Monthly Archives: December 2009

Nonprofits that Fear the Least Succeed the Most

Is fear holding you back from success?

Is fear holding you back from success?

On Allison Fine‘s podcast Social Good, Tom Watson made an interesting point about what sets apart the nonprofits that succeed in online giving contests. He said, “The nonprofits that fear the least succeed the most.”

This is true for more than just online giving challenges. It’s true for fundraising, for media, for lobbying, and for much more.

The nonprofits that fear the least succeed the most.

Think about it. Where is fear holding you back?

The “Change We Can Believe In” Begins with Us

Last night I attended the annual Concert for Peace to benefit Michigan Peaceworks.

I left angry.

The mood of the concert, especially of the emcee, was one of despair.

Now, I can  understand why progressives would be dissatisfied with the Obama presidency now: we’re still in Iraq, we’re escalating in Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay is still running, and healthcare reform and global warming policy are more modest than many would have hoped for.

Still, I found the soul-sucking despair of the concert to be ill-informed and inappropriate.  Here’s why:

  1. Liberal Obama-bashing forgets just how bad things were under Bush, or how bad they would be under McCain. Yes, I want a more robust health care bill, but McCain’s plan was to tax employer healthcare benefits. Yes, I want the U.S. to withdraw from Afghanistan and Iraq, but McCain was the one singing “bomb-bomb-bomb, bomb-bomb Iran,” and under Bush that almost happened. And climate change legislation wouldn’t even be on the map.
  2. If progressives write off Obama too early, we will limit his ability to promote progressive policies. What I hear from many on the left right now is that they’ve given up on anything good from Obama. Well, if that’s the case, and if we’re not out there organizing for good things to come from the presidency, then you can pretty much expect he won’t have the political capital to do anything good. The tea-party crowd will have the day.
  3. Putting all our hopes on Obama is a type of “messianic politics.” It assumes that an all-wise, all-powerful leader will ascend to the throne presidency, save the world from the forces of big oil and arms contractors, and usher in a time of progressive bliss. It doesn’t work that way. Even the best political leaders need strong social movements to hold them accountable. As FDR famously said when lobbied for progressive union policies, “Okay, you’ve convinced me. Now go out there and make me do it.” Leadership is important, we’ll get more good and less bad out of Obama than we would have McCain, but we still need to organize.
  4. Expecting large-scale wins on the whole progressive agenda in just a year ignores that presidents can only deliver a small amount to their base. In his first six years, President Bush was very powerful, yet  he didn’t ban abortion. He didn’t ban lawsuits against large corporations. He didn’t privatize social security. There were many items on the conservative agenda that he could not deliver, and that was even with his massive support post-9/11. I think the hopes were too high to think that in less than 1 year Obama would restore the economy, bring the troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan, end global warming pollution, create a single-payer healthcare system, and abolish subsidies for agribusiness. If those were your hopes, I’m sorry, but they deserve to be dashed.
  5. Disappointment in Obama’s regarding Afghanistan and healthcare reform forget that what he’s delivered is pretty much what he promised. Obama never promised a public option, much less single-payer healthcare. He did promise to escalate in Afghanistan. Also, as Juan Cole points out, when he was sworn in, the military brass didn’t necessarily buy into getting out of Iraq, and it seems he’s won that battle.

So, where do we go from here?

  1. We need to recognize our job is to change the context in which the politicians make their decisions. We need to organize so that it is easy for Obama to make decision we support and hard for him to make ones we opp0se (this would be the same approach if anyone were in the White House). We can’t do this if we only hang out in our liberal ghettos talking to people who only agree with us and whining on blogs (like I’m doing now). We need to get out there and talk to people who don’t already agree with us and we need to help the people who do agree with us to take action.
  2. We need to get the most good out of the Obama presidency as we can. That means criticizing decisions we don’t like. It also means giving support to decisions we do like. Like Rabbi Lerner of Tikkun says, our job is to “support Obama to be Obama.”
  3. We need to learn how to govern and inspire. The Bush years were great training on how to criticize, complain, and tear down. We’ve almost gotten to be too good at that. Now we need to learn how to lead and build up when we have potential allies in power, and I don’t think the rapid-response criticism we perfected under the previous administration is the best way to do that.

Thanks for sticking with me through this little rant. After eight years of working constantly to defeat stupid ideas like building new nuclear weapons or bombing Iran, I’m grateful for the chance now to work to support good ideas like healthcare reform and global warming legislation.

Do I wish there were more change? Yes.

And I know better than to wait for Obama to deliver that change like a Christmas present. I have to work for it. WE have to work for it.

Let’s organize.

[NOTE: Please don’t take my frustration with this event as a dis on Peaceworks. They do great work that I really support. That’s why I go to their fundraisers, give money, and eagerly work with them on projects.]

Can a post-it make your fund appeal work better?

Can post-its increase your fundraising letter response?

Can post-its increase your fundraising letter response?

Yes!: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive gave me an idea for improving fund appeal response rates.

Here’s the setup: researchers sent 3 versions of a survey to potential respondents. The surveys either had:

  1. a hand-written post-it asking the person to complete the survey;
  2. a hand-written message on the cover sheet; or
  3. the survey and cover sheet with no hand-written note.

The surveys with the sticky notes had the highest response rates by far.

The unpersonalized letters had the lowest response rate, just 34%. A hand-written note increased the response up to 43%. And the letters with the sticky-note had the highest response at 69%.

Many nonprofits invite board members and volunteers to write personal messages on year-end appeals. The research indicates that this kind of personalization can increase response rates.

But it also indicates you can take the response up to the next level by adding a post-it note. Somehow that added touch makes it feel more real and more human.

I plan to give it a try this year. If you try it, let me know how it works for you.

How to act like a human online

People want to connect with people, and that true online as well. That means you have to act like a person online. Heres how.

People want to connect with people, and that' true online as well. That means you have to act like a person online. Here's how.

Sometimes online communication strips away the human touch in interactions, especially when we’re online to promote our cause.

In Trust Agents, Chris Brogan and Julien Smith give seven great tips they title “How to be human.”

  1. Remember to ask about other people–first.
  2. Understand the culture.
  3. Promote others 12 times as much as you promote yourself or your company.
  4. Use your picture (and a good one) as your avatar on your profiles all these social sites (never your logo).
  5. If you mess up, remember the three A’s: acknowledge, apologize, act.
  6. Share a bit of your personal life in your professional.
  7. Remember that this new online world is about relationships, not campaigns.

I’m not convinced about never using your logo, I think it depends on the context. I have both a personal twitter account and ICPJ, where I work, has a twitter account. My personal twitter has my personal photo, ICPJ uses its logo.

That issue aside, Chris and Julien put together a good list, though it’s sad we need instructions on “how to be human” to begin with.

Jargon doesn’t make you sound smart

Wordy messages wont convince your audience. Clear speaking and writing will.

Wordy messages won't convince your audience. Clear speaking and writing will.

I’ve ranted on this blog before about the perils of bad writing. Now I have research to back it up.

Yes!: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive gives an example of jargon overload:

We’re leveraging our assets and establishing strategiec alliances to create a robust knowlege center-one with a customer-ruled business structure using market-leading technologies to maximize our human systems.

According to the book, that means “we’re consultants.”

What happens when you use language like this? Yes summarizes research by Daniel Oppenheimer which shows that “the message is deemed less convincing and the author is perceived as less intelligent.”

The lesson is clear: you will be more convincing if you communicate clearly. Use simple sentences and words your audience can understand.