Humor to Raise Money? Learn a Lesson from the Super Bowl

I enjoyed Super Bowl XLVIII. For starters, my Philadelphia Eagles did not lose! Ok, they weren’t in the game, but still…

The game itself was fun in its own bizarre, lopsided way as the Seattle Seahawks crushed the Denver Broncos by a score of 43 to 8. The Bruno Mars part of the Half-Time Show was entertaining, though the Red Hot Chili Peppers portion was inappropriate for a family audience.

I also enjoyed the amusing Super Bowl commercials. Debuting funny, quirky, sometimes sentimental ads during the Super Bowl has become an advertising tradition. My wife actually enjoys the commercials more than the game, a lot more.

Clearly, the advertising profession believes in the effectiveness of using humor in television commercials.

So, I took notice several days ago when John Ladd, Development and Planned Giving Coordinator at Carolina Friends School, started a discussion in the Smart Planned Giving Marketing Group on LinkedIn:

Humor in planned giving marketing? Have you seen a good example or used humor, or at least a light touch, in marketing planned giving?”

While the fundraising profession is not well known for having a raucous sense of humor, it’s not a profession that’s devoid of humor. Just as humor can help the for-profit sector sell goods and services, nonprofit organizations can leverage humor to inspire support. Indeed, some charities use humor to great effect, for general fundraising as well as planned giving.

You Can Use Your Stock to Make More Than Soup!

You Can Use Your Stock to Make More Than Soup!

In my book, Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing, I share a story from Rebecca Rothey, CFRE, when she was Director of Planned and Principal Gifts at Catholic Charities of Baltimore (she’s now Director of Major and Planned Giving at the Baltimore Community Foundation). Rebecca used humor quite successfully when branding her planned giving program.

Rebecca wanted to use humor to cut through the clutter and grab attention. She also wanted to ease the stress that people feel when considering their own death, stress that often keeps them from considering planned gifts. She came up with an idea she thought would work for her target market: older, traditional women.

The idea was “Rebecca’s Recipes for Planned Gifts.” In ads and postcards, Rebecca dressed as a 1950s homemaker engaged in various cooking/baking activities. The headlines included:

• You don’t have to be upper crust to have a trust.

• You don’t have to be rolling in dough to make a gift that will last forever.

• You can have your cake and eat it too—you can make a gift and receive payments for life.

• You can count your chickens before they hatch—you can make a gift and count on receiving payments for life.

• Don’t let taxes knock the stuffing out of your IRA.

• You can use your stock to make more than soup, you can use it to make a charitable gift.

• Too much on your plate to plan your estate?

While Rebecca thought she had a good idea, she first tested it before rolling out with it. Rebecca carefully tracked the statistical results as well as the feedback she received. Her methodical, appropriate use of humor worked, and she closed gifts as a result.

Rebecca’s use of humor also had an unexpected benefit. It engaged senior management. It got them joking about and more comfortable with the planned giving program. The use of humor also made Rebecca more approachable by staff.

While she certainly believes in the creative use of humor in the fundraising process, Rebecca still respects the serious side of planned giving:

Gift planning is a serious business. Donors make choices that affect their financial future and the future of our agencies. That does not mean, however, that your marketing has to be serious too. The purpose of marketing is to create the initial inquiries that can then lead to serious discussions with our donors.”

That’s the key. When using humor, we should not use it simply for the sake of trying to be funny. We need to understand why we are using it. The American culture is not exactly known for its great sense of humor when it comes to philanthropy, estate planning, and death. So, we also must be sensitive, appropriate, and tasteful.

Here are five tips for using humor effectively in your fundraising efforts:

1. Ensure consistency. Your use of humor will be most effective if it is part of an overall marketing strategy. In the case of Catholic Charities, the entire planned giving program was branded with “Rebecca’s Recipes for Planned Gifts.” While your entire marketing effort does not need to be similarly branded, your use of humor should at least be consistent with the tone of your overall marketing and branding. If your organization’s marketing is traditional and formal, using humor could be jarring to your audience, which might not be what you want.

2. Understand your objective. To reach your target, you need to know what your target is. Understand what you want to accomplish and, then, decide on the most effective way to realize your objective.

3. Understand your target audience. If you’re going to use humor, make sure it is appropriate for your target audience. Make sure your use of humor does not offend. Make sure it does not confuse. Make sure it does not fall flat.

4. Test. Do not launch a humor-themed campaign without testing. You can test your messaging with focus groups. You can test an appeal to a small segment of your target market.

Jay Leno

Jay Leno

The key is to get feedback before you fully launch a humor-themed campaign. It’s the only way you’ll know whether your assumptions are correct before moving forward. Did you know that Jay Leno would test jokes at a small comedy club before using them as part of his monologue on The Tonight Show?

5. Track your results. Once you launch your campaign, track the results. In addition, to tracking the number of leads, donors, and dollars, you also want to track feedback. Did people like the message? Did they find it funny? Was anyone offended? While pre-campaign testing is essential, the ultimate test is the campaign itself. Remember New Coke? Sometimes, focus groups can be wrong. While New Coke tested well, it was a miserable failure when launched and, therefore, was quickly withdrawn. So, track the results once you launch.

The Showcase of Fundraising Innovation and Inspiration (SOFII) website presents a number of examples from charities that have used humor including:

The Dogs Trust: canine care card campaign

Malaria No More and CollegeHumor: malarious program

The David Suzuki Foundation: campaign for Santa Claus

Operation Raleigh: toilet paper mailing

Who Gives a Crap: sit-down for WaterAid

If you have successfully used humor in your fundraising efforts or if you know of others who have, please share your examples in the Comment section below.

If you’ve never thought about using humor, consider it. If you don’t have a good sense of humor, consider cultivating one; it will serve you well in life and could help your fundraising efforts.

That’s what Michael Rosen says… What do you say?

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2 Comments to “Humor to Raise Money? Learn a Lesson from the Super Bowl”

  1. I wish I was that creative. Another informative and funny post! Thanks.

  2. Great post, Michael! I am going to share this on Twitter and elsewhere. Thanks for sharing some neat fundraising examples.

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