How girls got hijacked by brand experts — and how you can bring them back

A few years ago, two interesting facts rose to the tops of a number of fundraisers — minds:

  1. In the developing world, a key factor that keeps communities from developing is the oppression of women. Empowering and educating women and girls can transform communities.
  2. Most donors are women, and they are increasingly Baby Boomers who grew up in the feminist era. They embrace equality and justice for women more than any generation before them.

The possibilities suggested by this confluence were exciting: a new offer for a new generation — a perfect match.

A number of international relief organizations jumped on the bandwagon. You may remember a popular YouTube video called The Girl Effect that made a case for educating girls to change the world.

Then the Brand Experts showed up. They saw a great opportunity for politically correct portfolio building. They swarmed the international organizations with stylish, abstract campaigns. They turned the cause of empowering women on its ear. It was no longer a straightforward and specific problem with a wonderfully effective solution. It became a cross between a mind puzzle and a marketing beauty contest.

Campaign after campaign featured stunning photography of stern-looking women or girls, along with clever slogans that were meant to inspire. “I am powerful,” says one campaign that still lives on in the concourses of down-market airports. An angry-looking woman seems to be staring you down, challenging you to disagree.

Another campaign featured an animated video in which girls were tossed out of airplane, plummeted lifelessly to earth, and landed on their feet, causing buildings, gardens, and roads to spring up from the earth.

Glorious, conceptual irrelevancies with high production values became the standard way to talk about the cause of changing the world by empowering women.

Most of the campaigns failed. And that’s too bad because it caused several organizations to conclude that the whole concept was flawed. The Brand Experts almost killed one of the most promising new offers to come along in recent years.

The good news is that they didn’t quite kill it. You can raise a lot of money with offers that emphasize women and the deep change donors can make through them. The way to do it is the way you do any fundraising offer: You show a problem with emotion and urgency. You offer a specific and believable action.

(Excerpted from The Money-Raising Nonprofit Brand by Jeff Brooks.)

(This post first appeared on June 7, 2018.)


Comments

2 responses to “How girls got hijacked by brand experts — and how you can bring them back”

  1. I am usually a big fan of Jeff Brooks & Future Fundraising content but this repost from 2018 feels as if the author has “othered” me as a female. Reads as sexist from my perch here in 2024 to me. Anyone else sense it, too?
    All Baby Boomers grew up in this “feminist era” correct? He described equality as a “promising offer” suggesting that it is something a man could bestow on or give to a woman. Ha!
    And, my goodness the grammar that’s been all sorts of twisted up in the statement, “You can raise a lot of money with offers that emphasize women and the deep change donors can make through them.” The donors impacting change in this sentence are understood to be men, of course. Women are cast as the model being used poorly for advertising us as the “cause.” This whole read felt belittling, sadly, while women hold up HALF THE SKY.

  2. I am usually a big fan of Jeff Brooks & Future Fundraising content but this repost from 2018 feels as if the author has “othered” me as a female. Reads as sexist from my perch here in 2024 to me. Anyone else sense it, too?
    All Baby Boomers grew up in this “feminist era” correct? He described equality as a “promising offer” suggesting that it is something a man could bestow on or give to a woman. Ha!
    And, my goodness the grammar that’s been all sorts of twisted up in the statement, “You can raise a lot of money with offers that emphasize women and the deep change donors can make through them.” The donors impacting change in this sentence are understood to be men, of course. Women are cast as the model being used poorly for advertising us as the “cause.” This whole read felt belittling, sadly, while women hold up HALF THE SKY.

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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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