Friday, June 4, 2010

A Term That I've Never Liked

Best practices.

When someone says to you that "best practices" recommend that you do something a certain way, what does that imply?

That they know more than you.

That they have more experience than you.

That this has been tested in the most thorough and objective manner and results show that a certain methodology is most effective time and time again.

In the words of my friend and mentor, "Show me the data."

I cringe every time a consultant tells their client that a certain tactic is "best practices." My reply is always, "Based on what criteria?"

In my experience, every program is different, every audience is different, and every offer is different. It isn't best practices until it works for YOU.

I recently put a test in place to gather data about the "best practice" of using a 3-ask script in telemarketing. I recommended telemarketing for a certain offer and was getting some resistance because, shocker, telemarketing has a bad reputation. There was significant concern about requiring a 3-ask script. This is a tactic by which the telemarketer pitches the offer, pitches it again using slightly different language, and then pitches it again with a softer offer before finally giving up, thanking the person for their time and hanging up. This was seen as too aggressive and possibly troublesome to our donors.

Let's put it to the test, I said: let's test a 2-ask script versus a 3-ask script. If we get a lot of complaints about the 3-ask script, we'll switch to the 2-ask script. If one script outperforms the other, we'll switch the entire campaign over to the winning script.

Awesome -- let's test it.

My telemarketing vendor strongly urged against testing the 2-ask script -- best practices, I was told, is that a 3-ask script is much more effective at raising funds.

Too bad -- if we want to do telemarketing at all, we're going to test both asks and see what performs. With some reluctance, they agreed. I could tell that they were anxious for the results so they could show me that indeed, their recommended "best practice" was the way to go.

Guess which is winning?

Neither -- they are both performing equally well.


Guess what our next step is?

We're going to test the 2-ask versus the 3-ask in our next campaign. Until you can repeat the results a couple of times, it's not enough to base a recommendation on. There's definitely an incentive to be able to have shorter phone calls, fewer complaint calls and still raise the same amount of revenue, so it's worth pursuing.

Until one tactic works for my program consistently better than another tactic, it is not a best practice...for us.

So unless you can tell me that you have 10 clients who have tested this methodology and 7 out of the 10 clients had a specific result, which is now their recommended tactic, don't try to sell me a "best practice."

Show me the data.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Is Your Nonprofit Starving to be Politically Correct?

I recently came across this article in the Nonprofit Times talking about food banks changing the way they refer to their audience, while trying to raise funds to serve that very population.

Don't call them poor - they are economically challenged.

They aren't starving -- they are food insecure.

Guess which cause people are willing to donate to? The one that helps poor and starving people, not the one serving economically-challenged, food-insecure people.

The author's point is that we shouldn't focus so much energy on how to phrase your mission and those you serve, worry most about serving them. Because whether or not they are food insecure or starving, they are in trouble and need your help.

This could be expanded out to so many other nonprofits than just food banks. Easter Seals, Courage Center, Gillette and so many others are challenged in talking about our collective audience, people with disabilities. Note that they are not disabled people (the disability does not define the person), and never used the "h" word (handicapped). I am still becoming immersed in the way in which we speak of our patients and the crafting of the language in speaking of the challenges they face.

This is the dichotomy that many nonprofits face, be it serving the poor (economically-challenged), the handicapped (gasp), the illiterate (are they literacy-challenged?), the blind (non-seeing), etc. There is a way in which the organizations need to address their service population and another way that they need to talk about them in gaining donors support for them.

Make sure you don't spend all your day talking the talk without walking the walk.