Wednesday, December 29, 2010

What If You Could Help Me Realize Why I Care About Your Organization?

Yeshiva University's Alumni Affairs department is currently utilizing an extremely poor marketing strategy. Basically, it consists of bombarding alumni with emails with the titles 'What if you could help Nathan realize his dreams?' and the following image:

The idea is that if I simply give money to Yeshiva University, I'll suddenly be able to help this kid change the world. This is stupid on many levels:

1. Many kids dream dreams. How will my gift of money actually enable Nathan to do something that half the world has dreamed of doing at some point or another?

2. Why do I care about Nathan? What is he to me?

3. Where will my gift of money actually go? Does it go directly to Nathan? What's Nathan's email address and how do I get to see whether he actually follows up on what he is planning to accomplish?

Now let's explain what a good marketing campaign does. A good marketing campaign is relevant to me. It pulls my heartstrings. It makes me feel nostalgic for my college, which was like a good friend and which enabled me to take on the world. It makes me want to be back there. It makes me want to give back to my college because I want to thank them for everything they've done and everything they've enabled me to do. Case in point: my former highschool, North Shore Country Day, is currently running a 30 MILLION DOLLAR campaign (remember, this is a high school!). And they've raised most of that money. How did they do that? Well, for one, they made a fundraising video which speaks to the heart of what the school is, what it does, and makes me wish I was back there right now. Watch it here.

Alternatively, you can take the NCSY approach. Your focus is to inspire people. You show them how your program directly benefits the Jewish people. It benefits me and you. When I look at their brochures and see inspirational photos of teenagers who would otherwise know nothing about their Judaism praying, it touches something inside of me. Or at least NCSY hopes it does. Check out NCSY's National Chinese Auction taking place here. Or download the PDF of their Chinese Auction booklet here. Look how brilliantly they've interwoven photos and quotes about their relevant prizes with the photos. (See page 12 for an example). A lot of people are going to give money to them. Why? A) It benefits them. They might win a prize. B) Those are really pretty glossy inspirational photographs of real-life kids who are being helped by the organization. And everyone knows a kid who goes to NCSY.

So in short, marketing needs to touch or benefit me directly, it needs to emphasize the connection I feel toward your organization, and I need to see the direct positive effects of what you are doing for me or a larger extension of me, my Jewish people. So if I were Yeshiva University, I would work on putting out a video that emphasized the many clubs and extracurriculars they offer at their university (images of students fencing, performing plays, the Maccabeats singing, the science club at public school etc), kids talking about their positive experiences, and a diverse array of kids (Sephardi kids, kids from other countries, kids from very different Jewish backgrounds etc) in order to demonstrate exactly how YU benefited and currently benefits me. Maybe I'd even go further and include images of YU rabbis around the globe and so forth, really stressing that YU is everywhere.

But Nathan, whoever he is, just isn't going to cut it.


Ezzie said...

While I basically agree with what you've written, I do think that there are plenty of people who would be very much inspired by such an ad (I'm not one of them), while many others would not be by the examples you gave (for instance, I thought NSCD's was okay, while NCSY's was eh).

I'm reasonably certain you'll find many top and middle tier schools using very similar ads for themselves; I don't know if YU pays for a good marketing firm or if their stuff is done in house, but if the latter, I'm guessing they simply took pieces of ideas from other schools.

Honestly, I'm more disappointed that he's not wearing a yarmulke.

Ezzie said...

Also, NSCDS's campaign is a whole different ballgame. If you look at what they did, they pulled an old, tried and true trick - they took advance donors and pooled them, then set a fundraising goal and are counting those pledged funds as toward that goal. This is similar to matching donations - where people are more likely to donate knowing that others have and will be doing so and that the goal is likely to be reached. They note that the Board of Trustees et al have all participated, so that means they pulled money from their most close-knit supporters to kick this off.

This is all very well done, but simply not realistic for most schools - a private prep school with a very high tuition rate by definition is going to have a pool of donors that is far more financially strong and dedicated than any university outside of perhaps the Ivies.

Chana said...


Firstly, Nathan is wearing a yarmulke (it's just in the back of his head, so you can't completely see it).

Secondly, NCSY and NSCDS both fulfill their goals so whether or not it speaks to you, it pulls the money in. Re: NSCDs, I am SURE you could find certain tried-and-true donors to YU to go on record with what they are planning to give (or at least that they gave) and have people try to match them. Or even just film them with personal appeals, explanations etc. Whatever it is, it would be better than the Nathan who has no relevance to me.

Ezzie said...

I'm sure YU has done campaigns with matching donors or similar in the past as well. My point is simply that while Nathan isn't relevant to you, it looks like the type of ad that's part of a series of similar ones with different faces and different "WhatIf"s, where different ones will resonate with different people. To criticize one that didn't resonate with you so heavily seems over the top.

That said, I certainly agree that there are better ways to market and that they should be picking stronger examples that will resonate with more people (specifically donors with money).

Chana said...


I think the whole idea of it is bad. I've gotten a bunch of WhatIfs and all of them are big pipe dreams from kids without any practical plan (at least not spelled out in the email) of HOW they're going to do the things they want to do. I have a bunch of dreams, too- but I wouldn't just wander around and say, hey, give me money cause I have a dream. Basically: it's a bad campaign.

Ezzie said...

These types of campaigns work all the time - our current President ran one on his way to being elected and it was quite effective. (In fact, most politicians run similar campaigns.)

harry-er than them all said...

There are studies that were done where a charity pointed out that they help a specific starving child in need vs. a large number of people they help. The results were that people feel more inclined to give when they could point out a specific person their money helps rather than a statistic. It follows the saying "one is a tragedy, a thousand a statistic"

The theory behind it is that the donations benefit becomes more salient, and other neuro-psychology studies have shown that giving makes us feel good. The same parts of the brain that get activated during giving are activated when one has sex.or eats chocolate.

But yes, it is poorly designed ad because your attention is not drawn to the right parts, nor do we know that Nathan is particularly needy.

Anonymous said...

Nathan was an Albany, NY NCSYer - thought you should know :)

Joy said...

You're absolutely correct, to get people to take action you must show them the benefits that they will reap! Some people want to help others selflessly, but most people do their giving to benefit themselves.

SternGrad said...

I agree with your assessment. When I received that email today, the first thought was, "Yes, my $36 is really gonna make a difference to that guy..."

So I agree with your points #1 and 3. However, I disagree with point #2- I care about that Nathan guy and would love to be able to help him with his dreams, I just don't think that my contribution will really help. I did think "Wow, that's great that he has that dream."

SternGrad said...

Oh, and I agree with Ezzie. They should make his yarmulke more visible!

TPW said...

Personally, I have a bigger problem with the goal of working with human rights legislation, though that may be simply due to my cynicism regarding most of the world. I don't really know why YU would be the place to go to enact this change, either. That should be a little clearer. In line with the "how will this benefit me" approach, Nathan should really be wondering, "What if I could make Jewish education affordable for all Jewish families?" So yes, I agree with you, Chana. A more personal approach would be better.

Noam said...

Didn't see the yarmulke either. On reinspection I did detect the hint of it. Is this intentional?

Maybe YU could have a showcase of alumni who have made a difference.
Catchphrase "you can help a student become a leader"
**donate today and be a part of it**

TPW said...

LOVED the NSCD video. It reminded me of my own high school.

YU I believe has started doing a lot better, what with its new blogs and the "Now you know" campaign, plus the student videos...hopefully the "Nathan" thing will only be a small part of it, now that there's debate ;-).

The Nudnik said...

They need to read this:

Anonymous said...

Chana, Please watch the following video that Annual Giving sent out just a few months ago. They use various forms of fundraising mechanisms.