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BIG’s Blog: Alexa

Voice activation is here, and its name is Alexa.

Voice activation will spark a revolution in the way we interact with our technology. And one of the by-products will be more human connection.

But wait.

How many of you have no idea what I’m even talking about? If so, you’re not alone; I was in your camp six months ago, but tune in, because this is big.

I know you’ve heard of Siri, Apple’s “intelligent assistant” that is voice-activated. Alexa is Amazon’s voice controlled “system”. Like Siri, Alexa lets you speak your wishes. But unlike Siri, the Echo system with Alexa as the interface turns the Echo Dot and Echo speakers (sold by Amazon) into a voice-activated controller for all kinds of products and services. For instance, stream music, dim the lights, read books to you, order pizza, and on and on.

Everything is being connected to the Web, it’s called the “Internet of things” and now using Alexa, voice activation is the interface. Leave your phone in your pocket.

Voice activation tech is hot right now and it will only get bigger and better. Through the end of last November, even before the big end-of-the-season Christmas buying rush, Amazon had sold over 5 million Echo Dots and speakers.  

Amazon pioneered the product and launched it over two years ago but Google jumped in with their “me, too” product last year. Google obviously has the weight of their search and natural language processing behind their product, but Amazon’s Echo is tied to their business model of selling things and with over 5 million already sold, they clearly have a first mover advantage.

For years, people have been telling us that soon we would just talk to our computers, as opposed to entering our queries through the keyboard.

But this is bigger. It is a legitimate revolution and probably not for the reason you are thinking. Alexa uses artificial intelligence (AI)… but then, you probably knew that. But what you might not have thought of is that using voice activation actually changes the conception of our interaction with our technology. And in doing so, it reintroduces the “human” element back into our communications.

Remember when phones were just, well, phones? You dialed a number and a person answered. Then along came computers with email and then smartphones with text and social media with messaging. It is a dizzying array of intermediating communications technologies that allows us to communicate with other people via whatever. But talk has been diminished, and why, because it takes too much time. Writing or answering an email or a text is on our timeline, but if someone calls us, our timeline is interrupted.

With voice activation, now we can employ that most human quality by simply saying our request. But what this does in a subtle way is re-establish the value of human connection, even if the intermediating voice isn’t human.

Alexa is not a person. But she (notice I did not say “it”) has a human voice. We like that. We are comfortable with that. We like interacting with a human voice.

Why? Because humans are social creatures.

As voice activation gets better and more sophisticated, it becomes our technology interface default. It puts us back into the human mode of talking.

We get “used” to talking our way through our days.

You and I already know people that use Siri to get directions, or look things up instead of typing in their request. Alexa just takes this to a whole new level. Alexa can get information and activate directions but it can also activate your Internet-connected stuff.

But once we all shift to voice activated, our expectations and comfort in actually expecting to connect with a human go way up. An intelligent device is a good first start… accent on “intelligent”… since today we all have to deal with voice-controlled telephone attendants. “I’ll get you to the right person, but I just need to ask a couple of questions.” I’ll bet Alexa could answer my question.  

Why is that important? If someone hears or sees something about your organization and does a voice search, and has a question, are you set up to field their question in real-time?

“Alexa, call Native Hope.”

But what’s better than an Alexa answering at the other end?

Smart nonprofit organizations are going to have real live people answering those calls. Not Alexa and NOT an automated voice attendant.

As it gets easier to voice connect and as we get used to voice connecting, people who want to know more about your work or organization or a problem will voice connect.

They will use Alexa to facilitate the connection, but it better be a human answering the phone on the other end.  Think of the last exchange you had with an airline reservation service or phone carrier or cable customer service.

Now compare that to connecting to Netflix? How about Zappos? Real live humans answering the phones. What a concept! It’s the difference between seeing customer service as an opportunity to develop a human connection versus merely a cost of doing business.

Voice activation can open the door, but you better have a person there to begin that human relationship.

We’re going to control our world… at home and at work… through voice.  And your supporters are going to connect with you through voice, they just don’t know it yet… but you do.


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BIG’s Blog:  Preaching to the Converted

With the exception of my post last month, I did not write a single blog post in 2016.


Last year was a transition year for Browne Innovation Group, but also for the maturity of online digital marketing, which forms the foundation of all nonprofit fundraising going forward.

Since the inception of BIG’s Blog, it has been about converting the unbelieving, not in the religious sense, but converting the unbelieving to believe in the reality of the societal shift from analog-based mass media (traditional media) to digital, Internet-based personal communications.

Last year I had two huge “ah-ha” moments. These insights changed my approach to sharing and promoting this change in nonprofit fundraising.

The first insight was that the nonprofit vendor industrial complex – those people and companies historically supporting nonprofit fundraising departments; agencies, consultants, even trade associations – cannot make the leap to the new online world. And it isn’t because they’re not smart. Some are smart like foxes and know that online is taking over, but if they admit the digital online world is the future, then that means their analog-based approaches are dying. And that compromises how they make their living. The other vendors are heartfelt in their belief of “what” they know. They just can’t see or believe that all is changing around them.

The second “ah-ha” was that digital marketing was going mainstream. The adoption of ease-of-use, powerful and inexpensive digital Marcom tools and technologies, combined with the continuing decline in effectiveness of traditional media and methodologies —  and most important — the millennial generation becoming the largest cohort in the U.S. labor force, finally shifted the game.

And though it wasn’t an insight on the magnitude of the other “ah-has,” the insights in 2016 validated and clarified that what was missing in the nonprofit fundraising world was the need for a WHOLE NEW FUNDRAISING BUSINESS MODEL that was built around the shift to the digital platform and driven by CONTENT MARKETING.

Do you read Seth Godin’s blog? 

Last week Seth wrote a post entitled Shared Reality, Shared Goals

He started the post stating, “The best way to persuade someone of your approach is to begin with three agreements: 1) We agree on the goals, 2) We agree on reality, and 3) We agree on measurement. 

We agree on the goals: Your organization’s Development department is tasked with raising the revenue, and you (personally) carry the burden of raising the revenue your organization needs to power your missions.

That one was easy.

We agree on reality: This one may prove more problematic… or maybe not. We are – all of us – living through one of the most technological transformational times in human history. A little over 550 years ago Johannes Gutenberg invented movable type (as in printing type) and ushered in the era of mass printing which changed how the common man could learn and transfer knowledge. Today, the Internet is transforming — and disrupting — our established mass media world of print and broadcast in particular, and communications in general. Very, very quickly, knowledge transfer is moving to the digital Internet. 

So the ways we have communicated and connected with new and existing supporters for years is undergoing a fundamental change. Our existing practices, our existing methods, our existing business model is being undermined. Of course we are trying to keep up by adding digital tools and technologies. But do we have a viable plan? Are we seeing a path to increased revenue? 

We desperately need a Plan … a new comprehensive business model that incorporates online tools and technologies with the practices and methodologies (think Content Marketing) that work with this new digital world and delivers “new supporters” and “increased revenue.” 

We agree on measurement: As Seth Godin says in his blog post, “Because we’ve agreed on goals and reality, we agree on what success looks like as well.” Of course we all agree that we desire to deliver new supporters and increasing revenue using online tools and technologies… but what’s missing is the HOW! 

That’s what this “new” blog is going to deliver…

I’m not going to waste your time (or mine) trying to convince you of the shift to the digital world. That ship has sailed.

This new blog is written for the tribe who is already believers, have already started to shift and are serious about growing sustainable fundraising. And that tribe is growing as the industry’s traditional ways of acquiring new supporters and generating annual dollars from existing supporters plateaus and declines.

Spread the word and pass these blog posts along.

No more “Drip, Drip, Drip”… it’s now full-speed-ahead!

Please forward this post to your friends and coworkers…and email me a comment at:

BIG’s Blog: A New Tradition

December 21st. Roll that date over in your mind, or even say it out loud.

It’s the Winter solstice. The shortest day of the year insofar as daylight is concerned.

But you already knew that, didn’t you?

From here until the Summer solstice on June 21st, daylight grows longer, our days grow longer.

But for now, at this apex of darkness when many of us celebrate Christmas, the Light coming into the world and also the end of one year and the beginning of the new, we kick back. We set our workday cares aside for a time to enjoy friends and family. We give and receive good cheer.

But before we celebrate Christmas, there is the longest, darkest day of the year.

Here is how I get through it: I read Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, by Robert Frost.

I have read it on December 21st for as long as I can remember. It calms me. It centers me. It prepares me for Christmas.

For those of us who work in nonprofit fundraising, 2017 will be a momentous and tumultuous year. I’ll help see to that!


But for now, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost:


Whose woods these are I think I know.   

His house is in the village though;   

He will not see me stopping here   

To watch his woods fill up with snow.   


My little horse must think it queer   

To stop without a farmhouse near   

Between the woods and frozen lake   

The darkest evening of the year.   


He gives his harness bells a shake   

To ask if there is some mistake.   

The only other sound’s the sweep   

Of easy wind and downy flake.   


The woods are lovely, dark and deep,   

But I have promises to keep,   

And miles to go before I sleep,   

And miles to go before I sleep.


Robert Frost, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” from The Poetry of Robert Frost, edited by Edward Connery Lathem. Copyright 1923, © 1969 by Henry Holt and Company, Inc., renewed 1951, by Robert Frost. Reprinted with the permission of Henry Holt and Company, LLC.

Source: Collected Poems, Prose, & Plays (Library of America, 1995)


Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!




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BIG’s Blog: Putting Up the Christmas Tree With a Two-Year-Old

Have you ever put up the Christmas tree with a two-year-old?

My granddaughter just turned two last week and, clearly, she has no clue what Christmas is. But she’s excited and all-in!

Starting at this age, we begin acculturating little ones into the holiday.

How do we do that?

Well, we use all the senses, don’t we? From the smell of pine needles on the tree and cookies baking to beautiful flashing and twinkling lights, to the Christmas carols playing in the background everywhere you go.

But then her little brain kicks in and she wonders, “Why?”

That’s when … in our house … we tell the story of the baby Jesus being born on a cold winter night with the donkey and cows, and the shepherds being awakened by the majestic angelic choir, and the arrival of the three wise men bringing gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the amazed parents.

And, of course, we go shopping in the beautifully decorated stores to buy wonderful gifts to give to those we love.

So we are intentionally creating an experience to connect this new little person to a holiday she knows nothing about.

And it works, doesn’t it?

It fills the senses… its stories and its experience.

It works because it is the way humans are wired.

It’s never just one thing; it’s the whole enchilada that engages people.

But, a question: Are there elements of content marketing that sound similar? Like telling stories, engaging people, sharing the experience, creating opportunities to become involved?

Maybe, that’s why content marketing works.

Because it is the way humans are wired.


Drip, Drip, Drip.



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BIG’s Blog:  KISS

Keep It Simple Stupid … the KISS Principle.

If you Google “consider the ant,” it takes you to Proverbs 6:6. The admonition of this proverb is comparing sluggards who waste their time to the ants who store away in-season for the times when no provision is available.

But I want to make another point about “consider the ants.” As Eugene Eric Kim, an expert in online collaboration has written, “They (ants) do two things really well: haul things and then leave trails.” Literally, the entire success of every ant colony on earth flows from the inborn nature of ants to do those two things really, really well.

Ants are a phenomenal example of the KISS principle.

People, on the other hand tend toward complexity. We may say we like simple, but most of us take the simple and make it complex. In fact, I would argue that our neocortex (our Homo Sapien brain), that only we have, defaults to complexity. How else to explain our inner drive to take that which is simple and make it unnecessarily complex?

Of course we rationalize our behavior (another manifestation of our neocortex) by convincing ourselves that “it really isn’t simple, it’s really very complicated.” And why do we do this? Because in the beginning of learning about anything, it is new to us, and anything new is somewhat complicated until we have figured it out.

Our mistake is not recalibrating as we learn. Instead of taking what we have learned and simplifying it down to its essence, we tend to go the other direction and needlessly complicate, rather than simplify.

But the really great minds do just the opposite (E=MC2).

Some agencies and a few consultants are known for their ability to simplify. They are the great ones we know are smart, because they can explain something we’ve never heard of and understand it the first time. 

As a friend of mine once pointed out to me, “Listen for the ability to state the obvious, if you hear it, run!”

What he was really saying is that when he listens to someone explaining something to him for the first time, what is going through his mind is, “I’m as smart as you, maybe smarter. And you, by your dense explanations are A) demonstrating what you think of my intelligence, and B) clearly explaining to me your level of intelligence, of which I am not impressed.” 

And my friend said this to me before the advent of the Internet, where anything is a click away.

In the Internet world, no one has a corner on knowledge… everyone has access.

Hire smart employees, consultants, and agencies.

They’re the ones who can KISS.


Drip, Drip, Drip.


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BIG’S Blog: Scale

A lot of people throw out the term “scale” as if it’s really important… including me. “You must build a fundraising system that scales!”

As if scale is the ultimate goal.

But is it?

Scale made sense in the industrial era where mass production pushed down the cost per unit made, or the cost per acquisition of a new donor.

A little revenue from a lot of people is a mass of revenue.

But most of our “mass” things are going away.

Where has our mass media gone?

Take a hard look at your supporters.

Are they a mass? Were they ever a mass?

What’s the common thread?

Is it that they breathe, or is it that they care?

Not everyone thinks your jokes are funny. Not everyone shares your taste in restaurants, junk food or movies. People have different worldviews. People aren’t attracted to the same things.

Choice is huge.

In fundraising, maybe mass is over.

Quit talking to the masses… as if you could really do that anyway.

Talk to the ones who care.

Engage and build relationships with the ones who are passionate about you.

Scale isn’t what is important, it’s the ones.


Drip, Drip, Drip.


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BIG’s Blog: Cycles

Seth Godin wrote a great blog post recently about the natural cycle of institutions “peaking.” The focus of his lament was Apple, and it was the fact that Apple, as an enterprise, has begun a new cycle in their post-Steve Jobs era.

Reading between the lines, Godin is surmising that Apple has peaked, but his larger point is that this happens to all institutions and organizations when leadership changes.

Just like human leadership, technology also has its cycles.

For instance, in fundraising today, we are closing in on the end of one cycle tied to the technology revolution of the printing press invented almost 600 years ago, and the beginning of a new cycle tied to digital.

Today, virtually everybody carries personal communication devices with them. That was not the case as recently as 15 years ago. Can you believe the iPhone is only eight years old, and the iPad only five years old?

Our lives are now attuned to a real-time digital cycle.

I’m guessing your current analogue-based fundraising methodology has long ago peaked.

A new digital cycle of fundraising is beginning.

Drip, Drip, Drip.



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Clayton Christensen’s Rules

Clayton Christensen wrote the Innovator’s Dilemma. His book is about how to successfully navigate the disruption that an innovation brings to an industry sector.

When disruption comes to your business sector, you save your organization by taking the innovation and building a new business model that is cheaper (even if initially less profitable) and appeals to a new customer base. But then there comes a tipping point when the new operation not only begins to grow profits faster than the old, but it subsumes the old model.

You set up the new operation centered around the innovation down the street and away from the people that are running the old business model. You don’t mix them together. If you’re trying to placate the old customers, you are undermining your new business model and alienating your new customers … and that is death. Leave the old business alone. Let the new business model, built on the innovation, compete directly with the old model for customers.

The Innovator’s Dilemma is required reading in Silicon Valley, the United States’ (and the world’s) preeminent center of innovation. Technology companies understand this. Innovation in technology is the norm. If you’re not willing to destroy the old business model on your way to the new, you are going to lose in the long run.  

It’s the same in fundraising today. The workhorse technology of acquiring new donors and generating annual dollars from existing donors has been direct mail for over 60 years.

You can add digital tools to your direct mail campaign and call it integrated marketing, but when mail dies… integrated marketing is over.

The innovation in our fundraising sector is the Internet. But what works on the Internet isn’t the same old “push-message-advertising” telling people what to do… “Donate Now!”

People that are successful online put up valuable content that people want to read. This is a new form of marketing that is perfectly in sync with the way people get information and communicate using the Internet. It’s called “Content Marketing.”

Why should you pay attention to Content Marketing?

  • Because it scales, just like direct mail used to.
  • Because it connects to people where they are… online.
  • Because it allows you to “monetize” relationships you begin by using your stories.

Clayton Christensen says that the new model (Content Marketing) won’t initially equal the dollars generated by the old model (Direct Mail), but in the beginning it’s good enough… and much, much less expensive.

Drip, Drip, Drip.


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BIG’s Blog: Familiarity has more value than Scarcity

It’s time to let the cat out of the bag.

Our online e-learning course, described by those who have taken it as “college-level curriculum,” is now only $99.

My goal has always been to “shift” the nonprofit fundraising model.

Notice I didn’t say “change” the fundraising model. That is because many elements of the existing fundraising model (such as planned giving, mid and major donor work) are extremely successful methodologies in the professional fundraiser’s toolbox of raising the revenue that successful nonprofit organizations need.

And for me, personally, it was never about making tons of money from this effort. Trust me, after a lifetime in the commercial world, I’ve found it is so much easier to make money in the for-profit realm. That’s not to say that the enterprise I have set up to facilitate this shift doesn’t need revenue, clearly we do, but my goal from day one has been to keep lowering the price. And why? Read on.

Even though my background is that of a direct mail marketer… over 30+ years… it became obvious several years ago that direct mail appeals (the workhorse of established nonprofit fundraising and the core methodology of acquiring new donors and generating significant annual dollars) was… in long term decline. Today, of course, there isn’t a Chief Development Officer who doesn’t know this.

But even today, the solution is not widely recognized.

The solution, of course, is Content Marketing.

But if you don’t know how Content Marketing works for fundraisers, then you are stuck.

That is why I wanted a low price that anyone could afford.

Content Marketing is an entirely new marketing discipline that is perfectly aligned with the digital online world and, just as importantly, with the attitudes of today’s donors… beginning with the baby boomers.

Online Content Marketing-based fundraising is the new fundraising model.

So why offer the course for only $99?

The simple answer is this: What Content Marketing is and how fundraisers implement it… needs to spread.

Every person who works in fundraising today, or supports nonprofit organizations, needs to understand how the Content Marketing-based fundraising model works. Quite simply, it will change the dynamics and direction of your current fundraising efforts.

So, why $99 for this e-learning online course with over 4 1/2 hours of content?

Actually, the idea came from the rock ’n’ roll band, the Grateful Dead.

Though not a “Deadhead” myself, I have a friend in Matt Alberti who actually is a Deadhead as well as being a student of marketing. Matt knows the lore of the Grateful Dead.

The Grateful Dead were a San Francisco band back in the 60s with a following in the Bay area. And though they did cut records and release them, when they toured, they did what no other band allowed: they let people at the concerts actually tape their music. Not only didn’t other bands do this, they strictly forbade people from taping their concerts and enforced it by having security take recorders of people tried to sneak into the concerts.

The Grateful Dead did exactly the opposite.

Not only did they allow people to tape their concerts, they encouraged them to make copies of their bootlegged recordings and share them with their friends. Their insight was that “familiarity had more value than scarcity.” More people heard of the Grateful Dead through the bootlegged tapes than ever bought a record. And until they finally disbanded, every single concert of the Grateful Dead was sold out. 

Familiarity has more value than Scarcity.

That is the world we live in today. In the traditional marketing world of scarce and expensive media, the bigger your advertising budget, the bigger the impact you could have. But there could only be so many big companies – or big nonprofit organizations. But in today’s abundant digital Internet world where the media is essentially free, anyone can be a publisher or broadcaster. And the number of companies and nonprofit organizations has exploded.

If you understand the concept I just described, then you understand why Content Marketing is, as the famous marketing author and blogger Seth Godin recently said; “Content Marketing is the only marketing we have left.” 

Your reaction should be to immediately sign up for our online course, “Acquiring the Next Generation of Supporters,” or forward this blog to someone in fundraising who is struggling and needs to know this information.

Drip, Drip, Drip.



Smart or Stupid?

The digital world is digitizing the culture, and it’s dumbing us down… right?

In fact, it’s just the opposite.

There are great artists you can connect to online.

There are unbelievable new devices and inventions that only exist because of the Web.

There are geniuses doing genius things in digital!

But that doesn’t fit your worldview, does it? You’re not on to all things digital like the young’uns. It just doesn’t FEEL right!

So you hit snooze.

But while you were sleeping, digital took over the world. Data and software now drive most industries. There is more sophistication and technology down on the farm than in 99.9% of nonprofit development groups.

And the typical Development Director’s response: “Nope, we’ll stick with RFM and snail mail.”

Can you be smart and stupid at the same time? Apparently, but only if you work in fundraising at the American Cancer Society.

Maybe you read or heard that a couple of years ago the American Cancer Society went cold turkey and ended acquisition direct mail.

What was their Plan B?

If their presentation earlier this month by their direct marketing staff and consultants to a packed audience at the DMANF New York Nonprofit Conference was any indication… there wasn’t one.


If you have a subscription to Tom Belford and Roger Carver’s blog The Agitator, you can read their post on the session here. It is devastating! If you don’t have a subscription, one comment by an attendee pretty much summed up the audience’s response: “No one was buying their crap.”


Most fundraisers… me included… applauded the fundraising group at the American Cancer Society for having the guts to pull the plug on their direct mail acquisition two years ago. Everybody already knew direct mail’s best days were behind us, but it took guts to actually do it.

The longer the fundraising industry keeps fixating on “when mail will die,” rather than focusing on shifting to digital online fundraising – WE DON’T MOVE FORWARD… WE’RE STUCK!

It was gutsy, all right, but was it the smart way to do it?

In the case of the American Cancer Society’s fundraising group, it turns out there was no Plan B.

That was just plain stupid!

So two years after pulling the plug on direct mail, the American Cancer Society’s fundraising professionals don’t say they were wrong to step off the roof without a net (or a Plan B), they just tip-toe back into “selective” direct mail.

Wow… I guess in their minds that is brave and gutsy.

Meanwhile, two years down the road, people… the American Cancer Society’s potential constituents and supporters are even more digitized and online and ACS’s answer – “back to mail.”

Everyone wants simple. And what could be simpler than doing what you already know? “Whew,” you can hear the Nonprofit Vendor/Consultant Mail-based Industrial Complex let out a collective sigh of relief.

And the public… their supporters? They can’t understand why Websites aren’t optimized for their smartphone or tablet. They can’t understand why nonprofits’ Websites and the content of their social media is inane and pointless. They can’t understand why they can’t connect with nonprofits online when they want to connect. And they don’t understand why they keep filling their mailboxes month after month with printed and mailed letters that must cost big bucks while asking them for donations.

But hey, mail is simple and predictable, right?

But is it smart?

Drip, Drip, Drip.


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What Fitbit Taught Me About Engagement

A Leaderboard??? I thought those were only found at golf tournaments.

Fitbit is about keeping track of your steps, right? Isn’t that all a Fitbit is? 

Step counters have been around forever. You can buy one for $19. But Fitbits start at $129. Huh?

Turns out there’s way more.

You don’t just buy a device to wear on your wrist, you buy into a community. And the key element that pulls it all together is the Fitbit App that’s on your smartphone. You wear the device on your wrist (on your person) but it syncs up with the App and the App is your Fitbit Central.

It encourages you to connect with other Fitbit buddies; it is its own private club. You’re connected to people who are interested in what you are interested in.


There’s the Leader Board comparing you against your friends and family. It even has its own messaging system on its App for communications back and forth with those who are in your circle and who are tracking their journey with you. They even suggest workout regimens from other famous Fitbit users. Think of that, famous Fitbit users… Wow, I’m in a select club with famous people who are using the same device and interested in the same things I’m interested in. Kinda validates Fitbit doesn’t it?

You’re not alone. No one wants to be alone. You even get badges for hitting the milestones along your journey.

Fitbit has figured out that getting fit isn’t the goal; it’s a by-product of the journey. It’s Engagement, baby… it’s engagement.

Leaderboards and badges may not be important to you, but they are to a lot of people, and they serve a purpose.

And what drives all these leaderboards, badges, and other features that allow you to communicate back and forth with people you are competing against? It’s software. Software is what drives all the features that connect the elements of engagement and community. And it’s these engagement elements that keep people motivated and tuned in.

It’s software!

It’s what Marc Andreessen says: “Software is eating the world.”

Software can (will) be used to connect your Supporters on their journey with your organization, too.

Drip, Drip, Drip.


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Fundraising Is About People

Do we ever grow tired of hearing a story of a life not so unlike our own?

When I talk to groups or do Webinars for professional fundraisers, or those who are “charged” with doing fundraising for their community, I spend all my time focused on the details and the tactics of Content Marketing.

With the arrival and total domination of communications by the Internet, most professional fundraisers are just trying to figure out how they can generate revenue cost-effectively and at scale like they used to do with direct mail. After all, direct mail appeals were a fantastic and scalable fundraising methodology in their heyday for acquiring new donors and getting annual revenue from past mail-acquired donors.

But direct mail’s best days are in the past.

Most fundraisers I talk to incessantly complain… and rightly so… that it is like pulling teeth for the operations people to get great stories to Development.

But wait…

…so, Development people already understand how powerful the stories are? The stories of the people they serve, the stories of the people who serve, and even the stories of supporters who really care about the mission of your organization?  

And virtually all the Development people I talk to see the writing on the wall about the world shifting to online digital communications…

…and yet, they can’t connect-the-dots when it comes to online Content Marketing?

Have you heard of Seth Godin? Seth says, “Content marketing is the only marketing left.”

Stanford Smith, a well-known author and blogger on social media has recently written, “I believe Content Marketing is the most important marketing innovation since branding.”

Hmmmm ???

Okay, so let’s summarize:

  1. Development professionals already know how important stories (CONTENT) are.
  2. Development professionals already understand that their prospects and current supporters are moving online.
  3. Content marketing, developed for commercial companies to effectively market to new customers online is the fastest growing new marketing discipline… and it’s built on Content.
  4. For nonprofits, Content = Stories.
  5. Nonprofit supporters connect to the mission of an organization through their stories, a.k.a. CONTENT!

Oh, that’s right; you don’t know HOW to make Content Marketing work for your organization to generate new supporters and scale revenue.

Check out this Website.

Drip, Drip, Drip.


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Cry Babies

With few exceptions, I have had it with cry baby boomers. The baby boomer generation (of which I am a member) will keep nonprofits flush for the next 20 years, but for the most part, it won’t be the boomers who will be successfully raising money from boomers.

Why? Because they are waaaay too stuck in their ways of doing things.

“Next up: Neil Young’s announcement that he is pulling his music from streaming services because of poor sound quality. ‘He’s a cranky old man,’ says Blodget. ‘Not to get all academic, but that is one of the hallmarks of disruptive technology. They’re not as good, they’re just good enough. People hear disruptive technology and they think, Oh, someone invented something better. Actually, no. It’s usually worse. But it’s cheaper, faster, and easier, and it gets better over time.’”

Henry Blodget, the publisher of Business Insider said that.

Blodget’s a GenXer… 49 years old. He is building a successful publishing business ONLINE!

But what he is talking about is straight out of “a smart” baby boomers mouth… pure Clayton Christensen!

You don’t have to be a GenXer or Millennial to be Smart. Smart is Smart. Own your own intelligence. Educate yourself!

So why are so many in fundraising so stupid? Things change… figure it out!

Don’t go “Neil Young” and opt out unless your organization is rich enough that it doesn’t need donations. I mean seriously, streaming music is the new radio and Neil Young is taking himself off of radio because of the sound quality??? How many of you remember listening to music on AM radio before FM came along? Come on Neil, Blodget’s right, you’re just cranky!

But gather a bunch of baby boomer fundraisers together and what do they talk about? Is mail dying? When will it die?


All this talk about mail is distracting you from talking about the Internet. You cannot deny the future. Of course, milk revenue today from declining direct mail while it lasts. Mail can be your bridge to the future… but ramp up online!

The history of the Internet era demonstrates that those who cling to the past get overtaken by those moving into the future.

If your organization has resources like Neil Young and can do what you want, then fine. And you can choose to be a Luddite if you want, but it won’t serve your organization.

You don’t have to go to the Harvard business school where Clayton Christensen teaches to be familiar with his theories. In fact, you don’t even have to read his book (The Innovator’s Dilemma… unless you take my course). Start with Wikipedia or read this 2012 piece from The New Yorker, “When Giants Fail: What business has learned from Clayton Christensen.”

Then start thinking about really changing the direction of your fundraising… you can do this!

Drip, Drip, Drip.


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The Dirty Little Secret


Technology is cheap.

When did this happen?

It used to be that nonprofits had to go to the 800 lb. tech-gorilla, namely Blackbaud, and pay tens or hundreds of thousands, even over a million dollars for a database. That’s right, over a million dollars for a database!

The folks from Blackbaud would fly in to your hometown, make their presentation, leave behind a contract for you to sign, and fly off to their sunny corporate headquarters.

But it wasn’t just Blackbaud in the nonprofit world. In the commercial world it was IBM, Digital Equipment, Oracle, and many more.

These mega corporations were veritable cash cows for their shareholders, producing hardware and software that companies bought and installed onsite. And it wasn’t that their products weren’t cost-justified or cost-effective in the pre-Internet days… they were.

But in the early 1990s, with the arrival of the Internet and the World Wide Web, the world shifted on its axis for these old-line tech companies. IBM and their ilk have been struggling ever since.

Today, the storage capacity and speed of a database that you bought 15 years ago is surpassed by the speed and capacity of virtually any App you can download from Apple’s App Store, let alone Software-as-a-Service firms.

And cost?

For nonprofits, start with free and go up?

“Wait a minute! Are you trying to tell me that a $60,000 database like I bought from Blackbaud less than a decade ago is free today?”

Actually, yes.

In fact, there is database software you can access online that has 1000 times the power, speed and simplicity of operation (remember all your customer service problems) that you can access from anywhere from a browser for less than $200/month.

Today, a leader of a nonprofit fundraising organization, no matter if they are raising $10,000 a year or $500,000,000 a year can access the same computing power and software capability of some of the largest corporations in the world for either free or single-digit percentages of what they were paying as recently as a decade ago.

The tech world has changed.

Today the tools are unbelievably powerful and inexpensive and getting more so everyday.

So, what’s the catch?

The catch is that, although you are going to pay next to nothing for your technology infrastructure compared to the recent past, you’re going to start having to pay for people… and their brainpower.

Because you see, it isn’t just smartphones, smart watches, or smart tech but smart people… people who understand this new online world and the online digital tools… that can make your organization bazillions of donation dollars.

Yep, it’s moved from the cost of tech to the cost of human brainpower.

Drip, Drip, Drip

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A Last Gasp Before…

Very rarely do we see the “last gasp” of a dying era so clearly. Most of the time, the signs of an end of something are muddled and clouded. Think about the Blackberry phone, my cell phone of choice (and probably yours) for so long.

Remember the thrill of one device not only letting you make calls but offering real-time email? Wow… what more could we ever want? THE killer Internet application from the inception of the Internet was email, and with the Blackberry we could send and receive email from this smallish device that we could carry anywhere!

And it worked like a dream!

What more could we possibly want?

Oh… the iPhone… who knew?

And what was the reaction of the people who made the Blackberry? That’s right, double down on a phone with just email. “What people really want is phone and email!”

They bet the company on it… and they lost!

Now comes word that the USPS will debut a new “online” service that will allow postal patrons “who sign up” to preview their mail online… and not just the important letters that come First Class, but their advertising mail.

“We are doing this to enhance the mail product, and mail is not a digital product, but this product is interactive. All you have to do is give me a link,” says Gary Reblin, the Postal Service’s VP of innovation and new products. “We think this is an idea that is going to change and revolutionize direct mail,” Reblin predicts. “Why? Because, for marketers, it’s all about response.”

I know… you can’t wait, right? Wow, we can actually go online and see black-and-white images of the letters that will actually show up (or not) in our mailbox in a few days!

Wow… sign me up!

Right, and it’s all about the marketer, not the Postal Patron… (the Customer).

Did Steve Jobs create the iPhone for marketers? Just sayin’…

Hey Mr. Reblin, if you REALLY want to help me with my mail as well as all those marketers who are paying the freight for brilliant ideas like this from the USPS? Try getting your postal carrier to get MY mail into MY mailbox in our neighborhood cluster box.

Last gasp…

Drip, Drip, Drip


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I’m Tired, but I’m Still Learning

In my first blog post back from hiatus, I said I would have a bit more of a rough edge with those who continue to deny that successful fundraising won’t look the same as it did five years ago.

Tomorrow I’ll probably be back to calling people out and generally causing a ruckus about the need for change in fundraising.

But, today, it’s 2:30 in the afternoon as I write this and a strange thing is happening: I’m getting tired.

At 62 years old, I get it that what I am talking about scares and worries fundraisers (vendors too) – especially baby boomers – who are still on the job and need to make it to retirement. And, besides that, we are just tired. Not all of the time of course, but we get tired way earlier than we used to.

The truth is fundraising is a tough job for which most are underpaid and under-appreciated. Add pushing 60 and you can easily develop a cranky attitude with anyone who tells you that what you have learned, perfected, and practiced for 30 to 40 years is going the way of the wind.

Somehow we thought that once we made it into leadership, things would go smoothly. We are obviously successful and have the track record to show it, but now the generations that have been our base of supporters are declining at a rapid rate. If our own parents are still alive, they are moving into assisted living or otherwise need more of our help and care. Our parent’s generations are the vast majority of our base of supporters. Sure, we have some boomers but not enough, and our aging files show it. And, frankly, although we say we are online … most of us don’t have a clue what “connecting with younger people online” means to those people today.

I have a cup of coffee in the afternoon… I never used to drink coffee past noon. But now I need that cup-a-Joe to perk me up.

Eight years ago, Apple released the iPhone. To me it was a personal wake-up call. Why? Because I had no clue what this thing was.

Remember the Blackberry? That was my phone. Voice + Email = Blackberry. Then came the iPhone and, in very short order, Blackberry was reduced to history.

The point is, I had to make a choice. Either I had to go back to school or go off to some disconnected island and tell stories of what “I used to do” the rest of my life. I wasn’t ready for that. I’m still not ready for that.

Today, I don’t run anymore … I walk.

But I read, read, read.

The people I connect with are learning, learning, and learning from each other.

You have a choice: start learning again, or look for that disconnected island.

Choose learning!

Drip, Drip, Drip.

I’m Back

Since I’ve been on hiatus for a few months, what’s changed in fundraising?

Honestly, not much.

Did you ever watch a soap opera? Once you’ve watched one long enough to learn the characters and basic plot line, you’ll find that after missing a week, month, or even a couple years… it’s amazing … when you get the chance to catch back up, nothing seems to have changed!

Even though I wasn’t blogging, I remained engaged and never left the industry. I’ve been in meetings, had phone calls, and have even spoken at conferences which allowed me some great one-on-one conversations with Development Directors from across the country.

I have become even more convinced that very little is changing in the world of fundraising.

And, of course, there is nothing wrong with the status quo … as long as nothing in the world is changing.

But, of course, everything in the world is changing.

I know what you’re thinking: he’s picking right up where he left off.

But I hope that is not the case. Frankly, before my hiatus I was a bit cavalier in some of my blog posts … pointed, yes … but also cavalier about the attitude toward change that is held by many fundraising industry leaders, commentators, and even Development leadership.

I believe that was a huge mistake on my part.

Going forward, this blog will take on a bit more of a rough edge, reflecting on the treacherous implications of the slippery slope many fundraising leaders are facing… as well as the ignorance of many industry commentators and vendors who are clueless at best and complicit at worst in dealing with the tectonic shifts facing the fundraising industry today.

So why did I take the time off?

There were actually three reasons.

First, I recognized that if I was really going to change Development as we all know it today (because make no mistake, that is exactly what I am setting out to do) then I needed to make our new fundraising methodology, built on Content Marketing, A) easier to access and digest, and B) much less expensive. I’m pleased to announce we have just launched Version 2.0 of our online course, Acquiring the Next Generation of Supporters, and we have accomplished both goals!

Second, to facilitate Version 2.0, we have completely updated our Website … … to allow direct access to sign up and take the course, which is now self-directed online.

And third, I have begun working with direct marketing agencies that focus on the nonprofit industry but understand that direct mail appeals, the foundation of fundraising methodology over the last 80 years, are in decline. And with the rise of the Internet, unless existing direct mail agencies can effectively shift to helping their nonprofit fundraising clients transition and transform to an effective online fundraising methodology, both the nonprofits and the agencies will cease to exist.

Sounds pretty stark doesn’t it?

Well, that’s where we are.

It’s great to be back!

Drip, Drip, Drip

BIG’s Blog: I don’t know Ari Rosenberg but …

I don’t know Ari Rosenberg, but although 9/11 is seared into my memory (maybe yours too), reading his column today brought me to understand 9/11 at a level I could never understand. And more importantly, I long for that empathy we all held for New Yorkers that day and wish we could extend it to all of us again.

I could just give you the link, but I’m afraid some of you wouldn’t click on it. You would lose out. Here is Ari’s post: 
“Here We Go Again.”

Today’s date creeps up every year, kidnaps my subconscious, and dumps it unmercifully back to that day.

My memories are as clear as the sky that dreadful morning.

I had flown in from San Francisco the prior weekend and, with my company’s CEO, Mark, watched Pete Sampras lose the U.S. Open finals to Lleyton Hewitt from the second row of Arthur Ashe stadium.  I was staying at a furnished apartment in New York City that rented to make my frequent trips East more efficient.  Life was good.

The air that Tuesday on my walk to our Park Avenue office was crisp. I was meeting Randy at 8:30 a.m.  He and I had worked together in the past, and now he was interviewing for a sales position.  We were talking about old times and new skills in the back conference room when we heard that a small commuter jet had flown into one of the Twin Towers.  We acknowledged how bad that sounded, but then got back to the business at hand.

What I remember next are vivid clips cached permanently in my memory. 

I can still hear Jason, the head of our client service team, blurting out, “Oh my God, another plane hit the other tower” — which caused Randy and me to run out to the main room to watch the video on the office television. 

I can still feel the chilling fear of calling my sister-in-law to see how my twin brother (working downtown near Wall Street) was, while holding my breath until I could process he was OK and on his way home via the ferry.

I remember listening to a voice mail from my girlfriend, Jennifer, saying she’d gotten out of the South Tower and was huddling in the basement of a building nearby with some coworkers. 

I distinctly remember thinking, “We are in midtown and this is happening downtown” — and then realizing the Empire State Building was a few blocks away. Abruptly, I sent everyone home.
I remember the eerie walk up Third Avenue with hoards of others, shuffling steadily and in unison.  I remember how quiet it was and how everyone’s heads drooped down as the weight of the event became too much to shoulder. 

I remember how each bar we passed had televisions on, and every few blocks people stopped and poked their heavy heads in to see what we couldn’t believe.

In the immediate days and nights that followed, I went out to eat on the Upper East Side.  Restaurants were filled with tables of people talking softly next to tables where people sat in complete silence, their eyes reddened and the food on their plates untouched. 

I remember the call from my mom telling me Alan, our next-door neighbor when I was growing up, had died that day, working on the 104th floor of the World Trade Center.
I remember being too afraid to fly home to San Francisco — and how surreal it felt to return to the New York office that following Monday.

I remember the bizarre conference call we had with our company president, Rick. He reminded us we had a quarterly revenue number we needed to hit. He wanted to hear from the New York sales team about opportunities that might close before the quarter ended. 

I will never forget the silence his words were met with. I remember realizing, at that exact moment, how different it was being in New York City versus watching New York City on TV.

What I witnessed the next few days was something I will never forget.

New Yorkers held doors for one another and said thank you with their words and their hearts.  New Yorkers made space for one another on the subway.  People peered into the eyes of their brothers and sisters on the streets of New York City as if to reassure them, “We will get through this.”

I remember when we finally did start talking to clients, the warmth and compassion in those conversations was unlike the dialogue we’d had before. It was raw, it was real, and it was human.

I think our online ad world has become so “programmatic,” we no longer recognize human beings are on the other side of the send buttons we use to communicate with one another. Our business communication has become curt and downright hostile at times, and we have no problem not responding at all.

I wish we could collect the empathy 9/11 left behind and pour it back into our industry.  I wish we would treat one another with the heartfelt respect New Yorkers treated one another with in the aftermath of this infamous date, instead of working through one another as a means to an end as we do now. 

I wish Alan were alive, and that his sisters, Debbie, Marci and Marla, whom I think about every day, could delete the suffering they have endured these past 13 years.

I am sure all of you reading have similar feelings about today’s date, and suffered as much or more than I did.

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BIG’s Blog: Marketing is Changing

I got a call from a friend last week and he asked me if I thought marketing was dead. His comment caught me off-guard because some people do say “marketing is dead,” but other than Bill Lee in his famous HBR article of the same name (who used the title as hyperbole for the point he was making about the impact of the Internet), I realized that what he was really talking about was advertising. He was confused over word definitions.

Marketing is never going away. Marketing is the process of getting our message, our story, out there. As long as there are people, products, and causes, there will always be marketing because we humans need to understand the story of everything.

But advertising, which I term “interruption” advertising (ads in magazines & newspapers, radio ads, television commercials, billboards, even pop-up ads on the internet), is fading away. And quickly!

I mean seriously, I don’t know anyone who isn’t using their DVR to record shows and blast through commercials. And you are seeing fewer and fewer pop-up ads on the Internet. Why? Because people hate them, and will shun any site that allows them.

We are going through a major shift in communications with the coming of the Internet, and while I know marketing will make it, I’m less certain about advertising.

Unless, that is, they change the definition of advertising.

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BIG’s Blog: Get Out There

A heads up: this blog is longer than usual, but definitely worth it to those who read it through to the end! It just might change your professional life.

The math of direct mail is a beautiful thing. I should know; I practiced it and became quite proficient in its science over 35+ years. Mailing out a test quantity, then increasing the quantity to validate, and then finally rolling out is a statistically-driven marvel to behold. Direct mail fundraising in its heyday was highly profitable for organizations that employed it. Many of our largest charities owe their financial foundations to the science and mathematics of direct mail.

I, for one, will miss it when it’s gone, but for now enjoy it while it lasts. And as my friend Bill Jacobs says, optimize and maximize your net revenue even as mail declines, but my suggestion is …


Of course it won’t replace direct mail’s revenue overnight – which is why it is of critical importance to start now!

I understand all those who say they can’t figure out how to make online work. That’s why we exist at Browne Innovation Group, to guide nonprofit fundraising organizations to a pure 100% online fundraising business model that works and is scalable.

The Internet isn’t just another form of your traditional advertising world; the Internet has its own set of rules and they are NOT just digital forms of what you have been doing in the analogue print-and-ink world.

Too many fundraisers have the “being there” syndrome. They think that if they have the new digital tools, that somehow their online revenue will start to rise. As if the magic of the digital tools just “being there” is enough.

And it’s not completely fundraising leaders’ fault; there are those supposed quasi-research groups that fundraisers look up to that spend time and money tracking the so-called growth of online fundraising, and have been telling you that over the last five years online fundraising is growing.

Sounds good, doesn’t it?

Except it’s pretty much a crock. Well, not a total crock. Some people who have never heard of your organization before are finding your website and donating. But what percentage of your online revenue is coming from people like that? Less than 1%?

Confused yet?

You see, what people, real people like you and me are doing is changing our transaction mode.

Instead of writing a check (who writes checks anymore??), real people (your donors) are responding to direct mail appeals but donating online instead of sending you a check in the mail. And THAT is what gets reported as “growth” in online fundraising.

So when these annual research reports come out with fanfare and the authors tell you online giving is up; what they are talking about is where the transaction was made.

So then the question you have to ask yourself is: Is there really a new and viable methodology for developing supporters 100% online that can scale and take the place of direct mail, or are these research reports just talking about “where the transactions are happening?”

And, as I described above, that is a big difference.

If online giving were really rising, as opposed to just the online transactions rising, then the fundraising industry (YOU) would have heard of hundreds of pure online fundraising models.

To be sure, there are a few organizations that raise virtually all their revenue in a pure 100% online model. One example of a pure online model is Charity: Water’s way of communicating online with their supporters who hold fundraisers for Charity: Water’s drinking well projects. All of Charity: Water’s communications begin and continue online … 100%.

There are also crowdfunding sites like, where donor investors like you and I make loans to people in third world countries to purchase a sewing machine, to start a business, or to fund five goats for a farmer to start a goat herd. These are REAL and TRUE examples of the rise in online giving and are generated 100% online.
But these are not what the reports from Target Analytics and other such reports are describing. TA’s report is focused on your fundraising industry sector where the predominant mode of acquiring new supporters is still direct mail. When they make pronouncements that online giving is rising, the takeaway (especially from the general press but also from the fundraising trade press) is that fundraising organizations are shifting their modes and methodologies of fundraising and are acquiring new (and presumably younger) supporters online.


Established nonprofits are now invested in so-called Integrated or Multi-channel marketing. Integrated and Multi-Channel marketing incorporates online and digital touch points, but at base (and this is critical, so pay attention) it is totally dependent on direct mail.

Meaning, if you take direct mail OUT of the mix and just leave the online and digital channels … IT WON’T WORK!

If your mail still works, adding online and digital channels might provide a slight bump in response, but take the direct mail out and the whole campaign collapses. Because, in the end, it is just a direct mail campaign jazzed up with digital tools.

Of course the people in the direct mail industry point and say, “see, direct mail is still viable.” And they have me in their corner saying the same thing.

Except that the subject is growth in online giving.

What happens to Target Analytics’ benchmark report of the growth in online giving when direct mail begins to decline at an even faster pace, which it inevitably will?

Please don’t be fooled. “Get out there” and develop a new online fundraising business model that is 100% online!


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