2 min Read
September 7, 2011

Good Humor

Big Duck

Every once in a while, I see the reaction of a client walking into our office, as they see that giant signage with the Big Duck logo, and walk into a space with bright orange walls. It’s as if they’ve just entered a “fun zone,” freed up to take a break, and laugh a little even though they’re here for work.

This makes me think about my own time here, an almost five-year tenure in the trenches with my fellow Ducks. I have to say, one of the things that I enjoy the most about working at Big Duck, besides the work, are the people that I work with. We put a lot of stock into having laughs. We even put it under “Good fun” in our values.

Nonprofiteers are serious people. They’ve made a choice to dedicate their lives towards a goal that they’re passionate about. Some of the issues are pretty heady. How can one even laugh when there are some serious things happening in the world? Well, sometimes the answer is, “how can you not?” Humor is a great coping mechanism. It’s a great way to relieve stress, and break down social barriers. But besides amusement, it can all be used in great effect to further your cause and spread your message. How many viral videos are forwarded because they’re funny?

Humor can be a valuable tool. How can you harness its power?

  • First, make time for it. When you have brainstorming sessions in the office, allocate a good half hour up front to be inappropriate. Seriously. The best results that we’ve gotten from these meetings occur when they happen organically, when we turned half-baked ideas that we all laugh about into great ideas that we pitch. We recently completed a brandraising process for a terrific organization called Fight Colorectal Cancer. I can’t even begin to share the great brainstorming sessions we had, but we’re especially proud of the tagline we came up for them: Get behind a cure. Get it? Get it??
  • Be open and honest. Some subjects may seem sensitive, and not for public consumption, but perhaps that’s precisely the reason why it needs to be talked about–loudly, proudly, and owned. A psychiatrist at an organization for torture survivors once told us that the “gallows humor” that comes up in groups can be very powerful. And I’m sure at least some of you have seen this breast cancer campaign.
  • Use humor to inspire action. If you’re producing a video, don’t just make it funny, pay it off. Connect it back to  your organization, and ask the audience to take some sort of action. If you haven’t seen this, check out this PSA that an old client of ours, the American Jewish World Service, produced.

To be fair, humor may not work for every organization. It should be considered carefully, with the context and audience in mind. But when done truthfully and well, boy, it can be quite effective.

I leave you with this video for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Reinventing the Toilet campaign. No less than 5 different people saw fit to forward it to me. I have nooooooo idea why.

What nonprofits are using humor well? What effective uses of humor have you seen in the nonprofit world?