Can non-profits succeed in the post-apocalyptic media era?

Peter Francese of Ogilvy and Mather is making the rounds announcing the death of Joe Six Pack, the average American.  His new white paper, written for Ad Age, is looking ahead to the 2010 census, when the U.S. population is expected to surpass 300 million (yours for a mere $249).  Audiences will splinter, he says, and traditional ways of segmenting consumers – e.g. married with children – will no longer be meaningful.

Bummer.  That’s another nail in the coffin of mass media.

So why am I not depressed?  Because I work with local non-profits, which have the greatest chance of developing and managing personalized relationships to some sort of positive outcome – be it volunteering, advocacy or charitable giving.  Their smaller scale and local focus makes it possible for them to experiment with new forms of outreach.

Here are two examples of wonderful things that have happened for a small non-profit just in the last week:

1.  The organization invited several hundred people to attend an event – for free.  This was a means of expanding their circle of friends.  A number of people came as guests who had never heard about the organization.  The group was decidedly younger, on average, than attendees at past gatherings.  And here’s the kicker.  Unsolicited, the organization received more in donations than the cost of the party.

2.  The organization continues to have steady, moderate growth on Facebook.  More importantly, Facebook is helping the organization to reach a younger, connected constituency (people who will tell their friends about the organization) and they are using the FB fan page to DO something.  One constituent checked out the website at our invitation and sent a suggestion for content.  That’s golden.  Another said she wanted to organize a charitable activity at work.  Even better!

While both the event and the Facebook page are test-and-learn experiments, they were highly strategic.  More in the next post about how marketing planning must change in this brave new world, and after that, implications for technology.

Clay Shirky, writing online for McKinsey Quarterly, pointed out the self-organizing capability of the Internet that is now in everyone’s hands:

Until recently organizations of all stripes were better able to get their messages into the media than any motley groups of individuals. That is no longer true, because two critical organizational advantages—the ability to coordinate group effort and to coordinate group access to the means of publishing—are now ubiquitous, global, and free.

While access to the Internet means that people can self-organize to criticize, it also gives small non-profits unprecedented access to people who might become advocates for or supporters of their cause.

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