How to Fundraise During a Giving Day

Last February, The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee kicked off The Big Payback 2015, its annual giving day in May ($2.6 million raised), with a training to help nonprofits garner the most impact. More than 400 Nashville-area nonprofits attended the event, which was emceed by giving day guru Spencer Whelan. He keynoted and moderated several panels, all of which offered incredibly useful tips for participating causes seeking to run successful fundraisers.

The conference room was filled with eager nonprofits ready to begin their 2015 campaign. During breaks, they networked, shot promotional videos and took Big Payback social media pics in a photobooth.

This year’s May 5 event will be the second #BigPayback. It is a part of the larger Give Local America initiative hosted by my client Kimbia. Last year’s giving day raised nearly $1.5 million for 525 local organizations. Whelan noted that second year giving days tend to see significant increases in funds raised. With that comes more competition.

Nonprofits that want to successfully compete for top awards in a second year giving day should consider a more thorough campaign. Whelan said that winners in second year giving days often create their own prizes to augment the Community Foundation’s prize pool ($250,000 in prizes last year).

Results always are contingent on the effort a nonprofit puts into the giving event, said Whelan. He encouraged nonprofits to set realistic goals for their giving day. Specifically, they shouldn’t get ridiculous with an overstated goal (think #IceBucketChallenge results), nor should they shoot too low.

Second Year Tips for Success

A nonprofit’s second year effort is more challenging than the first. Because of the increased intensity of the event and number of nonprofits participating, a nonprofit needs to do more than just turn the proverbial lights on.

With three months until May 5, nonprofits were encouraged to start building their campaigns immediately. “This year is all about cultivating. How will you prime influencers and donors before the #BigPayback?” said Whelan.

Nonprofits should use the time before the giving day to:

  • Build a compelling narrative for the giving day
  • Cultivate matches and prizes to excite their donors
  • Activate board members and volunteers with giving day roles
  • Inform donors that the nonprofit will participate, and get pledges to donate in advance
  • Get influencers on board who can fundraise and share the message
  • Build out communications programs leading up to the day of giving that include advertising, emails,
  • social media updates, visual media assets and more
  • Create post-giving day donor cultivation programs that thank them and show results

“Focus on your efforts that have impact, then engage with donors before the giving day,” said Whelan. “A fairly significant portions of your giving day donors will come from your ‘base’ of supporters who are already committed. Therefore, the giving day itself should be an execution of your pre-seeded efforts, with additional focus on converting new donors. Updates the day of #BigPayback should be celebratory and motivational in nature.”

The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee has built an extensive toolkit for participating nonprofits. It gives them access to graphics, social media tips, event facts, a planning calendar, a sample press release and email templates.



Building an emotionally compelling story is a critical part of any giving day campaign. More than anything, a giving day is not about a message to an entire region. It’s a moment to rally a nonprofit’s specific segment within that region, educate people about the cause, and show how it impacts the community.

“Offer a simple story, something that builds on last year’s effort, a continuation,” Whelan said. “Make it a simple plot, and make it open ended. Offer a hero, present the conflict, how donations help. Continue the story after the #BigPayback in your thank yous and, of course, next year.”

Nonprofits should invest in creative storytelling for the highlight stories. A panel featuring Abrasive Media and Lindsley Avenue Church of Christ shared out-of-the-box storytelling methods. The church created a rap parody video that drove significant donations during the 2014 #BigPayback

Spencer Whelan’s keynote speech is available online here. Nonprofits looking for more tips should check out the toolkits provided by their giving day, like the Big Payback’s. A second source is the Knight Foundation’s Giving Day Playbook.

This post ran originally in the Huffington Post.

SxSW Success Begins Now


I closed more than $500,000 worth of consulting deals from the past four SxSW interactive festivals.

Every year has produced at least one new successful business relationship, making the event a must attend for me. Yet, many of my colleagues complain about their lack of success at Sx (as veterans call it).

Some ask me how I achieve success at SxSW when others seem to struggle. Here are my tips to make the most of this great opportunity:

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SxSW winners are made before the show, not at the event.
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Memo to Crowdsourcing: Grow Up

by GeniusRocket President Peter LaMotte

At some point, every teenage boy looks around his bedroom and realizes it’s time to grow up. The little league trophies. The Star Wars sheets. The Elle McPherson poster (okay, maybe those last two can stay). But anything that’s going to embarrass you when you bring your college girlfriend home has got to go. You don’t need anyone to tell you—you just wake up one day and know it’s time to move forward.

Just like you wish your Little League career had, in just a few years, the term crowdsourcing has lurched out of obscurity to become a major part of the world we live in, especially within the marketing lexicon.

Most marketers have either first hand experience with crowdsourcing, or at a minimum have heard the term and know they should learn more. But crowdsourcing has evolved beyond just crowdsourcing for video and graphic design to include complex research, micro-financing and vast ideation. And while the teenage kid may not know what crowdsourcing is; he knows as he watches the Super Bowl each year, that a few of those ads are lot funnier than the others. He also doesn’t realize, that he’s witnessing a powerful new marketing trend. Because crowdsourcing may actually be most well known through the Doritos and Pepsi contests that premier each year during the Super Bowl.

First in 2007, Doritos was ahead of the crowd, no pun intended, when they turned to the masses to source what they hoped would be an entertaining commercial. In using the Super Bowl as the platform to launch these videos, Doritos, along with their agency Goodby Silverstein & Partners, took a considerable risk. Less than one year earlier, Chevrolet experienced a PR nightmare when it used a crowdsourcing contest to mash up Chevy Tahoe ads resulting in less-than-brand-loving tag lines such as “It’s Global Warming Time” and spots that touted the killing power of a large SUV. Yet, surprisingly, Doritos’s results were not only brand-friendly, catching and entertaining but generated endless buzz about Doritos and the power of creative crowdsourcing.

After taking one Super Bowl off from sourcing commercials, and turned to discovering unknown musicians through a crowdsourcing campaign, Doritos and its parent company Pepsi, came back to crowdsourcing for the 2009 Super Bowl and has stayed with the user-generated content approach each year since.

There is no question that they have delivered highly entertaining ads across the years by turning to the crowdsourced approach. The ads have consistently proven that crowdsourcing can produce great viral content and guaranteed viewership.

Now fast forward to 2011 and Doritos’s fourth trip to the crowdsourcing well, and one thing is clear, physical and childish humor seems to be content that rises to the top. In every year that Doritos has turned to crowdsourcing (including this year where sister brand Pepsi Max joined the competition) the majority of the crowdsourced ads selected for the Super Bowl are ones based upon physical comedy and sexual innuendo.

This is not to suggest that these aren’t effective ads. Especially for teenage boys. They continue to score very well on the USA Today Ad Meter. But the ads make a convincing argument that crowdsourcing needs to grow up and be less about men being hit in the groin.

Given the right incentive or a well-constructed crowdsourcing model, there is no reason why this year’s hugely popular Volkswagen Darth Vader spot couldn’t have been crowdsourced. Even Chrysler spot about Detroit could have been created (without the Eminem’s appearance of course) through crowdsourcing. Neither ad needed multimillion-dollar special effects, or multi-location scouting. It simply needs a big idea and talented production team.

This isn’t to say that these quality ads aren’t being generated already through video crowdsourcing sites, but the lessons brands need to learning from Doritos’s success aren’t about the power of crowdsourcing. Time and time again, when major brands turn to crowdsourcing for ads, they often set up creative briefs asking for sophomoric story lines.

You can generate just as much buzz and online discussion with an emotionally powerful crowdsourced video as you would with any cheap laugh. Brand managers and agencies need to trust in the production companies and freelancers of the world to create content that can bring you to tears from sentimental emotion just as easily as getting hit in the crotch can solicit a laugh.

Peter LaMotte (@peterlamotte) is President of GeniusRocket, a Curated Crowdsourcing company. The Curated Crowdsourcing model relies upon a vetted community of experienced and professional production companies, writers, and advertising veterans to deliver high quality commercial video content at a fraction of the cost of traditional means. Peter previously worked at Corporate Executive Board, IBM, and Apple. He holds BA in International Business from Rhodes College, and MBA from Vanderbilt University.

4 Ways to Improve Content

Carré d'as
Image by Markaud

Sometimes blog content doesn’t resonate as well as one would like. It can be hard to pinpoint why. There’s an editorial mission in place, regular posts are published everyday, and you seem to be talking about what matters, but no one pays attention.

There’s nothing worse than feeling like you’re stuck. That’s when examining mechanics means the most. What are some ways to strengthen content to increase reader attention? Here are four ways to jump start your writing…

Slow Down Production, Focus on Quality

Audi R8 (DC Auto Show)

A current conversation amongst leading voices has reinvigorated the old quality versus quantity debate. Mitch Joel says dilution of content to achieve frequency (and therefore attention) doesn’t help. Richard Becker recently began compiling research of 250 blogs from the 2010 Fresh Content project. Becker’s research demonstrated that BOTH consistency and clarity were necessary for success.

Publishing crap content five times a week or twice a day won’t make your situation better. Half baked content gets one quarter of the attention that a fantastically well thought out blog post does. You do the math.

Ideally, a blog needs three posts a week to maintain enough presence to achieve a top ranking or become a leading vehicle for thought and conversation. Slow down production and refocus on creating outstanding content. You can always increase frequency once the blog is back on track.

Stop Talking About Yourself (or Your Organization)

It’s been said here before. It will be said again. No one cares about you. They care about themselves. Frankly, overusing first person pronouns makes you sound self promoting and egotistical, and if it’s an organization it reads like corporate messaging. In fact, the narcissistic compulsion to consistently talk about me, myself and I (or we, our and us) becomes a detriment to building readership.

Instead of waxing your own car, get right into what’s in it for the reader. If your opening paragraph mentions the first person more than once (if at all) and doesn’t have a clear thesis, know that it’s a failed post right out of the gate. Focus on the reader and what’s in it for THEM, not how smart you are.

And if you are hiding behind the personality argument, please, please consider what you are saying. Good writers know their personality comes through sans self talk. It’s called style. Do an intentional edit to weed out the first person as much as possible.

Increase Listening

Image by ky_olsen

If you are creating more content than you are reading, you have a huge issue. First of all, it’s highly likely you are out of touch with your stakeholders, and what interests them. Great content creators develop relevant, prescient information that speaks to the times and trends.

Secondly, because of the disconnect with the community you’re dictating to your readers and stakeholders what you think matters. That may be OK if your primary goal is journaling; however, this post seeks to increase traffic, not wax poetic.

Don’t treat your readers like “consumers” of bubble gum! They invest time and in some cases social capital to read and spread the word about your writing. Do your homework. Read your stakeholders’ conversations and content. Listen to them, understand what they care about so you can offer relevant content.

Create More Content That Works

Andrew Dumm, Winner (Men) 2008 MCM
Image by dbking

Sometimes an editorial mission can create too much latitude for the writer, and it becomes necessary to refocus on content that readers actually want. Go back through your Google Analytics data and see what’s been working. Focus on trends instead of individual posts. A combination of analytics on unique visits, time on page, and conversation (via PostRank) should reveal an interesting picture.

For example, in the past few months on this blog you like four types of posts; strategy-oriented pieces, online content best practices, timely event-centric pieces, and discussions about the ethics and issues surrounding the growing social media bubble. You don’t like pieces about the environment, causes or entrepreneurial leadership.

Take the findings to heart, and adjust your editorial mission as necessary. Wash, rinse, repeat.

How do you strengthen your content during down periods?

Related reading: Blogging Primer, 5 Tips for Blogging in the Post RSS Era

5 Tips for Blogging in the Post RSS Era

(image by the Bilerco Project)

Much has been said about the decline of blogging, and why now is a great time to start creating content. The latter arguments are sound. Now that the rush to play with the latest shiny object is over and marketing folks have moved to social networks, good writers will find it easier to rise above competitors. But the dynamics have changed. Building a successful blog in 2006 depended on building a loyal readership via RSS. In 2011, RSS usage has dramatically declined with many people receiving their news from friends in social networks online or via email.

How does one write a great, well-read blog in the post RSS era? Here are some tips to build on past ones about blogging:

1. Honor Your Community

Because content dissemination requires word of mouth, an organization or blogger has to be an active, participating member of a community. This means more than just dropping links on a feed. It means giving back to the community, reading their content, remarking on the things that matter to others, too. Strength of community is essential to a blog’s health.

If you don’t have a community, consider cutting one post on your site, and guest posting once a week on other blogs and mastheads to develop a following. Start circulating your name (and social network locations) using more established and read media.

Further, your content needs to serve intended readers, too, and be seen as interesting to the larger collective. Quid pro quo. If you want to be read, make sure the content has something to offer people as opposed to marketing messages. Use an editorial mission to keep content on target.

2. Write Great Headlines and Positions

In the past, headline writing mattered, but without significant RSS traffic, the need for catchy titles increases exponentially. Without a punchy headline that attracts people immediately, posts die in the water. Your content has to work immediately. It has to resonate though the clutter on Twitter, Facebook, groups, usenets, emails, etc., and compel people to click through. If a headline can’t grab someone in ten words or less, go back to the drawing board.

Similarly, content should provoke thought. Write a strong first paragraph that states a thesis promptly. Use the rest of the post to prove or disprove the thesis. If you don’t have anything to say, why will people come back or check your blog out if there’s nothing to add value to their lives or to talk about? It’s better to say something and have vigorous discourse, then to be safe. Unremarkable blogs are easier to find on the Internet than not; they’re easy to ignore, too.

3. Value Quality Over Quantity

In the past with a large RSS readership base, it was important to publish regularly. It’s still important to publish with an expected frequency, but it’s more important to write great content.

Because RSS matters less, posting doesn’t depend on someone opening their reader every morning to find new content. Instead, content is disseminated by a community that either checks a blog periodically, or sees the post via referral online whenever they check in. That means the life span of a post as “new” can be as long as two days. Focus on your best ideas and invest in writing and editing them well to ensure maximum value.

4. Reward Loyalty

When people comment or link to your blog, it means more now. These are loyal readers who care enough to say something (instead of tweeting it), who care enough to link (as opposed to hacking ideas), and who share a similar content interest. They are self identifying as important members of the community.

Your job is to reward their interest and reciprocate. Read their post, thank them, and comment. Reply to their comments, even the negative ones that don’t necessarily jive with your thesis. Who knows? Maybe they are right in the end. If you see them on your social networks, take interest in them.

What you don’t want to do is ignore them. Their time is just as valuable as yours (sorry, dear A-Lister, we are all busy). Developing a loyal readership today means being active in conversation. Call it being a good host. After all, when you blog isn’t hosting a good conversation one of the primary goals?

5. Market Your Content

Understand that there are time swings where more people are online than not. First thing in the morning East Coast time is always good. Mid-day slots 11-12 and 2-3 EST have both coasts online, with a likelier frequency of being at computing devices. End of day East Coast time is also good for catching both coasts.

Some days are better than others. Sundays are better than Saturdays. Monday mornings, most people are in meetings. Many people take Fridays off periodically.

When you publish content online to notify your readers, especially if you are not publishing every day, try doing it a couple of times with different intros. People migrate to content via word of mouth as opposed to opening a reader, and most people aren’t online all day. Second and third waves of readers can be created.

But don’t over promote (for example, by asking people to retweet your post). If all you do is drop links to your blog, well, your community will become very tired quickly. Again, it’s important to be a part of a group of people as opposed to talking at them.

Also, be sure to offer RSS readers an easy way to subscribe. Though readers are dying, some people still want to receive content this way. Don’t deny them the opportunity!

Related material: Blogging Primer, Blog Last, Headline Writing Drives Traffic

How Not Talking About Myself Doubled Blog Traffic In One Month


In an effort to increase writing quality, one month ago this blog took on the Me, Myself and I Challenge. The behind the challenge assumes that by eradicating obvious references to blogger narcissism via the words “my, myself and I,” people would find the content on the blog much more interesting. Indeed, the above results overwhelmingly confirm the theory.

Traffic increased by 100%! And it was the first time this personal blog surpassed its predecessor — the professional communications blog, the Buzz Bin — in traffic.

One post went semi-viral — How the Grinch Stole Green Christmas — bringing in a vast majority of the traffic. In addition, overall traffic to main site URL increased by roughly 20%. RSS subscriptions increased by 12%. Retweet and Facebook shares also increased.

At the same time, the additional traffic also brought a dramatic drop in read time (Grinch averaged 1:22) with the a 60% drop in read time. People left quicker, also demonstrated with a slight decrease in page views (7%). However, the bounce rate improved slightly by (3%). Traffic increased, but the type reader also expanded, and the content was less compelling for these new readers. The old quantity versus quality debate could be waged at this point (Metcalfe’s Law).

Subjective Writer Observations

Overall, removing first person pronouns increased the quality of writing on the site, as evidenced by the generally positive trend of statistics. It also increased from the writer’s perspective.

While slightly more challenging, opinion is still obvious as the author. If one states it, then they must think it. In fact, the tone seemed more authoritative, relying on links and facts to justify opinions rather than conjecture. In context, losing the words me, myself and I were not so hard.

At the same time, it was not easy to stray off topics outside of business and activism. So parenting and personal activity posts were removed because of the Me, Myself and I challenge. While such posts can be written without the first person pronouns, they are not easily done so, perhaps a sign of how personal these matters are. Facebook provided an easy substitute medium for such conversations.

Moving forward, the experiment seems worth continuing. Beyond the traffic, the posts just felt better with the less self-centered tone. And building a blog — whether one for personal purposes or a client’s site — is always a fun challenge. As readers did you enjoy the blog more over the past month?