364 posts categorized "Communications/Marketing"

Bias and Language in Behavioral Sciences Research and Analysis

November 25, 2019

Funder_biasIn our previous post, we discussed the principles of ethical research and the importance of disclosing funding sources. Now let's explore how you can avoid funder bias and why you should use inclusive language in your research and analysis.

Guard Against Funder and Other Biases

Just as reporters should be committed to objective journalism, behavioral scientists have the professional and moral obligation to conduct fair, unbiased research and analysis.

In the health services industry, research findings can educate funders, practitioners, and potential patients of the effectiveness of a new treatment or prevention regime and/or used to develop more effective programs.

Unfortunately, sometimes companies and institutions fund research with the expectation that the scientists doing the research will "steer" the study toward results that put the funder in a positive light.

To avoid funder bias, researchers should only participate in research projects where there is no pressure on them to coerce participants, design tests to generate positive results, or alter their conclusions. They also need to eliminate their personal beliefs and values, perceptions, and emotions from the study, so as not to produce a biased outcome. As a researcher, you have a responsibility to be honest and objective and not give colleagues or the scientific community a reason to distrust your work.

Use Inclusive Language

Non-stigmatizing terminology that is applied with care and takes into account the diversity of your audience sends the message that you are eager to establish a fair and respectful atmosphere around the sharing and discussion of results.

Inclusive language also helps foster respectful relationships. It avoids prejudice and stereotypes. It doesn't exclude people based on their race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability, socioeconomic status, or appearance. It doesn't imply judgment or assign value. Examples of inclusive language in behavioral health include using "substance use disorder" instead of "addiction" or "mental health patient" instead of "mentally ill person."

For all of these reasons, and others, inclusive language and an aversion to bias are absolutely essential if you want your  research and analysis to be taken seriously. If you haven't already, now is an excellent time to incorporate them into your research efforts.

(Ilustration credit: Tarbell)

Peter Gamache, PhD, and Jackie Sue Griffin, MBA, MS, are principals at Turnaround Life, Inc., a nonprofit organization that helps others with grant writing, program development, capacity building, and evaluation.

New Report: What Influences Young Americans to Support Social Causes

October 25, 2019

Take-actionClimate change is the number-one issue of concern among young Americans. That's one of seven major findings in the new Influencing Young America to Act 2019 report my colleagues and I released earlier today.

The second report in the Cause and Social Influence initiative I lead examines how the oldest members of Generation Z and the youngest millennials ("young America"), those Americans between the ages of 18 and 30, are influenced by and influence others to take intentional action on social issues and analyzes how those actions coalesce to form a community of support for specific social movements.

Social Issues of Interest

In our research, we define a social issue as an existing situation recognized as being counter to a generally accepted social value that can be mitigated through people working together to deploy community resources to change the situation.

The top five issues of interest to the young America (and the percentage that selected them) are climate change (30 percent), civil rights/racial discrimination (25 percent), immigration (21 percent), healthcare reform (20 percent) and mental health/social services (16 percent).

Social Movements of Interest

In our research, we define a social movement as a group of people working together to support the interests of a community whose lives are affected by a specific issue; the group often is unable to address the issue and achieve a satisfactory resolution without the support of dedicated community activists and constituents.

The top five movements of interest to young America are #MeToo (26 percent), #BlackLivesMatter (26 percent), #AllLivesMatter (24 percent), #HumanRights (24 percent ) and #MedicareForAll (23 percent). (Note that although climate change was the number-one social issue, it did not appear among the top five movements.)

Moving Young America From Awareness to Action

For me, the most fascinating findings of the study relate to a young person's journey from awareness to action. How do causes capture individuals’ interest in the first place and then move them to take the first step — and all the steps thereafter — toward support of an issue or movement? And how do causes successfully motivate followers to recruit others to support the movement?

We found that when young Americans initially learn about an issue in which they have some interest, their feelings of empowerment dramatically affect whether they continue on the awareness-to-action journey or choose to stay on the sidelines.

The most successful journeys typically involve an issue that strike a personal chord with individuals. And once young Americans learn more about an issue, most will act.

What about those who don't? Do some choose inaction out of apathy — or is something else involved?

When young Americans decide not to take action on an issue they care about, the most popular reasons they cite for not doing so are "I don't know what to do," "It's not my place," and "I can't make a difference." On the surface, these all would appear to reflect a certain apathy.

But I would argue they reveal the opposite of apathy. Few respondents in our research said they didn't care. Young Americans want to act; they just don’t know of or believe that they're capable of meaningful action.

That is the very definition of lack of empowerment.

Much of what's in the report reflects a strong sense of empowerment in young Americans. Most young people do act, and most say their actions are not prompted by someone asking them to get involved. Rather, it’s because they feel compelled — and empowered — to get involved.

The following are recommendations for how causes and nonprofits can use the findings of the new report to build support for their issue.

Recommendation #1: Take concrete steps to ensure that young Americans feel empowered by your cause or issue. Whether you're the leader of a cause or movement, a social entrepreneur, or the person responsible for social responsibility at your place of work, it's up to you to spark and/or reinforce young Americans' feelings of empowerment. You do that by regularly letting them know how they are helping to change things and by sharing stories of real people who have been helped. You also want to be sure to encourage your supporters to share with others why they are so passionate about your issue. A feeling of empowerment should power every step of the awareness-to-action journey, so keep that feedback coming.

Recommendation #2: Ask young Americans to do something to show their support. Then ask them again. When we asked research participants whether and what had prompted them to take action, they either said no one had asked them to take action or a person/organization had explicitly asked them to take action.

Is your cause or organization content to simply to "raise awareness" of your issue? Sorry, but that’s not enough for young Americans in 2019. They want to take action. They want to be told what they can do that will make a difference. It's up to you to share with them concrete opportunities to do so at every step along the awareness-to-action journey. And don’t forget to follow up, at each step of that journey, with the results of their support.

Recommendation #3: Be a positive, credible part of the online conversation around your issue. Young Americans are listening to the news media online, which means you need to be there, too. They're also all-too aware of the "fake news" phenomenon, so it's up to you to keep abreast of the conversations happening online around your issue, to share accurate information in those conversations, and to do what you can to address incorrect and inaccurate information.

Young Americans tend to trust nonprofit organizations and social movements. It's up to you to reinforce and leverage that trust by always demonstrating authenticity and credibility. As you deepen your listening, think about how you can position yourself or your organization as a subject expert (blog posts and free resources on your website are a great start). Just remember that you're a participant — one of many — in the online conversations happening around your issue and not the primary spokesperson for the issue. Keep your focus on the issue itself — and on all the things young Americans are doing to drive real change.

Influencing Young America to Act 2019 has a lot more to say about all of this. You can download it here.

Headshot_derrick_feldmann_2015Derrick Feldmann (@derrickfeldmann) is the author of Social Movements for Good: How Companies and Causes Create Viral Change, the founder of the Millennial Impact Project, and lead researcher at Cause and Social Influence.

Which Messages Will Get Out the Vote — A Generational Perspective

October 08, 2019

Vote_counts_830_0In a little over a year, America could see the unthinkable: the highest level of voter participation in living memory. And based on insights gleaned from recent research, voter messaging focused on issues and empowerment is likely to be key to the turnout.

Two factors are driving what could be a record turnout in 2020. First, while only about half of the U.S. voting-age population cast a ballot in the 2016 presidential election, turnout in 2018 was the highest for a midterm election in nearly a century. Second, as the 2020 election cycle draws closer, we're seeing a continuing generational shift in the electorate. As noted by the Pew Research Center earlier this year, boomers and older cohorts accounted for 7 in 10 eligible voters in 2000, but in 2020 will account for fewer than 3 in 10.

For the many groups trying to get out the vote as a way to create change in society, the type of messaging they use in their campaigns can make a critical difference in who wins and who loses at the ballot box.

As most of you know, however, messaging is more art than science.

For example, which of these approaches is likely to prove most effective in getting people off their couches and into the voting booth in 2020?

"We want change!" (March For Our Lives/)

"You must speak to be heard." (HeadCount)

"We Make Change Happen" (Hip Hop Caucus)

"Skip the lines. Vote early!" (various)

It's hard to say, because the variables that figure into any person's decision to vote are so numerous and fluid. Some people are motivated by a particular issue or issues, others by a passion (or dislike) for a particular candidate. People's changing circumstances — marriage, divorce, having children, losing a job, relocating for a job, etc. — also play a role.

To learn more about what drives people to vote, I led a new research study with the Ad Council, in partnership with Democracy Works, designed to:

  • uncover Americans' attitudes toward and perceptions of voting;
  • explore messages and narratives that have influenced those perceptions and attitudes in the past;
  • understand reactions to specific message frames among boomers, Gen Xers, millennials, and members of Gen Z;
  • determine which message frames, for each generational cohort, are likely to be most effective in driving voter participation; and
  • identify the most compelling messages.

We recently published our findings in a report, Driving Voter Turnout in 2020: Research on Effective Messaging Strategies for Each Generation. And while our research was limited to the five frames within which most current messaging around voting falls — issue, empowerment, identity, companionship, and ease — we consistently found empowerment to be a critical driver of voting across all generations.

People who feel they have the power, the right, and/or the authority to do something are exponentially more likely to exercise that power/right/authority than people who do not feel empowered. (Note: this is just as true for giving and volunteering as it is for voting.)

Below is a brief summary of our findings, as well as some recommendations for empowering your supporters via your messaging.

Voting is valued. Members of all generational cohorts generally are excited to vote and view it as a civic duty. To reinforce this belief and attitude, consider a messaging campaign that encourages people to feel good about voting and reminds them that their vote gives them the power to affect issues they care about.

Generational differences come into play with second-tier messaging. Regardless of generation, the majority of respondents were most inspired by issue-focused messaging and found it to be the most appealing, believable, relevant, and inspiring frame. However, generations differ in their responses to second-tier messaging (i.e., messaging that reinforces the big campaign slogan/call to action). Which means you need to think about how to craft your communications based on the preferences of the generation that is being targeted.

Messages of empowerment and identity are the most effective (after issue). Our surveys showed that once you've hooked your audience with issue-related messaging, all generations respond best to messages of empowerment and identity (though Gen Z responded less favorably to identity-related messaging than other cohorts). For example, targeting members of younger cohorts with positive, inspirational messages (and images) helps them think about the bigger picture — and reminds them that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. On the other hand, older generations are more likely to respond to straightforward messaging and acknowledgements of their already established identities as members of the voting public.

Although the majority of Gen Zers have not yet voted, they are just as excited about and engaged in voting activities as older generations — if not more so. Members of Gen Z view messages that speak to issues and empowerment as appealing, relevant, shareable, believable, and inspirational. (Think about campaigns such as March For Our Lives, which highlights the power of the individual.) Gen Z cares deeply, passionately, and openly about issues. Its members take their role in our democratic society seriously and believe that every person and vote counts. To inspire them, craft messages based on issue and empowerment frames.

Voting is essential to a well-functioning democracy. Today, with the political divide in the country as wide as it has been in half a century and the 2020 election looming, communicators have the power — and responsibility — to use all the tools at their disposal to influence voters, of all ages, to exercise their constitutionally-guaranteed right and make their voices heard at the polls.

We know that in order to influence how anyone views your issue, you first must influence how he or she views it in relation to themselves. The good news? You're starting with a significant advantage: today's younger generations already believe they can create change, whether or not institutions formally offer them the chance to do so.

Regardless of whether you're a marketer/communicator for a brand, a cause, or a candidate, your first and most important task is to empower your constituents to believe in that brand/cause/candidate. Help them feel like they're an important part of the social-change solution. And while you're at it, empower younger Americans to believe they hold the future in their hands.

Headshot_derrick_feldmann_2015Derrick Feldmann (@derrickfeldmann) is the author of Social Movements for Good: How Companies and Causes Create Viral Change, the founder of the Millennial Impact Project, and lead researcher at Cause and Social Influence.

Ten Years of Millennial Research: What I'd Do Differently

August 16, 2019

MillennialsIt's finally here — the final Millennial Impact Report, the culmination of a decade of research conducted by the Case Foundation and research teams I led into cause behaviors of the generation born between 1980 and 2000.

Any project of that magnitude — we interviewed more than 150,000 millennials, held hours and hours of focus groups, compiled and analyzed reams of data, and wrote volumes of narrative — begs the question: Would we do it all over again?

Absolutely — albeit with some tweaks based on what we've learned.

When we launched the project in 2008 — and over most of the next ten years — making assumptions about millennials seemed to be a favorite pastime of many of the people we interviewed or spoke to. We heard that millennials were lazy and more entitled than any  generation before them. They believed they deserved big salaries right out of college, and when reality hit they moved into their parents' basement (still the most enduring cliché about young Americans in this age group).

Put it all together and you got the biggest assumption of all: there was no way millennials would want to get actively involved in causes.

When we set out to learn about millennials, it wasn't to prove (or disprove) our own assumptions; it was to better understand their real motivations and behaviors. So we designed the research process to be an ongoing journey of discovery. I wouldn't change a thing about that.

But in looking back at our journey, there are some things I wish we had explored further:

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Drive Commitment and Change With 'Moments'

July 18, 2019

Ripple-effectOrganizations are always on the lookout for strategies that can help them engage supporters or build their movements. When I interact with an organization or cause that is seeking to build a constituency, I like to ask two questions:

  1. What’s the next milestone you are working toward?
  2. What are you doing right now to increase your supporter base in advance of that milestone? 

A few definitions here will be helpful:

  • A milestone is an incremental achievement that leads to a "moment" within a movement. The milestone Is achieved by the community working together.
  • A moment is a one-time (or short-term) convergence of actions, informal or organized, that is fueled by cultural, political, and/or social events leading to a surge of individual participation and self-organizing by supporters.
  • An issue or cause is an existing state of affairs (societal, environmental, political) recognized by society as contrary to its values but that can be improved by people working together and taking advantage of community resources.

As a leader of a mission-driven organization, your work is to break new ground for your issue or cause. You’re the visionary always on the lookout for that movement-altering moment when public awareness, supporter engagement, and a broader narrative of progress come together to create progress.

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (June 2018)

July 01, 2019

Is it us, or does chronological time seem to be accelerating? Before the first half of 2019 becomes a distant memory, take a few minutes to check out some of the most popular posts on the blog in June. And remember: You're not getting older, you're gaining wisdom.

Interested in contributing to PND or PhilanTopic? We'd love to hear from you. Drop us a note at mfn@foundationcenter.org.

5 Tips for Giving Great Design Feedback

June 19, 2019

Feedback2Receiving feedback and iterating on creative work is a huge part of what we do every day at Constructive. Whether we're conducting an internal review with our designers and art directors, or discussing work with clients, collaboration is crucial to improving our work.

That said, it's easy to go through the motions without thinking critically about how to optimize the delivery of feedback when deadlines are approaching, budgets are tight, and multiple projects are being juggled. In my role as a project manager, I've sat in countless meetings to review feedback and have seen teams (ours and our clients) use different tactics to deliver that feedback, with varying degrees of success. What I've learned from the experience is that the difference between good and bad feedback can have a real impact on the overall success of a project and, therefore, is worth paying attention to. In that spirit, I'd like to share a few tips on how you can give great design feedback.

How to Give Great Design Feedback

1. Ask questions. A successful design process is by definition collaborative, and asking thoughtful questions only serves to strengthen that process. By posing questions rather than sending the design team a list of specific changes it needs to make, a client can open up lines of communication, encourage further discussion, and ensure that assumptions (false or otherwise) aren't inadvertently baked into the cake. Ultimately, a design team looks to its clients for their expertise in their particular issue area, and often it will learn more about a client's (and the client's audiences') needs when the client questions its design choices and a healthy conversation ensues.

2. Communicate problems, not solutions. It can be tempting to review a design and propose solutions to things you don't think are working. A better approach is to communicate what the problem is and why the said design decision is problematic. For example, if you don't like the placement of a newsletter call-to-action and want to see it moved to another page, telling us why you think your website visitors are more likely to sign up for your newsletter when engaged with another content type (news updates vs. insights, for example) will give us more insight about your audience and help us offer a better solution. By describing the problem, you're equipping the design team with information needed to explore other solutions, rather than spoon-feeding the team a solution that might not be the best one.

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Giving Voice to Your Supporters

June 03, 2019

Giving_voiceIn their desire to give voice to the vulnerable and underserved in society, most cause-driven organizations fail to include their supporters in the equation. By failing to do so, they are denying others a golden opportunity to see themselves in the same light.

A few years ago, an agency for pregnant women/healthy newborns came to us for help with a fundraising campaign. The agency's volunteers visit pregnant women in their homes to teach them about prenatal care and how to take care of a newborn. The agency's typical supporter is someone who wants to give babies a healthy, safe start in life.

At the same time, the agency was committed to a program focused on fathers-to-be. Nowhere in the program materials was there recognition or an acknowledgment of how invested the agency's volunteers were in giving babies a healthy, safe start in life or, indeed, any mention of the volunteers who were lending their time and experience to reassure and help pregnant women who often have no one they can turn to for help.

Not surprisingly, the overall campaign was not as successful as it could have been. Potential supporters who might have seen themselves as "people who think every baby deserves a chance at a healthy beginning" instead heard "we are an organization that wants to help men be good fathers." Both sentiments are laudable, but only one truly resonated with the agency’s most important constituency.

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Weekend Link Roundup (May 11-12, 2019)

May 12, 2019

0510_flooding_CNNA weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Communications/Marketing

There’s been an email marketing paradigm shift in the nonprofit sector, writes Caroline Fothergill on the npEngage site. Whereas the size of a list used to be all that mattered, "collectively [we've] come to realize the value of quality over quantity." Today, open and click rates are where it's at, and Fothergill shares some practical advice designed to help nonprofits improve their results in both areas.

Criminal Justice

"As a person who uses drugs," writes Louise Vincent on the Open Society Foundation's Voices blog, "I know that no one person is to blame. What is responsible for the hundreds of thousands of deaths from drug overdose is a broken drug policy, a system that prioritizes punishment over treatment, and a culture of prohibition that leads us to use drugs alone and in shame." 

Health

What does it take to build fair opportunities for health in rural communities? On the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Culture of Health blog, Whitney Kimball Coe,  coordinator of the National Rural Assembly, a movement geared toward building better policy and greater opportunity across the country, shares some of the lessons she has learned in her work.

Book reading has been declining for decades, and language and communications experts are concerned. Markheim Heid, a health and lifestyle writer, takes a closer look at the research — and the implications for society.

Higher Education

It's time to shift the social contract of education away from short-term job training toward long-term development, writes David M. Perry, a former professor of history, on the Pacific Standard site. And free college has to be part of that shift.

In The Atlantic, Tom Nichols, author of the Death of Expertise, argues that the idea that students on college campuses should have "a say in the hiring and firing of faculty whose views they merely happen not to like...is a dangerous development — a triple threat to free speech, to the education of future citizens, and to the value of a college education." Readers of Nichols' article respond.

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Design Therapy for the Purpose-Driven Organization

May 08, 2019

Branding_Alpha Stock ImagesThe value of brand design for nonprofits or foundations — when done right — is not just in the outcome but in the process. Design is the act of (re)imagining how we see and communicate ideas. It's an opportunity to challenge assumptions, change minds, and test the status quo. Brand design, in particular, is rife with such opportunities and, of course, potential landmines. For organizations that are prepared to embark on the adventure, it can be transformative in unexpected ways. At its best, a brand redesign can reinforce and strengthen an organization's work, increase its engagement with internal and external audiences, and pave the way for real growth.

Clarity, Meet Beauty

Branding is the process of figuring out the clearest, truest manifestation of who you are as an organization through words, images, and graphics. A great brand elucidates the "who" (people and ethos) and the "why" (purpose) succinctly and clearly. And the process of getting to a great brand typically starts with a design firm gathering as much qualitative data as it can about your organization.

By data, I mean the perspectives of internal and external stakeholders; an operational values assessment; deep dives into strategic business goals, personality drivers, competitive landscape, and positioning; and audience identification. It's similar in these respects to how an organization would approach a strategic planning process.

All the insights are then distilled into a strategy that highlights key elements such as organizational personality, values, and market differentiation. This strategy guides the creation of new messaging, tagline, logo, website, and so on.

So, what's the big deal? It seems pretty straightforward.

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3 Ways to Educate Donors About Movement Building

March 26, 2019

DownloadAt your most recent meeting with donors, you probably discussed the impact of your programs and perhaps even asked for commitments for the upcoming fiscal year. Did you also talk to them about funding the movement itself to ensure its future viability and success?

Donors typically give for two reasons: 1) to leverage gifts from other donors; and/or 2) in response to short-term needs. In both cases, the impact of their gifts plays out across two dimensions: helping bring others to the cause, and helping the people or cause served by your organization.

So while it's common for nonprofits to pitch donors in terms of the tangible difference their gifts will make for intended beneficiaries or the cause, organizations also need to learn how to demonstrate to donors the value of supporting the broader movement itself.

How to build a movement

Over the years I've been involved in movement building, clients often have shared with me the names of donors they believe are open to taking a broader view of the movement. On occasion, clients even have asked me to speak with certain individuals to gauge their interest in funding movement-building activities and to share any thoughts I might have about the approach they should take in subsequent conversations with those donors.

Below, I share some of what I've learned from my interactions with donors in the belief it will give you something new you can use in your conversations with donors to educate them about the importance of movement building.

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Weekend Link Roundup (March 23-24, 2019)

March 24, 2019

Robert-mueller-gty-ps-190212_hpMain_16x9_992A weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Communications/Marketing

On the Communications Network blog, Katie Smith Milway, principal at Milway Media and a senior advisor at the Bridgespan Group, and Rick Moyers, director of communications at the Fund for Shared Insight, explore four lessons in effective storytelling they have learned while shepherding a campaign to encourage client feedback as a measurement norm.

Current Affairs

"Thirty years from now, a majority of Americans believe that the U.S. will be less globally important. They believe that the inequality gap between rich and poor will have widened. And they expect that there will be even more political polarization. That future sounds pretty bleak, especially given the fact that nearly 9 out of 10 Americans are at least fairly worried that current politicians aren’t capable of changing it." Fast Company's Ben Paynter talks to Brookings' David Wessel about what can be done to shape a brighter future for all Americans.

Health

On the Robert Wood Johnson's Culture of Health blog, Dwayne Proctor, a senior advisor to the foundation's president, speaks with Yolo Akili Robinson, a 2018 Award for Health Equity winner, about how the stress of being black in America leads to physiological responses that raise the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.

Nonprofits

Nonprofit Chronicles blogger Marc Gunther continues his series on workplace problems at the Humane Society of the U.S. and concludes that the organization's efforts to hold itself accountable for the actions of its former leader, Wayne Pacelle, are "unsatisfying."

Yes, the doubling of the standard deduction poses real challenges for nonprofits. But the challenge s also an opportunity, writes Social Velocity's Nell Edgington, to embrace — truly embrace — change. 

Can Marie Kondo help you "tidy up" your organization? Definitely, says Nonprofit AF's Vu Le, who then shares ten lessons derived Kondo's method guaranteed to make you more joyful at work.

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My Way, Your Way, and the Highway

February 14, 2019

My way orWorking on a cause or leading a movement today means managing a team of people whose ages, backgrounds, work styles, expertise levels, and personality traits can be all over the place. And the backgrounds of your donors and stakeholders can be just as varied. Sooner or later, it raises the question: Are you prepared to manage the inevitable (though often hidden) tension that arises between young and old, new and experienced, impetuous and measured?

I've heard lots of stories in which a seasoned nonprofit veteran sees a new recruit to the cause begin to get attention for her ideas and becomes disgruntled, even resentful, while the new hire just thinks the more experienced colleague is being unreasonable and stubborn. Meanwhile, the tension between them mounts, with each wishing the other would just go away.

The same kind of tension can occur between organizations, creating a monumental stumbling block to significant, sustainable change as donors and supporters sort themselves into opposing camps.

That's more than a shame. According to the World Economic Forum's Global Risks Report 2019, "The world faced a growing number of complex and interconnected challenges in 2018. From climate change and slowing global growth to economic inequality, we will struggle if we do not work together in the face of these simultaneous challenges."

In other words, if we expect to make any progress on the urgent challenges at hand, it's imperative that we all do what we can to minimize this kind of tension.

I know, it sounds difficult. But it's not; it just requires a shift in mindset. You could, for example:

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (January 2019)

February 01, 2019

The weather outside is frightful, but we've got some January reads that are downright insightful. So grab a throw, a cup of your favorite warm beverage, and enjoy.

Interested in contributing to PND or PhilanTopic? We'd love to hear from you. Drop us a note at mfn@foundationcenter.org.

Be Bold, Take Risks

January 10, 2019

Take_the_leapEvery year for the last decade or so, organizations have shared their ideas for engaging millennials with me and then asked for my feedback. Thinking about it over the holidays, I realized I received about the same number of approaches in 2018 as in previous years.

I've been studying millennial cause engagement with the Case Foundation for most of that time and have shared all kinds of research findings and insights through the Millennial Impact Project and the newer Cause and Social Influence initiative. Organizations seek me out for advice about their own particular situation, especially as it relates to what is now the largest generation in America. Typically, they do so for one of the following reasons:

  1. they have not been able to cultivate a younger donor base;
  2. their past success is being challenged by new ways of looking at their issue, new technologies, or both;
  3. their donor engagement levels have plateaued; and/or
  4. their revenues have been trending downward and the future looks grim.

After a decade of fielding such approaches, I can usually sniff out whether an organization has what it takes to change — and by that, I mean the kind of change needed not only to attract a new and younger audience, but to engage any person, regardless of age, with an interest in their cause.

Change is hard. It demands a willingness on the part of leadership and staff to leave the status quo behind and push in the direction of a new guiding vision. In other words, it requires people to be fearless.

This kind of approach to change is detailed beautifully by Jean Case in her new book, Be Fearless: 5 Principles for a Life of Breakthroughs and Purpose.

In her book, Jean describes a set of five principles that can be used by any individual or organization to become more relevant and valued in today's fast-changing world. The five principles are:

1. Make a Big Bet. To build a movement or drive real change, organizations (or individuals) need to step outside their comfort zone and make an audacious bet on something they ordinarily would reject as too ambitious or difficult. And the risks associated with a big bet, says Jean, can be mitigated, if organizations are willing to learn and course correct along the way.

If you want to target a younger demographic, go ahead and do it in a big but measurable way that will teach you something. A/B testing one line in an email campaign to a purchased list is a small bet involving little risk and with little potential for changing anything. Building a canvassing team to collect emails at, say, a popular music festival and then tracking engagement after the event is over is a bigger bet involving more time and expense for an unknown return. Creating a mobile unit to travel to locales around the country where younger people tend to live, work, and play and then identifying influencers, micro-influencers, and potential supporters is a much bigger, more expensive bet and thus a much bigger risk. But it's big bets like that which lead to new discoveries and have the potential to propel your cause or movement forward.

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  • "GivingTuesday was created in 2012 as a simple idea: a day that encourages people to do good. It has grown into a global generosity movement that inspires hundreds of millions of people to give, collaborate, and celebrate generosity. This is a ritual we especially need today when so much attention is given to what divides us, because generosity brings people together across races, faiths, and political views...."

    — Asha Curran, Chief Executive Officer/Co-Founder, GivingTuesday

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