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?

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  1. Lindsay Bealko says:

    Erica – great piece – I love the connections between our work on Be the Next and nonprofit marketing. The 3 parallels you call out are great ones. I think the other connection is about letting your audience really engage and have some fun. More and more, we are seeing reality shows make it easy for their audience to take action while watching – tweeting, pinning, texting, participating on Facebook, or otherwise sharing with their friends and families and “talking back”. As nonprofits share their great stories with relatable people, how are they letting their audiences (i.e. supporters) play along and become a part of the story or the story telling? How are they transforming a passive audience into an active one?

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