Advice for all non-profits: “It is time to talk human again!”

So, I was sitting in my living room watching television and trying to multitask last night when one of the commercials that I was trying to ignore jumped out of my television, grabbed me by my shirt collar and shook me hard. It was an advertisement by Skype and it was very cute.  You probably know which one I am talking about . . . it is the commercial with the middle school aged boy and girl passing notes in class. I’ve embedded it below if you want to view it again.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pCJAASK50lY]

I especially love the following line in this ad:

“Long before email threads, we turned to each other. It is when the spirit of collaboration meant more than an ‘FYI’ or ‘Reply All’. When messages were passed along by simple gestures, validated by an honest expression.”

Long after this commercial was over, my mind kept straying back to it. I must have re-played it over and over and over again in my head all night long. After a few hours, it dawned on me that there is something about this message that obviously resonates with me and my point of view about non-profit organizations.

For the last few years, I became more focused on using technology to engage people (e.g. non-profit clients, donors, board volunteers, etc) in a way that felt efficient and productive. Thinking back on it, I have tried all sorts of technology tools all in the name of saving time:

  • Email (Ugh . . . I can send wickedly long emails with lots of detail)
  • Google Docs
  • GoToMeeting
  • Conference call bridges
  • e-newsletters

I suspect this trend is rooted in the idea of being respectful of a donor and volunteer’s time. After all, life is so busy and very fast nowadays. However, are we really being more efficient? Are we really getting more done? Are we really simplifying things or do our efforts really just de-humanize the experience and end up doing more harm than good?

I think United Airlines hit the nail on the head more than 20 years ago when they run this iconic television ad:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mU2rpcAABbA]

Please don’t misunderstand what I am saying. I believe technology is here to stay, and we all better learn how to appropriately use it to keep our donors and volunteers informed and engaged.

I suspect that technology will also continue to creep into our lives and become a stronger fundraising solicitation tool over the next decade. I also suspect that more and more board and committee meetings will happen over Skype and other online video platforms.

Before you totally surrender your non-profit and its relationships to the “Technology Gods,” I encourage you to take the following advice from our friends at United Airlines and Skype:

  • Scale back your email and non-personal technology efforts with volunteers and donors.
  • Don’t make-up reasons for volunteers to attend a committee meeting or board meeting. Make sure that the agenda contains important stuff.
  • Don’t make-up reasons to sit down with a donor. Make sure every touch is engaging, enlightening, fulfilling, and fun for them. It is more about them and less about you. Right? Connecting people with your mission in an emotional way is a recipe for success! And technology is anti-emotional.
  • Visit people in-person, but do so in a way that feels important and not a waste of time.
  • Try your hand at online video conferencing. Of all the technology available to you, this one somewhat allows some sense of personal interaction. Start small with an individual or committee first.

I think we can embrace technology in a way that makes sense and is not de-humanizing. It will take a conscious effort on your part. Are you up to the challenge? Or are you just going to continue ‘forwarding’ that email thread with an attachment and clicking ‘reply all”? Please scroll down and share your thoughts about either commercial? Did either have an impact on your non-profit point of view? I would love to hear your thoughts and what you plan on doing about it.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
www.thehealthynonprofit.com
erik@thehealthynonprofit.com
http://twitter.com/#!/eanderson847
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