What nonprofits can learn from reality TV

A guest post from MarketSmart's Greg Warner


I asked Greg Warner, CEO/Founder of MarketSmart if he’d share his take on the two biggest mistakes that nonprofits make. And if you happen to know Greg (I’m thoroughly enjoying getting to know him), you know he’s not shy. He’s also not short on opinions about how we in the nonprofit sector can improve the way we engage donors and involve them in our causes!

In fact, he’s particularly passionate about this. Check out his company and you’ll see just how passionate he is! Here’s the first of two guest posts from Greg.  Enjoy!

What nonprofits can learn from reality TV

Can’t we be “real” with one another?

As of the writing of this article, fourteen of the top fifty television shows in the United States are reality shows including the NFL games (sporting competitions are real— not scripted), Dancing With the Stars, The Voice, 60 Minutes, American Idol, The Bachelor and Undercover Boss.

Reality TV is popular. There is no doubt about it. But not for the reasons you and most self-appointed experts might think. They wrongly figure that reality TV viewers watch because they are not very smart and they want to talk to their friends about the shows.

According to an article in Psychology Today by Steven Reiss (Professor of psychology and psychiatry at Ohio State University) and James Wiltz (Ph.D. candidate at OSU at the time of their research), the truth about why people watch reality TV is something to which nonprofits might want to pay more attention. People like reality TV simply because the shows deliver really good stories— drama, suspense, morality, and more. But, on top of all that, they shows provide watchers with prestige.

Now, you might now be saying to yourself, “Huh, I don’t understand. What does prestige have to do with it?” Stay with me on this.

Reiss and Wiltz found that reality TV makes an ordinary person who is watching along feel that the ordinary people on the TV show are important (because millions of people are watching them). And, in a somewhat voyeuristic way, the ordinary viewer gets a “secret thrill” imagining that the reality stars could actually be them.

“But what’s this got to do with fundraising?” you might ask.

Nonprofits fail to deliver to their supporters what reality TV delivers to millions of viewers every night. And, advertisers pay dearly for those eyes and ears. Nonprofits fail to provide good stories, they don’t tell their stories well. They don’t give their supporters enough drama and suspense. They don’t offer enough chances for supporters to demonstrate their morality. Therefore, what nonprofits need is more reality!

Every top fundraiser and every fundraising expert knows that campaigns succeed when they are real. Reality makes stories better. Reality gives supporters a chance to save the day. And, unlike reality TV, nonprofit supporters can get involved. They don’t have to be just voyeuristic bystanders. They can donate, volunteer, sign a petition, or lobby congress.

All of these kinds of decisions to get involved are influenced by emotion. That’s why telling real, true stories moves people. They are powerful, motivational and inspirational. And the “secret thrill” donors get makes them feel really terrific.

After all, that’s truly what everyone wants deep down inside— to feel good. Therefore, nonprofits need to stop being so stodgy. They need to open up and become more transparent. They need to invite their supporters to view live-feed streaming videos of the good work they do while it’s being done. They need to turn on a camera at their board meetings so supporters can watch them work (like C-SPAN). And, they need to provide windows into how their money is being spent (for instance with interviews of researchers seeking a cure for cancer via online webinars).

Yes, indeed, nonprofits need to be more real. Failing to match reality TV for their supporters’ eyes and ears is holding them back.

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About Greg WarnerLinkedIn Profile Photo

Greg Warner is CEO and Founder of MarketSmart, a revolutionary marketing software and services firm that helps nonprofits raise more money more efficiently.

MarketSmart’s innovative products and services use Internet tracking technologies to help fundraisers focus on the donors that are most likely to support their organizations with large, major or legacy gifts. In 2013, Greg coined the phrase “Engagement Fundraising” to encapsulate his breakthrough fundraising formula for achieving extraordinary results.

His firm, MarketSmart, has successfully assisted a wide array of clients including JDRF (Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation), City of Hope Cancer Research Center, The California Academy of Sciences, The Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society, Human Rights Campaign, Human Rights Watch, The San Francisco Opera, Save The Redwoods Foundation, Ocean Conservancy, Sierra Club, The United States Holocaust Museum, and too many others in every sector to list.

MarketSmart’s unique suite of products helps fundraisers zero-in on the donors most likely to make a major or legacy gift. These game-changing Internet tracking technologies score each prospect’s level of engagement with a charity online in order to help fundraisers prioritize who should be contacted most urgently.

Organizations implementing his systems and strategies have been able to revamp their approaches to major gift and planned gift marketing to raise millions of dollars in donations at lower costs and more efficiently than ever before.

Greg’s experience in commercial sales and marketing is what gives MarketSmart a unique perspective into the consultative selling process. That’s why his team knows how to effectively partner sales strategies with lead generation, lead qualification, cultivation and other marketing initiatives.

A graduate of the University of Maryland with a BS in Journalism-Marketing/Advertising (cum laude), Greg is an accomplished oil painter, guitarist, drummer and singer/songwriter. He coaches loves to watch his son’s wrestling meets and travels thousands of miles each year to watch his daughter ride ponies competitively.  Greg lives with his wife and two children in Bethesda, Maryland.  He answers his own phone and can be reached easily at info@imarketsmart.com.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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