Friday, August 31, 2007

“Edge”tion – Another Look at Causes vs. Orgs

"Edge"tion - the unlawful combining of "Edge" and "Attention" designed to create a way to examine non-profit marketing success.

I used to be a consultant and was in love with charts and graphs that would clinically break down everything into neat quadrants and classify things. As I’ve continued to get a great response from my original causes vs. orgs post, I’ve done more and more thinking about the topic. I hope you enjoy this post, I had a lot of fun trying to write this up.

In what I think is a great way to contradict oneself, but to continue the conversation, I’ve constructed an argument where I will try to explain why you can still be successful without a specific issue/cause message. I’ll also point out that there is an inevitable drift for any organization, who wants to grow larger and do more with their resources towards focusing on the organization itself, and not the cause (or multiple causes).

As a way to classify and get specific about what I'm talking about, I’ve developed 4 types or categories of organizations as shown below.

Edgetion - How non-profits create market success
(Click to view full size on Flickr) - Download data set (Excel)

Type I – “Radical Attention Hogs”

Type I organizations are typically (but not always) newer/younger organizations that were created with a specific cause or issue in mind. Invisible Children’s focus on Child Soldiers in Uganda is a great example. Radical Attention Hogs (RAH’s) command attention from a younger set of constituents who are highly motivated by radical thinking, singular focus and purpose and a certain “cool” factor. Organizations that fit into this type have both huge opportunity and huge amounts of danger ahead (Peta, Greenpeace for example). They must capitalize on their initial success by putting processes in place – the lack of which may have initially helped create their success.

At some point, if the issue they are focused on goes out of style or change is truly affected (i.e. a cure for breast cancer or heaven forbid peace in Darfur), “RAH’s” will have to either find a new issue and dilute their original focus (and most likely, the very reason for their success). In thinking about this, I also believe there may be a natural migration from being a “RAH” type to a platform player. Invisible Children’s night commute walk and innovative school programs have huge reach already but their challenge will be to continue to grow the program even as Uganda falls out of favor for other issues like Darfur, and Iraq.

Borrowing from another vertical within non-profit land, Susan G. Komen continues to act like a “RAH” by continuing their singular focus on breast cancer. From a marketing perspective, it’s easy to understand why Komen has become a successful organization. They are highly focused on their issue/cause and have built a huge community to support it.

Type II – Platform Players

Type II players are more established organizations at one point may have been “RAH’s” but are now so broad (bloated?) and have so many different issues that they have started to focus more of their messaging and marketing on their own organization or event platform. My friends at the March of Dimes are Platform Players (“PP’s), as are my other friends at The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Both of these organizations clearly have an issue or cause they are focused on, but spend much or all of their time marketing either their own brand or their hugely successful event platforms (WalkAmerica and Team In Training, respectively.)

In the international aid world, Save the Children is a great example of a platform player with their child sponsorship program. Because “PPs” are typically more established, they are also a lot larger in terms of total revenue. By way of contrast, Invisible Children raises less than $20 million per year and I can’t even find a published number for Save Darfur. Compare that numbers to LLS’s, ACS and Save the Children’s hundreds of millions of dollars and you can really start to see what scaled up organizations are capable of raising. Additionally, while IC and Save Darfur do get quite a bit of attention, they can’t even touch truly radical attention hogs like Greenpeace or Peta.

“PP’s” will also very typically have a multiple event platforms AND heavy corporate sponsorship programs. Autism Speaks is rapidly moving from “RAH” to platform player with the help of NBC and their walk program (and a super smart CEO who I need badly to catch up with sooner rather than later). Looking at their numbers though, suggests they have a ways to go still on the marketing front.

LLS’s Team In Training raises more than $100 million annually and has strong corporate sponsors to help raise both money and awareness. Additionally, LLS has created multiple event platforms that each raise additional millions of dollars a year. Their Light the Night walk platform (again, with strong corporate support), Pennies for Patients and Hike for Discovery are all great platforms and models that work.

Interestingly, for those of us working for international aid agencies, I’m having a hard time finding more platform players. Outside very traditional gala style events there isn’t much out there. The Night Commute walk from Invisible Children has huge potential if they can figure out how to broaden their message without killing their effectiveness.

Here are 3 key takeaways from the first 2 types:

Takeaway #1: Being a platform player is not a bad thing. One of the joy’s of this blog post for me is that I have a way to think about how my more radical ideas can fit into the IRC’s culture and help to drive us forward. Cool – and more on that in another post.

Takeaway #2: Radical Attention Hogs really do hog all the attention. Aside from being totally obvious – it’s important to note that like Ralph Nader, they dilute the amount of attention left for other perhaps more effective organizations. Emerging and younger“RAH’s” take the lion’s share of the blogosphere and are free in a very real sense to take risks in the marketplace that platform players simply cannot take. Save Darfur and Invisible Children both have a significantly greater amount of technorati mentions than does IRC and Mercy Corps, but can't touch the larger organizations overall operating budgets.

Takeaway #3: There is an inevitable migration from being a “RAH” to a “PP” – either you become a platform player or lose focus and end up in Type III..

Type III – The Undecided’s

It is harder to come up with examples of undecideds for the very reason they are in this type. They don’t get much attention and aren’t very edgy in their marketing and messaging. The International Rescue Committee is squarely in this type despite our new, bold logo. We’re certainly not a “RAH” – either because we can’t or won’t focus on specific issues and causes, or because we haven’t clearly defined how being focused on refugees is a cause unto itself. Perhaps I should get on that instead of writing this long ass blog post?

IRC also is not a platform player because we do not have an actual event or corporate platform (excluding grants, private foundations etc which is off topic). What the IRC does have is huge credibility and reach with our 24 offices across the US, massive volunteer corps and wonderful reputation, we could easily jump into a “RAH” mindset or create a national platform (walk, run, golf, whatever). The point of course, is that we’re undecided and will remain in Type III until we decide to get out.

Autism Speaks was a “RAH” until just a few years ago when they merged with another autism organization and created a national walk platform, put together a corporate sponsor package and started working with celebrities. As the pieces fall together for them, they will continue to grow faster and faster. Same goes for Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation who recently started pushing their walk platform, and who along with their specific focus and and creative leadership has a great chance for long term fundraising and marketing success.

CARE is trying hard to go from undecided to “RAH” with their “I Am Powerful” campaign. Focusing all their marketing messaging on women is a smart move. It focuses the entire organization, gives them a clear message and will attract lots of people who don’t care about CARE, but do care about women’s rights and empowerment.

Takeaway #4: Undecided’s can jump to either or both type I or II. Given how big some of us undecided’s are – we can easily create fundraising platforms using proven models on a national scale. What I love about this takeaway is that I’ve found a loophole in my own logic from my original blog post. You can in fact be very successful by focusing on yourself (or a platform) as opposed to picking an issue or cause. Alternatively, we could try to go the route of CARE – and focus the organization onto a single, but large cause or issue.

Type IV – Loudmouths

I hardly need to say anything about this type and am not sure I even have an example of one. If Greenpeace were advocating for war and not peace this would be them. Is there an organization that is lobbying FOR climate change and getting attention? Inauthentic organizations can become type IV loudmouths if they hire a good marketing or PR person. Note that this does NOT include organizations who you do not personally agree with – political or otherwise. Just because you are a pro-lifer doesn’t mean that the other side isn’t entitled to their opinion. Hmm, is that a good example?

Can’t we all just get along?

Disclaimers: For this exercise I’ve used the bloggers prerogative (just like a moderators prerogative to ask the first question) to use some highly suspect math and science in developing a working theory (just like my friend Allan did here with his LinkedIn experiment). In my case, I started with 15 different organizations and/or platforms. I took their Alexa rating and their technorati results and ranked each from 7 down to -7.

The third number is much more subjective. I’ve looked at each of the organizations web sites and in a very general sense gave each organization an “edge” rating. This edge rating is supposed to reflect their radical/hot/cool/slick their communications, marketing and design approach.

To borrow briefly from a different industry, it’s the difference between Apple and Microsoft. Apple gets a “7” in the edge rating while M$FT would rank slightly lower. Well, OK – a lot, lot lower.. Besides being fun (and again, totally subjective), it gives us the “edge” rating that ranges from 7 down to -7. Overall usability was considered, but only peripherally. I obviously have no way of knowing how these sites perform from a conversion perspective, which would dramatically change the rankings I presume.

All data was pulled at approximately 10:30, Thursday August 30, 2007. This was the longest, hardest blog post I've ever written. I hope you will leave some feedback and comments.

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