Nonprofit 411: How Nonprofits Can Use ‘Shiny Objects’ to Raise More Money

Joe waters headshotBy Joe Waters

“Shiny objects” are fancy and trendy technologies that are distracting you from the work that really matters.

Are you blindly chasing the latest social media tools, like Snapchat or Meerkat? Are you constantly talking about “responsive design” as you check out your your Apple watch for the umpteen time? You may have a deadly affliction called Shiny Object Syndrome.

If you have any symptoms – misdirection, impulsiveness and, of course, drooling – seek professional help, preferably from a
specialist in social media, content marketing or technology. It can be treated with a strong dose of reality.

But they may tell you what I’m about tell you: not all “shiny objects” are bad, nor are they always made by Apple or involve social networks. Shiny objects are like fat in our diet. They come in lots of shapes and sizes, and a moderate amount is good for you! But only when these shimmering objects direct, enhance and rally our efforts.

dennys teeTake the example from my world of cause marketing. I recently wrote about a partnership between America’s diner Denny’s and the anti-hunger organization Share Our Strength. The campaign has been going strong since 2011 and has raised over one million dollars.

To continue the momentum of the fundraiser, Denny’s and Share Our Strength tapped Booster, a Boston-based social fundraising platform that uses the power of custom apparel like T-shirts to raise funds for causes, as a new rallying point for the fundraiser.

Booster began with a T-shirt design contest for Denny’s employees. They submitted 100 designs. Three were chosen from team members in Texas, Nevada and Kentucky. The T-shirts sold for $10 each.

Hundreds of Denny’s franchises ordered T-shirts and employees wore them as uniforms to show their support for No Kid Hungry. Customers bought the T-shirt online and wore them into restaurants.

The T-shirt was the “shiny object” that got people’s attention. Denny’s employees and customers bought 18,000 shirts. The bonus was that overall donations to the fundraiser rose 30 percent.

What about your next fundraiser? What’s your shiny object?

Even within social networks, you need a rallying cry – a shiny object – for supporters. Outdoor demonstrations are known for their chants, “Hell no we won’t go!” The online equivalent is the hashtag. After the killings in Paris this spring, social networks were flooded with #JeSuisCharlie (#WeAreCharlie).

A recent campaign between GiveForward and Booster used the hashtag #FearIsntReal to raise money for a boy stricken by cancer. The story of Joe Henson caught the attention of actor Chris Pratt (Parks & Recreation, Jurassic World) who backed the Booster t-shirt campaign. #FearIsntRead raised $20k in donations and $60k from t-shirt sales.

The #FearIsntReal hashtag gave the fundraiser a shiny, powerful social identity that people – including Chris Pratt – wanted to share. Pratt retweeted hashtagged photos of supporters wearing the Fear Isn’t Real t-shirt to his one million followers.

Whether you are fundraising online or offline, you need a shiny object. If you want to light a fire under supporters, you need to start by striking a match.


Joe Waters is an evangelist for Booster, an Affiliate member of MNN. To learn more about becoming an Affiliate Member, click here.