Pitch Geek

Extending the Product Metaphor

<– Part II: Grants, Gifts & Donations

Mozilla is an organization that builds and ships products. But our definition of ‘product’ extends beyond the piece of software or program – the widget – at its core.

Building a product involves delivering on a brand promise. It means achieving stability, consistency, and permanence. It involves shaping the entire ecosystem: dependable release cycles, a healthy contributor community, on ramps for new users, partnerships that bring value, and reference implementations that showcase potential. Perhaps most importantly, it means creating something that works: that achieves its expected and intended purpose.

Our Project Directors already function as Product Managers. They are responsible for driving for the utility, polish, and performance of the tools and programs they oversee. They are expected to gain market share, achieve performance metrics, and meet targets. And because we’re social enterprise – a group of people in pursuit of a mission – our Project Directors are expected to build things that empower you to help shape the Web.

Our fundraising strategy will extend this product model to include funding and revenue generation. Along with the tools, content, and community that comprise our products, our project teams will ‘ship’ the funding narrative needed for their next stage of development.

  • Grants: How is what we want to build going to help foundations and governments deliver on their priorities?
  • Gifts: Now that we’re starting to gain traction, what’s the big dream that will excite investors to help us scale?
  • Donations & Revenue: And now that we’ve built something useful, why will people pay or give to keep it going?

Having to deliver a funding narrative will add scope to an already complex task. But (despite our best efforts) money continues to be a thing we need. If we don’t think about funding from the start we ensure that, when we do get around to it, we won’t have the relationships, value proposition, or narrative in place to be successful. Much better – and easier – to bake it into what we already do.

Pitch Geek

Grants, Gifts & Donations

<– Part I: The Revenue is the Model

Mozilla’s new fundraising strategy will see us pursue grants, gifts, and donations in sequence. Projects will launch with grants, focus and grow with gifts, and sustain themselves with donations and earned income.

The strategy is based on key assumptions about each type of funding:

Institutional partnership
Personal commitment
Engaged community
Structured relationship; Contracted deliverables; Funders have to invest in projects;
Funding can address core costs; Support flows from talent, vision, and results; Open communication provides flexible decision-making;
Funding can support all types of cost; Comparatively stable, predictable revenue; Can mobilize a community to action;
Challenges & Risks
Restricted, project-based funding; Additive to scope; Process-driven and closed decision-making;
Have to already be demonstrating success; Donors do not have to fund anything, let alone you; Personal dynamic can introduce complications;
Requires active channels to an existing community; Messaging needs to be simple, clear, and direct; Comparatively costly to maintain;
To launch new projects; To establish relationships with new partners; To build internal capacity;
To grow promising activities; To gain access to expertise; To catalyze a bold, new vision;
To sustain existing activities; To gain stability and independence; To mobilize a community;

Working from this matrix will let us achieve three things:

  1. Have the right fundraising team and message in place at the right time;
  2. Come out on the plus side of the reward/risk and return/investment equations; and
  3. Gain independence and stability over time.

For example, while all forms of funding are rooted in partnership and common cause, they each require a different approach. Grants are joint ventures between institutions, major gifts are sales driven by strong personal relationships, and donations are one-to-many marketing campaigns.

Similarly, they carry different trade-offs. You can start a new project with a grant, but you take on process requirements and additional scope. Major gifts provide breathing room, but trade contracts for personal relationships based on — occasionally dynamic — emotional bonds. Donations provide stability, but require an established brand, significant reach, and timely narrative.

Finally, a mix of funding will achieve the revenue diversity we need to reduce financial risk.

In the next post we’ll look at how we’re going to implement this strategy.

Part III: Extending the Product Metaphor –>

Pitch Geek

How to Sell Toronto

CBC Radio 1’s drive home show, Here & Now, held a competition a (long) while ago to design a marketing campaign for Toronto Tourism. I have long felt that (i) Toronto is amazing and (ii) our tourism campaigns suck. So I put together an idea and it happened to win, for all that it means to ‘win’ a CBC radio contest. I found it while combing through old files and thought I’d dust it off.

New York Lite

Toronto can’t claim the natural majesty of Vancouver or the ‘little Europe’ pretension of Montreal. Instead, we try for ‘big city adventure’ with generic campaigns that showcase food, sport, and cultural attractions. All of which underline a collective anxiety that we’re a pale imitation of New York, London, and other cities with deeper lore and more significance.

Actual shots of Toronto.

But ‘We are the World’ is Boring

Toronto has something not found anywhere else: extreme diversity. Our best feature is our (somewhat dubious, but so what!) status as the most multicultural city on the planet. But ads based on multiculturalism quickly feel like PSAs for multiculturalism. A good campaign needs a cheeky edge.

A Brazen Bait-and-Switch

Toronto’s a mix of other places, so the campaign sells Toronto by selling those other places. We steal the iconic imagery of other cities – Carnival in Rio, markets in Shanghai, night clubs in Tokyo, temples in Delhi – and execute a bait-and-switch with shots of Toronto. The idea is to brand our city as the world in one place, while countering the kumbaya of it all with shameless appropriation.

(The photos were all taken by other people, whose work I stole from Flickr. If it’s your image, please let me know.)

Update: CBC ran a story saying that the new tourism ad for the US makes the country look like Canada. Largely because it’s promoting diversity and natural beauty. The usual US landmarks are hinted in the background. Thought it might just be a CBC perspective, but the comments thread on YouTube backs it up (assuming the commentators aren’t all Canadian, themselves).

Pitch Geek

The Revenue is the Model

The first in a series of posts outlining a new fundraising strategy for Mozilla

Types of Non-profit Money

Traditional non-profits have access to three types of revenue:

1. Grants: Restricted funding from governments, foundations, and other institutions.
2. Major Gifts: Restricted or unrestricted gifts from individuals and family foundations.
3. Donations: Unrestricted, small dollar contributions from the public.

Organizations that engage in social enterprise – like Mozilla – add a fourth:

4. Earned Income: Revenue generated from fees, contracts, and other ‘business’ models.

How Most Non-profits Fundraise

Most non-profits try to maximize fundraising by pursuing every form of revenue, with grant, major gift, and broad-based donation strategies operating in parallel. Large organizations pull this off by setting up specialized teams and program streams. Smaller organizations who try to do it all usually fail.

The funding you pursue dictates the nature of your work. Program design, staffing, storytelling, and other decisions are shaped to attract funding. Organizations that constantly shapeshift to secure any and all forms of support lose their focus, then their efficacy, and then their impact. And with these gone they lose their narrative, which is fatal to fundraising.

How ‘Good’ Non-profits Fundraise

As a result, ‘good’ fundraising strategies are admired for their focus on grants, or gifts, or donations. Non-profits shape their teams, programs, and storytelling to specialize in one form of revenue, see an increased return, and gain the stability needed to advance their mission. This has led to the prevailing wisdom that a solid fundraising strategy targets one type of revenue.

We’re Going a Step Further

Specialization works because different types of money are suited to different purposes, present different opportunities, and are based on different relationships. From this, you could conclude that specific types of funding are suited to specific projects. Or you could conclude that specific types of funding are suited to projects at specific stages.

This is how it works in the private sector. Start-ups seek investment. Expanding companies seek financing. Established companies seek profit. The criteria for funding also shift according to your stage of development. Angel investors look for talent. Investment banks look for cashflow. Retail investors look for dividends.

Your mother pays off your credit cards because she loves you.

As a new venture grows, it looks for different types of funding. And it tries to match the strengths, risks, and process requirements of that money to their stage of development. This is what we’re going to do at Mozilla.

We will look to grants, gifts, and donations not as parallel or sole streams, but as sequential streams of income. I’ll detail how (and a bit more why) over the next two posts.

Part II: Grants, Gifts & Donations –>

Mozilla, Pitch Geek

Minimum Viable Partnership

How to actually start working together.

Minimum Viable Partnership Model

Technology start-ups talk about Minimum Viable Products. The term refers to a product that has “just those features that allow [it] to be launched, and no more.”

This is also a useful concept when it comes to partnership. When working with a new partner, there’s a damaging tendency to try and figure everything out in advance. To launch planning efforts, seek consensus, and gain clarity on outcomes. To set up process barriers to getting underway.

Extended planning kills momentum, but effective planning builds trust. So what’s the balance? How do you move forward and actually get started?

You need three things:

Big, Shared Ambitions
An exciting, shared vision of what becomes possible if you work together. It doesn’t have to be clearly defined. It just has to provide motivation and establish the emotional tenor.

Raw Material
(i) A rough sense of what’s needed (funding, staff time, distribution channels, etc.);
(ii) what each of you bring to the table; and
(iii) trust in your teams to put it together.

Immediate Next Steps
The three things you need to do when you leave the room. Tangible, practical steps to get started. And a plan to reconnect once they’re achieved.

Everything else is wasted effort.

Pitch Geek

On Metrics

And why we have it all wrong.

The private sector has a universal scoreboard. There is only one goal: have more tomorrow than you have today. You won’t hear investors or entrepreneurs or CEOs debating how to define success. It’s understood by everyone.

The public and non-profit sectors don’t have a scoreboard. This isn’t our fault. Our work is distributed, nuanced, and complex. What is our fault is that we keep wasting time trying to build one.

When we try, we end up with two things:

1.) Quantitative measures (web traffic, bodies in a room, test scores) that can easily be mistaken for impact; and

2.) Qualitative measures (feedback, expert observations, personal stories) that prove impact in specific instances, but don’t provide a definitive ‘Yes, we were successful.’

Businesses use metrics to measure efficiencies and conversion rates. To track how employees are performing. To see if advertising dollars are being well spent. Metrics inform the path to success.

We, on the other hand, attempt to use metrics to define success. To have the metrics be our scoreboard. And then screw ourselves by working towards a standard that almost, but doesn’t really, indicate success.

To end the interminable ‘metrics’ discussions and put a lot of great people back to work on the stuff that matters, I suggest the following consensus:

Give up. Accept the scoreboard will never exist.

Instead, do one of two things:

1.) Define your mission as something that can be measured, success as achieving the desired score, and stop there. Make the metric the mission, not an indicator of the mission. Increase graduation rates by 5%. Reduce hospital wait times by 20 minutes. Get 100km above the earth.

2.) Or, if you’re particularly enlightened, agree that you’ll know it when you see it. That everyone working on the project is smart, well-intentioned, and will try to make the right decisions. Use metrics to help with those decisions.

We’ll be happier, our resources will be put to better use, and we’ll all stop chasing our tails.

UPDATE: Working on a constructive follow-up post mashing Most Significant Change with iterative development and open funding models.

Pitch Geek

Going Viral

Now firmly at the tail end of my ‘…the fuck…’ writing exercise link going (fairly) viral.

Started by @azaaza aka Aza Raskin tweeting it out to his 14,000 followers.

From there it was picked up by Lifehacker.

All in all, ~27,000 people read it at Lifehacker and ~5,000 people read it on this site.

When we launched SexiestParty.com it hit 130,000 uniques in about 36 hours. Was #7 at Buzzfeed for a while. But that was expected.

This wasn’t. Which made it fun.