Friday, October 16, 2009

Why Women Are the Market for Changing the World, and How to Reach Them: Interview with The She Spot co-author, Lisa Witter

If you are in charge of communications for your nonprofit or NGO, I recommend you read The She Spot: Why Women Are the Market for Changing the World, and How to Reach Them by Lisa Witter and Lisa Chen. In the edited transcript of my September 1st interview with co-author Lisa Witter for the Big Vision Podcast, she discusses how nonprofits can use four principles from the book, Care, Connect, Control, and Cultivate to get the word out about their cause.

Lisa is the Chief Operating Officer of Fenton Communications, the largest public interest communications firm in the country. She heads the firm’s practice in women’s issues and global affairs for clients including Women for Women International, Nobel Peace Prize Winner Wangari Maathai,, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the Global Fund for Women, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, David and Lucille Packard Foundation and many others. She is a co-founder of the award-winning, an online brain trust of women experts designed to close the gender gap among commentators in the news media.

Our conversation began with Lisa talking about why she and co-author Lisa Chen wrote The She Spot: Why Women are the Market for Changing the World, and How to Reach Them.

Lisa Witter: Over the years, Lisa and I, we've been working together for more than nine years, really have had an opportunity to look at how philanthropy is changing and the role that women are playing in society. And we've done that through working with a lot of "women's issues" clients. I'm not really sure what women's issues are, besides breast cancer and ovarian cancer, but you know what I mean when I say it. And we found out that a lot of organizations would come in and they would talk about their target audience as a monolithic gender. We knew that the trends were showing that women give more, women are engaged more, women vote more, women are twice as likely to pass on information, and women make 83 percent of the consumer decisions. So,we just knew that if you wanted to make social change, you had to understand how to connect with women and how to motivate women.

Yet, the NGOs that we were working with didn't understand that at all. They thought, men and women, sort of the same. We would see them do things like put pink marketing campaigns together, but we knew that that wouldn't work for a certain amount of women. So we decided to look at what the private sector had learned, and layer that on top of the social-change sector.

Britt Bravo: In the book you advise nonprofits and political campaigns to use the rule of the four Cs to reach women. I'd love to talk about each of those Cs. The first C is care. Can you talk about what you mean by care, and some examples of organizations that have used this concept of care effectively?

Yes. The four Cs are the critical piece to the book. The first part of what we were trying to talk about in the book is making the case for why women should be your target audience. Like I said, we have more money, we vote more, we are engaged more in volunteerism. In fact, the prototype of what a volunteer is, is a working mother, right? Women are engaged in their community. They're giving, they're voting, they're super-powerful, and they're making consumer decisions. Now that we've made the argument that you should pay attention to women, how do you reach them? How do you move them?

The four Cs are Care, Connect, Control, and Cultivate. Care is pretty easy. Care is the first, easiest one. I think it's the one that organizations get most instinctively.

The first part of care is to put a face on your organization. Just don't have it be some organization online where you see graphics of bar charts and research reports, but not real human beings. was one of the first organizations that really pioneered this with technology. When you get an email from, it's from a human being. So, it would be from Joan, Wes, and Eli, or from Adam and Ilyse. Real people were behind the organization. And that's really important. Women want to be engaged in something where real people are at.

The next is to keep it simple, but keep it real. They want to cut to the chase. They're busy. Use real examples of real people. That's critical with women. They want to hear stories of people that look just like them. Women are more skeptical of advertising than men are because they feel like someone's trying to get one up on them, and so they want to know that real people are engaged in an organization, and that they're hearing real-life stories.

The next is sort of counter intuitive. I think a lot of people think that if you talk to women, all you have to do is show the cute little fuzzy puppy in the corner and they'll give money. That's not true, actually. Women really want the details of an organization. They want to be able to go online and find out what the organization is doing, how their budgets are run, who's involved in the background, and what legislation they're passing. They're really the tougher customer than when it comes to men.

With women, you want to appeal to people's sense of group affiliation. It may be a mom group affiliation. It may be an environmentalist group affiliation. It may be animal rights. But this sense of creating a collective community is more important to women than it is men. It's just natural in our brains, if you look at the brain science and everything around that, women want to build community.

And the last thing with care is something that people forget a lot about with women. When we wrote the book, Borat was out, the movie that sort of typifies schadenfreude. People were saying to me, "Lisa, did you see Borat?" And I said, "No, I didn't. I don't find it funny." And they'd said, "Well, lighten up! It's really funny." And I would say, "I don't think it's funny."

Well, that's because women have a different sense of what humor is. Women don't think making fun of other people is funny. That's not what we think is funny. What we do think is funny is making fun of ourselves, or finding things tongue-in-cheeky, or just other types of humor.

I think it's important, even though we're working on really serious issues, to use humor as much as possible. Not many groups do it. A while ago, a video came out online called The Meatrix which used flying animals to defend mass production of meat and promote vegetarianism. That sort of humor is really important to women.

Now, the second C is connect. Can you talk about what you mean by that? And is that connecting online? Offline? What's an organization that's using it well to get their message across?

Connect is really the advantage of what women bring. Women do connect. They want to connect. They're using social networking more than men and they instinctually connect more. Again, it goes back to our brain science. The reason why we were able to write this book in a new way is because for the first time we actually have brain science that tells us the difference between men and women.

We know for a fact that there are major differences, and what the ramifications are in our marketing. Women truly value community connection, and so if you can connect women to one another you deepen their brand loyalty to you. That's super important.

When you connect people by harnessing their collective creativity, that's really important. So, how do you get ideas from people, and how do people share information? That's really important.

One organization that does this I think better than any organization I've seen is Women For Women International. Women for Women International is an organization that helps survivors of war rebuild their lives, and more than just rebuild their own lives, they rebuild countries by rebuilding their own lives.

They have a sponsorship program where I'm a sister. Britt, I believe you're a sister, too.

I am.

We write letters back and forth to one another. I sponsor her for a low monthly fee, and we write letters back and forth to one another. We build deep connections. I learn about women in Rwanda, and they learn about my life. I ask parenting advice, and she asks me what it's like to go into an office every day. That sort of deep connection not only creates more satisfaction for the donor, but it creates deep brand loyalty to the organization, and that's one of the reasons why Women for Women has been so successful.

Everyone's so excited about social networking. Is there a [nonprofit] organization you've seen that uses online social networking effectively in connecting women online? Or is it just that everyone thinks that you can connect women online effectively, and it's not happening?

To be honest with you, I don't think people have figured it out quite yet. I think there are pieces here and there that people are using, things that pop up like MomsRising; for example, is an organization that does a lot of online organizing. But I don't think anyone's been able to really create a social networking experience, from an NGO perspective, that's really working, beyond the Obama campaign. The Obama campaign did it, but without calling out women as their target audience. They appealed to women in what they did, but they didn't call it a woman-to-woman campaign, and that's fine too.

I think that's important for marketers, that if you're going to reach women you don't necessarily need to run campaigns to say, "I'm going to reach women." Women will automatically be drawn to campaigns that connect people to one another.

That leads us to the third C, cultivate. What does that mean, cultivate, and what's an example of using cultivate for an effective campaign?

Well, cultivate is another C that is really distinct to women. One of the background stories in doing the research for the book was I was asking a political fundraiser friend of mine, "What's the experience like for you as a fundraiser in cultivating women donors versus men donors for political donations?" My woman fundraiser, who's a strong feminist, said to me, "Oh, I don't bother with women donors."


I said, "Why?" She said, "It takes too long to cultivate them. For them to give that big check, they want to know too many details. They ask too many questions, and they want too much engagement. As a political fundraiser, I just want their money, and to get out."

Which is a really interesting observation if you think back on Hillary Clinton's fund-raising and Barack Obama's fund-raising. Hillary had a go-after-the-big-donor approach, and Obama had the build-the-big-donors-by-getting-lots-of-little-donors approach. That's really key for women.

When you're thinking about cultivating with women, you need to think long-term. You can't think small: three-month, four-month, six-month. You need to think in a four-year period, how do I take a woman who is going to ask more questions, who is maybe going to want to volunteer before they make an investment, who doesn't see fundraising as transactional, who sees fundraising as actually an investment in an organization?

You need to think long-term and create fundraising and activation programs for women that are deeper and meaningful. You just can't ask for her money. She wants her advice to be asked. She wants for her creativity to be tapped.

Again, it's more labor-intensive, but the thing is that once you get women on board, they're much more likely to be loyal to the organization. Again, that's where this long-term cultivation approach is really important.

Women actually care even more deeply where the money goes. They're looking at the details of what's being spent on program versus administration. We can go into a whole conversation about what's healthy or not healthy about that from a not-for-profit perspective, but you should know that that's what donors are looking for.

An organization called Room to Read is a great organization. You go to the front page of their website, and they show exactly how they're spending their money. That's what women donors are looking for.

You also want to be able to demonstrate your impact right away. That's where an organization like is a wonderful spot for women and really gets women marketing without saying. "We're pink, and we market to women."

You can go on and be a loan partner with another community, and give to a woman or a man that you can see who they are. You can see your impact with your donation, and your engagement right away. Kiva's a great example.

The next thing is you want to make her feel part of a group or a movement, again, something bigger than herself. The Innocence Project, again, very different, not an online organization at all. They're an organization that helps exonerate wrongly convicted people who are up for the death penalty through new DNA evidence.

They have a simple ticker on the top of their website that says, over the course of their existence how many people they have removed from death row. As a supporter of the Innocence Project, that makes me feel part of something bigger. That makes me feel like, "Wow. Through my engagement, through other people's engagement, we've really brought justice and saved these people's lives."

They can be little things, like putting a ticker on your website, to much bigger things, like developing an entire organization around some of these cultivation principles.

The fourth C is actually the one I found the most interesting, because it doesn't surprise me that women care, that they like to connect, that maybe they take a little while to cultivate. But this idea of control I thought was very interesting, and I just never would have thought of it. Can you talk about that last C, and this idea of control, and an example or two of some organizations or campaigns that have used it well?

Well, Britt, I love the control piece. Every time I talk about it, Lisa Chen and I start having Janet Jackson in our head. We can't help but want to sing the song. Maybe that dates us a little bit. But it's really true. This idea of control for women is so important in their lives. Why is that so? Well, lots of women don't feel like they have control, whether it be because they're a working mother, or a single mom, or they feel wage discrimination, or they're torn in so many directions because they're taking care of their parents.

Also, they care deeply about the planet. When they make a purchase, they're much more likely than men to be a consumer that looks for a beneficial product not only for their family, but for the world too. The notion is that they go through life feeling a bit out of control, and they want to know that what they're doing is having an impact.

What does that mean for a nonprofit? Well, I have two small children; two and five months. I read children's books a lot. One is The Little Engine That Could and the other is Chicken Little. What women are looking for is the Little Engine That Could message; the, "I think I can. I think I can. I have control. If I do these things, if I am engaged, I can see impact in my community."

It can't be so big like, "Save the Oceans." I can't even get my head around how to save the oceans, but I can save the swordfish and I want positive messaging. One of the things we know with the psychology of women, in my experience too, being the coach of little girls, is you coach girls and boys differently. Girls want that positive reinforcement. It's really critical to them. "The sky is falling. Oh, my God. The world is gonna end." That reminds women of the lack of control they have in their lives.

This positive approach to messaging is really important. CARE, an international development and relief organization, has an, "I Am Powerful" campaign, and it shows women being powerful and it shows them in control. That's what women donors are looking for.

Another piece that women, not just donors, but activists, and people engaged in social change, are looking for is a two-for-one. How can they incorporate making the world a better place into their day to day lives?

The Environmental Defense Fund came up with the two-for-one of a Seafood Selector card. We know that women do the majority of the shopping. We know that women care about food. And we also know that when they make a purchase, they want it to impact their family as well as the environment.

They put out these seafood cards, which you carry in your wallet, and you can pick which fish isn't being over fished, which fish has the lower mercury content, etc. That's the two-for-one engagement.

Another example of that is Heifer International. They provide people opportunities to buy a llama and give it as a gift to someone. Now, I'm in my mid 30's, and I swear I'm a professional wedding goer. I cannot get another one of my 30-year-old girlfriends a toaster. They don't need it.

What I do buy them is a flock of sheep, a swarm of bees, or a llama because it makes me feel good, it makes them feel good, and it makes the world a better place. Women in particular are looking for these two-for-one ways to have an impact.

You're the COO of Fenton Communications. I don't know if you know, but I also do career coaching and I can't tell you how many people want to use their business, marketing, and advertising skills for good, and you get to do that, which seems pretty special and amazing. Can you talk a little bit about the path that brought you to this work that I think so many people would love to have?

It is a privilege and an honor to do work that motivates me every day when I get up and work with extraordinary people both as clients and as colleagues. My path was a little untraditional. Not to go to far back, but when I was a little girl, I knew I wanted to help people. I was also a deeply competitive athlete. My nickname was "animal." I like to win. I went to church as a little girl and I was taught that you should give back. Service was key. I was a candy striper in an ER room. I helped sick people, and I realized that it was too painful for me to watch individuals suffering. I just wasn't tough enough, to be honest.

Then, I wanted to be a lawyer and I realized the legal system wasn't a place where I felt like I could have a lot of impact on individual people's lives. I interned for a public defender.

I thought, "Wow. Where can I have impact?" Well, if you put winning and helping people together, you get to politics pretty quickly. I spent the first five or six years of my career running political campaigns, being involved in ballot measures, and doing all sort of things.

Then, leading up to the Bush/Gore first election, I got recruited away from - I was Chief of Staff for a City Council member in Seattle. I really thought I was going to run for office, that my path would be to be an elected official.

I got recruited to run a campaign against the privatization of social security for 140 women's organizations, and I moved to Washington, I did grassroots organizing, I did television, and I did media. I did policy reports, and analysis and research.

I realized in my year internship in the political mecca that there were great researchers, there were great grassroots organizers, there were great fundraisers, but there weren't great communications people.

I decided that that's what I wanted to contribute was to try to make myself a great communications person so I could have impact.

When I moved to Washington, I was the only person I knew with a PalmPilot. I grew up in Seattle, so technology wasn't a new thing to me. Through the years, it's been really fun to grow my communication skills and see the role that communications play be even more front and center in the work that we do.

I'm an accidental person. I don't like PR, I don't like media relations - "Ugh, who wants to do that?" But then, I fell in love with the power of communications to make social changes.

What advice do you have for people who are listening, or who read about this on the blog if they are a communications and marketing person? I think you're right that in the past that's been relegated to not important, and not worth spending money on, within the nonprofit arena particularly. Now, it's gaining more and more importance. What advice do you have for folks who want to use those skills for good?

I think there are a number of things that you can do. I think that if they want to work in the field, meaning the NGO field, on your resume you have to show some sort of commitment; some deeper, personal commitment, not just a professional commitment to it. If that's joining a board, if that's volunteering, there are lots of different ways to show that. I think that they should follow the NGO trends and follow people like you who are doing really good work in the space. I think they may want to consider blogging about some of their experiences from the private sector to the nonprofit sector.

There's so much that we have to learn from the innovations that the private sector has been doing in marketing. I think there's great transitions to be made for those people.

The She Spot came out in the summer of '08. So, it would've been written before that, really before we hit the super seriousness of this economic climate. Has the advice that you give in the book changed? How would you tell nonprofits, in terms of marketing, how they can reach women and men to raise money in this kind of climate? How should they be framing their marketing and their outreach?

Well, it's a great question, Britt. A good example is Women Moving Millions which is an initiative by the Women's Funding Network to bring forth million dollar donors to invest in women and girls. They set out a goal to raise, I believe it was $135 million dollars, through million dollar, or more women's gifts.

They, even through the recession, beat their fundraising goals by nearly more than, I believe $40 million dollars. What that says to me is, "We see that women are deeply committed to philanthropy".

Women in particular, like to give to those who need it most. If you are at an organization serving the basic needs of people, this is your time to do cultivation of women donors, and to work with women donors, because that is what appeals to them, the critical needs of people.

There is a real opportunity for you to cultivate new donors and to dig deeper with donors, even if their pocketbooks have been hit. They understand the need to give to people when they need it most.

In general, using these principles is going to help anyone at anytime. I really do not see NGO's being as sophisticated about understanding women donors, or even identifying women as key to their membership and advocacy drives as they should. I think part of that is people just not recognizing the power that women have in society right now.

I think part of that is people being scared about the power that women may have in society, and fears that it will sort of backlash in the other direction. And I think that there is this deeper down thing in us a that if we recognize women as different, somehow that means that women aren't equal.

That's not at all what we're saying with The She Spot. What we're saying is that men and women are different. We celebrate that. Not every woman is different in the same way. We have our cultural differences. We have our sexual preference differences. We have our sexual identities. We have our ages. There are lots of things, even within the women bubble.

For example, there are lots of things about me that people would consider male traits. Anyone named "Animal" is a pretty tough competitor. There are things that are different between us, and I want us to celebrate that. I want us to know the differences, and really take advantage of that for the issues we care about.

Twenty percent of the profits from The She Spot go to two organizations that you mentioned earlier, Women for Women International and So, that's a good motivation for folks to pick up a copy of the book. There are so many great organizations out there. How come you chose these two?

Well, there are so many reasons why. One, we felt that giving some of our money back was just appropriate and we wanted to lead by example of giving. It is an honor to give to both of them. Women for Women, one, because I think the work that they do is so ground-breaking and smart, and in the spirit of The She Spot. Als,o Zainab Salbi, their founder and president, cares about me. We're friends and she has taken an interest in the work that I do, and even invited me to travel with her in Rwanda and experience the program there.

So much about life is about relationships and authenticity, and the authenticity of how she goes through the world is so important to me. I wanted to give back to her, and do in other ways.

MomsRising, the same thing. I think what Joan Blades has done with, and then understanding the importance of marketing to women during life cycles. One of the things we talk about is the importance of reaching women in different life cycle changes.

Motherhood is one of the biggest life cycle changes that we go through, if we decide to have children. Eighty percent of women do. It's not something that I say, that every women should be a mom, but if you are going to be a mom, it's an important opportunity for us to engage mothers in social change.

They are doing great innovative work and great online organizing, and I have deep respect. Joan Blades has been a personal friend, and supporter, and caretaker of my dreams. I like to support people who are authentic like that.

Finally, is there just anything else that you didn't get to talk about? About your work, The She Spot, the power of women to change the world?

Well, Britt, I know that you have a special interest and expertise and secret sauce in technology. One of my passions is, "How do you utilize technology to improve the world, and really bring out the best in human beings?" Allison Fine, who is a great author and speaker on social innovation and technology, gave us a quote for the book about how email doesn't have a burka, and how computers aren't feminist. A computer doesn't discriminate against you if you're a women.

My point is, now is women's time to use technology. More women are online. More women are blogging. More women are doing online gaming. More women are doing social networking. It's really our time as people who are trying to ignite and develop social change campaigns to realize and break that old barrier in our mind that technology is a man's tool. It's not.

When we unleash new types of thinking for engaging people in authentic ways that are not top down, that are really wisdom of crowds, I really believe we'll see breakthroughs in the social change that we want to see. I appreciate your being one of the leaders in the field.

Awww, thanks. Well thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me. The book is fantastic. You are doing great work with Fenton, and so I really appreciate you sharing your wisdom with the Big Vision podcast listeners and the people who will read the transcript.

I encourage people to go to and engage. If you see examples of organizations that are doing this well, who are using a principle or some of the principles, let us know. We want to work with the community to call out people who are doing well. We have some plans coming up for a potential SheSpotter Conference and perhaps even some SheSpotter awards in 2010.

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1 comment:

  1. This is an absolute amazing piece, Brit! Thanks so much for sharing this. There's no denying that women are shaping a lot of what's going on in the world's just a matter of tapping into that potential. I love how the past few months have been creating real dialogue on the importance and role of women, especially with the recent resolution to establish a new UN agency to advance the rights of women...great developments here!

    And I'll definitely pick up a copy of the book...sounds great!

    -- Justine


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