If You Want $1 Million, Be Creative

A wise person once said, “It’s not just what you say, but how you say it.”

Another wise person once stated, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”

Creatively taking these two aphorisms together can lead to great fundraising success. Consider what happened when the City of Philadelphia competed for a $1 million grant in the Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Mayors Challenge:

Mayors Challenge InfographicGood Company Ventures, the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, and the Philadelphia Department of Commerce collaborated on a grant application for their Philadelphia Social Enterprise Partnership.

With over 300 cities from 45 states competing, the Philadelphia collaborative knew it needed to do something to standout. The Philadelphia team prepared the required written proposal, which came in at 30 pages of dense content.

Then, they contracted with David Gloss and his team at Here’s My Chance, a Philadelphia-based creative agency that works with nonprofit organizations. HMC was tasked with helping Philadelphia’s proposal submission standout from the crowd.

Gloss went to work and produced an infographic that would accomplish two things: 1) Distinguish the Philadelphia proposal from the others. 2) Provide an easy to understand summary of the 30-page proposal.

With an energetic, clean infographic branded in Philadelphia’s colors and a detailed written proposal, the Philadelphia team earned a spot as one of the Top 20 finalists. In the next round of the competition, finalists were asked to submit a short video describing their proposed program and the impact it would have.

Once again, HMC went to work. Here is how HMC describes what happened next:

Being a Top 20 finalist is pretty sweet…but winning is even sweeter. For the next round, all finalists created videos, and we knew ours had to be the Beyoncé of all entrants: bold, professional, and flawless. To allow for more freedom and flexibility for that, we decided to produce an animated video. Then, we booked the talent. Not only did Mayor Michael Nutter provide a voice over for the video, but he appeared in it as well.”

At the end of the long competition, Bloomberg Philanthropies named Philadelphia as one of the five winners, awarding the city $1 million! By the way, Philadelphia was the only winner to have submitted an animated, rather than live-action, video.

So, what can we learn from this?

The best programmatic idea, the greatest need, the most thorough content may not always be enough to standout from the crowd and attract generous support. Exercising creativity can provide the extra edge needed to win.

The Philadelphia team clearly understood that. They also recognized that they weren’t submitting their proposal to an institution; they were submitting the proposal to a group of grant-reviewers at a foundation. In other words, the Philadelphia team understood that grant-reviewers are people, too.

Submitting an infographic with the proposal helped Philadelphia standout. The infographic was engaging and provided reviewers with an easy to digest summary making their job just a bit easier.

The animated video also helped to separate the Philadelphia project from the crowd and made it easier to explain/illustrate the proposed project.

Would the Philadelphia team have won without using a creative infographic and animated video? Maybe. However, the Philadelphia team believes that the creative infographic and the video gave them the added edge they needed to win.

When appealing for support, you are competing with every other charity, certainly every other charity with a similar mission. Are you doing anything to help your organization standout from the crowd or are you just doing business as usual?

Roger von Oech, in his book A Whack on the Side of the Head: How You Can Be More Creative, identifies 10 “mental locks” that block people from being creative:

  1. Thinking there is one right answer when there are really many.
  2. Rejecting what is not logical.
  3. Following the rules.
  4. Insisting on being practical.
  5. Believing that play is frivolous.
  6. Embracing the mantra, “That’s not my area.”
  7. Avoiding ambiguity.
  8. Desiring not to be or appear to be foolish.
  9. Believing to err is wrong.
  10. Thinking, “I’m not creative.”

In his engaging book, von Oech teaches readers how to overcome each of those mental locks to unleash creativity. If you find any of those mental locks blocking you, work to overcome them. Here are some other tips for enhancing your creative abilities:

  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Eat and drink properly.
  • Vary your routine from time-to-time. For example, take a different route to work each day.
  • Listen to some jokes or answer some riddles.
  • Do some creativity exercises. See the example below:

What figure do you see in the following image? How many figures?

Creativity Exercise 2

Solution: How many figures did you see? Some people think the figure is an abstract bird. Others think the image is a stylish question mark. Those who turn the image upside down may see an abstract seal juggling a ball on its nose.

By looking at something in different ways, we can build our creative skills and limber-up our brains for additional creative activities. Von Oech’s book contains additional exercises and tips.

Have you done a creative fundraising appeal? If so, please tell me about it in the comments below. Be sure to mention the results. We all can learn from your experience whether or not the appeal was a success.

If you haven’t done a particularly creative appeal, try it. You might like it. It might even help you secure a $1 million gift.

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


UPDATE (May 12, 2015): In keeping with the creativity theme, I’ve posted an interesting infographic that I think you’ll like. Check it out at “Special Report–21 Ways to Unlock Creative Genius (Infographic).” I hope you like it.

6 Responses to “If You Want $1 Million, Be Creative”

  1. Reblogged this on Karen~Singer~Talks~Tile and commented:
    An interesting piece about how creativity can help distinguish your cause and create a strong memorable impression!

  2. Wow, powerful and useful – thank you, Michael!


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