Using Humor: 6 Reasons Why It Works

November 29, 2012 by

Woman laughing

Most nonprofits I know are terrified of using humor in their communications. We can’t be funny, this is serious stuff we’re trying to accomplish. 


Executed thoughtfully, humor can be an effective form of communication. In addition to offering lots of benefits for our minds and bodies (like reducing pain and stress, and increasing relaxation), it can really move the needle on nonprofit recruiting, advocacy and awareness initiatives (and in rare cases, fundraising).

Yes, humor can misfire or worse, backfire, but so can other approaches. We test and try then learn from our mistakes. Nowhere is that easier than online communications.

(And remember, to err is human. Mistakes can be openings for deeper engagement. A prompt mea culpa can endear you to supporters.)

So, why does humor work?

1. Powerful Emotional Engagement

Humor hits us somewhere deep in inside. Brain science tells us laughter and humor release endorphins and increase oxygen to the brain, giving us an opening for persuasive messaging. Make someone laugh or smile and you immediately have their attention, which is a pretty hard thing to get these days.

Humane Society of the United States Photo Caption Contest

Humane Society LOL Seals Contest

2. Break Down Walls; Ease Fear and Tension

Ever go toe-to-toe with a stubborn kid and reach that because-I-say-so moment? Make a joke (especially one at your own expense, not theirs) and watch that impasse melt away.

How might this apply to nonprofit communications? It gives people an easy out, or a pleasant path around your mutual obstacle — think taking action, donating, awareness, caring. Make ‘em laugh and they are more likely to get past that hump and meet you half way.

3. Binds People Together

Laugh together and you create a positive shared experience. How many times have you had a conversation that went like this, “Did you see that cartoon about the election?…YES, it was so funny!” BOOM! Bond formed. That bond can be between you and your supporters.

NOTE: Never mock your supporters. Humiliate yourself instead.

Pie in the Face Fundraiser for United Way of Olmsted County

Pie in the face

4. Memorable

Funny stands out and sticks with us. Recalling something humorous makes us feel good all over again.

Sierra Club Email: Help Governor Sanford Find the Appalachian Trail

5. Freedom to Say Stuff You Couldn’t With a Straight Face

This approach can be a bit harder to pull off, but it is the bread-and-butter of successful comedians like Stephen Colbert, and of parody Twitter accounts such as @PaulRyanGosling, @DepressedDarth, @FakeAPStylebook or @BronxZoosCobra. In the nonprofit sphere, no one does this better than Left Action, which has built a one-million strong progressive activist empire on edgy, humorous campaigns. Left Action founder John Hlinko says, “This approach is so much more effective it’s CRAZY.”

Left Action Campaign

Tell Ann Coulter to Go Fukushima Herself

6. Humor Travels (Dare I say viral?)

Funny gets shared. Those joke emails have been (thankfully) replaced by shares on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Pinterest (check out George Takei’s Facebook Page or my For the Love of Star Wars and Political Humor Pinterest boards). We share funny, therefore we are funny. 

Got Photoshop skills? Hop on a meme like Texts from Hillary, Binders Full of Women or McKayla is Not Impressed to ride a wave of publicity.

“Let My People Vote” by Jewish Council for Education and Research (This is Sarah Silverman, so if you offend easily, don’t watch.)

Have you used humor in your nonprofit fundraising or communications? How did it go?

Woman laughing photo credit.

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Email Subject Lines: 6 Cardinal Sins to Avoid

March 12, 2012 by

This post was originally published on the Getting Attention blog. 

Email subject lines have one main job—to get your email opened. You have two seconds to grab your reader’s attention. That’s a lot of pressure. So avoid these avoidable mistakes.

Writing subject lines is mostly art, but there’s some science to it as well. If you steer clear of these subject line sins, there’s a world of opportunity available to you.

big yawnSin #1: Too Long

At 50 characters, most email programs cut off the subject line preview in the inbox. Subject line real estate is extremely valuable, so go shorter when possible. Your readers will thank you, especially mobile readers.

You are absolved of this sin if…you have a highly targeted audience. MailChimp analyzed millions of headlines and found that these audiences appreciate the extra detail you can put in a longer subject line.

Sin #2: Too Short

One-word subject lines used to be the hot new technique, but the party’s over. A few political campaigns still use them, but most nonprofits can’t pull it off. Too vague and gimmicky. Skip them.

Sin #3: Boring

Nothing makes me reach for the “delete” button faster than subject lines like, “March Newsletter.” I know you’ve got a monthly newsletter; I signed up for it. I also know it’s March.

Give me a reason to read this newsletter. Tell me your best story.

Sin #4: Personalization Abuse

Personalization is great, but you can get too much of a good thing. Use personalization in subject lines wisely and sparingly.

Sin #5: Sticking Your Tongue Out at the Spam Filters

Gone are the days when the word “free” automatically flags your message as spam, but you still have to be careful. Avoid these content spam triggers:

  • AVOID ALL CAPS. It’s shouting and tempting fate.
  • Holy $%*&^$!!!???? Excessive use of punctuation and symbols will surely get you in trouble.
  • If you can, look in your spam folder. Cringe. Be offended. Have a chuckle. Don’t write stuff like that. (Learn more at MailChimp’s How Spam Filters Think.)

Sin #6: Betting the Farm on the Subject Line

High open rates are great, but high conversion rates (getting people to take action) are better. Once you get the reader to open the email, you need to quickly and convincingly deliver on the promise of your subject line. And never trick your supporters into opening an email. No one likes a bait and switch.

Great subject lines don’t always have to be clever or witty to work. Experiment. Accept failure as part of the learning process. And, most importantly, keep trying.

Photo credit: Makelessnoise

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TOOL TUESDAY: Rapportive is Like Caller ID for Gmail

December 6, 2011 by

Tool Tuesday features digital tools I actually use and recommend to my clients. No one pays me to say these things. I like sharing. 
rapportive logo
This one’s for Gmail users only. (Sorry everyone else. Gmail’s the best!)

Rapportive is like caller ID for your Gmail contacts – on steroids. When you open an email from a contact, Rapportive replaces the Gmail ad in the right column with great info on your contact such as:

  1. Contact’s photo and title from LinkedIn
  2. Recent Tweets from Twitter
  3. Facebook profile and other social networks plus your relationship with that person on those networks (are you connected, friends, following)
  4. Notes (which are private)

Here’s what it looks like:

Rapportive sample

You can send friend requests, retweet, follow and connect right from the Rapportive side bar. It’s great for growing your network and enhancing your relationships with contacts.

Download this free add-on for your FirefoxSafariMailplane or Chrome browser, and open up a world of information on the people who email you.

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