Seth Godin on Marketing Nonprofits

Seth Godin action figure. Photo credit: stefan.erschwendner on FlickrMarketing guru Seth Godin shares his wisdom at a Live Discussion on the Chronicle of Philanthropy‘s website. Nonprofis are just like businesses in that as a sector we have been relying heavily on the same business practice of “interruption marketing” to spread our messages and raise funds. Can you recall how many unsolicited mailings/emails you’ve received in the past 6 months asking you to donate to a cause? It’s not unlike getting bombarded with unsolicited commercials at a movie theater (wait, didn’t I just pay $11.50 NOT to be bombarded with this Nike commercial?) or ads on train/bus rides.

Seth Godin argues that 1) interruption marketing is not effective anymore, and 2) we are coming into the age of permission marketing. Here are some choice excerpts.

Marketing doesn’t equal advertising. Marketing is the act of interacting with people and the creation of products (or in your case services) that people choose to talk about. The biggest mistake non profits make is that they’re so busy not making mistakes they end up being boring. Boring and selfish and self-absorbed, all while they’re working so hard to make the world better. It’s ironic, but true. works primarily because it’s not boring. They make it easy to talk about what they do, and people choose to do so. Thus, the idea spreads.

Interesting thought. What makes your nonprofit interesting/compelling/remarkable? What made it interesting eight years ago might not be interesting now. Hopefully there’s some sort of progression happening so that the audience that was listening eight years ago isn’t listening to the same story now that they were listening to eight years ago. That would be… boring.

Question: The world has just witnessed two natural disasters in Myanmar and in China. Immediately after, my Inbox was full with emails from relief organizations. I didn’t know which one to choose to make a donation (the first email I got? The one with the better narrative?)What is your advice to these orgs on how to best target its supporters while not overwhelming them?

Seth Godin: Targeting is an unfortunate term, because that’s a hunting term, and the real goal needs to be farming and collaboration. People want to be part of a dialogue, not yelled at or even talked at.

The opportunity is to lead a tribe, and to do that you need to engage people and also to connect them with each other. I guess the short version is: talk to people the way you’d like to be talked to.

Sounds common sensical, but people really respond to respectful and honest communciation. And if you engage them in this way, they’ll choose you.

Marketing is about storytelling. And the thing is, different people need to hear different stories. Some people respond to a cold hard number (like the Gates Foundation). Others want to see the happy kid with braces. The challenge is in telling the right story to the right people in the right way at the right time.

The transcript reminded me of Facebook’s Causes application, which at face value looks like a permission marketing tool, but is it really? Yes, people can opt to join a “cause” but people also haphazardly sign up for “SuperPokes,” “Scrabulous,” and “Free Gifts.” We’ll see if the application grows up a little bit, and also see if the “causes” stick with people.

In related news, if you haven’t added me as a friend on Facebook, find and add me!

Read the full transcript here:

[Marketing Nonprofit Causes via Chronicle of Philanthropy]

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