Tuesday, January 29, 2008

I gave at the office

I had two very different donation experiences last week that made me think a little

Experience 1: Giving blood at the NZ Blood Service

Experience 2: Being approached in the street to donate to Barnados.

Both of these are causes that I support, however the contrast of my reaction to each of them couldn't be more marked.

When you think about it, giving blood is a pretty abnormal experience. Stuff that directly contributes to how you live is taken out of your body. You are not paid a cent for it. You are asked a bunch of personal questions concerning your sexual activity amongst other things. You're expected to eat and drink properly to replenish your blood supply which you are called up to give in a few weeks time. You really have no idea what happens to your blood or who it goes to.It is literally a donation.

On the other hand, giving money to Barnados is a low impact donation - a few dollars a week that goes directly into a local organisation which looks after local kids that you are informed about through glossy leaflets. There are also subsidised childcare opportunities should you need them. In my position as a parent I could easily directly benefit from this.

My reaction however was totally inverse to what you would 'rationally' expect.

Giving blood is a pleasurable experience - your feet are up, you can read the paper, the nurses at NZBS are genuinely welcoming and treat you like a hero in a genuine and appreciative way. They generate trust and totally value your donation - you know that it's not being mis-used. Ontop of that, donating blood is seen by most organisations as a valuable community use of time - to the point of being supported through time off and transport costs

Being approached on the street by what I can only describe as commission salesperson with a pressure sell has meant that I am now seriously considered whether the donations I give to Barnados are money well spent. I had to basically be rude to this person just to disengage from the sales process (which was un-necessary since I already donate).

The emotional response to these experiences is extremely re-inforcing for giving blood but trust eroding for Barnardos. I feel like its a pressure sell. Building a marketing model that generates the level of trust that you experience giving blood is a killer application if you are looking for marketing grunt.

I know that it's hard being a not for profit organisation - its hard enough being a profit driven organisation. I think the use of commercial tactics (I can only assume these people are from a door to door sales organisation or the like) is not going to cut it. I am instantly mis-trustful now of how much of my money goes to kids that need it. I don't have that issue with my blood.

So I think it's time to turn this model around. How do you effectively 'market' a charitable organisation? Using traditional marketing methods (mail-outs, glossy leaflets and pressure selling on the main street of the CBD) doesn't work.

How about a conversational approach - Barnardos is probably chock full of volunteers who get paid minimal amounts for looking after needy kids. Their stories need to come out in way that is genuine and builds trust. Currently they have a semi-annual newletter - not good enough. Barnardos has some cool programmes - kids helping kids. You wouldn't know about it. Why isn't their site full of stories about how they are working behind the scenes making a difference. Donators need to know that their contributions are directly linked to these positive outcomes. Some trust needs to be generated and a connection made between the donators and the kids who get the benefit. Right now, with the approach they are taking to raising funds I want to see an annual report with disclosure so I know someone isn't creaming my donation to make money employing enthusiastic teenagers on a low commission to make themselves a tidy little profit. There is no trust. A little bit of effort by their marketing department would make a huge difference.

As an aside, does anyone know how these fundraisers are paid ?

Friday, January 25, 2008

Hard Handoff

14 years ago last week I started a new job at Telecom Mobile as a Cellular Engineer back in the days when that meant running around the country installing new cellsites. These days with that kind of title I'd be splicing genes...

One of the things I learned in the first week (other than sneezing next to one of my new colleagues got me banished to the other end of the floor) was the concept of handoff.

Handoff is part of the magic that makes mobile telephony work. It is the mechanism that allows a mobile to move from cell to cell while maintaining the call. Its what makes it 'mobile'. The only hitch was that 'maintaining the call' was a bit of a euphemism. The way it worked was that the system would detect that call quality was declining (or in the digital systems the mobile would detect that an adjacent cell had better quality characteristics), work out where the the best cell for the call might be, prepare a spare channel on the new cell and tell the mobile to tune to that channel.The mobile tunes to the new channel (leaving the call on the old one behind) and all things going well(there is NO such thing as perfect engineering) the call would be resumed on the new cell on the new channel.There was a noticeable break in the conversation while this process occurred - I used to think of it as a hopeful period where you'd hope that the system and the mobile had all got their act together.

I learned that belief was quite important in this process and spent a lot of time driving around testing the network, listening for breaks in calls and hoping that the calls would stay up. I guess that would be why I wasn't the best engineer - too much hope and belief!

That type of handoff is a hard handoff - breaks the connection before it makes the new one. The CDMA systems these days have a much more reliable and secure way of making handoffs work - the mobile stays in contact with a number of cells so never breaks the conversation until it gets to the edge of the system. That's a soft handoff - much better for customers but not so much fun for engineers. No so much hope and belief required.

I've initiated my own hard handoff this week and resigned from Telecom. The reason its a hard handoff is that I haven't got a new role to move to. I know what I want to do - which is to lead a company that makes a real difference for customers - and once I decided that, it would have been mercenary to look for that while I was here. Hence the resignation.

Mobile phones don't have their own emotions - but if they did they'd feel a mixture of uncertainty every time they went through a handoff. But over-riding all of that they'd be hopeful and optimistic. They'd believe that they could do it. And they'd just let go of what had been good for them and trust that they'd find something better.