregated by our ideology. According to the Pew Research Center, the percentage of people who hold strong liberal views or strong conservative views has doubled in the last two decades—as has the percentage of each of those groups who actually think the other group is actively trying to harm the country.

We spend most of our time, in terms of engaging political issues, reading and watching sources of news and ideas that reinforce that notion that the other guys are the bad guys. And we’re less and less likely to have friends who disagree with us. So this means the minute that you open your mouth about something politically controversial, anybody that you actually need to convince has already figured out that you fit into the “bad guy” box. Their subconscious is getting itself all worked up to fire back at you.

People who can overcome that initial subconscious response, I think are really our only hope for sensible policies and workable compromises, or for that matter even functioning communities.

Mike: Brian, how can we talk about these controversial issues without alienating those who disagree with us?

Brian: I think we need to give people an opportunity to be the good guys. I’ve talked before about the importance of that first minute that people have in conversation while their prejudices are formed. Prejudices aren’t necessarily bad things—our brains assemble our memories of relevant experiences into narratives that tell us not to touch that hot stove, or not to go out on a date with that guy we saw screaming at his mom yesterday. We don’t have to have those experiences over and over in order to learn them because we have prejudices.

So a huge factor in having any kind of productive conversation where prejudice is working against you is being able to instantly appeal to emotions that help people build new narratives, new prejudices, rather than falling into the ones they’ve already got.

One example that comes to mind: People have a lot of political biases surrounding redefining marriage, but not a lot surrounding the needs of children. So there are organizations like the Center for Bioethics and Culture that have made enormous headway building bipartisan coalitions around the notion that children have rights and, for example, deserve to know both of their biological parents. They’re thinking in terms of the children’s perspective rather than the parents’, and they’ve got people on both sides of other arguments coming together on it.

Mike: Brian, how can we talk to someone who has already made up their mind about something? Can we really get them to hear us out?

Brian: Yes, I think so, because the human brain is always learning. But we have to provide frameworks that help other people to understand the world outside of the box that they’re used to using to think about it. When I have experiences or talk to people that give me a little bit of a different perspective on things—not one that necessarily goes against my values, but one that makes me see them slightly differently, maybe by putting two of my values in tension with each other—my perspective gets shifted.

So for example, I live in Colorado Springs, where many people equate taxes with government and government with evil. So taxes hardly ever get raised. Well, one recent exception to this was the tax increase to pay for police-related expenses. Conservatives around here love and appreciate men and women in uniform. So the folks arguing for the tax increase said, “Hey, we don’t like taxes either! But it’s for the people in uniform.” People were forced to decide which mattered more to them: hating taxes, or supporting the troops, so to speak, which forced them to actually think rather than take the knee-jerk reaction. (The initiative passed, for the record.)

A couple of mistakes to avoid on this point. One is appealing to values that people don’t share. And another is treating life like a battlefield, where we’re juiced up to go to a war of words if we ever meet a real live liberal. When a person is the embodiment of evil to you rather than a unique person, he probably doesn’t appreciate being pigeonholed. You’ve really already lost.

Mike: Brian, many conversations today end up happening on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites. How do we have a good conversation on the internet?

Brian: You don’t! I would say, never have an important conversation when you can’t see the other person’s face. You miss too many social cues, and you feel too insulated from the potential consequences of your words.

What can happen online, though, is a cumulative shaping of people’s perceptions and values. Because on the internet, people can curate their own environment. They can read sources of information that are customized so that they never have to feel uncomfortable. On Facebook, for example, I can block or remove from my newsfeed anybody who posts things that don’t make me feel warm and fuzzy.

This has a huge impact on my perception of reality. If twenty of my Facebook friends all put up a graphic that says, “John Connor is the best Republican candidate for president,” and I see it again and again from people I know and respect, it makes me think there must be some truth to it.

So there are three things that people can do to be a positive force on social networks. One is to stay friends with people who disagree with you. Another is to keep connecting with those people on levels of shared interests and enthusiasm. And the third is, instead of saying things designed to blast your opinions out into the stratosphere, work in small thoughtful things from time to time that communicate your values but also take into account the values of those diverse friends. Because you’re creating a social environment where people are more likely to recognize good ideas for good ideas, rather than just associating them with loudmouths and weirdos, which is how they’ll otherwise see it.

Mike: Brian, how can homeschooling parents teach their children to talk persuasively about these difficult topics?

Brian: I think homeschoolers have one of the biggest challenges when it comes to that problem of knowing people who aren’t like them. Some of the ones that I’ve known have withdrawn not only from public schools but largely from the community as a whole. On top of that, because homeschooling parents tend to care about their children very deeply, they’re often among the most protective when it comes to movies and TV and literature.

I’m not about to pretend there aren’t negative influences out there. But in order to talk persuasively about difficult topics, you need to understand your audience as people and love them as people, not as projects to be fixed or enemies to be vanquished. And real-life interaction and engaging rich stories are the two best ways I know of to develop your ability to do that.

Mike: Do you have any resources that you would recommend for us?

Brian: Yeah! Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler wrote a great book called Connected. It came out a couple years ago. And on the front of building up your imagination—your ability to wrestle with difficult things that maybe don’t rub you the right way.

And  I think for some parents I’ve known, the best exercise I could imagine would be to read Chaucer and try to come to grips with how this thing filled with raunchy humor is considered a masterpiece of Christian literature. That’s an odd thing to say. But thinking about those kinds of questions I think are very, very helpful in terms of coming to grips with people who are not like us.

Mike: Brian, thank you so much for joining us. Your advice will help us be gracious and charitable, even in difficult conversations. And until next time, I’m Mike Smith.

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Generational transitions

Old-People I’m ceding my space this week to my Narrator colleague Jessica Stollings. Jessica is an expert “generational translator,” who is superb at helping people and organizations work through generational transitions, from workplace dynamic issues to leadership transitions all the way to donor base transitions. It’s awesome to be able to offer our clients Jessica as a resource—through speaking, training, coaching, and all-out consulting.

Sometimes a key part of building for your organization’s future is figuring out how to integrate Millennial staffers in a way that best taps into their strengths—and I know a lot of my clients have an even bigger problem, which is figuring out how to take an aging donor base and build into the rising generations (without alienating their existing givers). Shoot me an email if you want to chat about this stuff!

Midway through the semester, a university professor came to me very upset about her students. She had e-mailed them a homework assignment, and only one of the eight students had completed it. She wasn’t sure what to do.

We looked into the situation and learned that most of the students didn’t know about the assignment. Why? The professor had sent it by e-mail, while the students used Facebook messaging for their classes.

Yes, all of the students had been issued e-mail accounts by the university, but many of them had never logged in. Because they considered e-mail slow and outdated, they had instead opted for newer forms of communication like Facebook and text messaging.

Once the professor learned how her students communicated – and the students learned how their professor sent out her assignments – everyone was able to get on the same page.

After that, the students knew to check their university-issued e-mail accounts for assignments, and the professor learned that creating an account on Facebook would prove useful for collaborative discussions and project management.

The Bottom Line: Different generations often use different communication channels.

The Solution: Find out which communication channels your supporters or employees use for information, and establish clearly which channels they’re expected to monitor. If the people you’re trying to reach use different channels, consider adapting your message to the format they’re used to.

This blog post is excerpted from Jessica’s forthcoming book, “ReGenerations: Why Connecting Generations Matters (And How to Do It).”

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What does your mission feel like?

10862446_818001484922577_5712576766738074867_o Sometimes it's easy to forget that the vast majority of people--even of those who get your emails--don't see what you see every day. It's difficult to understand why they don't pour all their time and treasure into it they way you do.

Imaginative storytelling is sometimes needed, more than mission statements or even reports. It's not just about facts.

What does your mission feel like?

Case in point: I know Chrysalis Youth Theatre pretty well, having worked on their event marketing since their inception. They are a small operation that stretches a small budget remarkably far, and still manages to do a good job keeping people in the loop. I knew they'd just achieved the near-impossible with a full-scale production of Les Miserables. But it wasn't until they produced the video below that I could feel the significance of what they're doing; feel the energy of their efforts; see the shy young people opening up and spreading their wings. Most of the best stuff they're doing is happening backstage. Check out what I mean:

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WHITE PAPER: Finding Tomorrow's Donors

sample-photo - the look i'm going for

The biggest challenge we see for our clients is building a larger, more sustainable donor base. Snail mail prospecting is dying (and expensive). Social ad blitzes work about as well, Thus far, new technologies have mainly been used to digitize the impersonality of the appeal letter--rather than to support the scaling of relationships.

We think there's a better way.

Download the PDF

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Does Social Media Silence Debate?

Woman thinks to notebook A recent New York Times article explored recent survey data that led researchers to some thought-provoking conclusions about social media’s effect on civic discourse. It’s pretty common knowledge by now that people tend to surround themselves with people who agree with them on things. Conservatives and liberals tend to want to live in different kinds of places (75% of consistent conservatives want to live in suburbs or the country, 77% of consistent liberals the city), and they more consistently say most of their friends share their views. That’s on top, of course, of the childhood instinct to gravitate towards people like me.

But how does social media interact with this situation? Does it make it better? Worse? Here’s what this recent research found:

  • People are less likely to voice opinions when they think their views differ from those of their friends. Since their feeds are dominated by people they like, find interesting, or tend to agree with, social media can intensify this tendency and keep dissenters quiet. In fact, people who use social media regularly are less likely to express differing views in the offline world.
  • No politics at the dinner table? Social media is like the dinner table, only more so. Most people said they would be more willing to discuss something controversial at dinner or at work than on social media.
  • Educated people and thoughtful people are quieting down. People with more education are less likely to weigh in on a Facebook debate, as are people with moderate views. People with less education, and people with more fervent or extreme views, dominate the debate.

So it would seem social media is indeed providing a liturgy for our lives, a set of repetitive habits (shaped by algorithms) that affects how we think and act even offline.

What do we do about this? How can we make sure our online habits are having a positive effect on our social interactions and our political discourse?

I recommend two articles to help you start thinking:

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The Real Lesson of Ebola Hysteria

1050x700x141004-ebola-dallas-mn-1558_efc326650c3ffca5d23fecfd2261865b-1050x700.jpg.pagespeed.ic.SgEqxnjBNk

Two writers I like and respect tackled the topic this week. David Brooks wrote his column on that topic, and made some excellent points. Gracy Olmstead took issue with one of them, and also made some excellent points.

The best thing David said, which I don’t think Gracy quite gave enough credit, boils down to this problem, a problem that I think is one of the most fundamental in today’s America—and to which nonprofits, politicians, and other leaders ought to devote a great deal of thought and attention:

We live in a world where we can affect less and less of what we see, and where we can see more and more.

When the stormwater drains overflow, or the traffic is terrible because a road needs another lane, or some political problem keeps getting worse and worse, we can do little if anything about it. As Brooks points out, most of us are cut off from those in authority. Traffic is an excellent example; studies have shown it is one of the few annoyances of life that is actually cumulative—it makes you madder every time you have to deal with it, which is why road rage becomes an issue. I think an obvious reason is because we can do nothing about it. We are powerless.

Meanwhile, we are aware of more and more problems, as Brooks also points out. Rather than only seeing what’s before our eyes, we are slammed with a 24-hour news cycle of tragedy and fear from around the world. We don’t just have to worry about getting the kids to school—we are supposed to worry about a shooting 2,000 miles away. What is right in front of our faces matters least, and the Big and Important things that will never affect us matter most—a civic and economic calculus in which, as Joy Clarkson pointed out this week, the things that make us most human are the things least prioritized.

I wish I could take all the national media players who cultivate fear, all the suburban “developers” who split the soul of a city like a Horcrux into subdivided portions scattered across a megalopolis, all the politicians and administrators who continue to centralize the political ties of our communities until the “communities” are so big as to make our votes worthless and the ties more so, and every piece of the puzzle that conspires to elevate the scale of our existence beyond a level normal people can handle, and shake them and tell them: this is inhumane.

The day before yesterday, I was talking with a friend about voting. He observed that intellectuals seem to be least convinced that voting makes a difference, and your average Joe tends to be most convinced. I think I know why, and it’s not just cynicism. Intellectuals are most likely to have ways to rise above the situation I’ve described.

For example, I just mailed in my ballot for this year’s election. I’m quite plugged into (especially) city politics, and I actually knew some of the people and issues on the ballot. That allowed me to vote more intelligently, but also to know that if a particular issue mattered to me, I had resources beyond the vote—I knew who to call, or what action to take, regardless of who won the election. Most people these days don’t have that resource. Hardly anyone does at the national level. For Average Joe, the vote is almost literally the only tool he has, into which he can channel all his fear, frustration, and aloneness. And yet he still knows he’s a tiny thing in a huge mass of people.

The opportunity before today’s leaders at every level in every sector is this: to find ways to push day-to-day life and its priorities back to a human scale; geographically, politically, and otherwise—to allow people’s minds to open up again to a human-scaled life that’s socially acceptable to structure around the things that make us human. This is one goal that informs my voting, and it’s a goal that drives my daily work to help nonprofits rethink how they engage their supporters. People need it today more than they ever have.

If the Ebola hysteria reveals one thing about our culture, it’s that.

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Never Use a Clichéd Word in Your Appeal Letters Again

Type in your word, and it'll tell you whether you should use it or not. Maybe a lot of people are using it. Maybe EVERYONE'S using it, and your sentence will essentially go unprocessed by people's brains. Or maybe it's compelling and original and will get your readers' attention.

The Wordifier will tell you.

I'm really impressed--so if your writing is filled with "impact," "help," "engage," and other awful words, you should check out this wonderful new tool.

http://www.claxonmarketing.com/wordifier/

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Never Use a Clichéd Word in Your Appeal Letters Again

Type in your word, and it'll tell you whether you should use it or not. Maybe a lot of people are using it. Maybe EVERYONE'S using it, and your sentence will essentially go unprocessed by people's brains. Or maybe it's compelling and original and will get your readers' attention.

The Wordifier will tell you.

I'm really impressed--so if your writing is filled with "impact," "help," "engage," and other awful words, you should check out this wonderful new tool.

http://www.claxonmarketing.com/wordifier/

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What Community Organizations Could Learn from Hillsong

20141211th-hillsong-geil-foursome September 10’s New York Times profile of Hillsong Church chronicled the massive popularity of this international megachurch. One takeaway from the article, whether the journalist is correct or not, was this:

Many of the worshipers say they are drawn by the music but have stayed because of the opportunity to be with other young Christians, and because they believe that the churches can help transform cities, both through prayer and through direct social services. “I want to be part of something bigger than myself,” said Tricia Hidalgo, 29. “We’re going to love the city, love the people, and, to me, I feel like love can break any walls,” she said.

Hillsong is connecting the big picture of its faith with its tangible implications, and that’s firing up its members.

This perspective is an emotional touchpoint for Millennials in any community-building context. Two examples:

In churches, the notion of spirituality existing as something that can have significance in the here and now—not just as a solution to personal problems—is tremendously powerful. There’s a risk, of course, in making (say) social justice or beautiful art the purpose of a religion that’s really about, you know, God. But I’ve worked as a consultant with churches that are baffled by their inability to get young people to commit to small groups that exist mainly as group therapy or Bible discussion (which to Millennials feel sort of like deciding to go to college…forever).

In nonprofits, Millennials need the right balance between ambitious objectives and comprehensible (if not necessarily measurable) results. I’m currently working with a human services client to develop a fundraising campaign for helping struggling people in their city. Historically, the organization has been able to get its current donor base (which is well past the retirement age) to give simply by asking for money. But the organization has recognized that to appeal to young people, the new campaign has to have a goal bigger than the organization (e.g. creating a city where struggles don’t mean homelessless), and yet smaller than saving the world (we have X number of people in this situation—let’s take that number down to zero in your neighborhood!). Here’s the goal, here’s what it means for you.

These are two iterations of the same core situation: people don’t bond because you tell them to, and they certainly don’t bond when they’re individuals consuming (or funding) a product as individuals. They bond over shared goals, projects, points of enthusiasm—not vague or overly large ones, but ones that work on a human scale.

One of my small church clients started getting creative young people involved by the dozens when it allowed them to take ownership of a program focused on the Christian imagination; Lewis, Tolkien, and the like (rather than continuing to beg them to show up for small groups). Friendships are forming, battles are being won together—people are bonding. And the church is growing. The ambitious goals are there, but so is the tangible evidence of progress toward them.

And I’ve seen nonprofits build stunningly powerful communities around their mission when Millennials could buy into it—both socially and financially.

Millennials tend to recognize sooner or later that their own problems are a black hole—they never go away, or cease taking up time and energy. (So church that exists to solve them feels hypocritical, sooner or later.) They feel the same way about the difference they can make with their limited finances when it comes to charitable goals. (What difference can my $20 make, really? An organization’s budget, in such a context, is also a black hole.)

Hillsong (aside from its music, which is a separate topic!) resonates because it offers a holistic faith that clicks—the big picture and its tangible implications; the goal and what we do about it now. Other religious movements have tried this in the past, they’ve also met with initial success, and they’ve eventually died away as they overemphasized one or the other. Strong communities and successful organizations keep both in balance.

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What Community Organizations Could Learn from Hillsong

20141211th-hillsong-geil-foursome September 10’s New York Times profile of Hillsong Church chronicled the massive popularity of this international megachurch. One takeaway from the article, whether the journalist is correct or not, was this:

Many of the worshipers say they are drawn by the music but have stayed because of the opportunity to be with other young Christians, and because they believe that the churches can help transform cities, both through prayer and through direct social services. “I want to be part of something bigger than myself,” said Tricia Hidalgo, 29. “We’re going to love the city, love the people, and, to me, I feel like love can break any walls,” she said.

Hillsong is connecting the big picture of its faith with its tangible implications, and that’s firing up its members.

This perspective is an emotional touchpoint for Millennials in any community-building context. Two examples:

In churches, the notion of spirituality existing as something that can have significance in the here and now—not just as a solution to personal problems—is tremendously powerful. There’s a risk, of course, in making (say) social justice or beautiful art the purpose of a religion that’s really about, you know, God. But I’ve worked as a consultant with churches that are baffled by their inability to get young people to commit to small groups that exist mainly as group therapy or Bible discussion (which to Millennials feel sort of like deciding to go to college…forever).

In nonprofits, Millennials need the right balance between ambitious objectives and comprehensible (if not necessarily measurable) results. I’m currently working with a human services client to develop a fundraising campaign for helping struggling people in their city. Historically, the organization has been able to get its current donor base (which is well past the retirement age) to give simply by asking for money. But the organization has recognized that to appeal to young people, the new campaign has to have a goal bigger than the organization (e.g. creating a city where struggles don’t mean homelessless), and yet smaller than saving the world (we have X number of people in this situation—let’s take that number down to zero in your neighborhood!). Here’s the goal, here’s what it means for you.

These are two iterations of the same core situation: people don’t bond because you tell them to, and they certainly don’t bond when they’re individuals consuming (or funding) a product as individuals. They bond over shared goals, projects, points of enthusiasm—not vague or overly large ones, but ones that work on a human scale.

One of my small church clients started getting creative young people involved by the dozens when it allowed them to take ownership of a program focused on the Christian imagination; Lewis, Tolkien, and the like (rather than continuing to beg them to show up for small groups). Friendships are forming, battles are being won together—people are bonding. And the church is growing. The ambitious goals are there, but so is the tangible evidence of progress toward them.

And I’ve seen nonprofits build stunningly powerful communities around their mission when Millennials could buy into it—both socially and financially.

Millennials tend to recognize sooner or later that their own problems are a black hole—they never go away, or cease taking up time and energy. (So church that exists to solve them feels hypocritical, sooner or later.) They feel the same way about the difference they can make with their limited finances when it comes to charitable goals. (What difference can my $20 make, really? An organization’s budget, in such a context, is also a black hole.)

Hillsong (aside from its music, which is a separate topic!) resonates because it offers a holistic faith that clicks—the big picture and its tangible implications; the goal and what we do about it now. Other religious movements have tried this in the past, they’ve also met with initial success, and they’ve eventually died away as they overemphasized one or the other. Strong communities and successful organizations keep both in balance.

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Are You Living in a Community or a Network?

The difference matters, and charitable organizations should be helping make it.

"In the face of the decline of community, there seems to be a slide of lowering standards in how we understand our group relationships. And even our charitable organizations, which ought to be expressions of, and adhering forces for, community, have bought wholesale into a network mentality—they care about you as a pair of hands to ladle soup, or as a checkbook, not as a person."

I wrote that last week over at Humane Pursuits. I also got into some recent research from Penn professor Adam Grant on why nonprofits absolutely must figure out how to care about their donors as whole people, not just as donors or volunteers. The more an organization is the hub of a community (or better yet for larger organizations, a community of communities), the better the results for everyone. A big part of what I do every day for organizations is help them figure out what that looks like and how to build the pieces to make it better, so I know it's not easy. But it is worthwhile to say the least.

As a nonprofit leader, are your donors really part of a community? Does it translate to relationships for them? Positive lifestyle changes? An intimate understanding of at least some aspects of your organization's day-to-day work? An ability to use the talents and passions they have to support that work? Are you allowing them to give as a whole person, or just as a wallet?

Or do you just call them a community in a feeble effort to make them feel a part of a clique that in reality doesn't want them in?

Read the whole post

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A New Effort to Empower Individual Giving

Take a look!

I've been helping run a publication called Humane Pursuits for five years now. We explain part of the reason for its existence this way: "The technocratic politics, big businesses, sprawling cities, and mass media of the 20th century gave birth to a Millennial generation whose members are more isolated and more confused about their roles than perhaps any young people in history. As a result, though, they tend to question a lot of bad ideas that their parents and grandparents took for granted."

Humane Pursuits seeks to help people, especially young people, explore how to live rich, meaningful ("rounded") lives in the context of modern settings and demands ("boxes") that often seem structured to make it difficult.

We have a whole section of the site, the Give channel, dedicated to helping individuals think through how to give back in ways that are sustainable, effective, and meaningful. It's not a conversation about philanthropy, or even about nonprofit work per se; it's addressed to individuals and seeks to delve into questions of how they might interface better with groups, communities, and organizations to make a difference. The vision is for this to become a tremendous resource not only for people who want to think about how to give back, but also for organizations seeking to better understand the rising donor base.

It'll deal with questions that resonate with younger potential givers; questions like:

  • Is fundraising always bad?
  • If results aren't all about numbers, what should we measure?
  • Have we left service to the professionals?
  • Is "giving back" an opportunity or a responsibility?
  • Should a big problem have a big solution?
  • What keeps you from giving?

Editor Ashley May, who runs the channel, works at Philanthropy Roundtable in D.C. and has a superb vision for what this channel can be. But she has just started building it, and can use a lot of input, advice, writers, etc. I invite you to visit the channel and send Ashley your feedback (or writing submissions!).

She's also organizing a symposium of sorts, on which you may want to weigh in:

August 4 conversation:

"Our topic is the following question: "Is there anything good about the one percent?"

Stories abound on the one percent and its evils. One article in The Atlantic claims it isn't even the 1% versus the 99%--it's the .01% versus the 99.9%. Is this a moral problem for our country? Does this unprecedented wealth move our whole society forward, or allow greed to reign? Is the social sector dependent on massive amounts of wealth to solve our most important problems?

Humane Pursuits is accepting 300-400 word responses on this question, "Is there anything good about the one percent?" Entries should be sent to Ashley May at ashleyjoycemay@gmail.com by July 28. Longer entries may be considered as well; please submit a brief proposal."

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How to Get Your Donors to Give Monthly

o-TEENAGER-ENGLISH-MONEY-facebook The average retention rate of a nonprofit donor is 27%. And it’s increasingly expensive to find and convert a new donor. That means a ridiculous amount of nonprofit execs’ and fundraisers time is actually just spent replacing donors who ditched them—often, as the stat indicates, replacing 3/4 of the donor base every year! Yikes.

By contrast, the retention rates in well-operated monthly giving programs are often around 90%. And the amount a monthly donor gives is usually much higher (it’s easier to get most people to give $25 at a time than $100, but $25 x 12 months = $300!).

Well operated, though, is the key. Asking people to agree to write a monthly check isn’t enough. Monthly giving requires some extra effort to set up and run properly—but it’s well worth the effort.

A monthly donor program should:

(1) Be branded.

Give your program a name, an identity. You’re not just asking people to give you money once a month. You’re attracting them with a brand-within-a-brand. You want something that people are regularly reminded of in their daily life (because its name or feel is linked to common memory triggers), something with emotional resonance, something with a clear story of which people can be a part. There are different schools of thought on this and it depends on what your organization does, but often, connecting the brand to a specific need is helpful.

Compassion has done this for a long time with their Sponsor a Child program. Everybody knows what it is, it’s connected to a specific child, and it’s easy to buy into and tell people about.

(2) Be exclusive

What are you really asking people to join? People are tribal by nature; the us-vs.-them mentality is strong in the human psyche. There’s a reason people spend obscene amounts of money on football games, and get irrationally worked up when confronted with the latest outrage perpetrated by a member of the opposing political party. So a monthly donor program that makes people feel like part of the elite club provides a strong draw, and a strong sense of loyalty once inside (which in turn increases retention rates still further). Part of this is accomplished in the branding process. But you also have to think about perks (see below), how to tap into the emotions that made the member donate in the first place, and ways to make membership a membership, not just a bill.

ISI makes getting a foot in the door really easy—it’s free!—but you immediately see the benefits of ramping up to paid levels of membership. Most exclusive of all, though, is their actual ISI Honors Fellow program for college students—loads of perks, application only, and long-term value.

(3) Be public

Social currency is a big deal. If your club is worth joining, it’s worth other people knowing somebody has joined. If you find ways to publicize membership, you increase the club’s visibility and the outside sense that, golly, all the cool people are doing this. You can do this by featuring members on your website and social, by having members-only events that are publicized on social media (so non-members can see their friends are going), or even with old-fashioned stuff like free t-shirts. But there’s another aspect to making it public, and that’s empowering your members to publicize it themselves; making membership and its benefits worth sharing, and making them social.

My local symphony has done such a good job building its season subscription program that probably 70-80% of the people in the seats for a concert appear to be season ticketholders (I know, because once in a while they make it public and ask all the season ticketholders to stand up). I personally have recruited half a dozen people to join me next season, and I routinely emote on Facebook about how good last night’s concert was.

(4) Have perks

Being a member has to have practical value. You’re not just asking people to give you something (their money); you also need to give them something. What members-only events are you planning (they’d better be really cool)? One-time access to exciting people (like a celebrity) can not only make members feel valued and part of the club; it can also be a great foundation for a campaign to drive new memberships. Happy hours and other social events can be good ways to connect members with each other (increasing the public/social value). Sending occasional gifts and handwritten notes makes people feel valued (even if the gift is just a token). Members-only content is a must; you can’t just send them the regular ol’ newsletter; remember, they have to feel like they’ve got the inside scoop. More personal, more intimate, more detailed content goes a long way. It’s also very helpful to have a members-only section of your site, so that when a member visits your site (say, to read your latest blog post), he gets personalized, exclusive content access, in addition to the ability to manage his membership (this also allows you to put in cool stuff on his account page, like a progress bar that nudges him to up his monthly donation, or a “latest news” link that encourages him to tweet it for you on the spot.

Another thing to think about: one of the perks might be ways to get more involved in your organization. Volunteer opportunities, chances to introduce a friend to the organization, etc. If you’re doing this wrong, it’ll feel like you’re bothering them and asking for more stuff. If you’re doing it right, the opportunity to take ownership of something feels almost like being offered a job at your dream organization.

I’m currently helping one of my clients (a national organization) build a monthly giving program, and it’s going to be linked to a lot of location-specific perks, most of which benefit both the donor and the organization. They’re creating hub communities in major cities, so that when you get involved financially with the organization, it translates to real improvements in your lifestyle.

(5) Be personal

If somebody is going to bother being part of the “in” club, they’d better know that gives them a personal, relational “in” with the organization. You can provide great events, content, etc. but if they’re still on the outside of the inner circle, if they still feel they can’t affect the organization, there will still be points when they feel like outsiders—and that’s not how you want a member of your exclusive club to feel! This means exclusive communications for your members should be personalized (coming from a specific email address, not your organization’s info@ address), and your members should at the very least have a personal contact with a lower-ranking staff member who has the title of the director of the club (even if that’s not the staff member’s main responsibility). Who that person is should remain consistent for each member; you can divvy up the workload if you want to but I should know Joey is always there on the other end, and if Joey gets a new job, a personal introduction to his replacement is in order. Listening is also a part of this—every member should get a regular (even if it’s only twice a year) call from his contact to talk about the member’s life, how things are going, what the member thinks about the organization, giving the member the inside scoop, etc. (this is another good opportunity to introduce members to each other; “Hey, that reminds me, do you know so-and-so? He’s interested in this too!”).

(6) Be automatic

Membership should not be work for the member. And you absolutely don’t want the member to have to manually make that payment every month—he might forget! An automated system connected to your CRM is a must; members should be able to set up an automatic credit card payment or EFT (electronic funds transfer from a bank account), and the process of nudging them to update an expired credit card should be automatic as well. It’s worth the investment.

To talk to me about building a monthly giving program for your organization, contact me!

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Ideas for Coping with Facebook’s More Frustrating Changes

Mashable assembled some ideas for you to consider, from social media experts who have already put some thought into it.

8 Ways to Beat Facebook's Algorithm and Keep Your Consumers Engaged” overpromises. Some of the ideas are helpful; diversification of communications media is always a good idea, and getting around the algorithm by capitalizing on your immediate social network (i.e. your staff) can work.

Others, though, are just naïve or silly. #3 is naïve—Facebook isn’t rewarding great content; it’s rewarding dollars.

What’s interesting to me about the list, though, is how many of the options boil down to this: “Don’t rely on your Facebook page.” That says a lot about where the company is driving us.

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Ideas for Coping with Facebook’s More Frustrating Changes

Mashable assembled some ideas for you to consider, from social media experts who have already put some thought into it.

8 Ways to Beat Facebook's Algorithm and Keep Your Consumers Engaged” overpromises. Some of the ideas are helpful; diversification of communications media is always a good idea, and getting around the algorithm by capitalizing on your immediate social network (i.e. your staff) can work.

Others, though, are just naïve or silly. #3 is naïve—Facebook isn’t rewarding great content; it’s rewarding dollars.

What’s interesting to me about the list, though, is how many of the options boil down to this: “Don’t rely on your Facebook page.” That says a lot about where the company is driving us.

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Four Must-Know Stats About Fundraising and Digital Media

Some random thoughts to make your results better.

Nonprofit Tech for Good posted 14 stats, and they’re worth a look. But four particularly caught my eye; I've added my own thoughts:

1. Get a responsive website. It doubles giving on mobile devices. If you’re having trouble selling your boss or your board on the expense of a new site, this might get their attention. Typically, 30-40% of your visitors are on mobile, and your high bounce rate (# of people who leave without going to a second page) is probably due partly to the fact that your site is a pain to browse on a phone. Welcome your mobile visitors, and they’ll stick around longer—and be more likely to give. By the way, this does need to include an online giving system that works on mobile. Some aren’t optimized for it.

2. 55% of people who engage with NPOs on social media are inspired to take further action. This relates to one of the core principles of good social media: it needs to be oriented towards real-life involvement. It needs to communicate a sense of life and community, and open the door for social visitors to become a part of them.

3. Monthly donors give 42% more in a year than one-time donors. Monthly giving programs (especially ones that automatically take money out of an account) can be really helpful for an NPO. They’re helpful financially because, obviously, it’s guaranteed money and more of it. But they’re also helpful to a donor if they’re done right, because the money is easier to budget for along with other bills, they don’t require remembering to write a check, and—again, if they’re done right—they bring with them insider news and invitations, and other perks. A monthly donor program needs to carry with it a sense that the donor is getting invited to be part of the exclusive club, and then the value of that membership needs to be consistently delivered. So it’s not enough to invite people to donate monthly—you need to develop an actual program.

4. Custom-branded donation forms raise 6X more money. Good start. But you might also consider a fourth option this article didn’t deal with: member-raised portals. For example, if you fund orphans, have somebody adopt an orphan and raise money specifically for that orphan, with a unique page with that orphan’s story that can go viral. Or create contests where people set up their own donation portals and compete with each other to raise the most money (the payoff has to be exciting enough to drive this, though!).

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