Book excerpt: The Funny Thing about Humor

Excerpt from How to Turn Your Words into Money: The Master Fundraiser’s Guide to Persuasive Writing

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A TV newscaster in Australia gets a dream assignment: Interview the Dalai Lama. He decides to start the way he often does — by telling a joke to put his subject at ease. Unfortunately, he decides to tell the Dalai Lama a Dalai Lama joke. It goes something like this:

“The Dalai Lama walks into a pizza joint and says, ‘Can you make me one with everything?’”

His Holiness looks at the newscaster blankly. He asks an aide what pizza is.

The newscaster tries again, amplifying with hand motions.

The Dalai Lama has no idea that “one with everything” is a Western caricature of Buddhism. Nothing about the joke makes any sense to him.

Following an awkward silence — eons in TV-time — the Dalai Lama starts to giggle. But he’s not laughing at the joke. He’s chuckling at the newscaster’s cartoonish discomfort. (Watch this cringe-worthy moment on YouTube.)

Humor doesn’t travel well across cultural lines. What you intend as funny can be anything from meaningless to a gross insult for your audience. That’s why humor isn’t a good way to raise funds.

Understand, there’s a cultural gap between you and your donors. It can be as wide as the gap between the hapless newscaster and the Dalai Lama. Actually, there are several gaps:


  • You’re an insider at your organization. The donor isn’t. You know the culture, the beliefs, the shared knowledge, and the received wisdom. The donor is privy to none of this.
  • No matter how well informed your donor may be, you know a lot more about your cause. Things that are obvious to the point of boring to you are likely surprising to your donor.
  • You are younger. And humor-wise, that’s about as uncrossable a chasm as there is. If you don’t believe me, try telling your grandmother a joke.

There’s a more fundamental problem with humor that makes it bad for fundraising — even if your donors somehow get the joke. The psychological foundation of most humor is a sense of superiority — sometimes gentle, sometimes cruel, but always there. You’re laughing at something or someone. You’re pulling something over on them. This sense of superiority is about as far from the emotion that leads to charity as you can get.

When you use humor in your fundraising, you pollute the atmosphere. You make empathy and kindness difficult.
Being funny while fundraising is like belting out punk rock while soothing a baby to sleep. You could be good at both. But not at the same time.

Excerpted with permission from Emerson & Church, Publishers, from the book How to Turn Your Words Into Money by Jeff Brooks.

It’s available at:


Comments

6 responses to “Book excerpt: The Funny Thing about Humor”

  1. You’re already temporarily out of stock on Amazon! Pretty cool…

  2. You’re already temporarily out of stock on Amazon! Pretty cool…

  3. Jeff when will your book be in stock at Amazon?

  4. Jeff when will your book be in stock at Amazon?

  5. Bah! I need this quickly, but you’re out of stock in Amazon. I don’t know if I can get faster shipping from the publisher.
    (Congratulations by the way!)

  6. Bah! I need this quickly, but you’re out of stock in Amazon. I don’t know if I can get faster shipping from the publisher.
    (Congratulations by the way!)

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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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