The Problem With Non Profits: Bad Data

5 Feb

Without good data, and in my experience good data is the exception not the rule, an organization is starting from a position of weakness. Every important marketing function relies on good data: fundraising, donor management, constituent management, email communications, segmentation, building relationships, driving peer to peer marketing… all of these and more rely on data.

Here’s an example: a couple of years ago I applied to be a Big Brother. I didn’t hear anything back, despite following up a couple of times, and after three months I forgot all about it. Six months later, at the end of the year, I started getting donation requests from them. No mention of my application to be a part of their program (or their subsequent silence, I was simply added to their end of year donation drive.


That’s bad for two reasons: the obvious one is that I was ignored, but the other is that by asking somebody who had offered to be a part of the program for money right away, you risk putting them off the organization as a whole and damaging future efforts. If an organization can’t be bothered to email me back when I’m offering to help them, why should I respond to their donation ask? Should I really trust them with my money if they appear this inefficient in their mission?

It’s a tough challenge: non profits are generally more risk averse than their for profit counterparts, and explaining to a board of directors why data is so important is not easy. Getting the rest of an organization onboard if you’re able to clear that first hurdle is harder still. It’s critical though, and I believe it is the single most important factor for success for today’s non profit.

Look at an organization like Charity Water. Those guys are brilliantly nimble in their communications and who message donors long after they have donated with updates on what their money is doing. Their approach is really smart and effective at creating an ongoing connection between the donor and the mission, but it would be impossible to do effectively without good data.

Organizations have spent years, in some cases decades, building various data sets, often  across multiple different platforms, but a non profit that does not prioritize data is a non profit that is going to struggle mightily in the years ahead.


Watching the NFL online is an exercise in futility.

18 Sep

I bought NFL Sunday Ticket for the first time ever this weekend. It’s awesome: every game, every score, Red Zone,  all that jazz.

There are two packages: $199.99, which gets you TV only, and $299.99 which gets you TV and online viewing so you can watch on your phone or tablet.  I went for the online one so I could watch it wherever I wanted, and it was absolutely great. I bounced around my apartment, watched the games on whatever device I happened to have to hand. Even went to a friend’s and pulled out the iPad to catch a bit of one of the late games.  Champion.

Then I tried to watch The Niners and The Lions on Sunday Night Football online from my friend’s house, but it’s not part of Sunday Ticket so I couldn’t watch through the Sunday Ticket app. No problem, as a Direct TV customer who can watch the game on my TV at home it must be available to me through the Direct TV regular app. Right?

Of course not: I had to watch it online at Doesn’t make any sense and I only found this out through a process of trial and error, but whatever.

Come Monday, and I settled down to watch the Broncos and the Falcons duke it out in the Atlanta Dome.  This game also isn’t part of Sunday Ticket (fair enough, it’s not even on a Sunday), but it is on ESPN, and as I get ESPN at home and I pay for online NFL access, I should be able to watch it on my iPad, right?

Of course not, here’s what I got when I tried:

The copy reads: We are unable to confirm ESPN3 access. Please verify that you are a customer of an ESPN3 affiliated partner.

I was connecting my iPad using my Verizon LTE phone as a hotspot. Verizon have a contract with the NFL, and for a monthly fee (which I pay) you can watch and listen to live NFL content on your phone. Look, here’s Drew Brees (of the 0-2 New Orleans Saints) looking all serious and brooding as he sells it to me:

Drew failed to mention that I wouldn’t be able to get this game. I felt cheated. Not as cheated as Saints fans who thought their team was going to contend this year, but cheated all the same.

Quick recap: I’m an NFL Sunday Ticket customer who pays for online access. I’m also an ESPN customer, and a Verizon customer who pays for their NFL content, who’s connecting to the internet using my Verizon phone, but I can’t watch the football.  Why? How does that make any sense?  And it’s not just confined to football either: you’ll see the same thing repeated all over the place. It is hugely and baffling complex.

Conversely, a quick google search will pull up dozens and dozens of illegal sports streams.  Those illegal streams will continue to flourish until the content providers and various rights owners sort it out: they need to make it easy and get out of the way.

Despite all the neat technology, there’s something terribly archaic and old fashioned about all of this, not unlike the whole NBC Olympics tape delay shambles. By trying to protect their revenue streams short term, I can’t help but feel like they’re setting themselves up for long term failure.  Also, it’s bloody frustrating as a football fan to be scrabbling around trying to work out where I need to go to watch the games.

Fix this please. It’s easy.

US Open 2012: Andy Murray’s Best Chance of a Slam?

6 Sep

I saw Murray’s first trip to a slam final, here in NYC a couple of years back. He came up against Roger, who had had a bad year by his standards. Everyone was saying Roger was on the decline. Evidently nobody told him, as he destroyed Murray in straight sets. An expensive hour and a half for me.

This year at the Open, Nadal didn’t start and Federer didn’t make it to the semi finals for the first time in, oooh, maybe ever. That means that Murray, should he get there, will most likely face Djokovic, (assuming the Serb manages to beat Del Potro tonight, the 2010 champion then make it to the final, and Murray manages to beat Berdychin his semi… no small task, he trails him 4-2 head to head). Assuming they both make it, the final would have him against Djokovic. The #2 player in the world, a former #1, and oh yea… the reigning US Open champion. It’s a big ask, but Murray needs to step up sooner or later.

I believe this is his best chance yet of winning a slam: he’s playing great, two of the biggest names in tennis are out of his way, and he’s the reigning Olympic champion so his confidence is sky high.

Murray vs Djokovic would be one hell of a final. Murray is a good kid with extraordinary talent, and the weight of a nation on his shoulders. He has handled the ridiculous pressure admirably.

I hope he does it.

Visiting The US Open Tennis on Crutches (an ADA experiment).

3 Sep

I’m a big tennis fan: this is my 5th consecutive year going to the Open. I saw Andre Agassi as a smooth chested youngster at Wimbledon, and his 800th win in LA a few years ago.  I caught the tail end of McEnroe, and grew up on the likes of Sampras and Chang. I’ve always loved tennis.

This year I went to the US open with my girlfriend, who happens to have a broken ankle. Worried about accessibility, we called a couple of times in the weeks prior to try and reserve her a disabled access seat. I bought us a mini plan for the holiday weekend months ago, well before she broke her ankle, and we were told on each occasion that we called that we needed to come to the ticket window on the day of the event to pick up a disabled access ticket. Straightforward enough, right?

Given our mobility issues, we took a car service from Brooklyn to the USTA Tennis Center, in Flushing, Queens. Pretty much right away, the first hint of a problem: Once we got to the complex, nobody seemed to know where we needed to go. After being sent the wrong way multiple times by angry and outright unpleasant parking people (both police and private security), we made it to the ‘handicapped parking lot’ (lot H, fact fans), and waited for the shuttle that was to take us to the tennis center.

After a few minutes the bus picked us up, then dropped us off about 300 yards from the gate.  ‘Can’t we get any closer’, I asked? Negative came the reply.  As we were shuffling towards the gate, a number of sponsor cars drove past us, dropping off their passengers mere steps from the gate. One rule for the sponsors, another rule for those with mobility issues, I guess?

Once we got into the complex itself, my girlfriend sat at one of the tables in the food court and I went off to the ticket office to sort out her disabled access. My first interaction with the ticket window was, to put it mildly, unpleasant in the extreme: “All we have left is courtside for $750” snarled the heavyset short guy behind the thick glass. I pressed my point, and was angrily told to go and see somebody at another window, inside the Armstrong/Grandstand complex.  This guy, at least, had a much more pleasant manner about him. However, the news was the same: no disabled tickets available.

I asked to speak to a supervisor, and a lady who identified herself as Angela came out after 15 minutes or so. By this point my girlfriend and her broken ankle, had been on her own for around half an hour.

Angela’s attitude was closer to the first guy’s. She told me they were sold out, and that it was Labor Day Weekend, and what did I expect, and basically made me feel like an asshole for even asking. I explained that I had been told on more than one occasion to come to this window, and she flat out told me that I hadn’t. Because of course I would travel 15 miles from my home with a mobility-impaired girlfriend on the off chance that we were going to be able to get in. Logical.

After some more (totally unsympathetic), discussion she relented and told me to go and speak to a guy called Ameer, at Gate 35. Gate 35 was back at Ashe, on the other side of the complex. Ameer, she assured me, would organize us seats that didn’t involve stairs. She wrote his name down on a post-it note, together with the gate that we were to go to. I started to feel like I was part of some sort of clandestine operation, meeting Ameer under the clock at Grand Central Station. Would he be carrying a briefcase and wearing a carnation, I wondered?

We trudged over to Ashe, and surprise surprise…. Nobody knew who Ameer was. We asked three or four security people, but no go. We did, however, find a kindly soul who took pity on Joanna, who at this point was clearly in serious discomfort, and let us use the elevator up to the 4th floor of Ashe. Success, of sorts.

Once up there, we finally managed to track down Ameer, and to his credit he was the most helpful person we dealt with all day. Sympathetic and understanding, he radioed for somebody to help us, and after another 20 minutes or so, we finally managed to find some seats, though we were warned by one of the ushers that it was possible that we might end up having to move, as the ADA seats had been put on general sale. Selling them to the public is standard practice, I guess.

ADA is the Americans with Disabilities Act. It says that a venue has to make reasonable accommodation for folks with disabilities It is very, very clear. More here:

A thoroughly shitty experience all round, but a really eye opening one: The lack of sympathy and total disrespect we encountered from pretty much every area at the Tennis Center was really very disappointing. Luckily for us Joanna’s mobility impairment is temporary, but we got a real insight into how people with non temporary impairments get treated. It was exhausting and humiliating.

I have two main issues with how we were treated. First of all, the phone support people should be able to give the right information. It’s not exactly rocket science, so it’s confusing to me that bad information should be given on multiple occasions.  I’m also interested in why they’re selling ADA tickets to the general public? The point of having disabled access tickets is so that you can seat people who actually need them, not so the Tennis Center can squeeze a few extra bucks out of the event. Right?

Secondly, the treatment we received on site was thoroughly unpleasant all round. With a couple of notable exceptions, the lack of any sort of compassion, sympathy or interest in my girlfriend’s wellbeing was frankly, shocking. I don’t know if this is a case of poor training for what is mostly seasonal staff, or a cultural/organizational issue, but I know that it’s not acceptable. Or that it shouldn’t be.

I understand that the US Open is a business, and that the point of the event is to make money, but I would hope that you can do that without losing sight of the fact that you’re dealing with human beings. You should be able to do business without losing your soul, and certainly without treating people with non-standard requirements as if they’re an annoyance.

Quite aside from compliance with the law and the shadiness of selling ADA tickets to the general public, there’s a human aspect to our experience at the Tennis Center yesterday that is deeply troubling. If it’s that hard for us to see the event that we paid good money for when one of us is fully mobile and able to dash around from one side of the stadium to the other trying to sort things out, then imagine how hard it would be for Joanna if she’d been on her own?  How many times do people who use wheelchairs go though the same experience?  At what point do you just decide that it’s not worth the hassle?

A hugely disappointing experience, all round.

What the Facebook IPO can teach us about inbound marketing and word of mouth.

17 May


No really, nothing at all.  What it will teach us is that the same information gets regurgitated over and over and over again, and that linkbaiting, the practice of creating misleading headlines in order to generate clicks, is alive and well. Flourishing, even.

I did it with this post, actually. Clever, right?

This week, with the dawn of the Facebook IPO (The Biggest IPO in Tech History) we’re seeing two of my least favorite phenomenon in action:

1) The Echo Chamber Effect.
The same information repeated by the same outlets, over and over and over again. This happens a lot when a celebrity dies, but it’s very common in the tech world too. This afternoon was particularly bad: the entire internet, including ‘reputable’ news outlets, posted ‘Breaking News’ that the Facebook shares were set at $38, and that the IPO was therefore confirmed as the biggest tech IPO of all time.  Was that ever really in question? Did the price merit the breaking news tag? Is that really ‘breaking news’, or are you just tediously milking it for effect?

I’m all for everyone having an opinion, I’d just like for it not to be the same opinon, and I’d like it to add something to the conversation. CNBC reporting what Mashable saw on CNN makes me die a little inside. Please stop.

2) The Ubiquitous Expert Effect.
Everyone and their mother knows how this is going to go. Experts have come out the woodwork with every opinion you could possible want on this IPO: Facebook is going to be the biggest company in the world, or it’s going to crash and burn.  The valuation is a steal, or they’re ridiculously over valued. Zuckerberg is going to ring the bell at the stock exchange or he (gasp!) is going to do it remotely from the Facebook campus in Menlo Park. Stop the presses, seriously.

Facebook Facepalm

The truth is, anyone who states with absolute conviction that they know how this is going to go is full of it.  Balance, perspective and reasoned thought are not assets that the news media (or the news consuming public) values.  Reasoned, smart debate has been replaced by the ubiquitous expert effect. He who shouts loudest, wins. This IPO is the worst example of that that I have ever seen. It’s pigs at the trough.

The bottom line is that Facebook is an amazing company. It’s a genuine phenomenon that has built online community on an absolutely unprecedented scale, the likes of which we have simply never seen before.  It is mind bogglingly big actually: valued at around a hundred billion dollars. That’s on a billion dollars or so of revenue. That may or may not be a good bet, but like all IPOs it is exactly that: a bet.

It’s OK to say that it could go one of two ways. It’s OK to tell both sides of the story. Heck, it’s OK to say that we just don’t know how it’s going to go. One thing is for sure though: revenue is going to have to increase one way or another. That’s not exactly a ground breaking insight, but it’s definitely gotten lost in the pre-IPO frenzy.

If you’re telling me with absolute certainty that you know how this is going to play out, then I can say with absolute certainty that I would not want to sit next to you at a dinner party. I’m sure your mum thinks you’re lovely, but Iwould like for you to stop talking for a bit. Thanks so much. gets a little creative with ‘retail price’ of one of its products :)

22 Apr

By now everyone is familiar with the and style deal sites.  It’s a model that will continue to evolve, and as the sites continue to get more specialized, one that will continue to do well. That has been Groupon’s achilles heel for a couple of years now: they’re trying to be all things to all people, and long term that just won’t work.  That’s a post for another day though.

Today I wanted to point out something I noticed on one of my favorite of those specialized sites: They list the retail price of this sweet beach chair designed by Larry Laske as $28.50:

But if you take a look at the designer’s site, you’ll see that he’s actually selling them direct, for $19.50:

He charges more for shipping. but nevertheless, a $9 difference for an item of that price is pretty significant. Sure it’s only a few bucks, but the product is clearly available for less than the retail price that Gilt is claiming.

And if you scroll down a little on the designer’s site, you’ll see can actually bulk buy a package of 10 products for just $170, including shipping:

So that’s $17 per unit, including shipping. Cheaper than buying through Fab.

Bottom line here: these deal sites are great for product discovery, but you shouldn’t automatically assume that you’re getting a bargain from them. In this instance, are actually charging more for the product than you could get it for direct from the designer.

I guess the real question is what they mean by ‘retail price’. My assumption as a consumer on a site like this would be that this price is what I would pay for the product elsewhere. Clearly that’s not the case in this instance.

Galaxy Nexus: First Impressions

29 Dec

I’ve had my Galaxy Nexus (Google’s new phone, and the Android operating system’s flagship product) for a little over 24 hours now. Despite the huge anticipation, the phone was one of the worst product launches I’ve ever seen (more of a whimper than a bang), and was plagued with delays and misinformation ahead of launch. A case of too many cooks in the kitchen perhaps, with Google, Verizon and Samsung all involved.

There were also some issues with Google Wallet (google’s payment system that they were to showcase on this phone), which Verizon ended up blocking due to ‘security concerns’. Interestingly, Verizon have their own similar product coming out next year, in partnership with AT&T and T-Mobile.

Make of that what you will.

Anyhow, here are my first impressions of the phone, after playing with it for 24 hours.

The Good

  • Verizon’s 4G is quick. And I mean really, really quick. Apps download in a flash and web pages load almost instantaneously. It’s a joy as an internet device, it really is. HUGE plus for me there given how much data I use.
  • Ice Cream Sandwich (the new version of Android, only available on this device thus far) is really slick. Still not quite iPhone levels of slickness, but getting there for sure. Definitely a big step up from previous versions.
  • Call quality is great: much, much better than my previous phone (HTC Incredible). People sound sharp and clear.
  • The screen is absolutely stunning.  Incredibly clear and sharp. Love it.

The Bad

  • Battery life is appalling. Really, really bad. I have the standard (non extended) battery in there, and I get about six or seven hours of very light use. Not good. Makes me scared to use features like GPS.
  • It is a really big phone. Not heavy, just BIG. The footprint isn’t all that much smaller than my Kindle, and although it still manages to feel sleek and elegant, there’s a part of me that feels that it’s just too big as a phone. Hold an iPad to your face for an approximation of what it’s like to talk into.
  • It takes an ages to find signal again when I come up from the subway. I assume it’s Verizon 4G network related rather than the phone, but it’s still really annoying.
  • No hardware button for the camera. Why? I hate that bloody software button. May sound like a minor gripe, but I love to take pictures with my camera, and this really annoys me. Pressing the screen is just not the same as pressing a button. Despite the fact that the photos come out nicely (see below), this really bugs me.

Summary: it’s a really slick phone, but I’m definitely disappointed with the battery life and the software camera button. The camera itself takes nice pictures (not iPhone nice, but still decent), and the 4G speed is a joy, but so far I have to say I’m a little underwhelmed.

Early days though: I’ll re-evaluate again in a week’s time.