In this webinar, Michael Hoffman will show how the ancient story framework The Hero’s Journey can guide us to effective fundraising and communications.

Full Transcript:

Steven: All right, Michael. My watch just struck 2:00 Eastern. Is it okay if I go ahead and get this party started?

Michael: Yeah, let’s do it.

Steven: All right. Awesome, Well, good afternoon, everyone. If you’re on East Coast, I should say good morning. If you’re out on the West Coast, thanks for being here for today’s Bloomerang webinar, “Drive Engagement Using Ancient Myth, Social Media and User Generated Video.” And my name is Steven Shattuck, and I’m the Chief Engagement Officer over here at Bloomerang. And I’ll be moderating today’s discussion, as always.

And just a couple of housekeeping items before we get going here. I just want to let you all know that we are recording this session. And we’ll be sending out the slides and the recording later on this afternoon. If you didn’t already get the slides, don’t worry. You will get those along with the recording. So don’t fret. And if you maybe get interrupted or have to leave early or if you just want to review the content later on. I think a lot of you are going to want to do that. It’s going to be a good one. So just look for an email from me with all that good stuff later on today.

But most importantly, please feel free to use that chat box right there on your webinar screen. We’re going to try to save some time at the end for Q&A. So don’t be shy. Send in those questions and comments. We love for these sessions to be interactive. So don’t sit on those hands. You can also do that on Twitter. You can use #Bloomerang or just write us directly @BloomerangTech.

And then one last bit of technical note. If you have any trouble hearing us through your computer speakers we find that the audio by phone is usually a little bit better. So if you can dial in by phone, if you don’t mind doing that, if that will be comfortable for you, give that a try before you totally throw your computer out the window. You should be able to find a phone number in the email from ReadyTalk that went out about an hour or so ago today. So give that a try if you have any trouble.

And if this is your first Bloomerang webinar, I just want to say an extra-special welcome to all you folks, all you first-timers. We do these webinars just about every Thursday throughout the year. We only miss a couple of weeks. I think we did a total of 50 sessions in 2019 so far. So we love it. It’s one of our favorite things we do here at Bloomerang. But what we are most known for is our donor management software. That’s what Bloomerang is. That’s what we’re all about. And if you’re interested in that or maybe thinking of switching next year or if you’re just curious about us, check us out. You can watch a quick video download and key in software in action.

You don’t even have to talk to a salesperson if you don’t want to. Who wants to do that after all? But don’t do that right now. At least wait an hour until this presentation concludes because this is going to be a good one. This is one we’ve been planning since May. My new friend, Michael Hoffman, is joining us from beautiful Chicago. Michael, how is it going? Are you doing okay? Thanks for being here.

Michael: So thanks. Thanks for having me. I’m doing great.

Steven: Yeah, this is . . . I’m excited about this one. This may be my favorite title of a webinar that we’ve ever had. And I’ve been . . . I wouldn’t say I’ve been bonding with Michael. But I’ve definitely been geeking out over our shared passion for video. We both come from the video production world. And he’s going to share some of that knowledge with you. He’s got a couple of really cool organizations that he’s involved with besides being one of the top fundraising minds here in the sector. He speaks nationally. You may see him on conference schedules.

But he’s got a couple of cool companies, See3 Communications where he’s the founder and chairman. And the one that I am really kind of geeking out over is his company, Gather Voices, which helps nonprofits create really high-quality, authentic, and useful videos for their constituents. So you’re going to want to learn more about that one after he gets done talking. But like I said, works with a lot of nonprofits over his career, Make-A-Wish, Alzheimer’s Association, the UJA Federation of New York, and just a wealth of knowledge. And I think you’re all really going to dig what he has to say here about storytelling and the hero’s journey. So Michael, I’m going to hand things off to you and I don’t want to take up any more of your time. So take it away, my friend. Tell us all about driving that engagement.

Michael: Excellent. Thank you, again, for having me. And all of you, thank you for taking time off of your day. I’m sure it’s very busy before the holidays set in and no work gets done for a while. So thanks, again, for joining us. So “Drive Engagement using Ancient Myth, Social Media and User Generated Video.” I am going to jump in. So just a little bit more about me. You heard I’m a nonprofit fundraiser. I’ve done a lot of peer-to-peer fundraising as well. I teach marketing at the University of Chicago and use that as a way both to give back and to stay current on things that are happening in the sector and in marketing generally where I think the nonprofits can learn a lot.

I started several different technology companies. I founded something called the DoGooder Video Awards, which honored the best videos by nonprofits every year. And I care a lot about storytelling because I think that stories have real impact on people. And, in fact, the way our brains work, we need stories to make sense of the world. And so the best storytellers often are the winners.

So I’m not going to talk much about this. See3 Communications, you can see it’s See3, we’re actually called See3. It’s a play on 501(c)(3). It’s sort of a too clever by half play on 501(c)(3), the visual See3 storytelling for nonprofits, and being able to effectively do digital for the fundraising engagement and all of those good things. And then I’m going to talk a little bit later about Gather Voices. Again, Voices is all about enabling organizations to easily collect video from anyone anywhere in the world and then to have people who are not experts at video manage that content. So if you go to and you can certainly sign up for a demo if that’s something you’re interested in.

Okay. So what are we going to talk about today? I’m going to talk a little about tech trends, so just a little bit about things I think you should be thinking about in technology. We’re going to dive into to talking about video because that’s one of those things and that’s the thing we’re going to go deep in. I want to talk a little about trust and trust and authority because we’re not working in a vacuum, right? It’s not just about technology. It’s about what, how are people interacting in the world today? And so the issue of trust becomes really important and especially when you’re trying to get people to believe in you, believe in your mission, and give you money. Then, we’re going to get into the ancient myth and powerful stories, my favorite part, and then talk about leveraging tech and people power and kind of bringing all of these different things. So these things may not seem all related to each other. But by the end of this, I think you’ll see how everything’s connected.

Okay. So let’s dive in. So remember when the internet was going to solve all the problems? And I say that because I’m one of those Gen Xers who grew up when the internet was getting started at the very, very early part of that and thinking, “Wow. It’s changing everything. It’s changing the rules of business. And the internet’s going to free people. Like nobody can stop it. And information will be available to everyone,” and all of this stuff, right? We’re in an age where, you know, the Chinese government’s building the biggest surveillance state ever powered by this internet that was supposed to free everyone, for example. And we see many examples of things and actually, I just put this guy . . . I am having a moment about oat milk.

I don’t know if any of you know about oat milk but I love oat milk. And I’m ordering, trying to order oat milk cappuccinos wherever I go. And I’m taking bets on how long it will take Starbucks to get oat milk. But the amazing thing about the internet is I can go on YouTube and type in how they make oat milk and I can get this incredible playlist of things around oat milk, you know, the best oat milk, how to make oat milk. And, you know, there’s a zillion of them and they’re amazing. I mean, they’re just so good. And they’re free and they’re available with a click in a second. That’s just absolutely incredible. So I love the internet for that.

But on the other hand, you know, the internet is enabling terrible people to find each other and then join groups of terrible people who create movements of terrible people who do actual harm in the world. And, actually, what you see on the right is something from Wikipedia that was titled that’s in a listing of, “The worst subreddits ever.” But it’s just kind of a shorthand for the kinds of things that go on in the internet that are scary and, you know, make the internet not the place we want to be. So I think we have to sort of have our eyes open about technology in general and understand that it can do incredible things but also creating all kinds of new issues and challenges. We’ve seen that with Facebook, with our elections. We’ve seen that and particularly around the issues with trust, which I’ll talk about.

So when you think about tech, there’s so many things going on about technology, incredible things. I mean, think about what’s happening in medicine. You know, we’re seeing really exponential advancements in medicine today. It’s amazing to see how all that’s going to play out. But I think the three things that you should be thinking about in your work just paying some attention to are, the first one is artificial intelligence and machine learning, AI and ML. And machine learning is kind of the subset of artificial intelligence.

So what is it really? It’s a way to make repetitive tasks easier and make things scalable that weren’t scalable before. And so, you know, the way you’re mostly going to see that in the near term is through marketing automation, the idea that we can take things that were super time-consuming, figuring out that this particular donor, for example, likes these different things.

And so when we set up our email, certain types of content should automatically be going to that person based on the things they saw, you know, on a web page, for example. And it’s getting more and more sophisticated. And I don’t want to go too much into it but it is something you should be paying attention to. There are things that large organizations have been able to do that smaller organization haven’t been able to do. And tools are being created right now that will make those things accessible to even the smallest organizations. And so, you know, we need every edge we can get in the competitive world of fundraising. And so thinking about what are those tools is a worthwhile for your time as you think about technology and your technology road map.

The second thing I just want to mention now there is 5G, so this is something that’s coming. And it is going to have really a major impact. And this 5G is going to be that time when our mobile network has parity with our home and office networks. So, you know, right now it’s always been the cell network has been inferior to the kind of internet you can get in your office. But that will no longer be true. And, in fact, companies like Verizon are going to be offering like a thing that you can stick on your window at home and get the same thing that you get with your cable subscription. And like that’s how fast 5G is going to be. And so that’s coming. And, you know, what is that going to mean? It’s going to mean that things that people may have avoided doing on their mobile devices, they are going to start to do on their mobile devices.

And as we’ve seen those devices often get larger and people starting to shift the things they do, things that they wouldn’t normally want to do on a mobile device. For example, like filling out a donation form, right? Those things are going to be the first place people are looking because they’re not necessarily going to be much on other devices.

For you, I think it’s thinking about what does your entire experience look like in mobile? And we talk about mobile a lot. But when we create websites and we do things in organizations, we often sit around a big screen and look at the . . . But instead, really try having that meeting where everybody looks at your website together on the phone and says, “How does it look? How does it work? How does this experience feel?” And that’s also related to speed. Obviously, you want things to load really quickly. People already have . . . They’re mobile and they’ll just jump off and be gone. And so it’s so easy to go to the next thing.

And then the third thing I’m going to talk about and dive more into is about video. So we’re at the beginning. Part of that 5G is going to mean a lot more video content. So when you can stream any kind of video anywhere, it’s going to mean a lot more video. We’ve already seen that. It’s going to be even more. But the reason . . . There’s so much video out there. But we’re still at the very beginning of this. And that’s because things that are still large blocks of text are going to be increasingly not necessarily replaced fully by video but complimented by video.

So think about like all of the documents on the internet that nobody pays attention to and how easy it would be to, if you could have videos from anyone anywhere, and it would be easy how you could annotate those blocks of text with some introductions by video. Think about all the kinds of training you could do. Think about all the reports from the field, all of the emails about Giving Tuesday and all that. But, again, I have an inbox full of big blocks of text. There’s going to be video all over that.

And as I said, I don’t it’s necessarily replacing all text. People still read but you’re going to see a lot of videos in those places you haven’t seen video. And so let’s talk a little bit more about that. So we’re talking about video because mobile consumption has increased video because the amount of content that we’re seeing with video is growing like crazy. I think that billion hours of video on daily YouTube is an old statistic. I think. You know, every week it’s old and it just keeps going up and up.

And we know that consumers prefer learning about things with video. We know it and that’s partly why if you go to YouTube and you type in something about oat milk, you’re going to see all those videos about oat milk. It’s because that’s where people would prefer to learn. And Google, you know, is the number one search engine in the world. And YouTube is the number two search engine in the world. And Google is increasingly putting YouTube videos into Google search results. So you’re just seeing a lot more video and video support.

As I’m sharing all of this, you should be thinking about how it affects you. So when you search for topics that are around the things that your organization does or your organization, what’s the video content that get searches from that? And why isn’t it yours? So that’s something you should be asking yourself and thinking about. So if you have a search engine optimization SEO strategy and you have keywords and you have primary keywords and long-tail keywords you should be thinking about, “What’s the video content that will get searches because it will be easier to rank for videos than text?” And it will become increasingly important.

So I want to just give you a cautionary tale because when I started See3 and when we started making professional videos for organizations, a lot of organizations fell into this trap about trying to get a lot of views and trying to hit that viral lottery, right? To have that big video that got lots of views. And that just is not important anymore. So, you know, viral is an outcome. It’s not a thing you create. But it also just doesn’t have the benefit that it once did. When there was very little video out there, a big video hit mattered. But every-day stuff, all of your social media and your website and everything should be filled with video, that sort of . . . trying to reach for that one viral video makes no sense.

So this is an example. This is a great organization called AJWS that does amazing work. And they got an incredible thing a few years ago. They got Judd Apatow, the comedy writer and Hollywood producer, to make a video for them. And Judd Apatow invited like a dozen A-list celebrities to do it. Jerry Seinfeld here was not the most famous of those celebrities. And it did really well by the standards of putting views out there. So you see it’s on the over 800,000 views for this video. And that’s incredible for this tiny, relatively small organization that people don’t know about. But those views came on YouTube. They came not because of the subject matter that the organization works with, but because of people’s interest in these celebrities.

And so it had an impact on morale at the organization. People got excited about it internally. But it didn’t have the kind of impact that you’re working for. It didn’t have an impact on donations. It didn’t have an impact on sign-ups, on business engagement, any of those things because people watched the video on YouTube. And the most likely thing that somebody does after watching a video on YouTube is watch another video on YouTube. So YouTube’s gotten very good at that, right? That’s their job. Keep them there and not actually send them to you. So thinking about that viral hit is not what you want to be doing. So, you know, one idea for a video is not your video strategy. It’s not what you need. You need to be thinking about what that every-day video thing looks like. So you need video every day.

If you’ve been on LinkedIn in the last six months, you’ve seen it’s just gotten taken over by video. The same thing happened to Facebook over the last 18 months. You know, we’re seeing this. And, again, we’re at the beginning. This is not a fad. This is the new world and the new reality. And for many of us, you know, who grew up in the age of traditional video production, that’s a scary thought because video is hard and it’s slow and it’s expensive. And so we need to just start changing the way that we think about video and we’ll get into that today.

So I want to talk about the impact of the phone. And I don’t mean this phone. I mean this phone. And so, you know, we call this a phone. And I think part of our lack of really engaging about what this mobile revolution has meant and means for us and will continue to mean is because we call it a phone. It’s not a phone. Can you imagine a Tim Cook or Steve Jobs before Tim Cook standing up and saying, “You know, the next Apple iPhone’s coming out. And our big new feature is better call quality?” Yeah, that’s not going to happen. Nobody cares. This is all about the screen. It’s all about the camera. It’s all about watching videos and making video and taking pictures. It is not about phone things, things that we think of when we think of a phone.

These devices are super computers with professional video cameras attached to them. And if we start thinking of them that way, we can then start going, “Well, what are the implications when all of our donors and potential donors are waking around with a super computer and a professional video camera? What are the implications when, even in the most remote places in the world, we have people that we’re serving domestically or overseas where they’re carrying around things that are basically professional video cameras and super computers? What does it mean? And what are the implications? And how do we deal with that?” And we need to have those conversations and think through that.

And so the other reason we’re talking about video is that video actually works. And when I say, “Video works,” video works for things like email. You know, email open rates are going down, except when you start adding video. So there are studies and, of course, your mileage may vary because not everything . . . there’s lots of factors in these kinds of things. But if you put in parenthesis a capital video in the subject line to indicate that there’s video in this email or access to videos through this email, you’re going to increase your open rates most likely. You should try that.

When they click on that email and open it up they’re going to see a thumbnail or a screenshot of a video with a play button on it, they’re not going to play that video in the email because when they click play, it’s actually going to take them to the webpage where that video’s going to play. And you’re going to find that you’re going to increase your click-through rates when video is included. And these are things that the corporate world is seeing. And I think you can extrapolate. Again, your mileage may vary but directionally, it will go up. People would rather see video and get curious about it than reading a big block of text and then clicking on some little link in there. And so thinking about how to . . . why do we need that? How do we do that? Again, it becomes really important.

So companies that use video require fewer site visits before somebody responds to a call to action. So think about that for a second. We don’t necessarily have immediate one-to-one ways that people go from learning about an issue or learning about your organization to making a donation or becoming a volunteer and getting involved. There’s often a period of . . . In a typical kind of sales funnel, right, there’s an awareness period, there’s a consideration period, and then there’s a conversion period, right? They’re getting aware of the issue, aware of the organization. And that may be multiple visits. That may be watching different videos, things like that.

And what the research is showing is that when video is in that mix, you’re going to see people get quicker to that response to that conversion, that call to action. That’s really important, obviously, because that means that you can do more with less. You can do more faster and that’s another powerful impact of video.

We know that people who watch video are more likely to purchase. Again, we can extrapolate that that’s true for donors. There’s actually some research about that, as well, around donation. And I think you should worry less about what exactly the research says and be doing your own experiments. The companies that are winning at digital are the ones that are able to nimbly do some experiments and say, “Okay. Is that going to work for us? Let’s try it.” And, you know, the worst thing that can happen is it doesn’t work and you stop doing it. So, you know, we have to get out of the mindset that we’re going to spend six months figuring out everything that’s going to go on the website and all of that and then another six months building it only to find that people don’t respond to it the way we had hoped, right?

We’re moving more to a world where things are being tweaked and adjusted on the fly all the time. It’s like the lean start-up model. If you’re not familiar with that it’s a great book, “The Lean Startup,” but it’s all about this idea of an MVP, a minimum viable product. And I think that’s true for marketing and fundraising, as well. How do we get some things out there, see what the real-world reaction of those things are, and then quickly make adjustments? And that’s often not the culture of organizations. And so this idea of digital transformation, of being successful in this world of technology, really often means and almost always means changing the culture of the organization to one that aligns with this digital world that we’re in.

Okay. I’m going to move on and talk about just for a minute about the decline of trust and authority. So we have seen, and particularly since 2016, we have seen a rapid decline in trust. And there’s a lot of nuance about how that’s changing each year. And the best way to learn about that, a good way to learn about that, is the Edelman Trust Barometer. So Edelman PR is a big . . . It’s like the biggest independent PR firm out there. And Richard Edelman, the chairman, he’s been doing . . . Twenty years they’ve been doing surveys around the world about trust and looking at trust in government, in brands, in media, and in nonprofits. And in 2016 trust fell off a cliff. And people didn’t trust brands or nonprofits, certainly not government and certainly not media like they used to.

And so that’s part of a bigger general decline of trust in authority. It used to be, for example, that religious authority had a lot of pull with a lot of people. That’s less true today. Anybody who has teenage kids knows that parental authority has been degraded dramatically over the years, as well. Again, media companies. You know, we used to look to the editors who would sift through all the material and tell us what to focus on. And that’s not being so true anymore and in many ways to the detriment of our civic life. And brands, so trust in brands, figuring out that, you know, these companies . . . And this, again, started long ago. These companies aren’t necessarily what they say they are. We are starting to care about our values and things that companies do. And companies can’t hide like they used to. And trust is going down.

And so, you know, we’ve been in kind of a trust crisis that’s been just greatly exacerbated by this political moment that we’re in where it’s hard to tell . . . I wouldn’t say hard to tell but there’s people who are trying to make it hard to tell what is right and what’s wrong and what’s true and what’s not true and what’s real and what’s fake. And that confuses people.

And one of the things that this year’s . . . Two really interesting tidbits from this past year, the 2019 Trust Barometer, is one is that people are beginning to trust their own employers more than any other institution. And that’s interesting. And that’s pushing business leaders to start talking about civic issues and other things that businesses didn’t always talk about. And you might have noticed that. And that has to do with these trust issues, as well. And so that’s an interesting tidbit. You can read more about that in the 2019 Trust Barometer.

And the other one . . . I just lost the thought. So we’ll move on from that. Okay. So we talked about video and why it’s important. We talked about how it works, why it works, and we’ve talked about the decline in trust. Now, we’re going to talk and get to my favorite part. We’re going to talk about ancient myth and the hero’s journey. So some of you may know about this hero’s journey idea and trust idea. Trust. I’m sorry. Let me answer one question that’s in the chat. The question was about if the decline in trust overall is tied with age group. It’s actually . . . There’s been overall declines in trust in the United States, dramatic ones, since 2016.

There’s really wide differences by country, the levels of trust. And then there’s wide differences in the levels of trust between groups that are more or less educated. And so there’s this huge like trust gap that Edelman talks about in this year’s Trust Barometer worth taking a look at. But I think that if you take one takeaway from it it’s that your brand isn’t what it used to be. It doesn’t carry on its own, you know, some message of trustworthiness, of that it used to and that people are much more skeptical. And they walk into these things much more skeptically. So you need to overcome that somehow. And so that would be the big takeaway.

Okay. Back to the hero’s journey. So this is where we get into ancient myth. The hero’s journey is a storytelling framework that comes from ancient myth. And it actually comes from this guy, Joseph Campbell. Joseph Campbell was an academic and he wrote this seminal work, “The Hero with a Thousand Faces,” I think in 1948. But he was actually active until into the 1990s. And he was extremely influential. And the hero’s journey is not something that he made up. It’s actually something that he discovered. So he studied comparative mythology. And he asked a really interesting question. The question he asked was, “Why do some stories have incredible cultural influence and staying power and other stories don’t?”

So why is it that some stories have lasted thousands of years and other stories don’t last a week? And so what he started to do was to look at the stories that have lasted over time and he looked at these and many other stories from many other cultures. And he started to map them out. He said, “Well, what is it about these stories?” And so he started to map out stories. And he realized that there was a pattern in these stories. And the pattern is what he calls “the hero’s journey.” So he didn’t create it. He saw this commonality from one story to the next. And he said, “That’s really interesting. What is that commonality?” And he mapped that out into what we call the hero’s journey.

So I’m going to walk you through the hero’s journey. And I’m going to tell you why you should care about it. So our hero’s journey starts with our hero is actually an ordinary person in the ordinary world, right, the [topic 00:32:23] of this. So they don’t think of themselves as heroes. They’re just ordinary and they look ordinary and they act ordinary. And they think they’re ordinary in the sense that time at the beginning of our story you said to them, “You’re a hero,” they’d say, “What are you even talking about? I’m not at all a hero. I’m just ordinary.”

There’s always a call to adventure in the story. And a call to adventure is some moment where something calls them to help something or they see something or experience something that shows them that the simple world they thought they were living in, world that they thought they understood is not just what they thought it was. There’s something much more complex, much more scary, much more important that’s happening in the world that they didn’t know about and they’re called to do something about it.

Now, often in these stories, the hero refuses this call to adventure, obviously, right, because they don’t think of themselves as a hero. So they say, “You know, whoa. That’s scary and dangerous and whatever it is, but I’m just an ordinary person in the ordinary world. So I don’t really want to have anything to do with that. It doesn’t concern me. And even if it did, I’m not the one that you’re looking for.”

Always in these stories is the mentor. And the mentor is the person that says to our hero, to our would-be hero, “Actually, you are the hero. You are the person we’re looking for. And I’m going to help you. You have powers that you don’t even know you have. You have something amazing. And I’m going to help you discover that.” And so the mentor is really important in the story because the mentor’s the one that convinces our would-be hero that they can do something special, that they can overcome what they think of as their ordinariness, and really have an impact.

And crossing the threshold is the moment that they often leave home in these stories. But the idea is that they’ve gone too far to go back. They can’t just pretend that the ordinary world is ordinary anymore. They’ve seen too much, they’ve experienced too much, and often they’ve had to leave home or they’re in danger or they are wanted or who knows. But they can’t just pretend everything’s normal anymore. In these stories, there’s always tests and allies and enemies. The innermost cave is that moment of self-doubt that our hero goes through that says, “Wait a minute. This is even bigger and scarier than I thought. And I don’t think I can do it.”

But they get through that moment of self-doubt and they go through their ordeal. And they get a reward for winning whatever it is that they need to win. And there’s a road back to the ordinary world. But the road back, they’re changed on that road back. They’re not the same person that they were when they left. And they come back with something to share, something that we call the elixir. And that could be an object but it could also be knowledge, right? Something different, something to share, something to share with the rest of the world to change the world for the better. So that’s our hero’s journey.

Now, you’re probably thinking if you’ve never heard of this before, “What does it have to do with me?” I will get to that. But the hero’s journey is something that if you don’t know about it, you’re going to start to see it everywhere because it is everywhere. The hero’s journey powers much of the stories that we tell and hear and say. And so this isn’t just an example of some popular culture. And if you think about it, Harry Potter thinks of himself as this ordinary person in the ordinary world. In fact, worse than that, he thinks he’s a loser in the ordinary world but he’s not, right? And he’s never ordinary but he doesn’t know it. And it takes a group of mentors to help Harry figure out what his own power is and what he can do with it. And that’s true in all these stories.

So it shouldn’t surprise you if you didn’t know this that George Lucas was actually a student of Joseph Campbell and wrote “Star Wars” to actually follow the hero’s journey pretty much exactly. In fact, this inner-most cave wars in “Star Wars” was actually a cave. It’s that scene that you see the picture here when Luke is like, “Oh, this is too hard. I can’t do it.” And that’s when Yoda says, “There is no try. There is only do,” which is a good thing to say to your kids. You just want to get them really upset when they tell you that they’re going to try to do the dishes. Okay. So here’s the thing for nonprofits and organizations to think about.

Who is the hero of your story? And so this is something I’ve seen over and over and over and over again in my work over many years with organizations. They confuse who the hero should be in their story. And, generally, most of the time, nonprofits tell a story where the organization is the hero and the donor is the sidekick. So how does that play out? It’s like, “Look at this amazing work we’re doing. And you can join us on this amazing work that we’re doing,” okay? So that’s you as a hero, that’s the organization set up as the hero. And the donor is set up to join you on your journey as an organization. And that is so typical. And you can see that play out even in things like email.

So, for example, we had this actually on the See3 website. There’s something called . . . We created something called the Supporter Inclusion Score, which is just like a little shorthand thing to count like how many times in let’s say an email you reference the person that you’re talking to and them and their actions and their agency versus you, your organization, your organization’s name, all of that, and really trying to have a ratio where you’re really talking about them and not you. And so the reality is that no one wants to be a sidekick. I was trying to think of all the sidekicks I could think of. And these three came to mind. But, you know, people want to be the hero and they don’t want to be the sidekick.

And so here’s the question for you to think about for one second until I tell you the answer. But you might already know it. If in the hero’s journey you’re not the hero and your donor is the hero, what are you? And the answer is you’re the mentor. You’re the one who tells our would-be hero that they are special, that they can do something to change the world, and that you’re going to show them how to do it.

Now, of course, how do they do it? They do it by participating in the thing that you’ve created to make it happen. But it’s them that’s changing the world. Without the people who volunteer, who donate, who get involved, none of the work happens. And if you don’t tell the stories that way and you don’t talk about it that way, you’re losing out. This is extremely powerful. I can’t even . . . This might seem so simple and so basic. And sometimes it just means really small changes to the language that you use and the stories that you tell.

But what I’ve seen over and over again is organizations that deeply embrace the idea that they’re a mentor to their donors to enable them to make great changes in the world and they really take that seriously and say, “How do we help them be the best them that they can be,” the ones who make an impact in the world. So if you think of that as your mission then incredible things happen. People become so engaged. Everything you write, everything your produce, everything you publish is not, “Help us help us keep the doors open,” whatever. No, it’s not about you. It’s about them. It’s really, really powerful but it often takes a real cultural shifts. And for many people, it’s not intuitive.

So you should not have fear because fear is the path to the dark side. I had to put any Baby Yoda reference. If you don’t know about Baby Yoda, you should look up what Baby Yoda memes. Baby Yoda is a character in the new Disney Plus original series “The Mandalorian,” which I have not seen yet. But it, apparently, is taking over the internet. Baby Yoda is actually 50 years old in this picture. Okay. But do not fear. Start telling the powerful stories.

Now, we’re seeing this in and for a long time. And I’m going to put some newer examples in here too I think if I do this again is that corporations that are doing well are really adopting this idea. You know, I like the . . . So, for example, Apple from the very beginning, so we think about like the iPod. It was never about the iPod, right? It was never about the hardware. In fact, Microsoft launched a mp3 player before Apple launched the iPod. And by all accounts, it was better technology and it was really good.

But it’s not about that, right? It’s about who you are with that iPod. And I love this Whole Foods’ ad here. “Be a thorn in time’s side,” right? It’s Whole Foods. And what are they talking about? Are they talking about Whole Foods is great? No, they’re not. They’re saying, “Who are you with Whole Foods? Who do you become with us?” And, you know, there’s a nonprofit version of this Whole Foods ad is like, “We have 18 kinds of organic apples,” right? That’s not what they’re saying here. That’s beside the point even. It’s not about your programs. It’s not about the details. It’s about who do people become when they’re on you?

I want to dig in for a second on this Nike ad. This is actually a video. You can go to YouTube and type in, “Find Your Greatness,” and watch it. But really, I find this super powerful. Not everybody does but to me, I look at this and I see an entire story that’s in one image. And so I look at it and the first thing I see is I see a kid who’s clearly overweight and is running. And it looks hard. I mean, it looks really hard. And, in fact, it looks hard because look how . . . They’re clearly very far away from anything in this shot. So it looks really hard. And it also looks incredibly lonely, right? This kid is out there by himself. There’s nothing in this shot. I mean, there’s not a house or a car or a person or anything.

So here’s this kid doing something really hard and really lonely. And so what is Nike in this story? Nike is the mentor. Nike is saying, “We’re with you when you’re doing something really hard and really lonely.” They’re not saying, “Look at the shoes,” right? They’re saying, “We believe in you. We believe in who you are and what you can become. And we’re with you even when you’re all alone and lonely.” I find it actually very emotional and moving. And I think, you know, how do we do this? Think about how do you do this? What’s your version of it?

Okay. I’m going to fly through the rest of the content so we can have some discussion and I can answer some questions. This is an example of video that we did for the Alzheimer’s Association for their . . . where we included the person’s name who was raising money in a peer-to-peer campaign in the video. And we did that at scale so we had something . . . And See3 had something called personalized video that can basically do like mail merge for video. But the idea was just by making it about Jane and not about the association, just by making it about that person who was walking and not about the organization, it elicited fundraising because people, Jane became the hero, not the organization. She was doing something great and okay.

So audience. You have to think about your audience. If you want your donor to be the hero, you have to know who they are, right? And the audience is not everyone. You’re not your audience and there’s no such thing as the general public. So really digging in to understand your audience. And we’ve found that you don’t have to do that in a fancy way. But you need to really dig in to think about who your audience is.

One way to do that is to create supporter personas. This is something we did for Make-A-Wish. This is both volunteer supporter and potential supporter personas. So there’s . . . And wish referrer personas so people who actually send wishes to Make-A-Wish. So it’s all mixed up here. That’s why there’s so many. But the idea was to understand who they are, what they care about, you know, and to dig into that. And you don’t have to, again, make it so fancy. But the idea is to really know as much about them as you can because when you tell a story and they’re the hero’s story you want to tell a story that that’s going to resonate with them, you know, that’s going to be powerful for them.

And one of the things we did with Make-A-Wish was we realized that you can’t just create personas and say, “Okay. We have them.” The people who actually tell their stories have to internalize them. So we created all of this print material, including flipbooks for every fundraiser’s desk across, you know, 60 chapters and posters for walls and basically saying, “We got to get to know these people because everything we do is about them, not about us.”

So one thing that you can do, and this leads into why I’m doing what I’m doing today, is let your heroes tell their own story. You should be telling the story of these donors. And the heroes . . . People ask me, “Well, isn’t the hero the person that we’re trying to serve or the kids who have cancer or, you know, that kind of thing?” And I say, “Yeah, sure. It depends on what kind of story you’re telling and who you’re telling it for. Generally, the hero of the story should be the person you’re trying to activate.” So if you’re trying to activate donors, you have to show donors having agency in changing the world, right? That’s why I would get involved. And so in that case you have to . . . You shouldn’t feel bad about that. And that doesn’t mean the whole story has to be about the about the donor. It just means that the actions that happen had to be done because of the donor.

So, you know, we’re in a world now where people are really comfortable telling their stories and for a long time. So these are pictures of when the last Popes were chosen. So in 2005, a new Pope came. In 2013, a new Pope came. And in between in 2007, the iPhone was launched. And so in 2005, pretty much everybody but that one person in the bottom right corner, they were experiencing an event. They were consumers of an experience. In 2013 and today, for sure, people are both consumers of content and they’re creators. They’re creators all the time. They’re being trained to be creators, not by us but by Instagram and Facebook and Snapchat and now TikTok. Like who knows, right? But they’re being trained to be comfortable creating content. So let them do it. Let them do it for you.

So the community beats your brand every day. So you can . . . Your organization’s knowledge and power comes from the people who came together to solve a problem in the first place. People trust this authentic content. And these phones have really changed what’s possible. And so one of the things I’ve seen a lot of and, again, this is part of why I started doing what I’m doing today, is because I’ve seen that user-generated content beats the brand content all the time. It’s more memorable. It has higher click-through rates, higher conversions, etc., etc. Basically, think about it. The higher polished something is today, the more people don’t trust it. The more that I would see an authentic video . . . Let’s say you had a video of one of your donors saying, “I give to a lot of organizations but I mostly give to this organization. Here is why. Here is why it’s changed my life. Here’s why it’s made me be the person I can be.” Think about that being made on somebody’s phone, right, being super authentic, like how much power that could have for you.

So, you know, increasingly, user-generated content is really powerful. And I’ll just show you really quickly sort of what we’re doing at Gather Voices. You know, we’re enabling our organization to get a stream of this kind of content. And we do it by essentially co-letting the organization say, “This is what I want,” and then having the software actually coach the users through recording the video that they want on their own devices. So giving them your talking points, your time limit, checking their lighting and their sound and all of that. And you can learn more about that if you’re interested.

So just to wrap up, video is critical. Your brand isn’t what it used to be. You need to leverage people power. The hero’s journey is a powerful framework. It works as long as you get who the hero is right. And there’s tools out there. There’s our tools. There’s other tools. But there’s ways now that you can do a lot of video in a different way, in a more nimble way, to solve your challenges. So I’m just going to leave this up for a minute. Feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn. I would really be happy to be connected. I try to publish some really interesting content now and again there. And there’s my email. And Twitter, I’ve been known to Tweet once in a while. And I hope this has been useful to you. And we have some time now to take some questions.

Steven: Yes, we do. But first, I just want to say thank you, Michael. That was an awesome presentation. I was sitting here enjoying every word that you were saying as a fellow video guy. And a shout out to Baby Yoda and “The Mandalorian.” You really should watch that show, Michael. It’s pretty good. I recommend it to all of you if you haven’t seen it. So yeah, this was awesome. We got a few minutes for questions, probably maybe six or seven minutes of questions. So if you haven’t asked something, now is the time. Don’t be shy. I thought I’d kind of kick things off, Michael, with a question of my own if you don’t mind.

Michael: Sure.

Steven: Thinking about the donors, the hero. And believe me, I am a card-carrying member of that philosophy. I sometimes run into a little bit of pushback on that. I don’t know if you’ve gotten this but maybe of people saying that . . .
Michael: Oh, yeah.

Steven: . . . it’s possible to go overboard and maybe kind of worshipping the donor. Any thoughts on that? What do you say to people who maybe pushback on you with that kind of slant on it?

Michael: You know, I don’t like the hypothetical problem. You know, it’s like, “Okay. When we get to that, when we see that, we’ll pull back from it,” right?

Steven: Right.

Michael: You know, but I think, you know, the organizations that really celebrate the donors do really well. And there’s lots of ways to do that. I mean, you know, a lot of organizations, not a lot, not enough organizations will take like a thank you day. Some of the organizations that do the best on Giving Tuesday were not asking people for money. They were taking all their staff and calling every donor and just thanking them and saying, “You know, it’s Thanksgiving time. And we want to thank you.” Like and what happens? Well, people feel like they’re the ones who made the difference and they want to keep making a difference as opposed to, “Help us get to our goal,” messaging, which just falls flat.

So I think there is pushback a lot of times. Most of the pushback I see is because it feels weird to like make the rich guy the hero and not the person who’s fighting for justice or fighting cancer or cleaning the environment or all those things. And I get that but that’s not what we’re talking about, right? We’re talking about a technique to really honor the people who do make a difference who fuel the work that we do. And if we want them to do more of it, we’ve got to recognize that.

Steven: It makes sense. I love it. You touched a little bit on Meredith’s question here wondering if there’s ever a situation where the client truly is the hero. And I know you touched on this before. It sounds like maybe her organization, their situation is that the clients aren’t necessarily people who are suffering or struggling in some way. They’re actually people out there, you know, making change happen. They’re the change agents rather than maybe the recipient of helpful advice. Do you think there’s any special case with an organization like that where maybe you might want to blend the two philosophies?

Michael: Well, I think, again, it’s who do you want to activate? So, for example, you know, one of our clients is the Sierra Club, right? So the Sierra Club has different people they want to activate and then they tell different stories. So they have donors. So they want to show the donors that with their dollars, they’re actually making change. But they also are really run by activists and volunteers and people who go out in the field. So they’ve got to tell those stories because they want those people to feel really engaged and really motivated to keep going. And so they’ve got to tell stories about how the change happens because somebody’s knocking on a door every day, you know, in their spare time that’s making a difference. So I think you’ve got to tell . . . There’s not just one story you tell, right? It’s about what role do you play and what needle are you trying to move? And make sure you tell the stories that relate to that particular goal that you have.

Steven: Yeah, that makes sense. Speaking of doing all that, a couple people were asking about the asking about the actual process of creating those personas. You talked a little bit about personas a few slides back. Any tips for, you know, sitting down and creating those things? Should that be maybe a group effort? How should people kind of start and pursue the creation of those personas that they [inaudible 00:55:25]?

Michael: Sure. Yeah. It really depends on, you know, the size of the organization. Obviously, lots of things are very different. So in an organization the size of Make-A-Wish, there’s a massive amount of research. There’s like super professional research done, surveys like parts of really large national surveys, things like that, as well as a tremendous amount of donor data that comes out of their own donor databases. So I think you want to make it as data driven as you can. But you’re going to need to fill in parts of it. And so when I say data driven, start with what you know. Who are the good donors today? And why are they? What do you know about them? What’s their involvement?

So, for example, I’ll give you an example. It’s not demographic all the time, right? It has to do with connections. So, for example, in medical charities, the people who are the most engaged are people who have some experience with that disease often, right? So like one of our clients is the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Cystic fibrosis is a fairly rare disease. Well, you know, the families that are affected by that are incredible fundraisers. So that’s how you would start building a persona, right, with thinking about that particular thing, not that they’re 50 years old and that they live in this town, right? So you have to build on what do you know about your current donors? And then fill in from there.

And what we do with Make-A-Wish is we did that. But then we said, “Okay. Their donors that they know about are getting older. They’re going to need to attract people they haven’t been attracting. Who could those people be?” And that’s where you’re really being a little more aspirational. But then you can ask the question, “Well, if we want this person as a donor, if we want a younger, more diverse population of donors to Make-A-Wish, how does that change the stories we have to tell, right? How does that change who the representative in the stories we have to tell?

If we don’t tell any stories where people of color are the change agents, do we expect to attract people of color to be . . . Do they think . . . And is it just because they just don’t think it’s for them, right?” And I mean that across any kind of group, right? It’s like the idea of thinking . . . And that’s what the hero of the story means. It means representing someone like them so that they can imagine themselves having that same impact.

Steven: I love it. That makes sense. That may be a good place to leave it. Actually, we’re about out of time. It’s getting close to 3:00 here. And I know we didn’t get to all the questions. But we’ve got Michael’s contact info up on the screen. Do reach out to him if we didn’t get to your question. Follow him on Twitter. Obviously, a wealth of knowledge. And definitely check out Gather Voices if you are maybe considering the creation of a video or of several videos maybe in 2020.

Michael, do you want to give you quick elevator pitch on that one because you were telling me about it kind of in detail before we jumped on the call here live? But it sounds really cool and it’s not something that I’ve ever heard of and it sounds really useful to nonprofits. So I’ll give you a minute to plug it if you want.

Michael: Sure. Yeah. So, you know, doing professional videos for clients for many years, they kept coming to us and saying, “You know, we love that gala event video you do for us once a year. But we need video all the time. We need video for Facebook and YouTube and our web page and everything.” And I couldn’t figure out how to help them until I saw almost five years ago that a feature film was shot on an iPhone. The very first movie shot on an iPhone was called “Tangerine.” And I had this aha moment that it wasn’t just me having it but I was thinking, “If everyone that we want on video is walking around with a professional video camera in your pocket, how come we can’t get the video we need?”

So we did some experiments where we just asked people, “Hey, pull out your phone and make a video.” And as you could imagine, everything that could go wrong did go wrong. People said the wrong things. They talked too long. Their lighting was bad. Their sound was bad. How do we get the content off their phone? If you’ve ever tried to teach somebody how to do Dropbox on their phone, try to teach a hundred people. It’s a total disaster. And then you don’t have a release signed, all these issues. So we thought, “Okay. Could we build technology that facilitated that, that made it possible for people to easily collect video?” So at Gather Voices, you can just go to and see more about it.

But it’s software for organizations that enable organizations to set up requests for video, to collect video from their own subject matter experts, their own field teams, as well as donors and other people on the outside, being able to record on their own devices or on what we call the Gather Voices Video Kiosk, which is a ring light. There was a picture of I think in a previous slide for a second. And it’s really powerful.

So we’re working with clients like Sandy Hook Promise and First Book and Sierra Club and Greenpeace and others to tap into the incredible stories that people have to tell and being able to imbed that functionality into webpages, for example. So like Children’s National Medical Center has our functionality embedded on a page saying, “If you have patient stories you can just click here and tell us?”

And so that’s what we’re doing at Gather Voices. I’m really excited about it. We’re really only at the beginning of it. And, you know, we see it as really a powerful, new way to help organizations let the people who have the interesting things to say, say them.

Steven: I love it. Check it out. It seems like a game changer to me. It looks really cool, especially if you’re into video like I am. But, man, this is awesome. Michael, this is a really cool presentation. I loved hearing from you. This is a good way to cap off the year here in our webinar series. So thanks for doing this. It was a lot of fun.

Michael: Thank you. Really, thank you for having me. And everyone, have a terrific break and holiday season.

Steven: Yes. I hope all of you do too. I know it’s a busy time of year. It’s awesome to see, you know, a couple hundred people in here in the room. We’ve got one more webinar in 2019. We’re going to finish things off with a bang. My buddy, Margit’s, going to come back. She’s done a couple webinars for us over the years. We’re going to talk about grants. So it’s going to be a good little primer for your grant needs looking into 2020. So if you struggle with maybe finding specific grants for your type of organization or the work that you do, this is the webinar for you. Same time, same place, one week from today. It’s totally free. We love it. Join us. It’s going to be a good one. Margit’s a wealth of knowledge, just like Michael. So, hopefully, we’ll see you again on that session.

If not, we’ve got lots of sessions planned for 2020. You can already register for those. Just check out our webinar page. We’d love to see you again some other Thursday. So we’ll call it a day there. Look for the recording and the slides in just a couple hours. I’ll get those out the door before the end of the day I promise. And hopefully, we’ll see you again next week. So have a good rest of your Thursday. Have a safe weekend. And we’ll talk to you again soon. Bye now.

Kristen Hay

Kristen Hay

Marketing Manager at Bloomerang
Kristen Hay is the Marketing Manager at Bloomerang. From 2018 - 2020, she served as the Director of Communications for the Public Relations Society of America's local Hoosier chapter. Prior to that she served on several different committees and in committee chair roles.