Brand Engagement Through The “Martydom Effect”

For non-profits the “consumer” of the service is not the same person “purchasing” the service. So there is no immediate gratification like we get when purchasing a new pair of Nikes or an iPod. But does that mean the donor receives no benefits? There are definitely emotional benefits from giving. The desire to help others is inside of us all and it feels good to do so.

A different way to look at this is involvement. Today I think more people want to get involved to make a difference versus simply writing a check. In this instance the donor receive the benefit as an experience. There are obvious ways that this can happen like Habitat for Humanity builds. The “run for a cause” trend has also taken off in recent years through marathons, distance biking, and shorter runs or walks. People are attracted to athletic fundraising events for the experience – even the rewards that come from pain and suffering. Princeton University conducted a study that suggests people like to participate in fundraising activities that involve discomfort. Researcher Christopher Olivola attributed the results to a phenomenon he calls the “martyrdom effect.” “When you have to work hard and suffer for a cause, then you become more involved and more motivated to help,” he said.I can attest to this personally. I ran my fastest marathon when I ran for Cure International and raised enough money to pay for six club foot operations so these kids could run too. Olivola’s dissertation states, “Most theories of behavior consider pain and effort to be deterrents and assume that making a task more painful and effortful should decrease motivation … I show that willingness to contribute to a charitable or collective cause increases when the contribution process is expected to be painful and effortful rather than easy and enjoyable.” Not only did I train harder, but I contributed my own money and my sponsors contributed to this good cause.

Another way to get involved is by feeling like you are actually helping because you are. Another campaign that has influenced me is for Wireless Amber Alerts. On May 25, 2006, National Missing Children’s Day, The Advertising Council launched a national, multi-media PSA campaign designed to raise awareness of The Wireless Foundation’s Wireless AMBER Alerts program and to encourage all wireless subscribers to aid in the search for abducted children. I saw the ads featured in an advertising publication called Creativity and I immediately signed up. If a child is missing in your area you are sent a text message describing where he or she was last seen and provides descriptions of the abductor and his or her vehicle. Hundreds of people can provide extra eyes for law enforcement to help find missing children. In its first four years AMBER Alert helped save the lives of 502 children nationwide.

The Home Depot has been successful in donating money, time and effort through its associate led volunteer force to help Habitat for Humanity. Recently they’ve received PR coverage with their  “Repair Core” program that helps veterans with home repairs. Is there a cause (non-profit) your brand can team up with to increase engagement? Is there an event or effort that can also increase involvement by taking advantage of the martydom effect?

Public Relations Challenges For Non-profits

Public relations for a national non-profit organization poses many unique challenges compared to working with a for-profit business. Public relations includes activities such as communications, community and customer relations, employee and industry relations, issues management, press agentry, media relations, publicity, public affairs and speechwriting. How can each of these help non-profits face the following challenges?

One of the first challenges is the economy. The downturn in the economy has affected all business, but non-profits started out with limited resources before the recession hit. In 2008, charitable donations were down 2 percent from 2007 and giving could take an even bigger hit in 2009. Donations to the nation’s largest nonprofits were expected to fall an additional 9% – the steepest drop The Chronicle of Philanthropy has reported in 17 years. And the Foundation Center in New York expects giving to foundations to decline more than 10%.

Another challenge facing non-profits is that they compete with other “worthy causes” for their limited resources and there are over 1.9 million nonprofit organizations in the US. How do you say that saving kids in Africa is more important than feeding kids in Atlanta? With the economy down it will grow even more competitive than ever, as state governments and private foundations cope with resources that have dropped sharply. Corporations, foundations and government is looking to cut costs across the board–they have to be able to justify that a non-profit is making enough of a difference to justify their donations and government subsidies.

Another challenge is that limited budgets, resources and staff limit the options you can use to accomplish goals. Some strategies and tactics may be removed and you are left to come up with more creative solutions. And what about crisis management? Do you know what all employees and volunteers are doing across the country? With hidden cameras and hidden agendas digital media has made it quicker and easier than ever to portray a non-profit in the wrong light. The non-profit ACORN was forced to shut down some operations and threatened with a freeze on their government funds after hidden-camera videos were to the public.

But it is not all dire news. Interest in community service is at an all time high and giving is becoming a vital part of everyday life. President Obama and the first lady have made strides in inspiring a new volunteerism in the country. Cultural/news websites like Huffington Post have introduced sections about doing good. And social media like Facebook and Twitter are helping to spread philanthropy with online fund raisers and contests.

As part of an integrated marketing plan, Public Relations has a lot to contribute in helping non-profits face their challenges and take advantage of their opportunities.