Arment Dietrich

How Content Motivates Behavior

By: Arment Dietrich | November 16, 2011 | 

storytime-chicken1 Today’s guest post is written by Lisa Gerber

Last night, I asked my husband what I should blog about this morning.

He said, “Blog about what to do when you don’t have anything to blog about.”

Me: “Can’t, I’ve already done that.”

It’s the wild card. The “I can’t think of anything to write about, so I’ll write about the fact that I don’t have anything to write about.” It happens to the best of us. You get to use it once.

So what do you do the second time it happens?  Just start typing, baby! Go with the stream of thought, and return to the top and edit.

I wrote a post this week for Razoo, helping fundraisers get started on Twitter. It is a tactical article on growing your community. But as I worked on it, I couldn’t help but think about the competition amongst the nonprofits right now, and how content marketing is critical to motivating people to donate.

It’s a terrible economy, and the collective giving wallet is shrinking at a time when it is needed more than ever. Nonprofits have gone social, and our newsfeeds are full of images of starving children and tortured animals.

It seriously breaks my heart; I’m in no way trying to be insensitive here. But I question if a different strategy might be more effective.

The pressure to save the world is too much for many who are simply trying to save themselves.

Everyone could use a little levity and some nonprofits are getting the message;

  1. Have fun with your content.
  2. Ask for a smaller amount.

I’ve been fascinated with the growth of #Movember during the past few years. Instead of scaring me with the fact that my husband has an x in xx chance of dying of prostate cancer, they’ve involved men (men who wouldn’t normally step up to be advocates) to grow mustaches and raise money socially.

They anticipate 600,000 men to be participating this year. Now? We’re having fun and raising awareness about a very serious issue.

Their goal isn’t even focused on dollar amounts, but participation. Organizers guess one-third of the participants won’t raise any money at all, and they don’t care. Because the other two-thirds will.

Crowdrise is fundraising platform. Perhaps you’ve heard of it; it’s relatively new to me. Crowdrise  has adopted the same strategy, levity in fundraising.

In fact, their slogan is: If you don’t give back no one will like you.

Their site is pretty funny. They tell a great story. And? They’ve integrated gamification. If you are a regular reader here, you know how much we love scoring points. I earned 750 points just for setting up my page, and of course it has all the mandatory social integration.

I have no intention of detracting from the serious issues that are happening every single day. It’s tragic, and it’s overwhelming. Everyone is working hard to make ends meet and we can only handle so much. Seriously, I can’t even open the PETA emails, it breaks my heart.

It’s OK to lighten up.

Thank you to T. Gray for the image. 

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61 responses to “How Content Motivates Behavior”

  1. seanmcginnis and I are both participating in #Movember. Check my Facebook wall for daily photos. 🙂

  2. Oh and you like earning points, huh? Well, I know a site where you can do just that. Cough, cough. 🙂

  3. lamiki says:

    This is a great blog post, lisagerber. I recently left a nonprofit called Jolkona ( which offers helps connect individuals to global development projects and shows a one-to-one level proof of impact. What does that mean? Oh, you know, fighting some of the world’s most raw and horrible realities like what you described. But since our target audience was the social-media-savvy, young professionals, we knew that messaging wouldn’t work.

    I’m a HUGE fan of Movember and as more young, savvy nonprofits pop up and embrace social media, that’s the direction they’re heading to help drive donations. And it works.

    Excellent points, Lisa. You can’t discount the power of content, especially when that will make the difference between making a sell/donation or not.

    • Lisa Gerber says:

      @lamiki Thank you, Laura. I’ll admit I’m a bit glad to hear from someone with a nonprofit background who agrees. I have no experience with working nonprofts. This is purely from a content marketer’s (with an opinion perspective).

      The competition is fierce. If I won’t even open your emails because I can’t mentally handle the contents, then you’re not winning!

  4. KenMueller says:

    Crowdrise is great, and I’ve used it with a number of non-profit clients, as well as some of the other crowdfunding sites.

    And in terms of adding a modern and gamification twist to a very old school model, check out the Salvation Army. They still have their kettles and bell ringers on corners, but they also have a digital kettle campaign online where you can form a team and compete against other teams. Plus they have some iPhone apps, including a digital bell.

    It’s great to have fun.

    • Lisa Gerber says:

      @KenMueller Awesome! what a great way to maintain the brand and integrate it into new media. Love it. 🙂 There’s something about those kettles and ringers on the corners in NYC during the holidays; it just means Holidays. 🙂

      • KenMueller says:

        @Lisa Gerber It is great, and each year they raise more than the previous year. They even use some interesting billboards to promote the online kettle campaign, And while they love large donations, they base the whole thing heavily on the idea of giving spare change.

  5. KenMueller says:

    And this is one of the other things I love about Social Media: the ability to share stories. For years, much of fundraising for causes was based on images. You still see it on FB a lot when people post horrific pictures of what has been done to animals, or of bloated children. They try to play on your emotions, but sometimes it becomes too much.

    But if you can use Social Media to tell the stories of individuals, whether it be thru text or video, and help people to realize that those HUGE numbers are really a lot of very personal, individual numbers with real life stories, then we have a better sense of where our money is going. Keep it brief, but tell stories of how lives are changed.

    • HowieSPM says:

      @KenMueller my friend goonth actually did a presentation to Paramount Pictures that he posted a great slideshare yesterday on. It starts by discussing content piracy but then migrates to showing how some very smart companies have allowed consumer generated ‘piracy’ that actually amplifies the stories and reach in the end impacting dramatically the success of the content.

      I think the gist was we are more likely to share stories we have had a hand in creating, telling, remixing, participating in. So why not encourage a participatory piracy.

      Movember is an excellent example. So many participants change their avatars, they host wild and crazy parties for the wold and crazy staches that everyone posts photos on the web. It is more than ‘Here is my cause’. It makes you part of the cause. Way more than a walkathon or 5k run or pink lid campaign.

  6. bdorman264 says:

    Nothing to write about? Ha, I’ve been doing that since about last March. After awhile everybody thinks it’s brilliant………..ok, maybe not brilliant but if I keep it under 250 words, then readable…..:).

    Ixnay on the mustache however; I had one for about 20 years and looking back on the pictures……yikes, it had 80’s porn star written all over it. I don’t think I’ve seen a good picture in the bunch. At least the wife liked it………..whew, the things we do for love……….

    I’m involved with a few non-profits and ALL of them never have enough money. However, I have seen organizations like United Way trying to get higher participation numbers even if the total amount of giving is down. It’s a way to get people engaged and involved and that is the biggest hurdle of all.

    Thanks for sharing this; we just do what we can do………..

  7. ifdyperez says:

    I love the “lighten up” comment; it’s true. I think lots of nonprofits jumped on the “sad train” years ago and maybe it worked for a while, but I feel saturated with the “Please Donate” and the “Help Us” messages. Ugh. There are feel-good stories out there, people the nonprofits have saved, so I say, tell me who they are and make it so darn awesome, that I say, “I wanna be that!” Kudos, @Lisa Gerber !

  8. NancyD68 says:

    I have a very good friend who runs a non-profit theatre group and they are having a hard time raising money. I gently suggested that him double posting (both the theatre group and he post links every day on Facebook) and it is too…heavy handed. I think a lighter approach is best.They overpost on Facebook and only tweet about their stuff. I want to shake them and scream “You guys are doing this wrong!”

    Make someone laugh, and really that is all it take to make someone feel comfortable.

    • Lisa Gerber says:

      @NancyD68 Oh! you just made me think of Passports for Purpose. I meant to write about them, darn it. They have an annual fundraiser with a different goal each year, usually to build a school in a third world country. They BLOW PAST their goal each year by getting travel bloggers involved and donating prizes for an AMAZING silent auction. In fact our local bike team just did that here last week and raised $6000. We love drinking and bidding on cool things. (This is how I grew a ridiculous local art collection, LOL!) You should tell your theater group to do that!

  9. Ah, Movember. The month when Canadians truly shine. I hear we’re ahead in the fund-raising this year. Eat your hearts out @KenMueller and @bdorman264

  10. Raj-PB says:

    Over here, the ‘donation for a cause’ has been grossly misused and people have lost all their credibility. Because of this, even genuine causes (that deserve a donation) are getting affected. My suggestion for the ‘Non-profits’ and their ‘Affiliates’ who are in it for the money alone – Please do not spoil a whole industry. Your actions don’t just affect your credibility but it affects everyone in the industry as well.

    • Lisa Gerber says:

      @Raj-PB That’s interesting. And the sense that funds are mishandled also hurts the perception of the industry. Every industry has that minority; who lack ethics and therefore hurt it for everyone else.

  11. HowieSPM says:

    The problem with all platforms is once they work for one person, business, industry or have one success everyone jumps in and we are all back to square one. I mean there were early adopters of the Twitter for Brands, now they are all there. And most aren’t getting anything out of it. We also accumulate over time. Everyone’s network gets bigger reducing the chance of seeing any specific tweets unless you use lists. I remember n 2009 the worry was spamming people for Brands. How many tweets per day. Guess what? I tell clients as many as you want as long as you space them out. Most will never be seen.

    So how do you break through? Content. I have a unique list for twitter that I created over a year ago maybe 2 years ago. And never used it. It only had the core of the people I wanted to see. I added the stream 3 months ago. It is really hard to get added now. But I will….if your content rocks.

  12. TheJackB says:

    Movember has been great fun. I always like doing it. There are lots of ways to ask for money and more than a few opportunities are missed by people who don’t focus on their local communities.

    It is much easier for some people to see how doing something to help in their community can have a positive impact on their lives. That is good motivation especially when times are rough even for the NMBY group.

  13. […] then there’s Lisa Gerber who has some insights to share about  fundraising. Indeed, the Crowdwise motto is even something to consider beyond fundraising. It applies […]

  14. ginidietrich says:

    When I read this before it was published, I said (out loud to myself), “Chicken Little. That image is funny!”

    I did an interview with jaybaer in Orlando at PRSA, which ran on Inside PR this week ( and he says the interesting thing that is happening now is we go to the grocery store and there are a gazillion toothpastes to choose from. It used to be that we were brand loyal, based on what we grew up with or what our friends use. Now we can make decisions based on corporate responsibility and the kinds of stories brands are telling, based on the cool and interesting things they’re doing for the world.

    This is one of the exercises I conduct when I do workshops for business leaders. I make them spend 15-20 minutes actually thinking about what kinds of stories they have to tell that make them interesting and customer-focused. So it’s not just for non-profits. It’s for every organization, big or small.

    Oh and P.S. Thanks for saying writer’s block happens to the best of us and then linking to my blog post about nothing. Brat!

  15. NJTedeschi says:

    This is a great topic to write about when you have nothing to write about haha. I would add to it that even if only half the people who participate end up donating, awareness is still being raised with more participants. When awareness is raised, then more people will end up donating. To my knowledge women can’t participate in Movember, but when suddenly their husband wakes up with a mustache after a few days, they start to think about it more and even talk about it with others who could then get involved or donate. I definitely agree that it is important to get creative and fun while not loosing the seriousness of the content.

    • Lisa Gerber says:

      @NJTedeschi HA! You know what’s cool? The original post was a bunch of rambling, stream of thought, hop from one subject to another, like that really boring person at the cocktail party that keeps talking un-encouraged, and you just stare, listening in amazement? And in the end, I started talking about this nonprofit, deleted the top 600 words and change my headline. And I had a blog post!!!

      Yes, the organizers of Movember said in an interview somewhere, that if only a fraction of the people raise money, they are still spreading the word. and that works. I think women have gotten involved in the promotional side of it, by helping the teams of men raise money.

  16. […] “How Content Motivates Behavior” by Lisa Gerber […]

  17. Shonali says:

    I think participation is critical. If people have fun participating, they start to be more engaged, and they get more energized about getting their communities involved. Yesterday’s #bluekey tweetathon (yes, client reference, but you’re a Champion too!) was testament to that. Did you see the video kiki l was spurred to do? That’s exactly what I’m talking about… and, I think, you.

  18. Tinu says:

    These are all incredibly good points. I also really hope nonprofits adopt a model that worked for Modest Needs for a period of time – asking for micro- donation subscriptions. You’re already asking for a smaller amount – ask people for that smaller amount every month. People rarely cancel small subscriptions already, and they’d be even less likely to do so when they remember it’s in support of their favorite cause. I just think it would be awesome if my favorite charity came to me and said, give me $5 this month, then $1 every month after this. And then when you have that one major holiday drive, come New Year’s day you’re not starting over from zero if 10,000 people participate, you’re starting over from $10,000.

    • Lisa Gerber says:

      @Tinu So true, it’s more effort to cancel a subscription than to just give the $5/month! I really like the idea of micro-donations because it allows us to spread the love. 🙂

      • Tinu says:

         @Lisa Gerber A lot of people have reasoned that, but I even like the idea of setting aside a certain number of charities a month, say 20, and consistently giving them a set amount every month, then an extra bit when there’s a crisis. 

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