When Doing Good Is Bad (and Retail Is Better)

Because I work for nonprofits, I figure everyone wants to participate in do-gooding. Predictably, I make contributions to charity on behalf of the recipients for gifts. Call them socially responsible gifts. It makes me feel good to do that. I always presumed it made the recipient feel good, too.

When doing good is bad
When doing good is baa-d

[Editor’s note from Target Marketing: Retailers may be seeing returns right now, but nonprofits — not so much.]

There’s an old adage: “To a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

Because I work for nonprofits, I figure everyone wants to participate in do-gooding. Predictably, I make contributions to charity on behalf of the recipients for gifts. Call them socially responsible gifts. It makes me feel good to do that. I always presumed it made the recipient feel good, too.

A favorite of the Beloved (behavioral expert Otis Fulton) and mine is Heifer International. Last Christmas, we were excited to “give” a relative a sheep that was donated to a needy family in a Chinese village. A gift of diminishing hunger and poverty. Everyone is on board with that, right?

Yeeeeaaaahhh … No.

According to an article in the Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, givers badly overestimate how much their recipients will appreciate a charitable donation that is made in their name. That squares with my experience. I was excited and expected to get a phone call the moment the gift was received. Instead, I got a cursory “oh yeah, that was nice” when I inquired about if the gift notice showed up.

In one study, gift-givers chose between six gifts to give to a friend or family member. Three were donations to various charities. The other three were run-of-the-mill items: a travel mug, executive-style ballpoint pen and a USB flash drive.

Ninety-eight of the 245 participants in the study (40 percent) chose to give a charitable donation.

Interestingly, the less close a gift-giver was to the intended gift receiver, the more likely they were to give a gift of a charitable contribution.

It turns out that an overwhelming majority of the recipients would have rather received even a “really mundane tangible gift” instead of the charitable donation.

The way the recipient viewed the charitable donation had a lot to do with their relationship to the giver. Close friends didn’t object, and parents reported actually liking receiving the charitable donation from their children. The problems were with spouses and distant friends and relatives who were the most likely to evaluate the charitable contribution negatively.

How can this be explained? Lisa Cavanaugh, one of the study’s authors, said, “Recipients think [the charitable contribution] says more about you than about your commitment to them. One spouse actually said, ‘It showed me he cared about the world but he didn’t care about me.’ ”

One part of the equation is that people may be recognizing a socially responsible gift as an attempt by the gift giver to make themselves look good, like giving a really nice picture of yourself to someone. Typically the person most interested in a really nice picture of yourself is your mom, right?

But we believe the more important reason that giving to a specific nonprofit in another person’s name is less than ideal is that it deprives that person of giving something themselves.

That is problematic for the recipient because I don’t give them control, and I don’t actually allow them to “give.”

First, the recipient didn’t pick the charity — the giver did. Satisfaction is derived from three basic elements: being part of something bigger, showing competence and autonomy. As the giver, I didn’t deliver any of those three here.

Second, there is a well-studied “warm glow” effect from giving. That warm glow isn’t triggered for the recipient in this scenario, although presumably it may be for the giver. The recipient did not get to be socially responsible — the giver did (and I felt GREAT about it!).

So what is there to do?

If I want to give a socially responsible gift, I must give it in a way that allows the recipient choice. As an example, I could use a card from Charity Choice (not a plug — don’t know ‘em), which allows the recipient to choose from hundreds of charities to designate the gift, making the gift from the recipient, instead of from you.

Another way to inspire the warm glow and be socially responsible would be for me to allow the recipient of the gift to select how they will support Heifer International. If I could send the gift with an open end on it, to allow my recipient to pick a cow, or a chicken or a well, that would give us both something positive — the satisfaction derived from giving driven by autonomy and the warm glow effect.

I’m sure you think the Beloved and I are quite calculated about giving, altruism and nonprofits. And we are, for two reasons. First, giving is tricky and we are prone to plan campaigns in ways that bring consequences contrary to our intention. Second, the warm glow of giving cures diseases, educates children, prevents violence and so much more. We like understanding how to light that fire.

The Best Brand Gift Ever!

I know you are a YES person. A DIY person. A BRING IT person. A CAN DO person … excellent at all you do—conscientious, responsible, dependable, overachieving. No doubt, it’s how you got where you are. All wonderful qualities. So this Christmas, perhaps the last thing you need or want is something from “The 12 Days of Christmas.” What you just might need this month is 12 days and ways to say NO.

I know you are a YES person. A DIY person. A BRING IT person. A CAN DO person … excellent at all you do—conscientious, responsible, dependable, overachieving. No doubt, it’s how you got where you are. All wonderful qualities. So this Christmas, perhaps the last thing you need or want is, as the song says, some version of “12 drummers drumming, 11 pipers piping, 10 lords-a-leaping, nine ladies dancing, eight maids-a-milking, seven swans-a-swimming, six geese-a-laying, five golden rings, four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves or even a partridge in a pear tree.” You don’t need or want more stuff. You want a meaningful, long-lasting, brand-enhancing and life-affirming gift. Something useful and practical.

What you just might need this month is 12 days and ways to say NO.

The deal is that no one can give this gift to you. It’s a selfie. There’s no outsourcing this skill to a personal shopper, no concierge service that can do this for you. It’s a true DIYer.

As YES people, the word NO is an infrequent part of our vocabulary—in our brand lives and in our personal lives. But I have found that the happiest and most productive people have given themselves the gift of NO. They have learned to make NO a natural part of their DNA … both in and out of the office.

So, before you head out of the office to start holiday celebrations, why not raise a toast to that little two-letter word NO and see if these bits of inspiration may encourage you to treat yourself (and the brand you lead) to this very important present:

1. The gift of a new discipline … making no an art form. Missy Park, founder of Title Nine, echoes the power of no. “In my book, saying yes is over-rated. Fact is, it’s easy to say yes. No difficult choices, no disappointments. Ahh, but saying no. That is the real art form. There’s choosing to say no which can be wrenching. There is choosing when to say no, which is often. And then there’s saying it graciously, which is very hard indeed.”

2. The gift of throwing in the towel … the towel that really doesn’t matter. I greatly admire Bob Goff. He’s an author, an attorney and founder of Restore International, a nonprofit human rights organization. He wisely shares: “I used to be afraid of failing at something that really mattered to me, but now I’m more afraid of succeeding at things that don’t matter.” With that in mind, Goff makes it a habit to quit something every Thursday. It liberates him for new things. What can you be simply done with?

3. The gift of margin … build in white space … everywhere! Dr. Richard Swensen, a physician-futurist, educator and author, advocates for purposefully creating mental, emotional, physical and spiritual breathing room in our full-to-brimming professional and personal lives. He calls it margin—like the white space around pages of books. He counsels that we need it more than ever. Appropriately saying NO gives us more white space.

4. The gift of focus … just say no … perhaps three times or more! Steve Jobs, Apple’s brilliant and passionate founder, shared this: “Focusing is about saying no. You’ve got say no, no, no. The result of that focus is going to be some really great products where the total is much greater than the sum of the parts.”

5. The gift of eliminating even more non-urgent and unimportant time fritters. Stephen Covey, author of “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” cautions us to be careful of defaulting too often into what he calls Quadrant 4 of his time management matrix … the place we naturally drift after spending lots of time in urgent and crisis modes: trivia, busywork, mindless surfing. Just say goodbye to all the nonessentials.

6. The gift of stopping … count the ways. Jim Collins, author of “Good to Great,” encourages us to create STOP DOING LISTS. That’s right … enumerate all things you are no longer going to do. Start by simply saying no to his Venn diagram of three crucial things-activities that are you are not deeply passionate about, that you feel you are not genetically encoded for and things that don’t make much economic sense.

7. The gift of holding back … a permission slip for more B+s. Must everything be done to an A+ perfection level? Pick and choose those activities that really warrant this kind of energy. Challenge yourself to not be an honors student in all you do. Award-winning author Anne Lamott had to remind herself in midlife that “a B+ is just fine.”

8. The gift of less … hit that delete key more often. Do we really need (or have time to read) all those subscriptions? Must we? Find satisfaction in architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe “less is more” philosophy. Go ahead—delete, unsubscribe, edit, curate. Whatever you have to call this process, just do it.

9. The gift of simplicity … now. Years ago naturalist and poet, Henry David Thoreau warned us: “Our life is frittered away by detail … Simplify, simplify, simplify!” Alan Seigel updates that sentiment for brand leaders in his book: Simple: Conquering the Crisis of Complexity. Perhaps it’s time to give yourself and your brand the gift of a serious simplification process.

10. The gift of benign neglect … just ignore it! Do we really have to have a multiplatform constantly clean inbox? Who cares? What’s the point? Mani S. Sivasubramanian, author of “How To Focus – Stop Procrastinating, Improve Your Concentration & Get Things Done – Easily!” writes: “Information overload (on all levels) is exactly WHY you need an “ignore list.” It has never been more important to be able to say “No.”

11. The gift of checking back in with yourself … so, what matters now? In her book “Fierce Conversations,” leadership development architect Susan Scott suggests people change and forget to tell one another. That is true. Sometimes we even forget to tell ourselves. What has changed for you or your brand? Your energy level? Your tolerance? Your interests? Your competition? Your customers? What needs revisiting so that your yeses are truly yeses and your nos are truly nos?

12. The gift of a do-over … recycle your mistakes. We’ve all made the mistake of saying yes when we should have said no. Jot down a few of those do-overs on a post it note. What were the learning lessons? Keep that note to yourself handy.

‘Tis the season for gift-giving. Be kind to yourself and to your brand and make the practice of gracious NO saying not only a year end gift, but a long lasting part of your DNA.

Putting Pinterest to Work for Your Brand

Pinterest is the new hot property. Overnight this visual curation powerhouse has generated more traffic to websites than Twitter, Google+, Linkedin and YouTube combined. Its clean and simple design, including pleasing graphics and neat organization, allows users to quickly and easily gain access to the content that matters to them. Marketers have taken notice and are asking themselves, “How can Pinterest help me form a deeper relationship with my customers and prospects?”

Pinterest is the new hot property. Overnight this visual curation powerhouse has generated more traffic to websites than Twitter, Google+, Linkedin and YouTube combined. Its clean and simple design, including pleasing graphics and neat organization, allows users to quickly and easily gain access to the content that matters to them. Not surprisingly, both unique visitors and time spent on site have steadily increased. Marketers have taken notice and are asking themselves, “How can Pinterest help me form a deeper relationship with my customers and prospects?”

The answer often starts with building a connection around a shared passion aligned to your brand, be it music, sports, travel, fashion, cars, food/cooking, interior design, gardening, technology, etc. For Real Simple magazine that meant creating more than 58 boards and 2,312 pins focused on giving followers practical, creative and inspiring ideas to make life easier, which is central to the brand’s core mission. Specific boards include “Organization Inspiration,” “Weeknight Meals,” “Spring Cleaning” and more. For more inspiration, check out the 10 most followed brands as well as some of the power users with huge followings (provided by Mashable):

10 Most Followed Brands: 1. The Perfect Palette 2. Real Simple 3. The Beauty Department 4. HGTV 5. Apartment Therapy 6. Kate Spade New York 7. Better Homes and Garden 8. Whole Foods 9. West Elm 10. Mashable.

And here are some power users with huge followings: Jane Wang, Christine Martinez, Jennifer Chong, Joy Cho, Maia McDonald, Caitlin Cawley, Mike D, Daniel Bear Hunley.

Once your brand’s Pinterest mission and vision has been determined, attention turns to growth and engagement. Leverage your existing communities to grow awareness for your Pinterest presence and stress the unique value and content that can be found there. For example, Lowe’s saw a 32 percent increase in followers to its Pinterest page after it integrated a Pinterest tab into its Facebook community. In fact, some Lowe’s boards saw as much as a 60 percent increase. Additionally, Pinterest referrals back to Lowe’s Facebook page increased 57 percent, demonstrating the importance of using each community for its inherent strengths, be it breaking news, discussions or photos. More recently commerce powerhouses Amazon and eBay have added tiny Pinterest buttons to their deck of social media sharing options on individual product pages.

Next, build on this awareness by thinking creatively and forming programs that engage and accelerate growth. Apparel brand Guess used the inherent strengths of Pinterest’s visual platform to ask consumers to create inspiration boards around four spring colors and title their boards “Guess my color inspiration.” The four “favorites,” as selected by Guess’ noted style bloggers, received a pair of color-coated denim from the Guess Spring Collection.

Other retailers such as Lands’ End created a “Pin It to Win It” contest designed to encourage consumers to pin items from the retailer’s website for a chance to win Lands’ End gift cards, while Barneys asked consumers to create a Valentine’s Day wish list using at least five items sourced from Barneys’ website. In each case the brands leveraged the strengths of Pinterest’s visual platform to engage followers by encouraging them to create their own inspiration boards associated closely with the brand and its products, thus increasing buzz, visibility and followers.

While it’s important to experiment and have fun as you grow your following, you also want to gather critical insights and learnings along the way. Treat your Pinterest promotion or program just as you would any other digital marketing program. Set up goals, objectives and appropriate key performance indicators, and be sure to communicate those metrics to all involved to properly gather learnings and the overall impact and success of the effort.

For consumer product goods brand Kotex, it was all about honoring women and leveraging the power of Pinterest to reward the women who inspired it. The program included finding 50 “inspiring” women to see what they were pinning. Based on those pins, the women were sent a virtual gift. If they pinned the virtual gift, they got a real gift in the mail based on something they pinned. The result: 100 percent of the women posted something about the gift across multiple social networks (Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.), resulting in greater reach and visibility than was initially anticipated.

In addition, more than 2,284 interactions occurred overall and Kotex’s program generated more than 694,864 impressions around the 50 gifts. Lastly, the YouTube video summarizing the program has been viewed nearly 18,000 times, indicating the program has been a source of interest and inspiration to other brands and marketers alike.

Don’t forget to leverage Pinterest’s API to collect data, including activity, in order to build insights as well as preference and intent as expressed by your audience.

With meteoric-like growth, Pinterest now finds itself among the top 30 websites in the U.S. and shows no signs of slowing down. The social media platform not only offers brands an opportunity to curate and visually organize information for consumers in an appealing way, but it creates a community of real enthusiasts and advocates for your brand and shared topic of interest. Happy Pinning!