Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Top 40 gives way to Pandora

While listening to a presentation by Trident United Way on their new strategic focus I remembered how my older brother used to put his transistor radio in just the right spot (strangely, it was above his bedroom door on the far left of the door frame near the ceiling...he held it there with a small hook).  Positioned just right it would pick up WLS in Chicago.  WLS turned up its wattage at night and with our radio there, in just the right spot, we would get it.  Even so the DJ would fade in and out.  The music would come to us in gentle waves across the dark cornfields and moonlit hog farms.  By day those fields and farms were blanketed by low wattage local radio stations broadcasting farm reports.  WLS gave us Top 40 radio and no pork belly futures.  It was the keeper of "cool."  The definer of "hits."

Last week I tried Pandora, an internet radio-like station that fine-tunes its offering precisely to your likes and dislikes.  It has a thumbs up and thumbs down feature so you can rate each song until you get a stream of tunes that perfectly fit your tastes.  Hearing Trident United Way's new strategic focus on Education, Health, and Income made me wince.  For a moment I heard a snippet of Casey Kasem of Top 40 fame.

The greatest threat to United Ways, community foundations, and any other channeler of charitable dollars to specific nonprofits is that donors will use the power of the internet to find their own philanthropic siren songs.  They will reach out and find the causes they care about and make their own decisions, thumbs up or thumbs down, on who or what they want to fund.  We can either facilitate that, like the internet's Pandora radio, or we can make our suggestions so good that it is worth it to struggle to put your radio in just the right spot. 

I understand that you can still hear Casey Kasem's Top 40 each week on some low wattage stations.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Poor Among Us

“My kids need food.” “Help me get bus tickets to get us back home to Florence.” “My power’s going off today at 4:00”. Charities, houses of worship, and private citizens often help by giving the money these folks need. But what if there’s a food pantry where that family can get food for free, a transportation program that will get that couple to Florence at no cost, or a deal that can be swung with the power company to keep the utilities on? Then again, what if the askers have no kids, no ties in Florence, or no overdue utility bills, but just want free money? Partnering charities are now installing the software system “Charity Tracker”, so agencies that help people in need can share a database of all their clients – both to direct people to available services they may not know about, and to keep others from triple-dipping. In Beaufort County, the initiative is spearheaded by the Community Services Organization collaborative. In Charleston, it’s Charleston Outreach and Trident United Way. And in Georgetown, Friendship Place and others are looking into it. If you give to or volunteer with a “helping program” that may be interested in the local Charity Tracker network, give us a call.

Watch a brief video by news channel WTOC on how this is working in Beaufort.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

So just what do you expect your logo to do for you?

I had one of those magic marketing moments that convince you that it is worth it to invest in good design, good marketing efforts, even if you can't tell "which half of your money you are wasting." It took me completely by surprise. Suddenly the months of discussion about our logo, the various versions Gil Shuler presented, and even today's constant policing of our logo's size, color, aspect ratio, etc., etc., was and is all worth it. All of it. All 100% of it. I have to tell you that I thought I was pretty smart about marketing but in a single moment I figured out what we should have aspired to, what we should have wished for during all of those months of work, but which none of us saw (except, perhaps Gil Shuler and our Director of Communications and Marketing Christine Beddia). While the magic moment was a thrill it was also a moment of recognition that most communication efforts fall short of what they should and could be.

Imagine the scene. A committee of volunteers is gathered around a table trying to decide what should be their grant-making strategy in the Southern Lowcountry (Colleton, Hampton, Jasper, and Beaufort Counties). Should they just give to individual organizations or should they look across the entire spectrum of the nonprofit sector and strive to create a stronger community of nonprofit organizations. This is not a trival question. Literally a half a million dollars was distributed last year by this committee and this coming year they will distribute another $500,000, and next year, each year, year after year, as a result of how this group of volunteers resolves this question. Are they simply "writing checks" or are they creating a community?

One of the volunteers reaches down and holds up the agenda for the meeting on which our logo is printed. She says "and what do you think this means?", while pointing to our logo. "Those two people are connected, they are holding hands." She went on, "They care about each other just as we should care about our community. Coastal Community Foundation is about creating that care and helping donors and us create a community of caring people." She ended by saying "We are part of that logo. We are that logo."

Wham! I could feel my mind clear as the rest of my senses went blank. I always thought the logo was an abstraction of the Arthur Ravenel Bridge in Charleston or maybe two people walking on the beach (mother and daugher, father and son...emphasizing the intergenerational "foreverness" of our efforts. I could feel my heart strings tighten. I involuntarily took a breath. There was a wave of realization that swept over me not unlike the pleasant feeling you get when you solve an optical illusion. Our logo works. Not only that, it delivers a message that it has taken Coastal Community Foundation 35 years to justify. It delivered a complicated message that might otherwise have taken another hour of meeting time to clarify.

And she said one more thing. She said "and you know, those people do not have their hand out. They are not begging people for money." She is right. Donors are drawn to us by our work, not by any marketing-inspired fundraising campaign...or am I wrong about that too?

So what do you expect your logo, or any logo for that matter, to do for you? Are you giving the development of your logo enough time and talent?

I can tell you that we are not changing ours any time soon.