Godin’s The Problem with Non and Another Duh Moment

September 27, 2009

“You lose it if you talk about it.– Ernest Hemingway

The problem with non, a recent Seth Godin blog post got a lot of attention from nonprofit bloggers recently.

Godin is a marketing guru who attracts a large nonprofit following.

He argued that nonprofits “abhor change” and notes that, for many, it’s easier “to buy more stamps and do more direct mail.”

I’ve got news for Godin. Some of the nonprofits I’ve run across are even afraid of direct mail.

In response to Godin, I would argue that:

1) Hello? nonprofit organizations aren’t the only ones who abhor change. Nearly everyone abhors change and the resulting paralysis is more in evidence now because of a common factor uniting us all – an absolutely devastating economy, and
2) While nonprofit organizations have set out to create change, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they understand that, in order to create change they need to fund their missions, and that the application of simple marketing concepts is the best way to do that.

I happen to like marketing gurus.

The advice of a number of sage marketers, such as Dan Kennedy, John Carlton and even that old motivational standby, Dale Carnegie, have proven to be far more effective to me throughout my career in achieving my fundraising targets than the stale, pedantic, nonprofit-specific advice and coursework that’s out there.

Like many of you, I was thrown into the trenches of development with little to no preparation.

In my very first nonprofit development job, as a 15-hour a week development director, I faced tremendous challenges. My organization hadn’t sent out a grant proposal in over five years. The past three annual campaigns had been handled by three separate mail houses and yielded not only declining dollars but angry donors as well. Key community contacts had lapsed. I needed to hit the ground running – fast.

Fortunately my political and advertising sales background came in handy.

The Ultimate Sales Letter: Attract New Customers. Boost Your Sales by Dan Kennedy was one book that guided me through writing my very first – and funded – grant proposal and to this day remains, quite frankly, more helpful than most of the actual grant proposal writing courses I took later on.

And in addressing the community relations aspect of that job, one of my first steps was to research all of the regional news media. I sent out letters of introduction and hastily compiled press kits. Within a few months I had secured a weekly column with our local paper. I also sent out letters of introduction to the local community organizations – the Chamber of Commerce, the Rotary, Kiwanis, etc. – and my organization’s local and state elected officials. Oh, and for good measure, I sent out introductory letters to the organization’s top and most loyal donors.

To me it was common good sense and all a part of the communications “leg” of my development system stool. And, while there may have been no measurable ROI, all this exposure served the organization well.

Today I see social media as merely another element of that original communications system.

No, social media is not the panacea that will save nonprofits hide. Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, etc. – it’s all merely another aspect of the marketing/communications/stewardship plan that your organization should already have in place. A way for you to communicate your mission, steward your donors.

Even better? It’s free. Social media levels the playing field for all.

Recently I reread one of my favorite little books, The Ultimate Success Secret, by Dan Kennedy.

Dan talks about a woman who came to one of his seminars. This woman, the wife of a dentist, pulled Dan aside during a break to complain about her husband’s utter inertia in addressing the marketing needs of his practice. How he would attend seminars, get enthused, practice the concepts for a few weeks and then drop the ball. What could she do to motivate him?

Dan listened patiently to this woman’s tale of woe and then responded “well what are you waiting for?”

A year or so later when they met at yet another seminar, the wife was delighted to report to Dan that she had appointed herself her husband’s marketing director and consequently doubled his practice.

What are you waiting for?

Talking about it won’t accomplish anything. Take charge.

Are we going to talk social media to death like we talked the Internet to death (if you’ve been working in nonprofit for very long, you can surely recall hours spent in board meetings trying to determine whether or not the organization should we have a website…) Duh.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Mark October 1, 2009 at 9:36 am

Good take on the social media wave that is washing over many for-profit and nonprofit organizations; it is no panacea, but it is nonetheless very, very useful in the right hands. Search engine optimization and other advertising grants are available for nonprofit organizations as well (e.g. http://www.dragonsearchmarketing.com/ppc-management-grant.html), and this can work wonders when complemented with a social media initiative.

Robyn McIntyre October 4, 2009 at 5:36 pm

This year a friend of mine in a local nonprofit determined it would be more expensive to mail out the sponsor packets for her event than to hand-deliver them. She was thereby able to have short conversations with each of the sponsors – I’m glad she didn’t just buy the stamps.

Social media is being re-evaluated by a lot of small nonprofit boards as they see the bigger nonprofits and for-profits getting on-board. As you point out, it’s a tool that can help when it’s used correctly. I think what’s working against some small nonprofits right now is the learning curve for social media. It takes time to build trust and relationships and too many are expecting overnight results. It’s nice to have a strategy, but the goals have to be realistic. There’s no substitute for real conversation.

Pam October 9, 2009 at 8:18 am

One problem with using social media is that businesses view it as another way to ‘market’ instead of as a way of CONNECTING with others. Becoming known and trusted is a great benefit of social media, THEN the marketing becomes believable.

Pamela Grow October 9, 2009 at 8:37 am

Oh ABSOLUTELY! I keep hearing people talking about “what are the latest stats on the ROI from social media?” Hello? I see it as yet another tool in my communications arsenal – and hey, IT’S FREE. Nonprofits are going to sit on the fence until they wither away and die …

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