Ideas that spread win. Period. This is true for nonprofits, politics, and business, said Seth Godin. image

Sliced bread was invented in 1913 by Otto Frederick Rohwedder. He took out a patent, built a factory, and waited for the orders to come in. Well, not many orders came in. It wasn’t until 1930 when Wonder Bread started packaging and marketing pre-sliced bread that it became a success, said Godin.

This was one of the entertaining and enlightening examples of marketing successes and flops that Seth Godin presented at a fantastic one-day seminar that I recently attended. Seth Godin is a marketing guru, author of books like the Purple Cow and founder of, a Wikipedia-like community that raises money for charity. His seminars in New York are targeted at both for-profits and nonprofits. (He comps select nonprofits. Thanks Seth!)

How marketing is done today leaves a lot of room for improvement. According to Godin, mass advertising no longer works. For instance, Procter & Gamble spends $5 billion a year “interrupting people with messages that they don’t want.” And in an age in which we have thousands of internet and media outlets, it’s too expensive to try to put your message in front of enough people. Plus, by now, people are desensitized to advertising and don’t want to be advertised to. The old “interruption” model of marketing no longer works.

What to do if you are a nonprofit with a worthy message to get out?

1. Nonprofit fundraisers should realize that they are in a “feel good” industry. And this is true of for-profits, too. Tiffany’s doesn’t sell jewelry; it sells the aura and ooh and ahh feelings associated with the blue Tiffany box. In Godin’s words, “Just as no one needs bottled water, no one needs to donate.” So think about how your marketing can focus on how you make your donors feel.

2. Stop using interruption marketing. Marketing should be like looking for a mate. You don’t go into a bar and pop the question to strangers. You meet strangers; you turn strangers into friends; friends become girl/boyfriends, and so on. Permission cuts through the clutter, said Godin. And permission is earned over time.

I think most nonprofits understand his point that relationships take time to nurture. It’s just hard sometimes when your nonprofit is desperate for money and every investment banker you meet looks like a walking wallet. I know that direct mail does work for many nonprofits, but there’s an awful lot of waste involved, and people get irritated by the avalanche of fundraising letters that arrives around November.

Godin used Google adwords as an example of non-interruption advertising. Advertisers reach out to their targets at a point in which the consumer is searching for information. The ads are relevant to his/her search.

3. Learn from the church. Godin asked a great question: Why does such a large portion of donations go to the Church? First, people have given the Church permission to ask for money; they choose to show up every week. Second, givers are prompted to give by the people around them. Giving becomes a social requirement. Godin suggests using this effect in fundraising. Nonprofits should get people around a table, go around the table, and have each person commit to what he/she will give.

Seth Godin has A LOT more to say. If you can make it to his next seminar in New York, go! Check his blog for dates:

Please share your tips and experience below…


Perla Ni, founder and former publisher of the Stanford Social Innovation Review, is the founder and CEO of GreatNonprofits. She is also a co-founder of