Thursday, September 11, 2014

BIG’s Blog: I don’t know Ari Rosenberg but …

I don’t know Ari Rosenberg, but although 9/11 is seared into my memory (maybe yours too), reading his column today brought me to understand 9/11 at a level I could never understand. And more importantly, I long for that empathy we all held for New Yorkers that day and wish we could extend it to all of us again.

I could just give you the link, but I’m afraid some of you wouldn’t click on it. You would lose out. Here is Ari's post: 

Here We Go Again.”

Today’s date creeps up every year, kidnaps my subconscious, and dumps it unmercifully back to that day.

My memories are as clear as the sky that dreadful morning.

I had flown in from San Francisco the prior weekend and, with my company’s CEO, Mark, watched Pete Sampras lose the U.S. Open finals to Lleyton Hewitt from the second row of Arthur Ashe stadium.  I was staying at a furnished apartment in New York City that rented to make my frequent trips East more efficient.  Life was good.

The air that Tuesday on my walk to our Park Avenue office was crisp. I was meeting Randy at 8:30 a.m.  He and I had worked together in the past, and now he was interviewing for a sales position.  We were talking about old times and new skills in the back conference room when we heard that a small commuter jet had flown into one of the Twin Towers.  We acknowledged how bad that sounded, but then got back to the business at hand.

What I remember next are vivid clips cached permanently in my memory. 

I can still hear Jason, the head of our client service team, blurting out, “Oh my God, another plane hit the other tower” -- which caused Randy and me to run out to the main room to watch the video on the office television. 

I can still feel the chilling fear of calling my sister-in-law to see how my twin brother (working downtown near Wall Street) was, while holding my breath until I could process he was OK and on his way home via the ferry.

I remember listening to a voice mail from my girlfriend, Jennifer, saying she’d gotten out of the South Tower and was huddling in the basement of a building nearby with some coworkers. 

I distinctly remember thinking, “We are in midtown and this is happening downtown” -- and then realizing the Empire State Building was a few blocks away. Abruptly, I sent everyone home.
I remember the eerie walk up Third Avenue with hoards of others, shuffling steadily and in unison.  I remember how quiet it was and how everyone’s heads drooped down as the weight of the event became too much to shoulder. 

I remember how each bar we passed had televisions on, and every few blocks people stopped and poked their heavy heads in to see what we couldn’t believe.

In the immediate days and nights that followed, I went out to eat on the Upper East Side.  Restaurants were filled with tables of people talking softly next to tables where people sat in complete silence, their eyes reddened and the food on their plates untouched. 

I remember the call from my mom telling me Alan, our next-door neighbor when I was growing up, had died that day, working on the 104th floor of the World Trade Center.
I remember being too afraid to fly home to San Francisco -- and how surreal it felt to return to the New York office that following Monday.

I remember the bizarre conference call we had with our company president, Rick. He reminded us we had a quarterly revenue number we needed to hit. He wanted to hear from the New York sales team about opportunities that might close before the quarter ended. 

I will never forget the silence his words were met with. I remember realizing, at that exact moment, how different it was being in New York City versus watching New York City on TV.

What I witnessed the next few days was something I will never forget.

New Yorkers held doors for one another and said thank you with their words and their hearts.  New Yorkers made space for one another on the subway.  People peered into the eyes of their brothers and sisters on the streets of New York City as if to reassure them, "We will get through this."

I remember when we finally did start talking to clients, the warmth and compassion in those conversations was unlike the dialogue we’d had before. It was raw, it was real, and it was human.

I think our online ad world has become so “programmatic,” we no longer recognize human beings are on the other side of the send buttons we use to communicate with one another. Our business communication has become curt and downright hostile at times, and we have no problem not responding at all.

I wish we could collect the empathy 9/11 left behind and pour it back into our industry.  I wish we would treat one another with the heartfelt respect New Yorkers treated one another with in the aftermath of this infamous date, instead of working through one another as a means to an end as we do now. 

I wish Alan were alive, and that his sisters, Debbie, Marci and Marla, whom I think about every day, could delete the suffering they have endured these past 13 years.

I am sure all of you reading have similar feelings about today’s date, and suffered as much or more than I did.


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Friday, August 29, 2014

BIG’s Blog: Marketing is Changing

I got a call from a friend last week and he asked me if I thought marketing was dead. His comment caught me off-guard because some people do say “marketing is dead,” but other than Bill Lee in his famous HBR article of the same name (who used the title as hyperbole for the point he was making about the impact of the Internet), I realized that what he was really talking about was advertising. He was confused over word definitions.

Marketing is never going away. Marketing is the process of getting our message, our story, out there. As long as there are people, products, and causes, there will always be marketing because we humans need to understand the story of everything.

But advertising, which I term “interruption” advertising (ads in magazines & newspapers, radio ads, television commercials, billboards, even pop-up ads on the internet), is fading away. And quickly!

I mean seriously, I don’t know anyone who isn’t using their DVR to record shows and blast through commercials. And you are seeing fewer and fewer pop-up ads on the Internet. Why? Because people hate them, and will shun any site that allows them.

We are going through a major shift in communications with the coming of the Internet, and while I know marketing will make it, I’m less certain about advertising.

Unless, that is, they change the definition of advertising.


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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

BIG’s Blog: Get Out There

A heads up: this blog is longer than usual, but definitely worth it to those who read it through to the end! It just might change your professional life.

The math of direct mail is a beautiful thing. I should know; I practiced it and became quite proficient in its science over 35+ years. Mailing out a test quantity, then increasing the quantity to validate, and then finally rolling out is a statistically-driven marvel to behold. Direct mail fundraising in its heyday was highly profitable for organizations that employed it. Many of our largest charities owe their financial foundations to the science and mathematics of direct mail.

I, for one, will miss it when it’s gone, but for now enjoy it while it lasts. And as my friend Bill Jacobs says, optimize and maximize your net revenue even as mail declines, but my suggestion is …


Of course it won't replace direct mail's revenue overnight - which is why it is of critical importance to start now!

I understand all those who say they can't figure out how to make online work. That’s why we exist at Browne Innovation Group, to guide nonprofit fundraising organizations to a pure 100% online fundraising business model that works and is scalable.

The Internet isn’t just another form of your traditional advertising world; the Internet has its own set of rules and they are NOT just digital forms of what you have been doing in the analogue print-and-ink world.

Too many fundraisers have the "being there" syndrome. They think that if they have the new digital tools, that somehow their online revenue will start to rise. As if the magic of the digital tools just “being there” is enough.

And it's not completely fundraising leaders’ fault; there are those supposed quasi-research groups that fundraisers look up to that spend time and money tracking the so-called growth of online fundraising, and have been telling you that over the last five years online fundraising is growing.

Sounds good, doesn't it?

Except it's pretty much a crock. Well, not a total crock. Some people who have never heard of your organization before are finding your website and donating. But what percentage of your online revenue is coming from people like that? Less than 1%?

Confused yet?

You see, what people, real people like you and me are doing is changing our transaction mode.

Instead of writing a check (who writes checks anymore??), real people (your donors) are responding to direct mail appeals but donating online instead of sending you a check in the mail. And THAT is what gets reported as “growth” in online fundraising.

So when these annual research reports come out with fanfare and the authors tell you online giving is up; what they are talking about is where the transaction was made.

So then the question you have to ask yourself is: Is there really a new and viable methodology for developing supporters 100% online that can scale and take the place of direct mail, or are these research reports just talking about “where the transactions are happening?”

And, as I described above, that is a big difference.

If online giving were really rising, as opposed to just the online transactions rising, then the fundraising industry (YOU) would have heard of hundreds of pure online fundraising models.

To be sure, there are a few organizations that raise virtually all their revenue in a pure 100% online model. One example of a pure online model is Charity: Water’s way of communicating online with their supporters who hold fundraisers for Charity: Water’s drinking well projects. All of Charity: Water’s communications begin and continue online … 100%.

There are also crowdfunding sites like, where donor investors like you and I make loans to people in third world countries to purchase a sewing machine, to start a business, or to fund five goats for a farmer to start a goat herd. These are REAL and TRUE examples of the rise in online giving and are generated 100% online.
But these are not what the reports from Target Analytics and other such reports are describing. TA’s report is focused on your fundraising industry sector where the predominant mode of acquiring new supporters is still direct mail. When they make pronouncements that online giving is rising, the takeaway (especially from the general press but also from the fundraising trade press) is that fundraising organizations are shifting their modes and methodologies of fundraising and are acquiring new (and presumably younger) supporters online.


Established nonprofits are now invested in so-called Integrated or Multi-channel marketing. Integrated and Multi-Channel marketing incorporates online and digital touch points, but at base (and this is critical, so pay attention) it is totally dependent on direct mail.

Meaning, if you take direct mail OUT of the mix and just leave the online and digital channels … IT WON’T WORK!

If your mail still works, adding online and digital channels might provide a slight bump in response, but take the direct mail out and the whole campaign collapses. Because, in the end, it is just a direct mail campaign jazzed up with digital tools.

Of course the people in the direct mail industry point and say, “see, direct mail is still viable.” And they have me in their corner saying the same thing.

Except that the subject is growth in online giving.

What happens to Target Analytics’ benchmark report of the growth in online giving when direct mail begins to decline at an even faster pace, which it inevitably will?

Please don’t be fooled. “Get out there” and develop a new online fundraising business model that is 100% online!


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Friday, August 15, 2014

BIG’s Blog: Robin Williams

What is life, if not full of challenges?

Take any challenge in life … we all will react slightly differently depending on our pre-programmed personality. I like to say that life is a Bell Curve, and in any particular challenge or set of circumstances, a group of people will all fall out slightly differently in how they react. Some faced with a challenge will grit their teeth and take the problem head on. At the other end of the Curve are those who hide in their office or however else they run away.

Sometimes a mental illness is the reason for how we react.

Some people, it seems, need to ride the edge of the knife; that was Robin Williams. We now know Robin was struggling with depression.
He was as big a star as our baby boom generation produced, and we all loved him. As big a star as he was, he seemed like the kind of guy who, if we met him, would make us feel comfortable. We knew he would make us laugh because he could make any subject funny.

He first hit our radar back in the 1970s with Mork and Mindy. He was the manic comet we couldn't get enough of. He didn't need writers, it seemed, when he showed up on The Tonight Show or any of the other talk shows. His wit and non-stop banter kept us laughing and guessing what he would say next. He was the energy in any room. Any movie or TV show that he was in was a must see. Even as we quit going to movies, we made the exception for Robin Williams, because we knew our investment would be rewarded with hard-to-come-by laughs. He always made us laugh, even in his serious roles; they always had some laugh lines for Robin.

Robin Williams was out there for us, but he was living with mental illness. Mental illness affects one in four American adults each year, costing $193.2 billion in lost earnings, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. And of those 61.5 million Americans, 25 million live with depression. Nine of 10 suicides are committed by people suffering from a mental illness, and in 60 to 70 percent of the cases where depression was the disorder.

You’ve got to believe that Robin Williams always knew what was happening to him. Even we could see, as we all got older, that there was a hole in his soul. He was so funny, but when he quit talking, there was a faraway look. Then we heard he was in rehab again. The hole in his soul was covered over by the applause and adulation, but that was always fleeting and it was never enough. When the applause stopped and he had to be by himself, he must have felt all alone. He never looked comfortable alone.

The mantra today is “60 is the new 40,” except than when you’re sixty, you know it's a lie. As the reality of being a 60-year-old man sets in and, if you’ve been like Robin, running so hard for so long and you know you can’t keep it up after sixty … you feel and see the end drawing near. It becomes real. You’re supposed to slow down, but how does a comet like Robin Williams slow down? And if you’ve fought depression along the way as Robin did, it starts rising again. The hole in your soul has never been filled.

If you don't believe you were born on purpose, for a purpose, and you have no god to cling to but yourself, you are oh-so-alone.

And the depression really becomes too much …

We all loved Robin Williams and it hits us hard that one of us is suddenly gone too soon. It’s very close and personal because it seems he’s always been around.

Not all people with depression are suicidal, but a high percentage of those who are suicidal are depressed.

It’s a sign of strength to ask for help. Things can get better.


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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

BIG’s Blog: Guest Post from Bill Jacobs of Analytical Ones

Optimize the Decline . . . While You Get Online
The company I founded back in 2002, Analytical Ones, helps a lot of nonprofits analyze their donor giving database and conduct primary research (like survey studies) to give a comprehensive report of the nonprofit’s current picture of their donor base. Like reading a map to get to a destination, you can’t know where you are headed until you know where you’ve been and your current location.
During the past two years, there has been a roiling of the waters, so to speak, in fundraising strategy throughout the nonprofit industry. This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who reads Mike’s blog regularly: We are in a transition period in fundraising. We are moving from the way we used to raise funds (primarily via direct mail) to how we are going to raise funds in the future (online).
So strategies throughout the nonprofit space have been adapting to strategic initiatives of what I refer to (in a Johnnie Cochran-esque manner): Optimize the Decline While You Get Online.
In case that isn’t straightforward enough, let me explain.
If I did a database file analysis of your organization, I would bet that most of your donations are still being driven by your direct mail appeals. I’d also bet that in the past 5-years you have seen revenue from this channel start to slip. More concerning, you have fewer donors each year.
In addition, I bet you have seen an increase of your donations from online giving rise during each of the past 5-years.
But here is the rub: the rise in online revenue isn’t covering your decline in direct mail. Yet.
So you are stuck in the fundraising purgatory. You are still dependent upon the old ways of fundraising, but smart enough to read the writing on the wall: unless you adopt a new online fundraising strategy, your organization’s future is in peril.
The temptation is to do one or the other. But you can’t. You need to optimize your net revenue from direct mail today, even as your direct mail fundraising declines, while you begin to invest in your online future.
Nobody said it would be easy.
But it’s the only way to manage this paradigm shift.

-Mike (And Bill)

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Monday, August 11, 2014

BIG’s Blog: Fundraising Today?


It used to be that media was scarce. If you owned a media you charged people dearly for the privilege of posting information or an advertisement on it. Today, media is abundant and everyone can be a publisher.


The words “information overload” get bandied about as if we are all stumbling around numb from too much information. What nonsense. The truth is we are finding more and more about things that interest us and not just the generic, middle-of-the-road information put out by one national publication. On the Internet, we seek and find what we are interested in.


When I surf through nonprofit Websites I just want to cry. I have met the people behind the missions and they are exciting and engaged … but when you look at their Websites there is a disconnect. They are … for the most part … electronic brochures. An overstatement? Hardly. Look at yours today and then go back tomorrow. Does it convey the dynamic mission you are carrying out everyday?

Think about this: What if you turned your Website into an online magazine? The number one thing that would change is people’s expectations (both inside your nonprofit as well as people on the outside). You wouldn’t go to CNN’s Website tomorrow and see all the same stories you are reading today. If the common wisdom is that we are all on “information overload,” it certainly isn’t your site they are referring to. Change the expectations. Is your organization dynamic? Is everyday different? Then why isn’t that reflected in your online front door?


Online is instant access. Everybody (even you) expects what they want when they want it. When people come to your Website the first time, they want to know immediately what you are about and, many times, they want to connect. Look at Amazon; you cannot only find what you are looking for today, but they are moving heaven and earth to deliver the same day you order. And you can’t update your Website daily? To fight this expectation is delusional, let alone having people that actually search out your site click off and leave.


From your Website to every single message you send or post online, they must be optimized for mobile, and primarily mobile phones. We’re all connected. If you are a nonprofit fundraiser and you don’t have a strategy that syncs with mobile, you’re screwed.


There is no such thing as a busy signal. We expect to be able to reach everybody right away. And the corollary to that is, you better be there when they reach out.


Tell them what you’re doing. Tell them why you do it. Let them know who the “we” are. Make it personal. Why? Because friends take care of friends.


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Friday, August 8, 2014

BIG’s Blog: Life Expectancy

We all know that fundraising organizations need a strong “programmatic” approach that both generates new supporters and develops on-going (annual) revenue from current supporters.

Historically, this has been direct mail for many organizations.

So what is the future programmatic approach to develop new supporters as well as developing relationships with them?

For the baby boomer and younger generations, it must be built online.

In four years you must be generating the majority of your new supporters as well as annual revenue online.


Simple.  Life expectancy in the U.S. According to the CDC and the 2010 U.S. Census, average life expectancy in the U.S is now 78.7 years, slightly higher for women, slightly lower for men.

Your current donor base is aging rapidly. Today, the majority of your donors are from the Depression and WWII-era generations. This means that the youngest of the WWII generation, born in 1945, is 69 years old. That’s only a few years away from the average life expectancy in the U.S.

The next four years are critical for your Development organization. You will experience an acceleration of shrinkage in your direct mail-generated file of current supporters from the Depression and WWII generations.

In four years, your growth, as well as the majority of your revenue must be coming from 100% online-generated supporters.

What is your plan to get there?


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Wednesday, August 6, 2014

BIG’s Blog: The Future is Mobile

If you read any press about tablets (iPads, Kindle Fire, etc.), they say that tablets are dying because sales numbers have fallen off. Don’t believe it.

I have an iPhone and an iPad and my 62-year-old eyes do much better with the tablet than trying to read on an iPhone.

And guess what?

The smartphone manufacturers are going to start offering bigger smartphones. 72 million baby boomers can’t be ignored. Look for the next Apple announcements to offer a “bigger” iPhone.

And as to why tablet sales have fallen off after initial massive sales following their introduction … you don’t buy a new tablet every two years (like you do with your smartphone) because the tablets aren’t subsidized.


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Monday, August 4, 2014

BIG’s Blog: I’ve Just Heard of You

I've just heard of your organization.

Maybe I read something in the news about you?

Maybe a friend told me about your organization and to check it out?

Maybe I saw a YouTube video that caught my eye or somebody forwarded me something you had written?

But if I did see or hear about your organization, why should I care?

Hearing or seeing something about your organization introduces you to me. And since more and more of us get our news, information, and entertainment online, if you're not reaching me online, you don't exist.

For several generations, editors of newspapers, magazines, and even radio and TV networks knew that they had to grab our attention or their numbers in circulation or viewership would flag. And if their numbers were dropping, they couldn't charge as much for advertising in their media. Thus, they wouldn't bring in as much revenue.

So they produced stories or programs that we wanted to see. If they didn't, they failed.

So today you are online... big deal, everybody is online.

You've only got a few seconds to get my attention. Maybe it's the headline of something you wrote or was written about you. Maybe it was a picture or a video.

It grabs me ... or it doesn't.

If you're not as serious as those editors of yore about getting people to really pay attention ... exactly why are you wasting your time online?

And as I mentioned earlier, if you do get my attention, why should I care?

Being there (that is, online) isn’t enough anymore. The world is online. Yet being there is what most nonprofits brag about: “Hey, check out our new “updated” Website and we’re now on Facebook and Pinterest …!”

How many people are making contact with you online?

How many are connecting with you online?

How many are supporting you online?


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