Monthly Archives: October 2013

A Walk on the Wild Side: Nonprofit Lessons from Lou Reed

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photo by Thierry Ehrmann

I never know what to say about celebrities who die. It’s always sad, of course, especially if I admired their work, but what do I have to add the tributes I see all over Facebook, Twitter, and the web?

Lou Reed, who died at 71 on Sunday, and his band Velvet Underground made some of my favorite music, and influenced my tastes as I discovered other music. I admired Reed as an intelligent writer (he was an English major) and as an unabashed observer of American society. As I’ve listened to his music over the past few days, it occurred to me that several of his songs contain lessons and insights for nonprofits. Can you think of others?

“Pale Blue Eyes”
Thought of you as my mountain top,
Thought of you as my peak.
Thought of you as everything,
I’ve had but couldn’t keep.

This is one of Lou’s most melodic and popular songs, but what many people don’t know is that it was inspired by a female muse – who had hazel eyes.

Lesson: Be honest in your communications, but also creative. “Pale Hazel Eyes” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

“Dirty Blvd.”
No one here dreams of being a doctor or lawyer or anything.
They dream of dealing on the dirty boulevard.

Reed loved New York City, but he was also realistic about the underbelly of the city, and the gap between the haves and have-nots. In this song, Pedro at first seems doomed to a life of poverty and drugs, but finds a book of magic and dreams of flying away. It’s all relative, but for Reed, that almost qualifies as a happy (or at least hopeful) ending.

Lesson: Share the grim reality of the problems you’re trying to solve, but also give your supporters hope and show them what’s possible.

“Perfect Day”
Oh it’s such a perfect day.
I’m glad I spent it with you.

Whether this song is a simple love story or an ode to heroin addiction, it’s one of Reed’s most upbeat and most covered songs.

Lesson: Celebrate your successes, and thank your donors for making them possible.

“Walk on the Wild Side”
Holly came from Miami, F.L.A.

Sex, drugs, and rock and roll – it’s all here, and it’s also one of Reed’s most melodic songs. Quintessential Lou, it’s a simple narrative with interesting and offbeat characters.

Lesson: What stories can you tell that haven’t been told before? Think differently. Surprise your audience. Take a walk on the wild side.

This One Word Could Help You Raise More Money

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As much as I enjoy reading blogs, journals, newspapers, and magazines about nonprofits and fundraising, I think some of the most interesting lessons come from other sources. For example, Psychology Today‘s blog recently published a post titled “The Power of the Word ‘Because’ To Get People to Do Stuff.” According to author Susan Weinschenk, PhD, “Because is a magic word when you want to get people to do something.” Could that include asking them to support your cause?

She cites a 1978 study in which people on a college campus tried to cut in line to use a copier. There was 60 percent compliance when someone asked, “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the xerox machine?” But that rose to 93 percent when the person asked, “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the xerox machine, because I have to make copies?” And it was 94 percent with “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the xerox machine, because I’m in a rush?”

Next, they tried the experiment with a person with 20 pages. In that case, only the “…because I’m in a rush” increased compliance. Dr. Weinschenk concludes, “When the stakes are low, people will engage in automatic behavior. If your request is small, then follow the request with the word ‘because’ and give any reason. If the stakes are high, then there is a little more resistance, but still not too much. Use the word ‘because’ and try to come up with at least a slightly more compelling reason.”

How does this affect your requests to get support for your organization or your cause? Are you explaining WHY someone should support you? And do you think the word “because” makes a difference?

How to be Authentic in Your Fundraising

Thanks to Guidestar for sharing the post “What Does It Mean to be Authentic in Your Fundraising?” from the Front Range Source blog. Leslie Allen writes that nonprofits can lose the ability or desire to have a genuine relationship when they focus solely on ROI, response rates, and costs to raise a dollar. I encourage you to read the whole post for the details, but some of Allen’s advice is:

  • Be upfront about your need and your vision.
  • Don’t be afraid to talk about the costs of your operation. Being transparent doesn’t have to mean being defensive.
  • Ask your donors how you’re doing, what information they want, and how they want to get it.
  • Report back — honestly. “Explain what worked, what didn’t, and what you learned.”

She also recommends communicating with your donors the way you talk to your friends. Treat them with respect and honesty, and you’ll stand out from many other nonprofits.