What non profits can learn from reality TV

reality TV, lessons, bachelorette, top chef, secret millionaire

[ Reality or not, we can learn from reality shows.

Yesterday, Microsoft launched their first reality show, Be the Next Microsoft Employee. It’s five weeks long and, at the end, one of the four contestants will be picked as the next Microsoft employee. It’s like Top Chef for geeks. (Full disclosure, I worked on this show…and, no, I won’t tell you who wins.)

Then there’s Secret Millionaire, ABC’s showcase of big-hearted millionaires who change the lives of others and, along the way, their own.

[Obviously, there are some bigger name reality shows. We could throw those into the mix, but I’m opting to focus on the two that have some “do goodness” to them.]

Be the Next and Secret Millionaire are very different shows, partially because one is web-based and one is a full-blown TV show and one is about employment and the other redemption.

But they have many things in common–as do all reality shows–and this is where there’s some transferable tidbits for DIY marketers.

Here are three take-away’s worth noting:

  1. People like drama. This is why the highs are so high and the lows so low on reality shows.
  2. People want to relate. Reality shows editors look at how to bring out the human element whenever possible.
  3. People get attached to people. They have their fav contestant and they are miffed when he or she gets booted off.

How do you, the non profit marketers of the world, parlay these into your marketing?

  1. Tell a good story. Make it interesting. Don’t water it down. You can tell a story that is both respectful and yet very, very interesting.
  2. Focus on individual people. We relate on an individual level. Tell your supporters about one person who exemplifies why you do your work and how you do it.
  3. Be mindful when someone who your clients, donors, and volunteers are attached to is leaving. It may just be staff turn-over to you, but can evoke the same “don’t vote my person off” emotions from others.

Any other lessons we can learn from all these reality shows?

Marketing-Fundraising: A Happy Continuum

We chose to focus on the Marketing-Fundraising Tango this month because so many of our nonprofit friends and colleagues voiced confusion, frustration or consternation at how this works (or more accurately doesn’t work) at their organizations. The amount of brow-furrowing over this is interesting to me since marketing and fundraising are simply different means to the very important end of engaging people with your cause.

Here’s perhaps a different (and hopefully helpful) way of thinking about this. Rather than thinking of these two functions separately, think of them as points along a relationship continuum. On one end, you have marketing and the other fundraising. On the marketing end of the continuum, you focus on attracting new supporters to the organization by reaching out to groups of individuals (otherwise known as target audiences). These are largely one-to-many activities such as advertising, community events, and PR.

As you slide further toward the fundraising end of the continuum, the activities become more tailored to an individual, rather than a collection of individuals. They are personalized activities meant to deepen a supporter’s relationship with your organization.

When you think of marketing and fundraising as a continuum, then you simply adjust your position to support your current goals and objectives. If you have had above-average attrition and need to attract new donors, you might settle on a spot closer to the marketing end of the continuum. If you have a solid donor base and want to increase the number of major donors you have, you’d likely slide over to the fundraising end.