Finding your right hype person

Google is disrupting education and the workforce.  It’s launching online courses that lead to certificates that it will treat as the equivalent of four-year college degrees.  Except that these certificates cost about six months and $300.

For employers, the college degree often acts as an external validator.  If you can’t tell the difference among the 176 CVs on your desk, you can look at the schools they went to and know that some institution vetted this person to get in and further certified that fulfilled at least a base line of competency while there.  And if you want to judge on brand name, you can look at the US News and World Report rankings, an external validator of the external validators.  (Not sure how US News got this power, but I suspect it is validators all the way down.) i

The challenge with this (and I recommend Vu Le’s commentary on this if you’d like more detail) are more likely to go to those whose families had means, think traditionally, and chose that over alternate means of qualification like military or community service.  Thus, there’s a push to take the degree “requirement” out of jobs where it’s not needed or say “college degree or equivalent experience.”  Remember that if you are requiring a degree for that coding job, technically if Bill Gates applied, you wouldn’t be able to hire him.

Since Google has a big brand name, it could serve as a validator for those who don’t want or can’t have that traditional college experience.  In essence, they serve as the hype person to your MC—the person who stands with you and tells the crowd how good you are.  The most famous of these from the rap world is possibly Flavor Flav, he of oversized-clock-wearing, “yeah-boy”-but-with-more-vowels fame.

Since much of our job involves introducing our nonprofits to the general public and convincing we are real and worthy of their gift, what hype people can we put in our corner?  There are a few, each with their own advantages and disadvantages.

Charity watchdogs.  Yes, I know this is a misnomer; I’m oft a Charity Navigator critic.  But there’s research that shows that an additional Charity Navigator star, when publicized, can increase donations by almost 20%.  (Personally, a four-star Charity Navigator financial ranking means to me that an organization isn’t growing as much as it could to serve its mission and my donation would best go to someone in the 1-3 star category.)  A Charity Navigator four-star note is also one of the things that you can put on an envelope or mail piece that increases liking. 

But if, like me, you are CN-averse, that same study showed that any external validator also boosted liking—even a fake DMA seal of approval that we made up.  So you can use something like a GuideStar Platinum seal, which requires that you have transparency around your impact, which is a far better thing that CN’s ratings in my opinion.

Additionally, the almost 20% gain from a Charity Navigator star disappears if you already have a strong…

Brand.  A classic validator.  For those with large brands, the addition of a Charity Navigator star meant nothing.  The hypothesis is that people were only using CN when they didn’t know whether the charity they’d picked was a good one.  This is part of why DRTV is a rising tide that lifts all boats—an organization that can coherently spread their message on this expensive medium is as unlikely to be a total fake as the job candidate with the Harvard Ph.D.  So if you have a strong brand already, you may not need significant external validators

In fact, some organizations have a strong enough brand they are the validator for others.  When Chadwick Boseman tragically was taken by cancer, many news stories talked about how he worked with St. Jude kids even near the end of his own lives.  Those stories weren’t saying how great St. Jude was because they worked with Boseman; they were talking about how great he was because he worked with St. Jude.  Even a King who needed little to make his legacy greater benefited from his association with that brand.  Which leads us to…

Celebrity.  As Cialdini and others have pointed out, celebrities have authority that persuades even if they are largely outside their area of expertise (e.g., “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV”).  Several studies show that celebrities can boost nonprofit giving when there’s a tie between the celebrity and the mission (hence why you saw Sarah McLaughlin with her dog on ASPCA ads).

Testimonials from people helped.  When in doubt, let the people you are helping tell their stories.  These are the ultimate external validators—people with nothing to gain from telling their story who can touch the heart.  Even if you don’t have celebrity ties or a big brand (yet), these are accessible and allow someone else to tell your potential donors how great you are so you don’t have to do it alone.

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