This post originally appeared in eJewish Philanthropy.
“Rude,” “ill-informed,” crass.”
No, not from a discussion on a cable news political program. These were the words of Vicky Saynor, a cancer patient, in reaction to a recent campaign video launched by Breast Cancer Now in the UK. The offending video featured smiling women hugging and included the slogan “they say good things come in twos.”
Saynor criticized the video by reminding everyone that breast cancer often involves the removal of one or both breasts. Breast Cancer Now obviously did not have any intention of offending cancer survivors. But their desired messaging had the exact opposite effect.
The lesson? Messaging that makes sense to your organization and its supporters may not be translated similarly by a wider audience.
Always bring a fresh perspective
A large chunk of communications and marketing is storytelling. Nonprofits are forever engaged in storytelling- direct mail appeals, newsletters, social media posts, campaigns, videos, brochures and presentations. You collect data, photos and stories and disseminate both internally and externally.
However, some nonprofits fail to consider: Does the world care about the story you share? And if they do, will they understand the story’s message and act on it?
The groupthink bubble can form when you’re knee-deep in your daily work tasks. Your nonprofit is performing life-changing work. You’re talking with donors and volunteers who are praising your efforts. You’re helping constituents, seeing the smiles and reading success stories.
What happens when you launch a large campaign to attract new donors? Are you using messaging which will resonate with a wider audience or simply using the same storytelling methods that work with your current cheerleaders? Because once you’re out of the bubble, you might learn that your message doesn’t stand out, that your story is not as inspirational as you thought.
Or even worse, you didn’t consider the consequences of your campaign and it backfires. This is where fresh eyes can be the buffer between disaster and success.
Before launching a campaign, I highly recommend bringing in a few outsiders to review. Ask friends or relatives who are not associated with the charity which employs you. Have them read the copy, watch the video, dissect the messaging. Watch their facial reactions to what they’re viewing and gauge how they interact with the overall story. Ask them to provide you with brutally honest feedback, what worked and what failed.
A different perspective helps you understand how “outsiders” process what you’re selling and whether they’re buying or moving on. If the bottom line is what matters most to the Board and the CEO, then preventing failure pre-launch becomes critical to overall success.
Teaching the gym a lesson
Offers, promotions and giveaways are an excellent way to increase membership and subscriptions. A gym in Kansas City offered one free month of membership to teachers, to show their appreciation for educators. Here’s how K.C. resident Patrick Sallee, the CEO of nonprofit Vibrant Health, reacted on Twitter to the promotion:
The promotion is timely: National Teacher Appreciation Day was May 7th. They missed it by a few days (which is a different issue) but we’ll concentrate on the second tweet.
What seemed like a good idea internally turned out to be a bad idea externally. If the gym had found a way to reach teacher’s directly and extend the offer, that would have been perfectly fine. Direct marketing to your target audience. Good way for them to potentially increase membership. But asking parents to distribute the offer?! As Patrick’s tweet hints at, that’s probably not the messaging the gym wants out there.
I am curious how many parents passed along the offer and how many realized what Patrick saw right away.
It doesn’t need to go south
We all know that you can’t please everyone all the time. (If your nonprofit has a Facebook page, you already know this from the comments section.) The goal is to control what you can and ensure in advance that your storytelling and messaging align with what a broader audience is interested in hearing, reading and seeing. This applies to campaigns you launch, promotions and marketing materials your organization produces.
I cannot tell you what discussions took place inside the meeting rooms and offices of Breast Cancer Now. As an outsider, it appears to me that they are doing excellent work in the field of breast cancer research. Their mission should resonate with everyone: “We believe, if we all act now, by 2050 everybody who develops breast cancer will live- and live well.”
It is very possible they did not solicit outside opinions and advice before launching their ill-advised campaign. I don’t know for sure. But I do know this: Asking others outside your organization to help you avoid mistakes is mission critical.
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