What happens when you get corporate assistance to launch a new campaign, or pro bono development from a commercial ad agency? You can get some fabulous ideas and some valuable insights on establishing your brand. You can get your materials into some of the best publication and on some of the most visited sites on the web.
But as some of our colleagues at Sofii.org have discovered, you can also get a good deal of expensive nothing. The commercial backer or ad agency might not be sensitive to the constituents who want to be involved with various types of nonprofits. They might encourage outreach through channels that are quite unlikely to reach the people your charity traditionally reaches. They might give you a fabulous product on the design board (Indeed, I think it’s safe to say that they certainly will give you a fabulous design.) that falls flat in the real world. Let’s look at a couple of examples from Sofii.
The Showcase of Fundraising Innovation and Inspiration was established to bring people throughout the nonprofit and communications world together to share what works, and what doesn’t. We wanted to learn from the Showcase, and a couple of examples really caught our eyes because they seemed like they should have worked.
Nancy E. Schwartz, president of her own communications company for nonprofits, offers an example of an outreach program for Action Against Hunger and backed by Ultimat Vodka, who could get the ads into some pretty pricey places. Yet though the print ad (right) is high on concept, it’s low on information or emotion. Nancy’s grievances include, “The ads are all head, with their abstract imagery and their stats. They are designed to involve a reader via logic. … A concept, or abstraction, is far harder to grasp than a story about an individual like you or someone you know. It is a burden on the reader who is just flipping through. Make it easy for folks to get the idea. Plus, pizza is not nutritious, neither is vodka!”
When we saw the ad, our first thought was that it’s an advertisement about how cheap/skimpy pizza companies can be. Such a first response would be especially likely if one saw the ad in the highbrow publications (like Harper’s Bazzar and Esquire), along with thousands of other upmarket advertisers, that the campaign was running in.
Our second example comes from Jeff Brooks, Creative Director of TrueSense Marketing, and we picked it because our first reaction was not nearly as strong as his, though his arguments convinced us. This newspaper appeal is for the Canadian Red Cross striving to raise funds for the flooding in Pakistan two years ago (left). Graphically, we thought it was a decent depiction of rain and the protection the Canadian Red Cross provides with your help. But as Jeff points out, rain does not connote devastating flood.
“The Geniuses of Abstraction [the ad agency, presumably] felt the best way to use nearly a full newspaper page of space wasn’t a heart-wrenching photo, wasn’t a headline that captured the pain and urgency of the crisis, wasn’t copy that pulled the reader viscerally into the situation. Their solution was a cute visual pun. … An abstract slogan, followed by two look-at-us sentences. Not how you motivate giving.”
He even points out the fact that the ad won an award for the agency who designed it, which was probably the real motivation anyway − ouch.
What reaches audiences is not exactly a scientific equation that will always give you the correct answer. But what metrics prove time and again is that the point of outreach is to engage the reader/viewer and inspire her/him to action. These ads engage the design team and seem geared to enrich the portfolio, not the nonprofit. Even if high-dollar corporate sponsorship comes your way, don’t forget your mission and your vocabulary − and especially don’t forget the people you are trying to help.