The Nonprofit Marketing Blog

The one book to read if you’re trying to change the world

Read Switch. It’s the new book from Chip and Dan Heath, who wrote the wonderful storytelling guide, Made to Stick.

Why is this book so important? Let me tell you a story.

Last summer, I taught a class on marketing and strategic communications at American University for mid-career federal government professionals. In working together, it quickly became apparent to me that they needed more than marketing. From the FDA employee trying to talk to the public about generic drugs to the government purchasing agent trying to get other government departments to use her services, they didn’t just need to know the 4 Ps or how to craft a good message – they needed to learn how to change what people do. So instead of talking about messaging, I spent most of the course talking about behavior change.

Lucky for me, I had a nifty little resource – the first chapter of Switch, which Dan Heath had emailed to me. Without leaking his wonderful content, I tapped into his understanding of the human brain. I used this information to help my students not just say the right things – but to get people to do the right things. And I discovered that as a committed marketer of a good cause, you need these principles to fully achieve the change you seek.

Nonprofit marketing friends – all marketing friends: We need to be more than messengers. We need to be change agents. That takes more than marketing. It takes psychology, too.

A few weeks ago, I finally got the whole book, and it is fantastic.

Here’s the premise: It’s really hard to change organizations, communities, people and ourselves. We all know that. But why? Because of the way our brain works. We are literally of two minds: the rational mind and the emotional mind – that compete for control. As Dan writes, the rational mind wants a great beach body; the emotional mind wants that Oreo cookie. Or as I think of it, the rational mind is the one that sets the alarm for 5 am when I go to bed so I can get up early to work on my novel before I leave for the office. The emotional mind is the one that hits snooze and puts a pillow over my head when morning comes. (Which is why I’m still only halfway through my novel, two years in.)

These two minds can doom efforts at compelling action and achieving change, but guess what? They can be overcome with three methods, used together. This principles apply not just to your personal resolutions – they apply to getting people in your office to adapt a new approach, to persuading people to eat healthy, to galvanizing people around actions that advance your cause.

The wonderful news is, these three steps are not gigantic. In fact, the solutions to your big problems are often small and simple when you approach them with a clear understanding of how people think. As the book notes,

Big problems are rarely solved with commensurately big solutions. Instead, they are most often solved by a sequence of small solutions, sometimes over weeks, sometimes over decades.

But change usually feels big and unweildy – like steering an elephant. Your rational mind is like the wee little driver perched atop this gigantic, emotional, recalcitrant beast. The Heath brothers’ three-part framework tells you how to get the elephant moving:

1. Direct the rider: Provide crystal-clear direction. You may think you’re encountering resistance when in fact you’re encountering confusion. This principle deeply resonated with me, because I believe so much of nonprofit work falls down over poor, unclear or overly complex calls to action. We tell people to stop global warming when we should ask them to switch light bulbs.

2. Motivate the elephant: Engage people’s emotional sides to they cooperate. Self-control is exhausting, and people need emotional energy to embrace and adopt change.

3. Shape the path: A “people” problem is often simply a situation problem. Put people in a different situation if you want them to change.

Want to hear more? Buy the book. Or write in this post’s comments section what you’re trying to change and I’ll send the first five commenters one of the galley proofs Dan donated to Network for Good. [Update: they’re all gone!]AND, by all means, listen to Dan speak! He has generously volunteered his time to do a presentation on the book in February as a Network for Good teleconference! This call will change your work (and maybe even your bad habits), so don’t miss it.

Register here for the call. It is free.

Enjoy!

(BTW, if the novel gets done, Dan gets some credit.)

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Linda Lombardi
Content Manager

We’re here to help you win hearts and minds—and donations.

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