Sitting in a hospital room at Christus St. Elizabeth in Beaumont, Texas, with my grandfather two days before Christmas, I am reminded that when it comes to doing good, authenticity counts.
As marketers and public relations professionals, it is easy to be cynical. While we search for the holy grail of tangible returns on our communication programs, events and strategies, it is easy to lose sight of the human element that really drives response. Maybe that is why the retweet campaigns on Twitter and the “Share” campaigns on Facebook seem to be so popular with companies. It is much easier to get people to pass along information that to take action, though “slactivism” can leveraged over time.
The importance of authenticity was driven home when my 90-year-old grandfather, who nearly died last week, was softly talking to me today. During his weeklong stay in the Intensive Care Unit, he had become a force for good. Many of the nurses said his room was the “place to be” and that he was a Christmas miracle. As he spoke to me, he started to sing in a weak and quiet voice:
“If I can help someone as I move along the road, then my living shall not be in vain.” (listen to it here)
I searched for the lyrics and found that the song was used in a speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, and it has been sung by Mahalia Joackson, Patti LaBelle and a score of others. The reason it is so popular is that it speaks to an elemental human need:
People need to know that they have made a difference.
My grandfather, in the twilight of his life, was expressing this to me in a powerful and authentic way. I had another occasion to think about this earlier this week when Jenny Lawson (aka The Bloggess) wrote:
“I’m about to ruin your image of me but it’s for a good cause…”
Jenny offered $30 Amazon gift certificates to the first 20 people who left a comment to let her know they were struggling this year. She was donating back some of her profits. Heartbreaking comments started to roll in, and with them an avalanche of people offering to help, too. Jenny’s $600 gift was amplified into $42,000 in gift cards, toys and other needs helping over 900 people. The media are now starting to pick it up, on a Washington Post blog, and this segment on CBC in Canada.
It is an amazing story, and the reason it happened was because Jenny did something authentic and her readers responded. Moreover, they could see (in real time) who they were helping and how. You can’t manufacture this kind of engagement and response.
But how do you, as a company or organization set out to make this kind of difference or rally others around your cause? It seems to me that there are three ingredients that need to be present for it to work:
- Be Authentic to your company, organization or cause. When the nonprofit angle of a campaign seems “tacked on” it will always ring a little hollow. At the heart of Jenny’s $30 giveaway was a desire to give back out of gratefulness for her own success.
- Connect the Dots. Donors need to see and feel that they are making an impact in order to give at a maximum level ad to recruit their friends to do likewise. Not just thanked and appreciated, though that is important, but also to get a clear sense of how their contribution is impacting.
- Allow Outside Ownership of the ideas and responses. The best causes always seem to inspire others to action out of their own motivation. Jenny’s generosity touched the hearts of many people and made them want to do likewise.
- Amplify Others and their ideas. Jenny quickly (and often) talked about how the community had responded and she was willing to give up her original idea of $30 Amazon giftcards and allow the community to meet the needs as they arose.
One organization that is doing this pretty well is the Yahoo! Foundation with its Ripple of Kindness program. As a part of this program Yahoo! handed out $100 in seed money to a group of influencers to do good deeds. They then looked for some of the inspiring examples and were amplifying them. For instance, last year they paid the luggage fees at the local airport after one they saw one of their of their seedling influencers did similarly.
Full disclosure, I got one of these $100 checks. I went and bought two huge fruit arrangements, took them with me to the hospital and passed out fruit stems to the ICU and regular floor nurses. My family and I sang Christmas carols and generally sought to spread good cheer with the hospital staff. It doesn’t seem like much, but the truth is that even small acts of kindness can turn into bigger ones. It has been so much fun that I think I will keep going, perhaps next week we will have a free hot chocolate stand in our neighborhood and build a canned food Christmas tree to take to our local pantry.
If you can learn how to inspire people, you can change the world, one small act of kindness at a time.
Photo Credit: By Tatiana Gerus who writes – In art, craquelure is the fine pattern of cracks formed on old paintings. It is sometimes used to detect forged art, as craquelure is a hard-to-forge signature of authenticity