Tuesday, February 13, 2007

How the New Web Transforms Your Organization

I spent the afternoon yesterday with Seth Godin and a collection of very impressive non-profits discussing "How the New Web Transforms Your Organization." I'm really, really sorry you all couldn't be there. I've done two other Seth Godin seminars in the past, and each time I come away with a few pages of notes and noodles about what I should be doing.

If you haven't read any of his books or read his blog regularly, you should start there. I take for granted that everyone knows about permission marketing, purple cows and such.

I can quickly summarize the afternoon and Seth's core in one sentence. It's a message that comes down to a very simple premise but one that comes with some very difficult organizational choices that you'll have to make if you buy into the dogma.
"Marketers do not have the right to interrupt you."
Duh, right?

Think again. Behind that statement is a set of strategies and tactics that will force you to confront the core of how your organization makes money. Running TV, radio and print ads, sending direct mail and spam like e-mail campaigns are dead ends.

Instead, you'll need to start looking at your "members/donors/whatevers" not as things you own, but relationships you have.

  • You don't "own" email addresses, you BORROW them.
  • You don't have the right to send me one more e-mail that isn't authentic, personal and relevant.

If you don't get this premise, then your "members/donors/whatevers" will simply go away.

The core of Seth's argument centers around permission. The way you get permission is by "dating." The analogy is a good one and one worth exploring briefly.

Here it is from a guy's perspective:
  • You see cute girl on the subway every day
  • You flirt a bit
  • One day, you sit next to her because the seat isn't taken
  • You make small talk about the weather and notice that she's listening to Sheryl Crow on her iPod
  • You burn bootleg Sheryl Crow CD give to her one day in passing
  • She thanks you with a big smile and you ask her if he is interested in coffee -she says yes!
  • After coffee, you ask her to see a movie and she says yes again!
  • 6 months later you are seriously dating
  • Assuming you don't screw it up smart guy, you are married in a year
  • You have your first child 2 years later
  • You celebrate your 50th anniversary 47 years later (at which Sheryl Crow is playing)
Notice what didn't happen first in my example... what you didn't do was you didn't ask her to marry you the first, second or even third time you saw her. This works because:
  • It's authentic (you are acting like a real human being)
  • Personal (how sweet was the Sheryl Crow move?)
  • Relevant (she was looking for the right guy to come along)

Ok, so what does this mean for non-profit marketers? Let's start by looking at what we currently do with "our" email lists. I'll be the first to say it, we spam the hell out of those lists. I'm guilty of it, and you are guilty of it.

I think what we need is a new model of building permission.

Make permission is the foundation for your donor pyramid.

What this means is that at the top of your funnel, you need to work extra hard to build permission. But here's where it gets tricky - having permission IS NOT the right to ask for more money! It's permission to communicate with your "members/donors/whatevers" only where you have something authentic, personal and relevant to say to them.

It means that you have to create an entirely new way to think about cultivation.

Here's a sample of how any typical NPO might currently treat you:

  • You sign an online petition to save the whales, reform immigration policy or stem-cell research
  • You get an automated generic thank you (you never hear from the NPO again about how or if your signature helped affect change)
  • A few months later, you get an email newsletter with generic information about mission, personal stories and a small ask for a donation
  • You ignore it, but do not unsubscribe
  • A month later, you get another generic newsletter, you ignore it
  • Three months later, you get a printed quarterly newsletter (you must have entered your address when signing that petition). You glance at it, but trash it.
  • A few weeks later, you get a direct mail piece from that same organization. It includes mailing labels, but you chuckle because the last time you sent a letter was NEVER. Everyone you know is on email and you pay your bills online.
  • You start getting direct mail pieces from other organizations that are sort of just like the one that you signed the petition for. What's going on here?
  • You get the next monthly email newsletter and finally fed up, you click unsubscribe.
  • The next month, you get the latest edition of that same email newsletter and while you hate to do it, you click the report as spam button in your email software.
So what's the solution? Strategically, it's pretty obvious but the trick is how and where you start to build a permission list. When I was at the March of Dimes, we built an amazing list of moms of premature babies through our Share Your Story web site. Those names were off-limits as I personally developed relationships with many of the moms themselves. The results were astounding - loyalty, money raised through family teams and in-person reunions.

I don't have all the answers but here is a list of stuff that I'm working on...
  • Mining our email list for folks who signed up but have never made a gift - and figuring out what else we can ask them for (cause money isn't it)
  • Looking at our Advocacy communications strategy and and making sure we don't jump to asking for money too quickly
  • Looking for folks who'd be interested in blogging about us
  • Building a list of folks who really want a conversation with us directly
  • Looking at alternative ways to engage folks - on sites like myspace, facebook, Second Life and others
I know that many of you don't buy all this and that you are convinced that all you need to do is buy one more list or send one more letter and you will be able to continue to grow your organization. I don't believe you!

I'd love to hear from you - comment away.

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