Confusing Activity with Productivity

I have a terribly bad habit. When I'm on an airplane, I have a tendency to be a "Nosy Parker" and try to read the magazine article, newspaper-- or even better-- powerpoint sildes of the people sitting in front of me. I'm fascinated by what occupies the attention of my incidental traveling companions.

So I'm sitting here, somewhere between Minneapolis and Dallas, spying the deck of the dude in front of me. Here's the headline of the slide he's been stuck on for the past 65 minutes:

"We are starting the process of identifying the implementation roadmap now, but it will not be complete until February 2012" (It is currently October 2011)

And then here is the schedule that followed:

October - Pre-draft of roadmap version 1.0
November - Workshop to refine roadmap 1.0; refine timeline, activities, and resource allocations
December - Review version 2.0 with Steering Committee; refine timeline, activities, and resource allocations
January - Incorporate findings from architecture assessment; refine timeline, activities, and resource allocations
February - Seek approvals for business cases and roadmap version 4.0

Really? Five months, just to get a plan together. Now, admittedly, I have no clue what this roadmap is for. But I think this is a good metaphor for how we often meet for the sake of meeting, and desperately quest for consensus when what we probably need is just strong leadership. To me, this seems like a throwback to a time where life moved much slower. In the digital, ever-connected age, we need to be agile and move quickly. What is cutting edge today is old hat tomorrow.

Or, it may be that we satisfy ourselves with activity when we should be striving for productivity. I read a study recently that suggested that when we talk about our goals and plans, subconsciously it is just as satisfying as actually doing them. So maybe we need to talk (and meet) less and fixate on actually doing more. Perhaps we need to ask for forgiveness instead of begging for approval.

Or maybe I just need to mind my own business on airplanes.


The Human Assembly Line

If there is one thing that absolutely terrifies me, it is the assembly line. The thought of pressing the same button every day, week, month, year, absolutely nauseates me. Well, living in a post-industrial America, I shouldn't have to fear that any more...or should I?

As I survey the way that most businesses are organized, it is very comparable to a human assembly line. For some reason, we think that the best way to organize effort that leads to output is within very narrow, hierarchical units. The larger the organization, the more narrow, and the more hierarchical it becomes.

But is that really the most efficient use of resources? If you hired multi-talented people, couldn't they be able to perform multifaceted roles? It seems that the greatest loss of efficiency comes from one person trying to communicate to another person exactly what they are thinking.

For example, a strategist writes a document that outlines her strategic plan, and then an account person needs to pass that along to the client to get feedback that gets passed back to the strategist, and then the consolidated document gets passed to a project manager that breaks each element of the strategy down into smaller tasks that can be assigned to various talents. By the time it reaches the end-- no matter how well the initial concept is documented-- there is substantial disconnect between the people executing the idea and the idea's originator.

What if instead, they could just execute what they were thinking? Instead of investing in technology, and books about process, and consultants to help us break down tasks into smaller and smaller pieces that can be inserted into a queuing system and managed by yet another set of resources-- would it not be more efficient to cross train employees to be multi-talented? Looking back on all of the various projects that I have been involved in, I've found that I've been most engaged, most fulfilled, most stretched, and most rewarded on projects that I've been able to take from drawing board through results presentation.


Three Questions Every Employee Asks

Our senior management team just started reading 12: The Elements of Great Managing by Rodd Wagner and James K. Harter, Ph.D. In the book, the authors break down the Q12 statements that were introduced in First, Break All The Rules. These statements are based on Gallup's data from over ten million workplace interviews and they represent what every employee needs to be truly engaged at work.

As I've thought about these 12 statements, I think they can be summarized within the following three questions that every employee asks themselves:

1. Do I matter?

2. Does what I do matter?

3. Does the company matter?

Let me break them down:

Do I matter?

If I truly matter to the company, I will be provided with the tools, training, and resources I need to do my job effectively. I will be compensated fairly. I will be provided opportunities to learn and to grow. I will have the overwhelming sense that I don't work for my manager, but that my manager works for me. I will be set up for success, not destined to failure. I will be provided benefits that give me and my family peace of mind. I will have a clear career path and a manager that helps me to constantly move forward. From time to time, my company will even provide opportunities for me to just have fun.

Does what I do matter?

If what I do truly matters, then I will will be missed when I'm not around. I will feel safe and free to speak up and provide my opinion. I will receive help when I need it without feeling threatened. I will freely give and receive trust. I will not live in fear of making a mistake. I will be able to easily draw a line between what I do and how it creates impact. I will be asked what I think about policies, processes, procedures, and people. I will be respected for my unique contribution to the team. I will be surround by people I genuinely like and that genuinely like me. I will receive public recognition for a job well done and private redirection for a job not so well done. I will know what success looks like and how I can obtain it.

Does the company matter?

If the company truly matters, then people will buy/donate/subscribe/retain/hire. Our competition will know us and study us. Our product or service will get results. Industry leaders will apply within, not have to be recruited. Other companies will try to copy us. Investors will want to own us. The way our industry, vertical, sector, or even the world works will be different.

These are just some initial observations, but from them I think a new credo may be formed from perhaps a single ageless question, "Where can I find meaning in life?" Some of the greatest minds in history have wrestled with this very question and it seems we are still wrestling with it today. Sadly, if we seek to extract ultimate meaning in our lives from our careers we will be perpetually disappointed. Industry is man-made and ultimately has an end. Many have reached that peak and found nothing but disappointment. So if we put our complete hope in finding meaning in enterprise, we will find that it is in fact meaningless. There must be something more that drives us, inspires us, and satisfies us with real meaning and purpose. Something that brings meaning to work, not in it. Something bigger. Something that surpasses everything that we can create through the work of our hands. Do you know what that is? I do.



Humility is the mark of greatness. Humility enables a leader to recognize his limitations, and seek out others to come along side him to bring perspective, diversity, and wholeness to an organization.

Humility enables an employee to reach out, reach up and grow in his skills and abilities through training, continuing education, and mentoring.

Humility enables a consumer to become a customer. It is the first step to realizing and meeting his needs and desires.

Humility enables a married couple to get help when they are struggling with the pressures of work, kids, bills, and relationships.

Humility enables a drunk to get sober.

Humility brings resolution to an argument.

Humility leads a broken man to the Lord.

Humility is necessary for courage to be born.

Humility seeks forgiveness, offers forgiveness, and accepts forgiveness from others.

Humility is the key to progress, to innovation, and to optimization.


Einstein Was Only Half Right

Albert Einstein was credited with defining insanity as, "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." Well, in the modern world, I'd say that Mr. Einstein is only half right. We live in a world that is changing so fast that if we do the same thing over and over again and expect the same results, we might be considered just as crazy. This is especially true with fundraising and marketing in general. The same old same old doesn't work like it used to. There is another law at work in our modern world that is becoming more and more relevant. That is the Law of Diminishing Utility or the Law of Diminishing Returns. When we approach fundraising with the same old approach, we will find that we will eventually run out of margin. Please don't misinterpret this-- I am not suggesting that direct mail is going away anytime soon. My conviction is that we need to rethink how we do direct mail. We need to make direct mail more integrated to stay relevant with a growing audience of people that don't write physical checks anymore. We need to integrate mail with mobile, web, and social media. We need to innovate and optimize the way we approach fundraising. Think I'm crazy? That's what they said about Einstein.


Hey Social Media, Show Me The Money!

First, let me apologize to all of my social media guru friends and colleagues. What I'm about to share may greatly distress you, disturb you, and just plain insult you. Too bad. This is something that has been pent up for way too long and it is time to let it out. If you are really upset, take it out in the comments.

I attend and speak at a lot of conferences related to fundraising and marketing. And it doesn't matter where I go, or what the focus of the conference is-- inevitably one of the keynote sessions is going to be talking about "how social media is going to transform your organization." But the case studies they offer up are all about some obscure campaign that's earth shattering success is measured by the number of "Likes" on Facebook. Are you kidding me? As if you can take those magical "Likes" and cash them in for something real and tangible like a meal for some poor child in Africa, or a cure for cancer, or to support a missionary in China. Show me the money!

Okay, so my beef isn't necessarily with social media. It is in the way we use and measure social media. Maybe it's just because I'm a direct response guy, but I want to be able to show how social media moves the needle when it comes to the three key building blocks to fundraising success: new names, new donors, and more donors. The rest is just fluff. Let me share with you a new recipe I've been cooking up with social media.

Eggs, Milk, Flour, Sugar, Butter

Each of these elements have tremendous utility on their own. However, if you combine each of these elements in the right measure, under the right conditions, you get something completely different-- you get a cake!

Same is true with our different communication channels. We sometimes get so myopic, so siloed in our thinking about what we are going to say on each channel that we miss the greater opportunity to combine the channels to get something that is way better than just the sum of the parts. So, we decided to test it out.

'What if We Could Get 100% Response Rate on a Direct Mail Piece?'

That's the question we asked ourselves. Now, we know that for all practical purposes expecting a 100% response rate is tomfoolery, right? I can see the old-school DM guys having some fun with this. But if we made our direct mail dynamic...if the mail wasn't an end in itself, but a beginning...if we could find a way to make a direct mail piece go viral...then, maybe we could talk about a new concept-- the Effective Response Rate. The effective response rate is the total number of responses--from any channel-- that all originated from a single piece of mail.

Well, I'm sure you can guess what happened...I mean, I wouldn't write a blog post about an experiment that completely flopped would I? [Hmmm...that is an interesting question, I actually think I would if I thought that there was a key learning that could be taken from it.] The campaign that we launched combined highly personalized direct mail, with an online interactive game and social media, and our effective response rate for the direct mail piece was 213%. Boom!

How did we do it?

First, we started by thinking about our ideal target audience. Our plan was to create a campaign that they would want to engage in. Did we have specific business objectives? Absolutely. But instead of making those objectives the focal point of our message, we created an environment where the target could experience our value proposition instead of us shouting about it.

Then, we made it fun. We created a competitive environment where people were incentivized to engage with the campaign every day, and most importantly, recruit others.

Finally, we made it easy for people to recruit others by integrating social media. By providing a team incentive, and an individual incentive we were able to drive the right behaviors that helped us accomplish our business goals.

In the end, we were able to experience the exponential benefit of tightly integrating the channels to accomplish far more than each could accomplish on their own.

Want to See the Actual Case Study?

I'm being somewhat vague intentionally. See, I would love to have the opportunity to talk with you about exactly how we were able to generate an effective 213% response rate for our direct mail campaign-- but you have to meet me half way. Shoot me a direct message on Twitter at @DigitalDonor, and I'll set up a time to walk you through the case study. I'll also probably ask you some questions about your specific business or campaign objectives so be prepared to share that. Together, we can think through how you too can combine all the channels to bake a sweet treat for the CEO.


Fresh, Joy, Love, Tasty

Have you ever noticed that most companies today don't market their products, they market your values. I was at Panda Express for lunch today. There, hanging in the in the middle of the restaurant, were four not-too-subtle banners. Each bore the image of one of PE's finest entrees along with a single-word:





"Fresh" and "Tasty" I get, but "Joy" and "Love?" Since when do we go to a fast food restaurant to get our fill of these? I prefer the Orange Chicken.


A Proven Formula to Optimize and Revolutionize Your Email Program

When it comes to optimizing email campaigns, best practices are not enough – you need a rigorous methodology. This workshop will teach you how to focus your thinking on what really works when it comes to increasing response and enhancing revenue. After completing this course you will be able to:
  1. Discern the email marketing messaging sequence

  2. Learn about how others are finding success during these times

  3. Apply the email messaging effectiveness formula as illustrated through actual case studies

Download the Presentation: Discover the Proven Formula for Optimizing Email Campaigns

This presentation was delivered on Thursday, April 28, 2011 at the Christian Leadership Alliance Conference in Dallas, TX

Other Resources of Interest

Also, I’ve included some links to some additional resources that were referenced in the presentation:

  1. Free Email Optimization Webinar - If you missed the presentation at CLA, or if you would like to see it again, we are hosting a free live webinar on Wednesday, July 20th at 12:00 PM CDT. Space is limited, so please sign up today.

  2. Convio 2010 “Online Marketing Nonprofit Benchmark Index Study”– Lots of great metrics and insights in this report. This will help you know how you “stack up” with other nonprofits across key metrics.

  3. MarketingExperiments - This organization is the applied research arm of MECLABS. These are the folks that invented the Email Effectiveness Index that was discussed in the presentation.

  4. Convio’s “The Next Generation of American Giving”– This is a study on the contrasting charitable habits of Generation Y, Generation X, Baby Boomers, and Matures. Lot's of great takeaways in here.


The Most Important 85 Characters in Your Email

Want to know a secret? People aren't looking for a reason to open your email, they are looking for a reason to hit DELETE. So, how do you get them to open?

Best practices would say to focus on subject line optimization. Which is a great place to start. But you can Google the best way to write a good subject line and find plenty of help on that.

I want to share with you what I'm experimenting with-- the first 85 characters in the email body which just so happens to show up in most inboxes and desktop notifications.

You can tell that most marketers are totally ignoring this. Their first 85 characters goes something like this, "Make sure you add myEmail@MyDomain.com to your whitelist...." or, "If you are having trouble viewing this email, click here...."

According to best practices, these are spot on-- but here is where it might make sense to challenge these best practices by testing something else.

What if you can use those 85 characters to extend your subject line, or better yet, make a compelling value proposition statement that encourages folks to open?

Check out some of these:

Which ones would you want to/need to open?

I have a bad habit of using myself as a focus group of one, but I have to admit, I usually scan my inbox and often look at nothing but the first 85 characters of the email to see if it is worth my time to go any further. I do this with personal emails, work emails, and emails I've subscribed to receive.

I'd love to hear your feedback based on experimenting with this concept. Post a comment, or send me a message on Twitter (@DigitalDonor) with your results.


You Could Be The Next Star!

I just received an email announcing that Simon Cowell, that sinister former American Idol judge that everyone loves to hate, is launching a new singing competition show called The X Factor (don't ask me how I got on that mailing list). This time, would-be pop stars of any age will compete for a $5 Million contract with Sony.

So, same old game, bigger pay day.

Is there still that much pent-up demand to be instantly famous? Maybe that's why our economy sucks so bad-- the millennials that should be gearing up to build the next tomorrow are too busy hanging out in audition holding rooms trying to look good in distressed designer jeans, spiky hair, doing their best Justin Bieber impersonation (wow, I sound old when I talk like that).

I'm SOOOOO over American Idol, but I have to admit the paradigm is brilliant:

  • Invite customers to create the product. This is the crux of the show-- you invite people to present their proposal for for a new product idea. In the case of Idol, that proposal is in the form of an audition.

  • Select a panel of experts to vet the product ideas. This is the early stages of Idol when the judges decide who advances and who gets sent home. It doesn't hurt when the judges have quirky personas themselves.

  • Recycle the leftovers, and sometimes the rejects become the main thing. Idol does this brilliantly. They take the best of the worst auditions and turns them into compelling content. Remember William Hung? "She bangs, she bangs...oh, baby, and she moves, she moves!"

  • Let the customers design and shape the final product. Once the contestants have been narrowed down, the viewers at home get to decide who will be the next star. This is customer-driven innovation at its finest!

  • Create a pent-up demand for the product before it is even released. By voting for their favorites, and helping to create the new star of American Idol, the people at home become vested in the product they've helped to shape and line up at the record store (or I guess iTunes), to purchase the album the minute it is released. Apple does this too-- iPhone 7 is coming in 2014-- are you ready?

So, although I think Simon's next show is going to lay an egg like Duets, and his other post-Idol start-ups, I do think there is life to the American Idol paradigm. Think about how you can engage your customers and donors in helping to shape your next program, project, or ministry. Follow the American Idol model and "who knows-- you could be the next big star!"


This, Not This...

The past two weeks in North Texas have been among the coldest, like ever. The first week of February our offices were closed 4 out of 5 days due to ice and snow. The next week wasn't much better. Another storm rolled through shutting down schools and businesses again.

So what does that have to do with anything related to marketing? Well, actually quite a bit.

During that cold snap, I received two emails that I think represent the best and worst in terms of relevant messaging. So I figured I'd attempt to channel one of my heroes, Dr. Flint McGlaughlin, CEO of MECLABS, and do a heads up comparison of these two emails using his legendary "This, Not This" bit.

Below is a copy of the first email I received that came from The Creative Circle which is a local talent placement agency.

Now, granted the message envelope isn't that great. The subject line is "Talent Update" which is the same subject line for every email I receive from them. But because my email system displays the first two lines of the email through a desktop notification, I was drawn immediately to the highly relevant comment about the weather:

"Brrrrrrrrrrr! Did you make it to work today?"

Actually, no, I didn't-- our offices were closed. I read on:

"If you didn't, I bet the work is just piling up, and that is where the Creative Circle comes in..."

Brilliant. The value proposition is established and tied to a very relevant need I have.

He's right. Work is piling up. Maybe I do need to reevaluate my department's staff plan.

From there the email goes on a little bit of a rabbit trail. True, the Super Bowl was in town. Yes, I get the connection to needing a [marketing] "champion". But perhaps that could have been saved for a completely different email. Maybe after the Super Bowl?

Anyway, aside from that the email did a great job of using external relevance-- things that are happening in the world around us-- to create a message that resonated very strongly with me.

Now, for the "Not This" example.

A couple of days later I was still home, our offices were still closed, and it was still the coldest it has ever been since I've lived in North Texas. But now the news channels were reporting that this wasn't just a North Texas cold snap, the winter storms were hitting the entire country!

It was at that point I received the following email:

Okay, so right off the bat this thing is whack. In the message envelope, the sender is "Cool-Off." What? I know that this is the name of your company—but dude—seriously? Do you think anyone is looking to cool off?

This same ridiculousness is repeated in the subject line, "Limited Time Offer from Cool-Off.com.”

Because I do this stuff for a living, I just had to open the message and find out what they would say next, but if I didn't I would have trashed this thing instantly. When I did open it, it just kept getting better (and by better I mean worse—much worse). There was a big hero shot with a pool and palm trees, and a big momma-gamma misting fan. Ha!

But then I spotted the headline:

"Summer is Right Around the Corner..."

Um, what?

Then the first sentence (which was one giant hyperlink): "Beat the Heat" and Save (25-30% OFF) on all Patio Misters..."

Is this a joke?

Then I scanned the "In This Issue" (apparently this is a newsletter) and there were three "Quick Links:"

  • Register Now - For what exactly? What a silly thing to have at the top of your "Quick Links." Register Now for more bad emails, or to access your site, or for more irrelevant offers???

  • News - Sorry, not interested in any news. I get that from Fox.

  • More About Us - Well I guess it is all about you, huh? Obviously sales are down being it's FRIGGIN FREEZING everywhere in the country and you guys want to try to get a boost. Well, I'm sorry 'friend.' If you want to do business with me in the future, you may want to think about me, my needs, my problems, and then begin a relevant conversation with me that makes sense. I'm not stupid. I'm not going to buy a mister hose just because it is on sale. You need to think before you hit the send button next time.

Alright, enough with the rant. The key takeaways here are simply this:

1. Every time you send an email you are initiating a mental conversation with the recipients of that message. Make sure you don’t start a conversation that makes you look stupid, insensitive, or out-of-touch. No one wants to do business with people like this.

2. Relevancy is the key to good email communication—in fact, it is the key to good communication in general. Howard Gossage, an old ad mogul once said, “The real fact of the matter is that nobody reads ads. People read what interests them. Sometimes it’s an ad.”

3. Beware of sending the wrong message to the wrong person at the wrong time. Social media changes the game in a lot of ways, and bad marketing can take on a life of its own. I wrote another post about that called, The Wrong Message to the Wrong Person at the Wrong Time.


What's the Diffrence Between For-Profit and Non-Profit?

Every organization on planet earth asks for your money. Some are for-profit companies and some are non-profit companies. Both start with basically the same goal:

How do I solve a problem?

Through the exercise of solving a problem a product is born, or a services is created, or a program is developed. But ultimately, success is determined by how effectively an organization can solve the problem.

Take McDonald's for example. Their challenge is to fix the problem of hunger. They create arguably good-tasting, low-cost, quickly prepared food. Through the course of solving the problem of hunger McDonald's sells the products they create to people like you and me. Now, McDonald's isn't the only one in the hunger business. So, to convince you that they are better at solving your problem of hunger than someone else, McDonald's consistently sends us messages to remind us that they are the best place to turn when you are hungry. McDonald's asks for your money.

Now consider another organization that is in the hunger business, Feed the Children. Feed the Children provides meals to children around the world that are malnourished or suffering from starvation. Just like McDonald's, Feed the Children exists to solve the problem of hunger. Just like McDonald's, Feed the Children asks for your money. But there is an obvious difference between these two organizations. When you give your money to McDonald's you are trying to solve your own problem, but when you give your money to Feed the Children, you are solving someone else's problem.

So, why do people get so bent out of shape when non-profits ask for money? Is it because we are all completely self-centered and we'd much rather spend what we have on ourself? Consider this. We live in the richest country in the world and are the most generous nation in terms of what we give to charity, yet still on average Americans only give about 2% of their annual income to solving others' problems. How might the world change if that 2% was more like 20%?

That's why I'm in fundraising.


Why Donors Don’t Donate On Your Web Site

Usability, or lack thereof, is one of my pet peeves. The other day I was hopping around some of the big nonprofit sites to see how they were handling their donation user experience. I thought that perhaps there would be some best practices that I could glean and share with my clients. It didn’t take long to discover that most nonprofits do everything that they can to discourage would-be donors from making a donation. One particular site that stood out the most had no fewer than 11 screens that the poor, helpless potential donor would have to click through in order to make a donation. Can you believe it, 11 screens! I guess that they wanted to make sure that the donor was really, really, really serious about making a donation.

So you don’t make the same mistake, consider these following best practices:

  • It’s all about the experience. Making a donation has a completely different feel than ordering tchotchkes from Amazon. Do away with the online store feel and try to create a one-to-one relationship between each project and the associated donation response form.

  • Less clicks, more dollars. There is a direct correlation between the number of clicks that you put between a user and goal and conversion rate. The technical term for this is called Funnel Abandonment or Checkout Abandonment. Try to limit the number of screens that the user must click through in order to complete the donation. If at all possible, enable the user to complete the donation on the same page that prompted it.

  • Um, can I have a little help here? If you do have a multi-step check out process, clearly communicate that to the user. Provide some frame of reference as to where they are in the check out process and when the torturous form-filling will end. Give them clear directions as to what information is required and optional, and for the sake of everything holy, provide the user with coherent and easily identifiable error messages.

  • You have not, because you ask not. We recently launched a microsite for a client that included a free resource offer for users that filled out a registration form. The goal was purely name acquisition. About a month into the campaign we added an option for users to also make a donation through the form. That simple little change translated into thousands of “extra” dollars and did not affect the conversion rate for the form whatsoever. Whenever appropriate, add a donation option to registration or name acquisition forms.

  • No, I don’t remember my password! Putting a login screen between a user and a donation form is like putting an obstacle course between a grocery shopper and the check out lane. It seems like a good idea—after all, once the donor sets up their account all of their information will be saved, right? Wrong! I learned this lesson the hard way. Trust me, don’t do it.

Although this is not a comprehensive list, by following these best practices you will be helping to make the online donation experience a positive one.


Have You Ever Heard Of...

There is a lot of talk about brand these days in the nonprofit world. But, what is your brand? Isn't it a collection of ideas and experiences that your customers and donors carry around in their heads? It seems that no matter whom you talk to—the brand expert d'jour—you often get a very different interpretation of what a brand is and, more importantly, how you can make it more effective.

So . . . since it seems there is no clear science for the right way to approach your brand, I figured I'd get out there with my own branding thoughts.

How many times have you been engaged in conversation with a friend or colleague and they asked you, "Have you ever heard of ______?" If you answer yes, the conversation will shift to a discussion of whatever _____ is. If you answer no, the same will occur. It is in these moments that I believe that your brand is defined. Forget the fancy focus groups, pyramid diagrams, catchy tag lines, or even that killer logo—your brand is what people talk about.

So what makes an organization worth talking about? Well, it's often the things that either receive the least attention or get overlooked completely. Here's my short list:

1. Who picks up the phone when someone calls?

If you are like most companies these days, it's an automated system. Usually the first thing folks hear is, "In order to better assist you, we have created the following options: For sales press 1, For service press 2 . . . Start typing the first 3 letters of the persons last name . . . If you know the extension of the party you wish to reach, you may dial it at any time . . . "

Want to know how that translates to your customers and donors?

"In an effort to better serve our needs and cut our costs, we have implemented an electronic answering service. We don't think you are important enough to hire an actual person to answer your call—but if you want to buy something from us today, press one and you can talk to a real person right away. After all, we've spent a great deal of time writing our upgrade scripts for our telemarketing firm in India—and we always like to increase our average sale value."

And the whole time, your customer is thinking, "Gosh, I just want to speak to a real person . . . I just have a quick question . . . I don't know how to spell his last name . . . if I knew the extension of the person I am trying to reach, then I wouldn't have dialed the main friggin number!"

If you want to have an organization worth talking about, start by hiring the best receptionist that you can find. Give them the title, "Brand Representative" and pay them twice what a typical receptionist makes. Give them goals by which you will measure their success and develop metrics to plot their success. Better yet hire multiple Brand Reps so that no matter when the phone rings, there is always someone there to answer the call. Can you imagine what kind of "brand" impression it would leave if someone called your organization after hours and an actual, live person picked up the phone? Not only that, but the person on the other end of the phone was actually knowledgeable and able to address your donor's question? Even if they didn't have an answer on the spot, what if they recorded the question, routed it to the correct person, and then the very next morning the donor received a call from someone in your organization with an answer? Do you think that might get people talking?

2. What about when things go wrong?

How can we turn a boo-boo into an opportunity for great branding? An order gets messed up. The wrong product ships. A flight is delayed or cancelled.

The last one hits home with me. I travel a lot for work and have amazingly horrendous luck with having my plane leave at the actual, advertised date and time. But because I fly a lot, the airline knows me. They know exactly how many miles I fly, where I fly to, and how many times I've experienced delays—or worse—cancellations. What if once in awhile, when things go wrong and my flight is delayed and I'm sitting on the tarmac in 100 degree Dallas heat with no air conditioning, nowhere to turn, and all I can think of to do is post nasty Facebook updates about the airlines—what if at that moment I received a call from my airline. "Mr. Kachuriak, this is Bill from American. I know you are not thrilled with the delay of your flight, so I just wanted to call to personally apologize. As an Elite Platinum member we very much value your trust and thank you for your patience today. Let me buy you lunch when you get to Reagan. I just emailed you a voucher you can use anywhere in the airport."

Wow! Talk about a lasting branding impression! I would go from feeling like a victim to feeling like someone truly special . . . and I can promise you that I'd be talking about it with everyone when I reached my destination. When it comes to your brand, people believe what other people say, not the clever brand promise that you post on your website.

Another important point to note is that your customers will understand and accept that things can and will go wrong. It's part of life. It's what you do about it and how you respond that will differentiate those trying moments as either positive experiences or negative ones.

3. Do you know how to say thank you?

This is one area that is especially poor for nonprofits. We are great about sending out that appeal letter on time and error-free, but we get a little bit more lax in our fervor to send out a thank-you. One of the greatest experiences I ever had working in ministry was when things were going very bad financially and we had everyone in the organization from the CEO to the janitor spend 4 hours a week in our call center making calls to donors thanking them for their support. Two amazing things happened as a result:

  • The month we did the calling campaign was the only month in the previous 9 months that we were in the black. The amazing thing was that we were not allowed to ask for money on the calls. The call campaign was exclusively to thank donors and ask if there was any way to pray for them. But as we began to talk to folks, they would ask if they could make a donation over the phone.

  • The more amazing thing was that the calling campaign sparked a revival at the ministry. Some of us for the very first time got to talk to the people that we were ministering to and hear them tell us how much our ministry has blessed them over the years. I held the record for the longest call at 124 minutes. I was captivated by an elderly widow that had spent her life working in the Miami public school system. She actually wrote a manuscript about her experiences that no one had read—including her—in over thirty years. She sent me a copy and I'm working on getting it published. The point is that this wasn't just about the donors anymore, it became about the staff. Working in a nonprofit, and especially a nonprofit ministry, can take its toll on staff. Generally, you are under-staffed, under-resourced, over-worked, over-extended, and at times even a bit jaded. That's what makes this such an important principle: take care of your donors, and they will take care of you.

    So, to recap, here are some ways to make your brand talkable (in a good way!):

    1. Get rid of the answering machine. Let your customers and donors know that they are important and that their call is important to you. Answer their calls all hours of the day and night. If you say you will get back to them, do it! These folks are the reason that you have a job.

    2. Look for opportunities to turn a mistake into a positive experience. You can
    differentiate your organization much more in this area than any other magic formula, value proposition, or USP. Start with your largest donors/customers and work your way down. Remember, larger donors often start as smaller donors, and you never know who might have the capacity to give more—but beyond that—if you want to have a strong brand, a brand worth talking about, treat every donor as if they were a large donor.

    3. Learn how to say thank you. Amazing that the manners we learned at the earliest age are forgotten so easily. Go out of your way to let your donors know how much you appreciate them and you will be blessed—financially and personally.


To All You Youth Leaders Out There

Rarely do we receive the privilege of knowing that the choices we make actually make a difference in someone else’s life. Just today, I received proof that when we respond to the call of the Lord—in even a seemingly small way—that it does not return void. Here’s an excerpt from a Facebook message I received:

Subject: Overdue Thank You

Hey Tim,
I hope this message finds you well. It has been way too long since we last spoke. I'm about to start my final semester at [College] on Monday, but being home for Christmas caused me to think about high school and the old small group. I realized that I'm not sure I ever thanked you for all of the time that you spent with us. Looking back, I am sure there were many other things that you could have been doing with your time.

So, I wanted to make sure you knew how much I appreciated your time with us. Some of my fondest memories are from times that we spent together with that crazy bunch of guys. That group was such an encouragement to me. God truly used you in my life. Thank you for your time and your heart for the Lord. You had a great impact!

God Bless!

Here’s what I believe. Had I not been the one that responded to the call to lead this high school small group then the Lord would have called on someone else. But because I did respond, I now am receiving the blessing of knowing that I have been used by the Lord to make a difference.

Be sensitive to the Spirit’s leading. Don’t ever confuse the reality that He is the one that does the work. But always remember that being used by God is a blessing and the perfect fulfillment of our very purpose for living.

What a day! God is good!