Learn to Clearly Communicate Your Mission

Quick note: During the summer, we'll only be publishing one blog post per month as we focus on some new activities and allow you some down time without falling behind on content.

Some things get better with time: wine, cheese, your favorite jeans, and your mission. While that last item may not initially come to mind, I believe it’s true.

You see, the more you talk about your social impact mission, the better you get at telling its story. After all, practice makes perfect. You need the time, experience, and feedback to know what points will resonate most with your audience. Plus, you’ll gain confidence the more you explain who you are, what you do, and why you do it.

Learning to tell your story well, and with confidence, is part of what will attract and retain customers and donors.

This, and more, is exactly what I discussed with my friends over at Funraise recently, and I’d love to share it with you, too.

Learn to Clearly Communicate Your Social Impact Mission

In the post, I’ll show you why it’s important to use every opportunity to talk about your mission, and I’ll also explain what you can do with that feedback.

Your mission may not change, but the way you talk about it might. And I think that’s a good thing.

Because when you repeat your mission over and over again, you’re refining it. You’re not only getting better at saying it, you’re proactively making it better. It becomes more succinct, more focused, and dare I say, more engaging.

So, if you’re wondering how you can get better at communicating your social enterprise or nonprofit’s mission, click the button below.

Now that you’ve read the post, let’s take it a step further . . .

 


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Learn to Clearly Communicate Your Social Impact Mission

Kristi Porter, founder of Signify

I’m Kristi Porter, and I help cause-focused organizations understand and execute effective marketing campaigns so they can move from stressed to strategic. Your resources may be limited, but your potential isn’t. Whether you’re a nonprofit, social enterprise, or small business who wants to give back, I’ll show you how to have a bigger impact.


Motivation is Overrated

Ever feel like you just don’t have the motivation you need to get you through your work week? Yeah, me too. PLENTY of times.

That’s the case for all of us. Even though you’re working for a nonprofit, social enterprise, or other cause-focused organization, having a great mission is unlikely to make every day a joy-filled experience. It’s possible that there is something going on externally or internally to derail you, or maybe you’re just having a “off” day. It’s natural.

So, when my intern, Kirsten, brought this topic up as a blog post she’d like to write, I jumped at it. It’s an issue that plagues even the most hard-working among us: What do you do when motivation is scarce?

Read on for the answer . . .

Motivation is Overrated

A few weeks ago, I heard my Marketing Research professor say something that completely changed my outlook on getting things done in school and at work. He stated, “Motivation is overrated, while discipline is underrated.” 

This statement spoke volumes in my world. So often, I wait for the motivation to get tasks done, and if it doesn’t come along, I end up rushing through the task as the deadline gets closer, and the work ends up being mediocre. 

I find myself spending unnecessary time searching for the right motivational playlist, reading a few uplifting quotes, or giving myself a pep talk in an attempt of encouragement. I’ve relied on motivation for too long, which is why discipline needed to be incorporated into my lifestyle. 

What I’m learning is that discipline can create a kind of ease to your career because it builds a routine and mindset to get things done . . . even when you don’t “feel like it.” With discipline, you don’t have to wait for inspiration because you already have an effective system on-call.

Motivation vs. Discipline

Motivation is defined as the desire or willingness to do something. Discipline, on the other hand, can be described as training oneself to do something in a controlled and habitual way. 

While motivation is what many of us crave on a day-to-day basis, it’s simply not possible. 

There may be times while working at a nonprofit or social enterprise when the motivation just isn’t there. Work may seem overwhelming, deadlines are fast approaching, the problem you’re solving may seem too big, or frankly, maybe you’re just having a bad week. This is when discipline should come into play to keep the work flowing.

Two key components of discipline are momentum and consistency. You can often create momentum by focusing on the bigger picture (remembering why you’re doing the work), and then take advantage of momentum once it’s underway. Let that be the push you need to get started. Then, show up again and again by finding a rhythm or routine you can maintain.

Consistency creates the habitual practice of discipline. Once it becomes second nature, you won’t have to worry so much about being motivated to do the work.

5 Effective Ways to Incorporate Discipline Into Your Work

Now that we’ve got the differences between motivation and discipline out of the way, here are some steps you can take to build discipline into your work week.

1. Cut Out Distractions

In today’s world, distractions are abundant. Social media constantly tempts us, friends call or text at the worst times, Netflix begs us to binge, and so much more.

One of the simplest and best ways to minimize distractions is to create a physical space that limits interruptions. Whether it’s turning your phone on silent, making sure your chair is comfortable, or removing clutter (both on your desk and on your screen), it’s important to design your workspace for maximum focus. 

If you work from home and find your thoughts drifting to cooking, laundry, and cleaning, you may even need to consider moving to a coffee shop or co-working space so that you can get more done.

Work with a team? According to an article by Inc. Magazine, three out of four people feel distracted while at work. Eighty percent of those surveyed also claimed that the number one distraction is chatty co-workers, with 60% saying meetings are another inconvenience. 

If you have a chatty co-worker, kindly remind them that you are working on an assignment with a deadline fast approaching, and perhaps even offer an alternative time when you can catch up. But try not to let them take your mind off the task at hand.

Meetings, however, are usually hard to avoid, so make an effort to do as much work as you can beforehand. Depending on your role, you may also be able to help keep the meeting focused and on track, so everyone’s time is respected.

2. Create a Plan and Prioritize

Before you jump into your To-Do List, create a sensible plan of what you would like to get done, and if possible, write it down or use a free project management software like Asana to track it. Each item should be thought out and prioritized. 

We tend to overestimate how much we can actually accomplish during a day, so this exercise will not only help you determine the most important tasks, but decide what will make you feel accomplished when the day is done.

Classy.org has a great article that mentions prioritizing work in nonprofits. One of the tips that was included mentioned prioritizing work in four categories: Important, Not Important, Urgent, and Not Urgent.

Work may be important, but not urgent; not important, yet urgent. Classy suggests focusing on the tasks that are important first, then order them by urgency. 

Alternatively, we previously offered suggestions on how to make time for marketing. These same ideas can be applied to any project or task at hand. 

The takeaway is to be show up intentionally for your day, and not to let it simply unfold.

3. Be Accountable

Accountability is all about being responsible, to ourselves and maybe even to others. It’s important to acknowledge that you are responsible for all the work that you create, whether you are an organization of one or thousands.

There are many ways to hold yourself accountable. One simple way is to track your progress, and reward yourself along the way. Just be sure to find something that truly feels like a reward, such as a break, a piece of chocolate, a peek at social media, or for some of us, the simple satisfaction of physically scratching an item off our To-Do List.

Another way to hold yourself accountable is through an accountability partner or mastermind group. Whether you choose one person or several people, make sure they understand your goals and needs, and won’t just be a yes-man. Even better, offer to return the favor so everyone makes progress on things that matter to them.

4. Be Consistent

As we talked about above, another surefire way to move from motivation to discipline is to be consistent. Consistency builds habits, which are powerful in keeping you on track when you just don’t “feel like it.”

Routines may not sound exciting, but they can in fact, lead to a thriving social impact organization. Once you become more consistent, you’ll find tasks become easier, and your workload may even feel lighter.

This article by Chron.com, suggests that consistency in the workplace helps with the appearance of the organization and higher levels of productivity. Compared to workplaces that change often, consistency shows employees that there’s order and stability in the organization. This also helps with productivity because learning new ideas and processes take time, whereas a routine allows people to get better at what they already know. 

Even getting to work on time or going to scheduled lunches can be a great start to building your routine. From there, take a look at these eight good work habits: wellness, self-presentation, timeliness, productivity, organization, attention to detail, follow-through and consistency, and initiative. Taking the time to develop these habits suggests that you are mature, trustworthy, and dependable—an employer’s dream!

5. Take Care of Yourself

Self-care is important as well. There are times to push through the day and work, and times that it will serve you better to stop and start again another day.

When you work for a cause, it’s easy to look at the important work in front of you and think there is no time to slow down. But if you do that for too long, it can lead to burnout.

Burnout can disrupt your newfound routine of discipline, and also makes it impossible for your best work to be done, which is what your cause deserves.

Think you might be experiencing burnout? In the recent Dice.com article, Burnout is Now an Official Medical Condition, there are three markers that define it:

  1. Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion

  2. Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job

  3. Reduced professional efficacy

The World Health Organization states that one must have all three markers in order to truly feel burnout at work. And a few ways to reduce burnout include having a creative outlook, having a support team, and taking vacations. It’s also important to note that if you’re feeling burned out, the time to address it is now. Don’t let it continue affecting you or your work.

While motivation feels great, and gives you a good start on building momentum, it just isn’t enough to accomplish your goals long-term. Discipline may feel hard, but it doesn’t have to be, and the good news is that it can be created over time and in stages. 

Remember, motivation is overrated. Discipline is underrated. 

Through discipline, work becomes easier and more efficient. And, in time, you will see the progress you desire, and your work will thrive!

“People often say motivation doesn’t last. Neither does bathing—that’s why we recommend it daily.” - Zig Ziglar


Kirsten+M+King+Marketing.jpeg

Hi! I’m Kirsten M. King, and I absolutely love anything dealing with marketing, from advertising to data and everything in-between. I also love to learn and expand my knowledge on current trends and issues.

As a recent marketing major graduate of Georgia State University, I look forward to taking my skills and using them towards a career in project management.

KirstenMKing,com

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While motivation is what many of us crave on a day-to-day basis, it’s simply not possible. Here’s what to do instead.

Kristi Porter, founder of Signify

I’m Kristi Porter, and I help cause-focused organizations understand and execute effective marketing campaigns so they can move from stressed to strategic. Your resources may be limited, but your potential isn’t. Whether you’re a nonprofit, social enterprise, or small business who wants to give back, I’ll show you how to have a bigger impact.


How to Wow Supporters After Your Event

If your nonprofit has a big fundraising event on the calendar, and it probably does, this is one post you won’t want to miss! Event planning is extremely popular in the nonprofit sphere for one reason: it works. But it also takes a lot of effort and time, am I right?

You absolutely want to make the experience top-notch for current and prospective donors. Please do that first. However, there’s a vital piece of event planning that often gets left out: the follow up. It’s not the most exciting thing to talk about, but I can’t stress it enough.

Having a solid follow-up plan is part of what makes an event strategic for your organization, and not just something you do every year.

You’ve put so much hard work into planning this event, and an excellent follow-up strategy makes it more effective. What you say and how you say it could mean additional donations, recurring donations, and higher attendance at the next event. That’s why today’s post matters.

And it comes to you from my new friend Erin at Funraise, which a super sweet nonprofit fundraising software built by nonprofit people. (I’ve taken the backstage tour, and it’s pretty awesome!) Okay, back to today’s post. I think you’re going to like it!

How to Wow Supporters After Your Event

Congrats, Fundraiser, the big event day is behind you! Hopefully, you’re propping up your feet and giving yourself a pat on the back for a ginormous job well done. Fundraising events are no small feat, and it can feel awesome when that behemoth is behind you. After you’ve taken some well deserved R&R, it’s time for the next phase of the event. No, we don’t mean cleaning up/organizing the event supplies that've taken over your office. It’s time for event follow up that'll wow supporters and attendees.

Attending an event should be an excellent experience for supporters, and extending that warm, fuzzy feeling beyond the event is an exciting bonus for them. It’s a chance for you to build BFF-status relationships with donors.

Follow up is critical: not only does it give you an opportunity to extend a heartfelt thanks, but it also opens the door for you to establish your nonprofit as an organization that genuinely cares about relationships. And that’s something you can take to the bank.

Follow up strategies for 1 to 7 days after the event

The first phase of event follow up is what happens immediately afterward. Typically this is a thank you for attending and donating (because they donated... right?). If your organization wants to build relationships beyond the event, this is a must.

Here are some ways to say thank you that'll make a lasting impression.


Pick up the phone and say thank you

Calling attendees is an easy thing to do the day after the event that leaves a big impression on donors. If you had a lot of attendees and donors, prioritize your call list by first following up with donors who made the most substantial gifts or strategize by calling first-time donors. If you need help getting through the list, ask a board member to come in for an hour to make some calls.


Send a day-after email to everyone who attended

Use this email to share how much money the event raised and what the funds will be earmarked for. This touchpoint allows you to show attendees the next steps for engagement, such as signing up for your email list or following your organization on social media. Schedule the email in advance so you can relax a tiny bit post-event.


Record personal thank you videos

Did you know there are video services that can help you make a custom thank you video for each attendee and supporter? Services like BombBomb make it possible, and it’s a delightful surprise in someone’s inbox. Short, personalized videos are an unexpectedly wonderful alternative to mass emails if you’re looking for something a little more personal.


Mail a handwritten thank you note

How awesome is it to get a card in the mail these days? Much more awesome than getting endless flyers from the local pizza joint. Make your supporters’ day by sending them handwritten thank you notes after the event. You could even create a custom postcard that includes a powerful image or two from the event, so they have a memento.

Bonus: This is a great engagement opportunity for your board members. Ask them to come by the office and write 10 cards each. You’ll be done in no time.


Jump on the text train

Using the same service that you send text messages with, send out a quick "TY for the amazing night! We hit our fundraising goal!" text. You can point supporters to your website to check out groovy event photos or tease them with the exact amount that was raised. (Sneaky tactic—if you didn't hit your goal, they may send a post-event donation.)

Tip: It can be helpful to block off time in your calendar in advance for event follow up. Also, if you anticipate having a lot of follow up to do, schedule emails, order mailers, or set up text messages before the event. Organize some volunteer or board members ahead of time to lend a hand.

Keeping in touch and building relationships

Follow up with supporters doesn’t end after the initial post-event thank you. You’re now on the path to creating life-long relationships with them, so it’s essential to have a game plan. Here's how you can keep in touch with supporters to build relationships that outlast the event.


Send a survey

It’s super valuable to know what supporters thought of your event. Feedback from people who were there means you'll be able to plan a solidly successful event year after year. Asking for feedback also signals to supporters that you value their opinions and feedback, which in turn builds trust. Put together a short survey that you can send them in the weeks after the event, or as you prepare for next year's big event.


Share impact stories

We heart storytelling. Sharing stories that make your donors’ hearts flutter is a great way to build transparency and show donors the impact of their giving. If you fundraised for a specific initiative or program at your event, find a story related to that.


Ask your supporters to share their giving stories

The social proof of giving stories is solid gold. In your follow up with supporters, connecting your supporters with the results of their giving and having them share is something you can do to engage them and recognize their support.


Add a personal note on future snail mailings

You might send event attendees snail mail down the road: an annual report, a newsletter, or even a direct mail piece. Personalize it by adding a short handwritten note, making the mailer feel less like a mass blast, and more like recognition of the relationship you have with attendees.


Create a video

Video is an awesome way to connect with supporters and attendees. You could create a special year-end video to talk about your organization’s impact and tie in the role your event played in it. These days, video doesn’t have to have a slick production value to be impactful so pull out your smartphone and hit record.

As you prepare for your event, you probably have pre-event communications and marketing planned. Consider expanding this plan to include post-event follow up for at least three months following the event so you can organize your follow up strategy ahead of time.

Events are an excellent way for your organization to build community, grow awareness, and gain support. Capitalize on the momentum from your event with follow up that shows supporters that you're more than just a one-note organization. Your nonprofit values relationships and you’re in it for the long haul.

If you’re serious about becoming an event follow-up master, check out Funraise’s Events & Ticketing solution where nonprofits can easily set up follow-up email automations via seamless integrations with MailChimp, Constant Contact, and other email marketing platforms. Also manage everything from event registration and ticketing to collecting donations, all in your donor CRM. No more letting prime relationship-building opportunities slip through your fingers!


Erin Booker of Funraise

Erin Booker is Head of Content at Funraise. Funraise provides innovative and friendly fundraising technology built on a foundation of nonprofit experience. We've found a way to raise the funds and the fun.


Visit www.funraise.org and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn!



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Having a solid follow-up plan is part of what makes an event strategic for your nonprofit, and not just something you do every year.

Kristi Porter, founder of Signify

I’m Kristi Porter, and I help cause-focused organizations understand and execute effective marketing campaigns so they can move from stressed to strategic. Your resources may be limited, but your potential isn’t. Whether you’re a nonprofit, social enterprise, or small business who wants to give back, I’ll show you how to have a bigger impact.


Note: I’m an affiliate for Funraise, which means I may get a small commission from sales purchased through this site. But I only recommend products and services I think are valuable!

Holiday Marketing: A Stress-Free Way To Make Better Content

One of the questions I’m frequently asked by clients is what they should post on social media and send in emails. And, at first, it seems like a no-brainer, right? Cause-focused organizations have plenty to talk about! Awesome work, touching stories, saving the world….

But I get it. Sometimes you just need something different to talk about. Or maybe you want something a little more light-hearted. Or maybe you want to show off the personality of the brand rather than the mission.

In these cases, I always turn to holiday marketing. Not just “THE holidays” like Thanksgiving and Christmas, though they are relevant, too. But holidays in general. The mission-driven ones like Giving Tuesday, the formally-observed ones like Memorial Day, the fun-to-observe ones like Valentine’s Day, and even the wacky ones like National Hug Day.

They can all serve a purpose—and provide some content for your email and social channels. Intern Jessica Brannigan will explain just how easy it can be, AND give you a holiday marketing calendar and guide to get you started!

Holiday Marketing: A Stress-Free Way to Make Better Content

Holidays are a time for friends, family or a population to come together. Your online viewers, your customers, and even your employees are talking about holidays. Holidays are meant for exploration, explanation, and feeling. They’re also a wonderful source of inspiration and ready-made content.

Conversations surround events such as Christmas, Small Business Saturday, and Strawberry Ice Cream Day. But even when the dialogue is already started, nonprofits and social enterprises may still find it hard to create posts online. Holiday marketing, however, can be the solution that allows you to be more active online, as well as engage current and promising fans. 

Start trending, go viral

The truth is, you should be using holidays in your marketing. Holidays can be an excuse to celebrate, or a time to explore tough issues. As a nonprofit or social enterprise, seize the opportunity to expand your consumers’ sentiment... they could one day become customers or donors. Use it as an excuse to let them to know you are concerned with history and current events. For example, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is a prime time to bring up concerns on equality. The same is true for International Women’s Day. 

When something is trending online, it is almost impossible not to see it. Why go to your calendar to check the date when you can go on Instagram! You will know it’s the Fourth of July by the number of firework pictures posted, and all of those pastel dresses and ties will tell you that it’s Easter.

On National Donut Day it seems the whole world is taking advantage of every donut shop’s special offers. (Because who doesn’t love a sale on donuts?) But what would happen if one donut shop chose not to post on Nation Donut Day? Did you just shudder at that thought?

Explore and express your brand

Insert your organization into the online holiday chat. Take this opportunity to show off your creative or compassionate side. People want to know there are human beings behind those logos and websites.

Find holidays that fit with your brand and voice. Post about those first, and then find a few more abstract holidays that you believe will allow you to shine! 

Major holidays are a chance for an organization to let the world know that they see what is going on in the world and care enough to have a say in the matter. November is not just the time to start those year-end campaigns. It is a chance to let your customers know you’re thankful for them. Acknowledging the world around you can go a long way in the minds and hearts of your customer and donor base.

Holidays can also be a time to take a stand on an issue. The “Me Too” and End It movements are two great examples. Though you may not be directly involved with either of these, show your audience you care by choosing a corresponding holiday to express your thoughts about them. Perhaps chose International Women’s Day on March 8th, or Social Justice Day on February 20th. 

Not all holidays are joyous, unfortunately. Tragedies, whether related to your mission or not, are a time to show you can stay strong for those around you. Show them you are always there to lend a hand to the broken. There are plenty of ways to do this. For example, after the Las Vegas shooting, Signify retweeted and posted ways to give blood on our social media. After a natural disaster, one can post links credible donation organizations. It can be that simple.

Do you need to participate in all holidays? Certainly not! Who has the time? But you don’t want to miss the important ones, and if relevant, you definitely do not want to throw away the chance to be funny during National Humor Month (April)!

Identify what content to create

Now that you understand the importance of holiday marketing, you’re probably thinking, “Okay… now where do I start?”

Let’s talk about tips and tricks to doing this holiday thing right. Create a solid foundation and start building!

How to represent your organization.

Your nonprofit or social enterprise has a voice in this world. It has a look and a feel that your customers recognize. When it comes to posting online, you must be able to connect back to your brand. When starting something new, like holiday marketing, it can be easy to stray. You want your customers to see your content and not be confused about where its coming from or who wrote it.

So, before you start writing posts, make sure you have a solid understanding about how you want to present your company, what your consumers are interested in seeing, and how they want to see it.  

Will you only choose holidays that specifically align with your company’s mission? Will you choose more light-hearted or thought-provoking holidays? What is your most popular medium to reach people? Is it through email, Instagram, blog post, or podcast? Make it a point to better understand why people are visiting you.

After trying the holiday marketing tactic, evaluate your success. You want to know if your customers actually enjoy the increase in holiday-themed posts, emails or discounts. You can look to find if your sales were boosted by this method, if you can add more emails to your list, if more people engaged with your content or followed you, or if you simply find it easier to post on a regular basis. However you view success, go ahead and measure your results! 

This is an opportunity for creation… but don’t overdo it. 

This is your chance to get creative! Keep to your brand’s colors, fonts, and imagery, so that people know it’s still you, but don’t be afraid to experiment a little either. Make people want to keep following you in hopes of seeing more stimulating content.

Keep your message simple, though. You will lose your audience if it takes you 10 minutes on your Instagram story just to tell your audience Happy New Year. Keep it short, sweet, and to the point. Have good visuals and know how to match your tone to what your followers want to see. 

Once you finally grab their attention, use it to your advantage. Be mindful of any calls to action that should be included. Is it a good opportunity to ask for a donation, make a purchase, collect an email or read a blog post? From time-to-time you may want to create a message that goes beyond a one-and-done statement.

Plan your marketing strategy ahead of time. 

Keep that creative momentum going and prepare posts in advance. If you write multiple pieces around the same time, your tone will flow, your campaigns will coincide, and you will be ready to post when the time comes. Stress free!

Make a list of the holidays you want your nonprofit or social enterprise to be involved in. Useful holidays are just a Google search away. Several resources for holidays and conversations include Days of the Year, this Signify blog post and TimeandDate.com.

After you have your list, create an easy system for managing it. Add holidays with alerts or reminders onto your organization’s calendar or use a note-taking system such as Evernote to systematize thoughts and ideas.

Want some more inspiration, or example holidays to get you started? We’ve created a Holiday Marketing Calendar and Guide for you below!

The holiday has passed… now what?

If it’s a holiday you’ve built a campaign around, be sure to send a thanks or update your list with wins or results. Make them part of the process, not just part of the ask. This will keep them wanting even more of you, and leave them on a positive note.

If you miss a holiday, stay on top of things! Immediately add it to your calendar and tackle it next year. That’s the great thing about a holiday—it always comes back around!



Jessica Brannigan

I’m Jessica Brannigan. I’m an upcoming senior at the University of Georgia majoring in public relations and minoring in studio art. I am working towards a career in content creation or graphic design!

I am a fan of the mantra “act confident and no one will question you,” and I strive to use this to make a difference in the world.

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Nonprofits and social enterprises sometimes find it hard to create posts online. Holiday marketing can be the solution that allows you to be more active online.

Kristi Porter, founder of Signify

I’m Kristi Porter, and I help cause-focused organizations understand and execute effective marketing campaigns so they can move from stressed to strategic. Your resources may be limited, but your potential isn’t. Whether you’re a nonprofit, social enterprise, or small business who wants to give back, I’ll show you how to have a bigger impact.

How to Use Empathy to Make a Social Impact

For a lot of us, when we think of selling, the word “empathy” doesn’t come to mind. In fact, for many in the cause-focused space, particularly nonprofits, selling (just like marketing) is a bit of a bad word. However, it shouldn’t be.

If you have something that someone else needs or wants, isn’t that a good thing? That’s where it all begins.

Today, one of my spring interns, Rima Patel, is going to share how empathy intersects with the sales process, particularly the selling of products. I think this will not only be insightful, but good news for many of you.

You’re already leading a nonprofit, social enterprise, or other for-profit doing good, which means that empathy is at the core of what you do. This post will take it one step further, allowing you to see how empathy can be the glue that holds your triple bottom line together.

How to Use Empathy to Make a Social Impact

No one will deny that the key to creating a successful product is by thinking like the consumer. Putting yourself into their shoes and figuring out what they want can help make your great idea even more desirable. This concept is not unfamiliar to us; in fact, it’s something we aim to practice in our day-to-day lives. Whether it’s individuals trying to build strong relationships or cause-focused organizations trying to connect with consumers, empathy is essential.

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. Empathy is the difference between feeling for someone and feeling with them. Acknowledging feelings from shared experiences connects us as humans, beyond all the ways in which we separate ourselves—and that’s special. So special that it has the power to change lives and make an impact.

Maybe you’re an entrepreneur and you want your consumers to have an emotional connection to your product. Maybe you’re a nonprofit and you are trying to fix a social issue by inspiring others. Or maybe you’re a social enterprise and you just want to do more good. How can you use empathy to make a social impact?

Empathy can push you to create solutions that help others, but it can also push others to help you and your cause.

Empathy in the design process

A human-centered approach to innovation

Design thinking is a popular process that many social enterprises use today to creatively solve problems and make social impacts. This process takes a human-centered approach and involves five steps: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test.

This semester, my Intro to Entrepreneurship professor decided to focus her class around the design thinking process, giving us the task of creating a product that would help solve the issue of climate change on campus. After the project was over, in a class with almost 300 students, we all came to the same general consensus: the empathize stage was the most important.

At first, many of us had a lot of great ideas, but the empathize stage made us quickly realize that our ideas could be better.

We all knew the problems associated with climate change and we all knew the different methods to prevent it, but what we didn’t know was how much people were actually willing to do. We found that college students want to help the environment, but don’t want to go out of their way to do it. You’ve probably seen something similar with your audience.

We realized that methods requiring the consumer to take some action like using water refill stations or compost bins don’t go as far as methods that don’t require the consumer to take an action, like putting motion detector lights in dorms. Creating the most value for our consumer requires using empathy to understand the best way to solve the problem.

The empathize stage not only helped us understand the consumer and how they felt about the issue to make the most efficient product, but helped us understand what steps they might actually take. Without empathy, our product might have ended up useless, unrealistic, and ultimately unsuccessful.

So, how do you use empathy in the design process? The first step is to ask questions.

Ask yourself:

  • What do you know about the problem?

  • What do you not know?

  • What are your assumptions?

Then ask others:

  • How do they feel about the problem?

  • How does it impact their life?

  • What are they willing to do about it?

These insights will help you understand the problem, who is involved, and how you might go about solving it in a way that brings others into the process for a more successful solution.

We all have great ideas that we want to see come to life, but if we want to be as successful as we can, it’s necessary that we open our ideas to other perspectives. Using empathy, you can see what would work and what would not, how people react to and feel about your ideas, and how to make them better.

There are many solutions to a problem, but the best solution is the one that begins with empathy.

Consumer empathy

Stop marketing products, start marketing feelings

Today, consumer empathy has become quite popular because companies are starting to realize its impact. If people have an emotional connection to a product, they are far more likely to buy it. If people share the same feelings as an organization, they are far more likely to support it.

Consumer empathy makes people feel less like consumers and more like humans, and that appeal is strong enough to make a positive impact on businesses and on the world.

Consumer empathy involves not only understanding the desires and struggles of the consumer, but also sharing those feelings with them. A great example of consumer empathy is a commercial for Cardstore by American Greetings in 2014. In order to promote their website, American Greetings sparked a common, shared feeling—the love we have for our mothers—and used it to help the audience create an emotional attachment with the brand. With this commercial, American Greetings was marketing a feeling, not a product.

Another great example is TOMS, a shoe company that built its brand on the concept that for every pair of shoes sold, there was also a pair given to a child with no shoes. Growing up, I remember seeing so many TOMS flags hanging up in bedrooms. Why were people so inclined to hang a shoe brand up on their wall?

The flag represented a feeling, an emotional attachment to the product, and a sense of pride for doing something good. TOMS recognized the power of making every person who purchased their shoes feel like they made a significant impact, and were part of a solution to a big problem. Today, TOMS continues to use consumer empathy to discuss other important social issues, like gun violence.

Now, it might seem like empathy is an obvious tool for marketing products. Of course thinking like the consumer is necessary for creating something that is valuable and relevant to them. Unfortunately, many companies still lack this skill.

Pepsi, for example, aired a commercial in 2017 amidst the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. The commercial involved Kendall Jenner joining an ambiguous protest and sharing a Pepsi with a police officer, sparking unity and excitement among everyone. Pepsi received severe backlash, taking down the ad several days later, and responses to the commercial gave a clear understanding as to why. A former organizer for BLM said, “No one is finding joy from Pepsi at a protest.” Bernice King, daughter of MLK Jr., tweeted, “If only daddy knew the power of #Pepsi.” To make things worse, the face of the ad was a rich, white supermodel who has no history of being an advocate for BLM, or any other social issue for that matter. Pepsi failed to understand their consumers and how they feel about the issue, which is what made the ad unsuccessful.

So, what did Pepsi do wrong? Pepsi’s commercial was trying to ignore the problem. Its message does not fall far from, “Why can’t we all just get along?” It provides a “solution” without actually acknowledging the existing problem of police brutality that some black people face everyday in America.

Empathy goes beyond just understanding someone's feelings; it requires learning to share them, too. Pepsi attempted to use a current, popular trend in social justice to promote their brand and make more money. Their mistake was leaving out empathy, and it was a mistake they could have avoided had they taken more time to know their consumer.

Using empathy in marketing involves understanding how your consumer feels, but it also involves understanding how your consumer will react. How do they want to feel, and can you make them feel that?

Using empathy to create social change

How feelings can change the world

The beauty of empathy is that it affects all of us.

Whether we are selling or buying the idea, it makes us all feel something. Empathy reminds us that we are all human and that we share experiences and feelings. It has been a tool used around the world to make individual problems feel universal.

Empathy allows consumers to feel like they are being heard and understood, that they are not alone, and that there are people out there trying to solve their problems. It sparks inspiration and motivation for people to work towards the things they care about.

As entrepreneurs and innovators, it is essential that we practice empathy in all aspects and phases of our projects—from idea to design to marketing. So, ask questions and open your ears. Understand who you’re working with and what they’re feeling.

Remember that empathy involves shared experiences, so remind yourself of your feelings and why you got involved with your cause to begin with. Keep in mind that the product or the profit isn’t special, but the feeling it invokes and how those feelings might eventually change the world is.

Developing Your Empathy Muscle

Empathy 101

One question that may have come up in reading this post might be something like, “Is it necessary to have empathy if others around me already do?”

In other words, is access to others with empathic skills just as valuable as learning those skills for yourself? In my opinion, no. Empathy is a skill we want to individually develop because it is a skill we can use in all aspects of our lives, not just work.

Having access to others with empathy is a great way to learn empathy; however, relying on others for empathy to make your ideas better only limits yourself.

Empathy isn’t just meant to benefit your business. It can be the very thing that motivates and inspires you when approached with a challenge or failure. Learning and practicing empathy puts things into perspectives you might never see otherwise, and that’s an important skill everyone should try to have.

If you want to develop more empathy, here are four recommendations:

  • As mentioned, hang out with people who have empathy. Surround yourself with people who challenge you to improve.

  • When you are around people who are more empathetic than you, ask questions that will help you understand their perspective and how they identify with the emotions of others.

  • Read more literature. According to research, fiction can make you more empathic and improve your EQ, or emotional intelligence.

  • Travel to new places. Putting yourself in unfamiliar environments and around different cultures is a great way to get out of your comfort zone and develop an appreciation for others.


Rima Patel

I’m Rima Patel, an upcoming senior at North Carolina State University, majoring in Sociology with minors in Business Administration and Nonprofit Studies. My ultimate goal in life is to do good and help people, and right now I’m doing that through marketing for nonprofits.

I hope to make significant impacts on social issues through innovation and social entrepreneurship.

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Empathy can push you to create solutions that help others, but it can also push others to help you and your cause.

Kristi Porter, founder of Signify

I’m Kristi Porter, and I help cause-focused organizations understand and execute effective marketing campaigns so they can move from stressed to strategic. Your resources may be limited, but your potential isn’t. Whether you’re a nonprofit, social enterprise, or small business who wants to give back, I’ll show you how to have a bigger impact.