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Monthly Archives: November 2012

Oh, nothing.

…Just daydreaming about what the future Great Exchange office will look like, and deciding that it will most definitely contain a puppy room. Good thing we have some inspiration:


puppy room inspiration

Martha and Truman, one of my family’s dogs


Small Pleasures

…That pure, utter thrill of joy I felt today upon checking my Great Exchange email account and receiving three inquiries from people who had found the program independently. One from a special needs case worker who wants a job at the Great Exchange (to which I had to sadly reply that our budget is literally 0, for the time being), one from a parent of a disabled 19-year-old who’s interested in the program, and one from a group of students at Rice University who want to volunteer with the Great Exchange on their Spring Break.

I don’t think I’ve ever felt such gratitude for the small push of forward momentum via a source that seems completely out of my hands. And on the day before Thanksgiving, of all times. Thank you, thank you, thank you random emailers. May you always help me rejoice in the simple (profound?) pleasure of reaching people.

And thank you, blog readers, for joining me on this slow and steady journey. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Why People Donate

For the past several weeks, I’ve been taking meditation and mindfulness classes at the Austin Zen Center. I started because of my interest in the neurological benefits of meditation, and stayed for the amazing people. It seems like every day I’m there, new ideas crop up about what mindfulness means within the context of social-emotional learning and how I can apply it to the Great Exchange. I’m especially interested in doing some research on mindfulness and Autism.

Anyway, while I came to the Zen Center prepared to experience epiphanies about the brain, myself, relationships, and our collective role as members of the same planet, I wasn’t prepared to hear the most concise explanation I’ve ever heard for why people donate to a charity or organization. One Saturday, after a meditation sitting and a Dharma Talk (a relatively nonsecular sermon about how we can become more compassionate) the Head Priest stood up to make some announcements. And at the end he asked, very humbly, for people to donate to the Zen Center if they had the means to do so. And he said something along the lines of, “I’m not saying this to get you to donate, but I’d like to point out how many people feel committed after giving a donation. And when you feel committed, you feel like you belong to that community.”

It was the softest “ask” I’ve ever heard, but the link from financial contribution to commitment to connection struck a chord with me, and I donated.

To raise money for a nonprofit, you combine a lot of storytelling with hard numbers; you’ll zoom in on one clear image of a person who was deeply impacted by your organization, and you’ll tell the story compassionately. People connect to this. You can then back your impact up with data, to prove that the one story isn’t an anomaly, and to infer that if you zoom out from there, you’ll hit many other data points that tell a similar story. That’s how we raise money, and we know this. But a more fundamental question to ask is, why does that work? And I think you’re selling the explanation short if you say that it simply appeals to a person’s emotions and moves them to act.

At the heart of the matter, I think, it’s that need to connect. People give because they want to be part of something; and if they donate to your nonprofit, then that “something” is your community. That’s really, really special. So in a way, your goal as a nonprofit organization isn’t just to help your clients heal and grow and learn; it’s to help your donors heal and grow and learn, too. Because we’re all just people and we all want to connect to each other.

At the end of a recent Thursday-night class at the Zen Center, my teacher read us this poem by Hafiz:

“Admit something:
Everyone you see, you say to them,
‘Love me.’
Of course you do not do this out loud;
Someone would call the cops.
Still though, think about this,
This great pull in us to connect.
Why not become the one
Who lives with a full moon in each eye

That is always saying,
With that sweet moon
What every other eye in this world
Is dying to

I think it would be really revolutionary to let businesses and nonprofits start speaking that sweet moon language, too.

On Rejecting Best Practices

rejecting best practices of marketing

This stock photo man in a business suit has something to say to YOU!

Have I told you? I’m in marketing.

As part of my day job,  I write. I write  a lot.  I write more articles in one month than the number of posts that exist on this entire blog,  because it keeps the company website’s content fresh, and it’s a major part of proving to Google that a site is still relevant. That’s an excellent strategy for a business, and I’m not saying those articles aren’t useful for people. They are. But a side effect of doing this is that through the research process, you start to spot when people are churning out content on the pretext of giving advice.  Think about how many times you’ve clicked on a blog post called “The Ten Secrets to XYZ,” only to realize that the ten “secrets” are the same rehashed platitudes you’ve already heard. That “secret” part? It’s kind of a dead giveaway that someone is baiting you into reading their blog.

Here are some other ways people may trick you into reading writing-that’s-not-writing:

  • A controversial headline followed by an article that proves not to be all that controversial
  • Anything that compares a business-related topic (sales/marketing/managing a team/etc) to a completely unrelated popular television show,  event, movie, or public figure
  • Lists, sometimes accompanied by bullet points (ha!)
  • Infographics. Some blogs do them beautifully; everything else is pretty much useless.
  •  Any “new trick” related to Facebook or Twitter. I promise you, you’ve already heard it.
  • And I really, really hate to say this, but be more wary of blogs that aren’t a “leader” in the industry. Sorry. I’m not trying to pick on the little guys, because I’m one too. It’s just that NPR is usually a more credible resource than Joe Schmoe’s politics blog, and SEOMoz is a better resource than some random marketing guy who’s trying to get his content noticed. We all start somewhere, but you don’t have to start there with us. That said, if you do notice a little guy who has something particularly interesting to say, it can be really fun to follow them and see where they end up.

So now that I’ve told you why not to read my blog, here’s why I think you should:

Because I don’t update very often, at least not these days.You’ll never see a “filler” post on here, and if you do, call me out on it. What this means from a marketing standpoint is that my blog is a little more likely to go unnoticed by the search engines*, but what it means from a “me” standpoint is that I can focus my time on my nonprofit, and also on making sure the words that flow from my brain to my fingers are the ones I’ve been meditating on. And in the midst of noise and ceaseless streams of content, I do have faith that quiet writing still has a place. Plus, I think this journey is fun, and maybe you will too.

A common writing exercise back at Smith was to go through old papers and omit every needless word, and sometimes I wish I could do that to the entire internet. But in the meantime, I can take comfort in knowing that when I write here, even though it rejects best practices, it means I actually have something to say. And I really do think people can still get by on intuition and heart, rather than on rehashing and repacking somebody else’s advice.

That said, you can expect more hilarious hijinks here soon, as The Great Exchange begins to hold its first meetings and I attempt to fold various elements of mindfulness practices into the program. So check back!

*Caveat: that viral little Kony2012 post still pulls in a lot of people, which I think is another testament to quiet, thoughtful writing.