Thursday, July 19, 2007

But That's Not What We're About!

As a promotional stunt for the upcoming Simpson's movie, some 7-11 stores are now Kwik-E-Marts, Homer's version of Whole Foods.

Jeff Brooks over at Donor Power Blog thinks it's a nifty idea, one that some nonprofit organizations might learn from.

According to Jeff:
"So often, a company's brand image bull-headedly flies in the face of reality, stubbornly insisting in an ideal that's baldly untrue. That's why 7-Eleven's willingness to laugh, even at their own weakness, is so amazing. And appealing. They've actually left behind their phony brand image and joined the real conversation. Maybe they figured out that being authentic, even when it's less than flattering, is better than sticking to an irrelevant playbook... I'm waiting for a nonprofit that can do that."
Every nonprofit I've worked for has complained "people just don't understand who we really are and what we really do." Among the specific "misunderstandings" I've run across in my career:

1. Everyone thinks we're a bunch of hayseeds and hicks, when we're actually quite sophisticated!
2. People believe we want to use these strategies and tactics for punishment, when we're really working to improve interpersonal communication!
3. We're not trying to destroy the concept of parental consent - although a prominent radio personality keeps saying we are - while we're trying to get kids and parents to talk even more!
4. We're characterized as sadistic money-grubbing technicians, worse than auto mechanics, when we're more necessary for good health than anyone thinks, and we've got the research to prove how we're just like everyone else!

In fighting these perceptions, each organization has run to solutions based on external communications, while trying to work through a certain amount of anger at those who won't listen or have their idea set changed. I like the Kwik-E-Mart idea of taking what you fear is your biggest stereotype and, to use a touchy-feely concept, totally owning it.

Think of the fun when, in your marketing meeting, you fill the flipcharts with all the crazy, negative assumptions leveled against your organization. Think of the bumper stickers you could design with slogans based on your most cutting criticisms. Even if you decide not to proceed as 7-11 has done, oh what collective wisdom you'll unleash!

In each of my cases, I'd bring the following ideas to the table:

1. How about we develop a character right out of Green Acres as our spokesperson - and give him or her a sophisticated edge that even he or she doesn't quite believe or understand? Like mixing tractors and caviar?

2. What if we put our practitioners into corrections-inspired outfits. Maybe dayglo orange jumpsuits or old-time prison stripes. Could you imagine them delivering services in that getup? Would the clients get it, and even laugh?

3. Maybe we could develop a PSA that says "Yeah, we think parental consent SUCKS!" And we're shouting it to America over a bullhorn from atop a really high building. Then we end with ways parents, guardians and kids can work together to avoid the need for parental consent.

4. Could we really get outrageous and create a Web site gloryfying our most negative attributes, and then deliver the facts along with the myths - but it would be up to the site users to find the clues that we're pulling their collective legs?

Of course, there would be massive problems in getting a nonprofit to Kwik-E-Mart themselves. Mainly because:

Nonprofits almost always are in a struggle for money, and would fear spending time and energy on something that could blow up in their faces and ruin their fundraising.
Nonprofits deal with subject matter and issues that often aren't funny at all, and could be severely anxious about coming across as "making fun" of the sufferers.
Nonprofits rely on established practitioner methods and traditions to make themselves credible in a highly professional marketplace - and traditions stick with the grip of epoxy cement.

But, as Scott the Nametag Guy writes today, sometimes you have to dream up some really crazy ideas to get anywhere.

And it'll be interesting to see if anyone follows Jeff Brooks' call...
Meanwhile, there's a blog carnival all about authenticity over at Sea Change Strategies.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Nuke the Office:
10 reasons small nonprofit organizations should go virtual

1. You've probably got a good number of part-time employees, and the rest of your staff is probably traveling, so there's a bunch of space going unused right now.

2. Your rent most likely eats up a significant portion of your budget.

3. It's getting tougher and tougher to raise those unrestricted funds that go directly to rent and other on-site operating expenses.

4. Half your staff probably doesn't really get along with, and won't mind not seeing, the other half.

5. You've got no bureaucracy to support.

6. Down deep, you know there's no "exchange of ideas" among staff when they're in the office (see reasons 1 and 2 above)

7. You're already farming out most of your communications and other administrative tasks, and staff spends a large percentage of time managing vendor, member, and committee contracts, tasks, and relationships via phone, email, and off-site meetings.

8. Your bookshelves are filled with reports and monographs and books and brochures and pamphlets that: A) you never look at, and B) are probably available online by now.

9. Your decor is early 90's castoff furniture, and your artwork is either your organization's framed publications (BORING!) or IKEA posters (FLÄRKE HANNES-KRISTER!), which will impress nobody, since they've got them too.

10. You've inherited some previous organization's warren-like maze of offices, cubicles, and dead-ends that would give Mozart composer's block.

In olden days, before we could send information wirelessly ourselves, the office suite was all about communication. Letters, memos, faxes, meetings, phone calls - they all required we be physically present to generate and be answerable to communications. Today, it's even more about communication. And with cell phones, the Internet, email, overnight package delivery, we workers don't become obsolete, but the previous structure of our workplaces do. How many of us fret over the look of our Web site, but never give a second thought to our office design?

Read more about it:
What Gen Y Wants From Work at Web Worker Daily,
Twentysomething: Start a company in 3 days with 70 friends at Brazen Careerist.

I'll be weighing in on this issue again, with:
  • The real reasons for offices.
  • Answering the naysayers questions.
  • What to do with the money you'll save.
  • Creative ways to deal with the new markets you'll create.
  • What we'll still need offices for - and why we might not.

Monday, July 16, 2007

EarPlay - 5 Alternate Titles for Your Summer Outdoor Concert Listening

The Washington Post reviewed a couple of free family concerts by the National Symphony at Carter Barron Amphitheatre. I've been to a number of these around the city, and I think they're a great idea. The Post points up some problems with outdoor concerts in general, and posits that a more tranquil setting would be a huge benefit to developing a classical music audience. I see the problem as one of conservative musical programming. I've heard the Tchaikovsky, Bernstein, Rodgers, Copland, Grofé and Williams pieces a million times. These warhorses of the summer classical repertoire, while fantastic music, are not the only thing out there. Why serve up the same old tunes all the time, when there are other works with just as much spunk, tunefulness, dynamics and fun as the well-known pieces. Here are five:

1. Le Tombeau de Couperin - Maurice Ravel
Four short, dancing movements of orchestral color: a flying, spinning Prélude, a jokey, lurking Forlane, a smooth, elegant and modern Menuet, plus a bouncing, jumping Rigaudon for a finale. A combination stairmaster, treadmill, and nautilus workout for your ears, with a stretch and water break 3/4 the way through.

2. Joyeuse marche - Emmanuel Chabrier
Marches usually don't sound like this. Instead of laying down a steady beat for the troops passing in review, Chabrier's "joyous" version is all sudden starts and stops and the beat's all over the place. Tons of fun and much too short.

3. Concerto in F - George Gershwin
Sure, Rhapsody in Blue is great. But this is better. The first movement is practically an entire concerto itself, as it goes to all kinds of places.

4. Five Tudor Portraits - Ralph Vaughan Williams
A huge work set to poems by John Skelton (1460-1529), with three truly accessible movements for a neophyte audience: The Tunning of Elinor Rumming, My Pretty Bess and Jolly Rutterkin. This one's got variety to spare, with complex rhythms and colors for chorus and orchestra. Why not couple the orchestra with one of the area's choral groups? Sure, it takes more planning, but you get much more sound. And most of these non-professional but infinitely talented groups would do it for for free.

5. Capriol Suite - Peter Warlock
More fun rhythms jammed into a relatively short amount of space and time.

Why am I passionate about this? Because more people need to listen to this stuff! I credit classical music for improve my writing, generating my ideas, blowing the cobwebs out of my brain, or even just improving a part of my day. Now before you go thinking "he's going to tell me to listen to more Mozart" I'll tell you this: I can only take so much Mozart. The music I'm talking about was (almost) all written in the 20th Century. It's got intense color, incredible movement, and spiky syncopations. I'll be posting more examples in the next week or so; some of the pieces will tell stories, and others are totally abstract. Taken together, they comprise what I would counsel anyone to listen to if they want to expand their choice of iPod downloads.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Screenwriter Secrets of Effective Storytelling!
Part II: The People

#2: Introducing the Arch Nemesis

Every story has a villain. Think of the most popular ones from the movies: Darth Vader, Hannibal Lecter, HAL, dinosaurs. They drive the story's main activity, and can set off other conflicts among the heroes. They're also really fun to write, much more so than the boring old protagonist.

That's because the main character is usually a reflection of the writer, while the villains steal all the good lines. "No, Luke. I am your father." "I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti." And the granddaddy (or grandmother) of them all: "I'll get you my pretty and your little dog too!"

In telling your story, or an organization's, a customer's or a constituent's, it might be tough to flesh out the villain, however.

You might not want to name names directly. It might not be a person. It could be a disease, a force of nature, an immoral activity, or a frame of mind. Depression, tsunamis, badly-distributed resources, homophobia. If you were writing a screenplay, you'd give each of these its own personality. In telling your story, you might not have the space or time.

But you need to know exactly who and/or what your villain is. Take the time to dig down, flesh out, even describe for yourself what can vanquish its evil ways. Like a movie that tricks you into thinking you know who the villain is, in the story you're writing, you might think you know who your villain is (politicians are always the knee-jerk, fall back villains in everyone's minds), but you don't want to destroy relationships and burn bridges. And you don't want people getting the wrong idea.

You may end up with a story that doesn't specifically mention your villain, specially if your audience already knows and you're in full agreement. But knowing who or what your villain is gives you a better foundation on which to build your story. And who knows, you may even find yourself writing a screenplay based on the problems he, she or it can cause.