This Week In Business

Some Thoughts On Asking People For Money

helpmepoorNot sure if it’s the time of year in general (a lot of non-profits have a fiscal year that ends June 30) or it’s the fact that the business bank account takes a hit in May (I pay the PO Box, workers comp insurance, liability insurance, and a few other once a year bills within a two week period- painful)… but I start noticing the solicitation letters start.

Now I’m not going to name names so if you are here for the gossip, you are going to be disappointed. (I do have to run into some of these people at the grocery store after all.)

What I am going to say is a few things about asking for money, on the internet or otherwise.

1) Your first contact with me shouldn’t be to ask me for money.
There is a local non-profit that sends me a solicitation via mail once a year. I’ve never been to one of their events, set foot in their building, or met any of their board. Yet somehow, I should feel compelled to write a check.

Here’s the thing. Getting anything from people- volunteer time, money, anything- is about relationships. You don’t go on a first date and say ‘Hi, nice to meet you, let’s get married.’

We all need a little romancing.

The Abbe Museum with their “Abbe Underground” program the last couple years has had quarterly-ish events courting the under 40 crowd (ie nurturing future donors and getting new people into the museum space and aware of their programs). The donation envelopes were always on the table at events but they never pushed… because they are in this for the long haul. Why guilt $20 out of me now when I’d gladly give $200 every year once I got to know them?

So let’s say you were a music non-profit and have bought a mailing list off your local chamber, didn’t have the money or staff for an in person event. What is a bootstrapped organization to do? Why not send me a card on World Music Day (October 1 in case you were curious but didn’t feel like clicking). It would cost about the same amount to send that in the mail as a boring letter and I’d think it was a lot more interesting. And speaking of that…

2) Please stop doing what everyone else is doing.

If I see one more $100+ per plate gala fundraiser in the summer on Mount Desert Island, I may scream.

First of all, I get that there are a lot of fancy people around here. And I get that they want to party down. But, come on, are we really going to keep hitting up the same 250ish people for money all the time?

An example of something different for around these parts? Dress Up At The Jesup, a fundraiser our local library is throwing in June (still in the works but I help set up the payment form so I know these things). Apps and dress up like your favorite character in a book for $35. Fun night out, ties in with their mission, and something different. Win, win, win. Why can’t more people get creative when it comes to asking for money?

3) Stop speaking non-profit.

So we’re all guilty of this to some extent (myself included though I will say I try very hard to not get too jargon-y on the blog or otherwise). Below is me speaking non-profit (warning I only worked at a non-profit for a couple years so it might be more like pigeon non-profit but you’ll get the idea).

Our mission statement allows us to partner with existing community organizations to increase programming range; develop curriculum to educate affected groups; and impact those in programs in a more impactful way.

Now read your last solicitation letter and really look at it. Could you cut half the words out of it and say the same thing? Is there a word that would make your grandmother feel stupid? Did you have to read a paragraph two or three times because you spaced out?

Ok let’s rework the sentence.

We work directly with organizations like the Bar Harbor Historical Society and Mount Desert Island High School to create history education programs that serve high schools to senior citizens, with a total reach of 500 households.

Now that sentence is actually a little longer but probably felt shorter. Why?

  • I got specific, with what we did and the impact we have (bonus points for numbers, people).
  • I name dropped actual other cool places (‘trust symbol’- i.e. other people think we’re cool so you can too).
  • I took out the jargon.

 4) Make it easy.

I once was at an event and they gave out Clynk bags with stickers on connected to the nonprofit’s account. All people had to do was go home, fill one up with returnable bottles, and drop it off at the grocery store. They didn’t just say ‘Oh we accept donations via Clynk.’ They made it very easy to give bottles that I heard through the grapevine added up to over $600 in donations.

The ultimate in easiness is setting up a donation form on your website. (By the way if you have a Wordpress website and a Stripe account, we’ll set it up an online donation form for you for $300. We might not do it that cheap forever but it’s a nice entry point for many.) One person we set up a form for got a $500 donation via the website… the next day. Results may vary but I guarantee, if you don’t make people mail in a check, it’s a lot easier to get money from them.

So as you get ready to ask donors and potential donors for support, I hope this helps give some perspective. Ask and you shall receive? Maybe. But ask with the person in mind and that is much much more likely.


It Had to Be You: On Decision Making


Shopping with me stresses people out. Pondering whether or not I should get this shirt, dress, jar of nutella, etc., inevitably develops into musings on how my entire life trajectory may be affected by the decision in question. Launching into a Butterfly Effect-esque contemplation of how the future of the entire world would be altered based on whether I chose the yellow or pink shoes detracts from the joy of decision making, or shopping in general. What do you mean “Just pick one already?” Don’t you know what’s at stake?! 

Anyway, I do solo shopping trips nowadays. From a marketing perspective, though, I’ve become curious about what makes people tick. Forbes published this article back in February that discusses trends to look for in consumer behavior this year. This helps businesses market their product(s) so they fall into one or more of these trends, and thus appeal to the 2014 human psyche. 

As both a buyer and a marketer, I’ve noticed the following 3 factors in how we make choices:

1. Risk. No one wants to experience buyer’s remorse. Whether it’s a side dish or a new car, you don’t want to be caught wondering “What might have been?” This article from LifeHacker offers some ideas for avoiding purchase-related regret. 

From a marketing perspective, the objective is making the consumer feel “safe” about their investment. You want to minimize the amount of risk a customer associates with your product. I’m not saying you need to patronize or be all schmooze-y, it’s beyond putting a fancy guarantee on a box to make someone feel warm and toasty (thank you, Tommy Boy). Sometimes, it’s as simple as customer service. People remember how you made them feel, so why not make them feel good? Show them you respect and care about them, and that fear will likely melt away.

2. Positioning.  You know the old saying, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” Even if your water is the most satisfying and pristine in the market, or if it’s different from any other water out there (say for instance, artisnal water, which probably doesn’t exist…yet), if that horse doesn’t want any water, it really doesn’t care about yours. Trying to force your water on that horse is wasting your time. There may be a severely thirsty llama out there, focus your marketing energy on him.

This blog post from a few weeks ago discusses another positioning issue: the number of choices you’re giving customers. Less is more, folks.

3. Timing. We’re all locked in a battle with time. We may have too much, not enough, or experience inopportune timing (hey, we’ve all been there. Just ask Romeo and Juliet). I think of the timing factor in terms of “It’s not you, it’s me” (i.e. “This BMW rocks, but I am a toddler and have no use for it yet,” or “It’s summertime, so I’m not thinking about buying a shovel”). A lot of this depends on finding the sweet spot between supply and demand, and economics isn’t exactly my forte.

In terms of social media marketing, there’s quite a bit of information about what time of day is best to post on certain sites, such as this infographic from Hubspot. You can also check out analytics on your business’s website and social media channels, and gauge when your audience engages more versus less.


In the end, free will remains a baffling concept. How much control do we really have? What if everything is predetermined?

Unfortunately, I don’t have many answers, and the few I do have may be wrong. But, I know marketers can’t do Jedi mind tricks and force me into buying something (although those last minute register purchases feel that way in retrospect). We all have a choice, and they don’t need to be so daunting.

Is It Worth Your Time?

Sometimes, with any task in life, it’s easy to wonder (out loud or otherwise): Is this worth my time?

While I can’t answer that in every instance of your life, I can help you with the internet stuff. Here are some questions you should ask yourself before you do something:

How many eyeballs are looking at this?

For example, I’ve been wanting to improve the ‘clients’ page on this website for about three months… but I had to pick between working on that page or updating my ‘events’ page. The events page gets more traffic (plus we had two workshops this month to promote) so that took precedence.

You can do the same thing in real life. Should you spend your money upgrading your lounge area or bathroom? Asking yourself how many of your customers see each might clarify where your priority should be.

Who is looking at this?

As important as the number of eyeballs to think of is who is looking at this.

For example, if you just sent out an email newsletter with a link to a page on your website you want your subscribers to see, you know that people you care about are going to be looking at that page from the moment you click ‘send’… so make it beautiful and functional before you do.

If less people are looking at something but they happen to be important people to you, it’s worth prioritizing.

What does it matter?

Now there are people who make a living dissecting words on a page. Should you be using ‘hair stylist’ or ‘beautician’? Should you put the customer quotes in the middle of the page or have them scrolling on the side or the page? Is the 14 point Helvetica really better than the 12 point Veranda font.

This is minutia, people, and you know it.

Also, all these questions can paralyze you into doing nothing.

When you have a slow news day, that’s when you can implement what you’ve learned in Copy Hackers to optimize an important page. That’s when you decide it’s time to overhaul all the slides in your slideshow. Make a list of those things you’d do if you had time and you can knock them out over the course of a few months.

What matters?

1) Up to date information (hours, menu, pricing, etc.).
2) Nothing weird/off putting (a slide that won’t load, a button that links to a social media page you haven’t updated in a year, the top of your favorite employee’s head cropped off).

If you have an hour or so to devote to this a week, spend it first on that critical stuff.

What’s gravy? The best wording possible. New photos. Trying out that font. Social icons that match your brand.

You can spend an infinite amount of time online but asking yourself ‘What’s worth it?’ will let you still do what you need to do online and run your actual business.

Tech Thursday: How to Deal with Difficult People Online

Let’s face it, people don’t always play nice online. Have you ever had someone leave a negative comment on your business page? Give you a harsh review?

We’ve got a few pointers on how to put these fires out. Remember, you can’t control other people, but you CAN control how you react!



Why Too Many Choices Are Paralyzing Your Customers

When I was showing Kassie around our Google Analytics the other day, I couldn’t believe what happened when I drilled down into the data. Over 50% of people are leaving off the homepage. Here’s what it looks like:


Holy crap, people have no idea where to click. I mean really neither do I. Too many choices!

When you overwhelm people with choice, it turns out you overwhelm them period (there’s a paper all about it from Stanford and a book on the subject that came out recently.)

Here are some fun facts about choice:

  • Americans make 70 different choices a day on average.
  • 77% of people with nine options used an elimination strategy while only 21% used an elimination strategy when given three options to make a decision.

Not only do people not like a lot of choice but things like sleep and food effect the decisions that are made.  Check out this graph that seems nuts but actually makes a ton of sense (click on it  or here for the original source and full article):


In other words, the more choices you give people, the more paralyzed they become and the poorer their decisions. These poorer decisions are increased when health and other conditions are not ideal.

So when you wonder why someone isn’t buying what you’re selling; isn’t going beyond a certain page of your website; isn’t making that choice, you may want to ask yourself if you are giving people too many choices… or if maybe they just all need to go eat an apple. 😉

There are some amazing articles I’ve read on this topic recently. Here are some worth checking out if you are also interested in this topic:

Mequoda’s indepth article about how Scientific American’s four subscription offerings could work better with less choices

Here’s an article summarizing why people don’t like so many choices and how it effects your website visitors. 

A Globe and Mail piece with some examples about how improving customer service (versus giving more choices) actually increased revenue.

Here’s a TED talk about how to make decisions more easily (you know, in case you need that sort of thing).

An article from Fast Company about how to make better decisions.

Now please excuse myself while I take 10 of the average American’s 90 decisions a day off the homepage of my website.

Tech Thursday: How to Manage E-mail

Know that you could be managing your email better? Here’s a few tricks to get you down to a ‘zero inbox’ (though if you are interested in this topic, you should totally read that book). Also a shoutout to, the website that makes checking your email kind of fun.

Run your inbox, so your inbox doesn’t run you!