Ep 116 | Branding and Messaging with Lee Wochner
The days of mainstream are over. There are no mainstream hit singles. I don't even know what a hit single is anymore. There are no mainstream television shows. All of the audience has been carved up. And Alvin and Heidi Toffler predicted this in the Third Wave in the late 1970s. And they were absolutely right. Future Shock paved the way for that book. And then Third Wave made it very clear that the role of individuation was going to spread to every aspect of our society. And they were correct. – Lee Wochner
In today’s episode, I’m joined by Lee Wochner, the CEO of CounterIntuity, a Los Angeles-based marketing agency devoted to change. Lee shares about all things branding and messaging, how we connect to the people we want to connect with, and how to share our story with them.
What You'll Learn:
- What’s branding and messaging
- Pitfalls that people might fall into when creating an experience in a brand within their organization
- The value of fresh eyes in an organization
- How often should branding change
- The power of listening
Want to skip ahead? Here are some key takeaways:
[03:52] Lee’s perspective on branding and messaging. Branding and messaging are related.
[08:10] What’s branding all about? Branding is more about the conversation you are having with the world at large. It's the way you connect with people and get them to engage with you.
[13:09] The pitfalls that people might fall into when creating an experience in a brand within the organization.
[23:03] The value of fresh eyes in an organization. We all get used to our environment. A brand new person could see everything that we're not seeing.
[25:36] How often should branding change. When you get the sense that the content and the environment has changed.
[30:31] The power of listening.
CEO, Counterintuity, LL
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[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] Hey everybody, welcome to another episode of the Digital Marketing Therapy podcast. Sami here, and I am your host, and so excited to be here with you today.
We are talking with Lee Wochner today. He is an incredible CEO of counterintuity LLC, which is based in Los Angeles. I'll tell you a little bit more about him later. But we were talking about all things branding and messaging. So it's not just enough to talk about what we're sharing as our vision and mission. It's about how we show up in this world? How do we connect with the people that we want to connect with? How do we share our story with them to get people involved and engaged and coming to us to have conversation. So he shares a lot of really great converts or examples and stories about things that he's experienced in the nonprofit space and how you might want to think about the way that you are approaching your messaging and the way that you are talking out there with your donors and prospective donors.
So let me tell you a little bit about Lee. Lee Wagner is the CEO of counterintuity, LLC. A Los Angeles marketing agency devoted to social change. With more than 25 years of organizational consulting both independently and with counterintuity for nonprofits, government agencies, fortune 500 companies, and small businesses, Lee Wochner is highly regarded as a strategic leader and facilitator, able to help organizations grow and change. He most often works in the intersection of nonprofit organizations, public initiatives, and private enterprise, working towards social good, and has started or LED several nonprofits. And he has served as a board member for numerous nonprofits as well. He is also an award-winning playwright and holds a BA in literature and language from Stockton University and a master's in professional writing from the University of Southern California, where he has taught Graduate Writing for 10 years. As a frequent guest speaker, he is recognized by the state of California as a California thinker.
This is a great conversation, I think a lot of things that will inspire you and make you think differently about the way that you show up publicly as an organization. I will let you know we did have some technical difficulties with my internet. So there is definitely a spot where it cuts out. And so hopefully, we kept the flow going for you guys. But it was a great conversation. And I hope that you'll head to the show notes at thefirstclick.net/podcast to check out some of the resources that he is sharing in the video that he talks about in this episode.
But before we get into it, this episode is brought to you by our new Patreon benefits. So head on over to the firstclick.net/patreon. Check them out. We have some great exclusive offers for those of you that become Patreon members. And it's not expensive, it starts as little as $5 a month, where you can get some amazing perks and benefits in this new relaunch of our podcast, which I'm so excited about. So I hope that you will join me. I hope that you will check them out. And for now, let's get into the episode.
[CANNED INTRO] You're listening to the Digital Marketing Therapy podcast. I'm your host, Sami Bedell Mulhern. And each week, I bring you tips from myself and other experts, as well as hot seats with small business owners and entrepreneurs to demystify digital marketing and get you on your way to generating more leads and growing your business.
[Sami Bedell-Mulhern]Hi, Lee, thank you so much for joining me on this podcast. I'm so excited to have you here and have a conversation around branding and messaging.
[Lee Wochner] It's a pleasure to be here. Thanks for the invite.
[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] Yeah, well, so I already told people a little bit about you and kind of what you do. But I would love for you to just give us your perspective on you know, branding and messaging and what that means to you and why you think that's so important because I feel like everybody kind of has their own little spin on branding and messaging.
[Lee Wochner] So branding and messaging are related. They're like cousins. But let me talk about the different strands of that family first. So branding is really your core identity, branding is, is who your organization is out in the world. And it kind of determines everything. And if you think about even, let's say, supermarkets, right? So there's a Ralph's near us, and Ralph's is very different from pavilions, and from Gelson and from Trader Joe's. So Trader Joe's has this funky eclectic kind of, we're a pirate ship motif around the middle-class kind of supermarket pavilions. Gelsinger is certainly high upscale, Whole Foods, etc. Right. And so what they've done is they branded it, branded and positioned themselves in different ways. And every organization, every company should do that. And when I was a boy, growing up reading comic books, I could tell you at length the difference between Marvel Comics and DC Comics and you go, right, so there's an inherent identity there. And, nonprofits have an inherent identity. Branding is, is the methodology by which you put your identity out in ways that people can immediately make sense of it and work with it. Because we live in an era when let's say online, you have four seconds to make an impact. People had better be able to glean what you're about in those four seconds, or they disappear. And the staff that Google provides is on a mobile device, which is how most people go to the internet, like 70% of people visit the internet, through their smartphone. If your site doesn't load, and they don't understand it, within four seconds, you lose 55% of the audience in those four seconds. So it's important, it's important to immediately put out who you are, what you do, why they should care, how you do it, etc, some sort of image and tagline so they can understand.
[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] Well, and I think for nonprofits, this looks like a vision and a mission statement, which most organizations have, but your branding takes that kind of that, to that next level. Like elevates it to
[Lee Wochner] You know, SAMI, I'll tell you, I've sat on nonprofit boards since 1994. And I've run a couple of nonprofits. And, and here's what happens when people when there's a board meeting, somebody brings up mission, vision, and values. There's a big F because we all know we're in for it. And, a few years ago, there's a local nonprofit that I think very highly of that, that really needed to make valuable use of the time. And, and the entire board retreat, the entire day was spent talking about the mission statement, and I could have died. Yeah. So it might you know my concern about those words, I know why they're valuable. But the discussion about mission, vision, and values feels a little 19th century for 2021. And, and I think if we nonprofits are different from for profit organizations, right for major corporations, and sole proprietorships, and all of that stuff. But there's if there's one thing we could pick up, it's if we thought more about branding, positioning, and messaging, and sure we have a mission and a vision, and we certainly have values, but if we express them better through marketing terms and marketing methodologies, we would all be better off.
[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] Yeah, no, I agree with that. Because I think I like to tie mission vision to your goals for the year so that you can gut check yourself. So you don't get yourself in those situations of well, should I take this opportunity? Or should I take that opportunity? Or should I take neither opportunity? I think having that is a great way to say no to things that you should be saying no to anyway. But I think, for me, and correct me if I'm wrong, but I feel like branding is more about the conversation you're having with the world at large. Like you're not going to go out there and say our mission is but the branding is the way that you connect to people and that the way that you get them to engage with you. So I guess my question is, do you feel like nonprofits (I think you've already alluded this to a little bit but like) do you think that they need to put more of an emphasis on how they're branding their organization and what that looks like, as they go out into the world to share their story?
[Lee Wochner] Well, I think, I think so. And I think not just them, right? I mean, you know, you won't find Aunt Jemima on your shelves anymore, right? There's okay, because Aunt Jemima is is not so attractive in 2021 in the marketplace. And so now it's called, I don't know, saw logs Maple or right. It's got some weird name now. Granville or I don't know what it's called. But my answer is mine has gone. And and, and, you know, for good reason. And, and there used to be a chain of restaurants down south called low black sand bows, and it was deeply offensive, and I believe they're gone then. Hooray, right? So there's also the context of the environment in which you're in. And so your brand isn't going to stay fixed. And if you look at the history of Starbucks. Starbucks, originally was the masthead of a ship so that's what that woman is on the Starbucks cup. She was the masthead of the ship when it would come in. And she was full breasted. And there was a lot of liner type in there, a lot of detail work and over the years because things evolve and change. She's now a little more discreet in her matrix. And they've cleaned it up, they've made it simpler because and they've reduced, eliminated a lot of those lines because she's going to appear in lots of different formats and people around the world need that need to be able to see it at a glance and make sense of it.
And to give you the other great example is Apple originally was started by hippies, and, and was born in a way out of the whole earth catalog movement. And so it had a hippie look, and it had that leina type look. And then they got rid of that, then they did an apple with a bite out. That's a pun byte, almost no one talks about bytes anymore. And then it was colored. And now it's just the shape, right? And so these things evolve and change. And what that tells you is that there's an orientation in those organizations toward reflection and investigation. And that should apply to nonprofits as well. Right? Who do you serve? What is it that you do? Why should they care? What is the meaning we are trying to express? And then how can people get that quickly and understand? Because, look, we're all susceptible to brands, because it's a shortcut, you know, we're wired for, for speed as that's what instincts are about speed. And I am wired to when I go to a certain place to ignore all of the sorry, Microsoft, Microsoft, and PC stuff and gravitate toward the Apple stuff. And they did that to me over decades. And it worked.
[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] Well. And you know, this is something that just a couple of real life, because I don't live in a family of marketers. And so I had a very, very proud moment the other day when I was watching TV with my husband, and and we saw kind of the string of commercials that were coming out and my husband literally looked at me, he goes, wow, there must be a lot of parents with kids our age that are watching this show, because everything was geared towards our demographic. And he you know, he picked up on that. And I was like, Yeah, good, good job, good for you. And then also, the other example that I'll share really fast is just the fact that before my kids could read, they could still recognize McDonald's, and target. And Nike, like they knew those brands Starbucks. And so we all kind of Aspire at one point to be able to be one of those brands that doesn't even have to have our name on the logo. Like wouldn't if you couldn't get to that level, right? Wouldn't that be? I mean, most of us won't. But that's pretty incredible that brands like Starbucks, like you mentioned, they don't even need to have their logo on there or their name anymore. Their logo speaks for itself.
[Lee Wochner] Well, they've also had the advantage of multibillion-dollar advertising. Correct. So when I go to the gym, I can recognize Nike right away, because they put billions of dollars behind that. swoosh, which is really like a soft checkmark. And I can recognize some other brands pretty quickly. And then I have to think hard about the ones you don't see anymore. Because like I don't see Adidas very much they've kind of gone away. Or Puma, when's the last time I saw Puma? anywhere? Right? Right? It just kind of has been eclipsed.
[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] Yeah. So um, one question I have for you then is, you know, people are hearing this, and they might decide to go like, flip the pendulum. So now you're sitting in your board meeting and start talking about your mission, your vision, but it's talking about, well, do we want this color? Do we want that color? So what are the pitfalls that people might fall into when it comes to creating that experience in that brand within their, within their organization?
[Lee Wochner] So I'm going to talk about optionality. And I'll send you we haven't put it up yet, Sami, but I'll send you a link to a video that I did, that we did here that we haven't launched yet. But because it's you, I'll show you the video. It makes the case better than I'm about to you know, I've done a lot of reading over the years about how the human brain works and what we're wired to do, right? Because we're still very much related to those forebears of ours who were out in the savanna afraid that a tiger would eat them, right? I mean, we're actually not that far removed from them. And so in our haste what we frequently do is we close off all of the doors. And so what I mean by that is we get into a binary Question and Answer kind of thing in our mind. Should I do this yes or no left or right in or out up or down and see those are all binary choices. And I'm involved in starting an endeavor here to tackle a social good and right away people were floating ideas for the name and it just Oh, do you like this name? Yes or no? Do you like that name? Yes or no. And really, it should be a little bit more like an improv game. Do you know where the actors in the theater play? Yes. And yes, and is a great way to spark creativity. So you do an improv exercise about so if we were out with this name, what would happen? I would say Bill hates it. Well, yes. And here's why. Right and ironically, now you start role playing why Bill hates it, or Bill likes it.
But the other thing is, while I'm talking about optionality, rather than saying, let's say, Okay, I want to tackle homelessness in Los Angeles, which I would really like to do, by the way, I'd like to be part of that. It's terribly distressing. It should I work on homelessness, yes or no? And the answer is no, busy, can't fix it myself. really time-consuming. I don't have any expertise, right. And if you reorient that toward if I wanted to be a part of solving homelessness, what could I do? Then you're like, well, I could get involved with a local nonprofit, I could, I could start a nonprofit, I could do a lot more research, I could, and suddenly you have all of these options. And so rather than get right into the binary, yes or no, up or down, left or right, in or out, we should ask ourselves, if I wanted to do something, how could I do that? Or what would I need to do because it's more open-ended. And it leads us to automatically coming up with some course of action. And, and I, I'm of the predisposition, that most things if they're not solvable, they're improvable. And we ought to just get together and improve them.
[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] I think that that's a great statement. Yeah, because small steps are going to lead to big changes over time. And we can only do so much right. Otherwise, sometimes it feels overwhelming the amount of things that we need to try to accomplish in order to fix and or solve a solution.
[Lee Wochner] I think that's exactly right. And here's what overwhelm does, right? overwhelm automatically leads us to No, we are predisposed to No because no is the safe choice. No, I'm not going to go out in the savanna because that Tiger will eat me versus Well if I want to go out in the savanna, how can I do it safely? Right. You have to be aware that we are predisposed to No and and and the world of consultants is filled with in a way No. Warren Buffett says you need to say no more often. I mean, this is classic MBA leadership advice, say no. And I'm like, Well, you know, no goddess here is no going to get us any place better.
[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] Well, I think to piggyback you kind of gave me a great, quite great segue into messaging. Because you know, if you're if we take the example of you, as an individual are interested in helping with the homelessness issue in Los Angeles, then me as an organization that works towards ending homelessness in Los Angeles, my messaging can be really powerful and how I talk about what we're doing, and what were the making people that have that. What's the word I'm looking for? Not capacity, but the initiative to help support that I want to speak to you and help you understand that we're the right organization for you to give your time, money and efforts to in order to help with the problem that you're already personally connected to. Yes. Just Yes.
[Lee Wochner] That's my fire response. Yes. Isn't that refreshing? You're so used to hearing No, but yes, yes, that's right. Yeah. And so, you know, you as an organization, have to help me believe that you can do something or that you know something, right. So, you know, the number one reason that people give to nonprofits is that there's lots of research that shows this is the number one reason is they believe in the mission of the organization like they want that solved, they want something better, they believe in the mission of the organization. And number two, they believe the organization can actually make a positive impact and they can succeed at it. So it is with regard to homelessness, which is just one of the issues, one of many issues, right? I mean, I mean, foremost, I'm concerned about climate change. I'm terribly concerned about climate change. So help me You know, I'm committed to that issue, help me understand how you make a positive impact against climate change, and also helped me understand what my role in it will be and how I could do something. And so as a person who works with words all the time and has his entire life and his word focused, I would look at all of the text, all of the positioning and the messaging. And it would have to seem realistic to me, it would have to seem achievable in some way for me to get involved.
[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] So when you work with organizations on figuring out their messaging, kind of where would you start, because I think the big mistake that people make across for-profit nonprofits is we try to speak to everyone instead of trying to speak to those that are best suited to support us.
[Lee Wochner] Well, you're absolutely right. You should not try to speak to everyone these days. Excuse me, the days of mainstream are over. There are no mainstream hit singles. I don't even know what a hit single is anymore. There are no mainstream television shows, all of the audience has been carved up. And Alvin and Heidi Toffler predicted this in the third wave in the late 1970s. And they were absolutely right. You know, a Future Shock paved the way for that book. And then the third wave made it very clear that the role of individuation was going to spread to every aspect of our society, and they were correct. So what I have found in facilitating strategic sessions, creative, strategic sessions with clients, for decades, yes, I'm at that stage of my life, Sammy, now I see for decades, is that there's already a consensus in the room, when you when you pull together, senior staff leadership, and you pull together board leadership, and you do a session with them, they all already agree, but they haven't found a way to express it. And, and I have a process where, when I draw it out of them in in the most congenial way, with their beliefs about it, and they can see their own writing, all of the writing is in the same realm, it's all very close together, and then you can unify it into the positioning, so we're not crafting anything new. It's like a magic act, where you reveal what was already there all along.
[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] And how I mean, like, Do you find that it's easier to kind of bring in somebody fresh to help with some of that, or, or do people kind of get in their own heads about what the organization is, and what they do when it comes to that exercise?
[Lee Wochner] Well, you have to bring in somebody fresh, and I'll tell you, I'll tell you why. And you already know the fact that you asked that tells me that you already know. If I were to have you over to my house, right, you would notice things that I just breeze past every day, when I enter the door, right? I don't really take in the furniture anymore. I don't see how either friendly or annoying my dogs are, you know, whatever, you know, I love them. But you know, maybe every visitor doesn't, I don't take in the sights and the smells, and you know, all of the aroma and the decor and all of that, because I see it every day. And, and when I one of the things I used to do that I don't do anymore, I used to do in a 360 analysis of an organization, I would come in and look at the financials and, and look at it top to bottom and the management and, and I I've grown less interested in some aspects of that. But I would always take the newest person out to lunch, or coffee or drinks, or whatever she or he wanted. And, and usually what I would get was, well, I'm just the receptionist, nobody's just the receptionist, the receptionist is really important. And I would take this person out to have a private discussion. And the reason was, they were new, they were brand new, and they could see everything. And that's the value of fresh eyes. Because we all get used to our environment, we as a species are adaptable, and so we adapt to our environment. And that is precisely why you need someone new to come in. And, assess your environment with you right what you hope it is or what you hope to make of it. And then well, that's great. You know, we support you in that, here's what we're actually seeing in your environment, and you're hearing and smelling it. And it's not quite in alignment with your goal.
[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] Well, I think it's a thing I mean, if you take retail as an example, right, a store like Target, their merchandising team might just switch things around and you walk in the store, it's all the exact same product, but you're seeing brand new things, whatever, I can't believe the status thing is something like 20, you see 20% of the things when you walk into a store and so just by the simple act of moving something to a different location can all of a sudden change its ability to sell through, because where it was before nobody was really seeing it.
[Lee Wochner] Exactly right. And we are wired toward unconscious behavior. And there are ways there are tricks and experiments you can perform to unwire yourself. But by the end of the day, you'll have a nervous breakdown. So I'm not recommending it and particularly if you're spending the day with your kids, but one of the things you can do is and that I'm not inventing this, this already was developed by people smarter than I am. If you spend the day using your non-dominant hand, you know, write your notes with your non-dominant hand, open the doorknob with your non-dominant hand, cut your food with the non-dominant hand by the end of the day. I mean, you'll be ready for heavy drugs because you can think straight anymore. And it tells you how much of your daily action is unconscious and the reason it's unconscious is your brain is a huge computer processing also Lots of stuff all day long. So with his routed all of these shortcuts throughout itself for speed and efficiency,
[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] Yeah. Um, so I want to jump back to when you talked about having conversation with your board about brand vision mission, and you know how we spend too much time on, on things. We talked a little bit about branding and not, you know, spending too much time on that. So we want to find that balance so that we can take action. So, you know, you've also talked about how, you know, Starbucks and all these brands have changed their logo over time. So, you know, kind of, as we start to think about our messaging and our branding, and how we go out into the world, and who we're talking to, and and bringing in more donors and growing like, how often do you recommend brands take a look at all of those elements so that they're not also in a cycle of constant change?
[Lee Wochner] Well, that's an excellent question. When you get the sense that the context has changed, that the environment has changed, and the environment changes around us all the time, and I'll give you an example I'm using lately. In the was in the 80s, holy cow. There was a movie called Arthur with Dudley Moore. And Arthur was the lovable drunk. And it was hilarious. And I saw this in the movie theater. And you know, now the idea of a lovable drunk who drives around drunk and is a slopping mess is not so funny. The context has changed, right?
And so nobody wants to talk about that or see that and that movie has disappeared. And by the way, it had a sequel, and they're just like, gone. It's completely out of the consciousness because now the idea of being an alcoholic is not as amusing as it used to be. Yeah. So if your context has changed, if you were a nonprofit focused on a certain thing. And so let's take it, I don't know, let's take economic inequality, right and right outside your doorstep, right in the radius around you, there's something going on that you haven't taken note of even, you might want to re-examine how you're approaching the issue. And you have to take into account, you're not an isolated island, right, you're right, you're related. you're connected to everything else, particularly in the age of the internet. And so what's in the air right now.
And I, you know, I'm in my 50s. And so I've seen things change radically over the past 50 years, and I can see what's in the context now that wasn't in the context then. And I'll give you an example. Yesterday on Twitter, I saw a young woman and I don't think she's stupid, right? It'd be easy to mock her. She's not stupid, right? said was Holy cow. Did you know that Hong Kong used to be ruled by the British until 1997? And now China and China took it over then and what's happened to Hong Kong since then. And of course, I know that, because it was major news in 1997. She's not old enough to know that. Again, she doesn't. It's not that history wasn't taught because it was taught, it's the time that has moved on.
And I'll give you one more quick example. My graduate degree is from the University of Southern California. And, I also taught there for 10 years, I taught graduate-level writing. So I got my master's degree in professional writing from USC in 1990. And, and so then, after a 10-year break, the university had me back to teach there. So I was teaching, graduate-level writing, and also, actually, nonprofit organization and management in a different department as well. So I was back at USC after a 10-year break. And I had a little joke I used to tell the students, which was Yeah, I've been, I've been coming here for 30 years, whatever, never never got any, any free parking for 20 year. And, finally one of them said, Well, you know, you can park on and I don't remember the name of the street, it might have been Jefferson, you can park on Jefferson for free. And I said, No, you can't, there's no free there's no free parking there. And he said, yes, there is. I said, No, there isn't. And then somebody says somebody else chimed in. Yeah, there isn't. So, you know, determined to be right as so frequently we are right after class. I drove around there and holy cow, there was all this free parking, right? It was metered. But there was all this free parking. And, and of course, what had happened, what had happened was in 10 years, you'll find this astounding to believe things had changed. Right? And we don't take notice of how things change. And I had not taken notice and I'm in the business of change marketers are in the are agents of change.
People who run nonprofits are trying to change things. They are agents of change. Shame on me. It hasn't occurred to me to ever go drive past there again and take a look. So we're all susceptible to this idea that what was will always be. And here in the United States, we have this idea that everything was beautiful and wonderful in the quote, good old days, close quote. And I was asked by people, well, when were those good old days? Let's look at the problems of them. And I don't know how useful that is. And why don't we instead, take a look at the environment that surrounds us right now, the authorizing environment for change, and make the best possible impact on the social good for now, in the future? Why don't we look, turn around and look forward? Instead of looking at this theoretical golden age that never actually existed?
[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] Yeah, well, I find this to be true. When I have conversations with my kids, they're 10 and 12. And it's interesting to me, the things that they come to me with that are all on their own, that they're repeating back to me that I experienced as a kid, I'm like, Okay, so those things are still kind of saying consistent. And, and then, you know, flip that the conversations that they bring to us that I'm like, Oh, I would have never had these types of conversations with my parents before. And so, as we're kind of trying to process change, like, Are you an advocate of like, serving your audience every few years, or like, really just checking in with your, with your base, but then also, I think, to piggyback off that, listening, because I think we tend to not actually listen to the things that are being mirrored back to us or being told to us about our organization and the work or the way that we're putting ourselves out there in the world.
[Lee Wochner] Listening is a dying art, and particularly in the echo chamber of the Internet, and, and listening has never been more valuable than it is now. So yes, Sammy, I think you're right if it is important to listen, and people will tell you. And I try to listen, right. I know, when you're talking a lot, you're not always listening, so I make an effort to listen. And when we get new team members here, I want to listen to them and hear what's going on and how we can make improvements. I'm very improvement-oriented, the my entire company is improvement-oriented. But if all you do is talk and stick to your guns about what you believe is right, then you're not doing any listening. And I'll give you an unfortunate example. So some years ago, I was a presenter at the National Planned Parenthood conference. And, I was of the opinion that national Planned Parenthood, which I would be a supporter of, could expand its reach and its revenue if it made a couple of changes. And the head office was completely closed off to that. But what happened was a number of affiliates, local chapters really heard me wanted to work with me on this after that. And what I was saying was so at the time, Joe Biden was vice president and Joe Biden had texted me and asked me for $3 right now, I don't think it was Joe. Personally, I like to think it was right. Joe asked me for $3. And Hey, buddy, here it is. Right. So I got this text and Joe Biden when he was vice president asked me for $3. And I thought, who would I be if I didn't send Joe Biden $3? He can have it? Absolutely. And I sent him $3. And I know that that sort of contribution adds up. And Planned Parenthood at the time, you know, I don't know about now, but at the time, was intent on asking for large sums of money generally, from a certain donor class.
And, and my position at the time was because we were in the Great Recession, that there was it moving forward, there would be future, there would be fewer of them, and they would be better off widening the appeal and getting more money from more people, you know, in smaller amounts. And they and they weren't interested in that discussion. And that's their strategic decision. And now, where we are about 10 years later, everybody asks for micro-donations and micro-donations actually do really well. And they, I wish that they had done that. And the other thing I wish they had done was to communicate the extent of their benefits. So when I came back to LA from that meeting, and I think it was in Washington, DC, I can't remember the words. It was their national conference. I had lunch with a former mayor in Los Angeles, who's an ardent Republican, and a good guy. And I said, hey, what percentage of what Planned Parenthood does do you think is abortion? And he said, 50%, as well, actually, it's about 1%. He said, Oh, I said, Did you know that they provide family planning for a lot of people who can't otherwise afford it? And he said, No, I wasn't aware of that. And I said,
Did you know that they do testicular cancer screenings? He said, No. And I said, you know, they did it. And I went through all of the things that Planned Parenthood does. And at the end of it, he said, Oh, then I would support them. Yeah, granted, he's not everyone. But there's a persuadable audience of reasonable people and I don't mean to single out Planned Parenthood, but it just happens to be the example I have. Because they do a lot of good work, especially in their local communities. But there's a lot of persuadable people that I sometimes wonder if we're opening our ears and listening to them, and then communicating the things that we do that align with them, to help persuade them.
[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] Well, I think, to your point, it's, um, we get in our own heads about what we think we need to communicate, versus what do people want to hear about? And what are the pain points that people are feeling that are going to help them resonate with us, and it might not always be in alignment with the exact campaign that you're trying to run or the exact thing that you're trying to bring donors in for. But if, if you can't bring them in at all, then you don't have an opportunity to talk to them about that other campaign that you're talking about.
So your $3 donation to Biden's campaign wasn't going to make or break his political run. But by you just signifying, hey, yeah, I'll give you $3 You're, you're saying to them that you're open for a conversation. Now it's up to them to have the right conversation with the right constituents at the right time. And that's all about the messaging. It also built a relationship. And I'll give you another example. When I was running my Theatre Company, I'm still on the board. But I was artistic director, founding artistic director, of my theatre company from 1992 till 2002. And so, at one point, I wrote what has famously become known as the $10 letter. And so in 2000/99, or 2000, I wrote a letter and, and it said, you know, skip the pizza, put off the haircut. What if you just sent us $10? You know, how many times have you walked down the street and $10 has just fallen out of your pocket, or you got home and you wondered where that $10 went, just send it to us, you won't miss it. But here's what we'll do with $10, we'll put it together with everybody else's $10 and it'll be something meaningful, and we'll be able to pay artists who will be able to do all these other things.
And, we will list everyone who donates in all of our materials, right in our programs. And, it was intentionally written to be funny. And, and this was, this was in the day of print and mail, because this was 20 years ago. So we sent these out. And, envelopes started to come back, and I opened and a lot of them would say that was really funny. And because it made me laugh, here's $10. Yeah. And, one day, I opened one, and there was a $1,000 check in there. And then the next envelope I opened was someone I knew. And it was $3. And I don't know where she is. I don't know where she got $3. She was pretty broke. But she wanted to send something, the idea that her name would be in the program was meaningful. And I'm not embarrassed to tell you I cried. I mean, I was very moved by that, that she sent $3 because then she could be part of the solution to, of course, her name when in the program.
[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] Yeah, empowering people. Because we all have our own reasons for giving, we all have our own reasons for attaching to the organizations we are attached to. And no gift is too small. Because I think the other piece for me with these $10 gifts that I love, and what's brilliant about what you're doing is we're building a database of people. And the more people that I mean, really in fundraising, it's truly a numbers game, right, and sales in general, it's a numbers game. And so the more people that you can bring into your fold that you can treat like amazing humans that you can build relationships with, that you can share your mission and vision with and your messaging, then the higher percentages that those people are going to convert into bigger givers.
[Lee Wochner] We work with a nonprofit called Global Organ Donor Education Network golden. And, and, and one of them I think their messaging is so great because what they say is being a donor is important being an organ donor and and I'm an organ donor, not well, not anytime soon. But I am an organ donor. And they say that's important. But you know that's just part of it. If you can share resources and education and spread the word and all this other stuff. And I think that's really great because it gets you into the fold. And my I have a beloved family member who needed organs donated and it saved His life and yes, it is more than just sign up to donate your organs. There's more that you can do. And I think the messaging is really great.
And I'll give you another example. We work with St. Vincent DePaul of Los Angeles. And right on their website, it says a Catholic volunteer organization that serves the poor and homeless of any religion for free. And, and, you know, they provide food and clothing and rental assistance and more, and they're just trying to help people who need a break, and then they have a thrift store that helps sell things to cover that and it's just all there. I mean, they make a big impact in their local community by helping people out. And I love the statement that yes, we are a Catholic organization. Yes, we are a volunteer organization. Yes, we serve the poor and the homeless of any religion for free. There's so much in there. And you'd have to be hard-hearted not to not fall for that. I mean, I, I love that. And, I was so proud to work with them. And so you know, we're all in the I keep using the word environment. We're all in the same environment. We're all on the same planet. We're all connected. And there's no we created all of these problems. There's no reason that we can’t uncreate them if we just work together on solving them.
[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] Yeah. Well, I mean, I think there's been lots of amazing examples. And I'm truly inspired by this conversation. I think I hope a lot of organizations that are listening to this are inspired to kind of take a look at how they're putting their organizations out there to the public. How they're sharing what they do, and ways that they can improve on that just to better serve their mission, not to be better people. But just because we need more of what they're doing, like you said to unsolved, the problems that we've already created. What other kind of last thoughts Would you like to leave organizations that are kind of reviewing and thinking about their branding and messaging?
[Lee Wochner] Most people are good people. We all know that, right? The crummy people are a narrow slice of humanity and the crummy people get all of the press. And I used to be a newspaper editor, so I understand why they get all the press. And it's hard for us to see past that, and see that most people are good people, and most people want problems solved. And if you're in a nonprofit, if you're serving an executive leadership, if you are the “receptionist”, which is the title I don't care for, but if you're if you're, you know, if your public-facing, if you're a board member, you're there to solve a problem. You're a good person who signed up for that mission. And you're going to devote your time, money, and energy to that. And what I would do is only encourage you, there are lots of solutions out there, there are ways you can make an impact. And people are absolutely committed to you. The question is, what can you do to help find them and inspire them even more? So and I wish you luck? And I think you should do that.
[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] That's incredible. Lee, I really, really, really appreciate you coming on to chat with us today. And share your perspective. If people want to learn more about you and how you support nonprofits and changemakers. How can they do that?
[Lee Wochner] You can find me on LinkedIn, Lee Wochner, you can go to the counterintuity website and see a slightly out-of-date photo of me although you know, there I don't know. I'm just a little slightly out of date.
[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] Yeah, yeah.
[Lee Wochner] You know, I work in the theater and love the theater. And there's a reason I was never an actor. So I you know, as they used to say, have a good, a good face for radio. But in any event, find me through the counterintuity website, I'd love to hear from people. I am passionately committed to improvement in the world and social improvement and the social good.
And, and, you know, I leave you with one more thing, Sammy, I, you know, you have two younger kids, I, I have three children, excuse me, who are a little older than that. And I see younger kids all the time. The kids coming up are really smart and really committed and really active. And people my age too frequently seem to dump on kids. I don't know why they do that. I'm so impressed with the younger people. And I am so grateful for them. And we just have to find ways to empower them. And we're all going to be glad
[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] I love that. That's so great. And I agree with you 100%. Well, we will link up all of this in the show notes and all of the resources that we mentioned as well at the firstclick.net/podcast. But Lee, thank you so much for joining me.
[Lee Wochner] Sami, it's been a real pleasure meeting you. Thank you so much.
[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] A big big thank you to Lee Wochner for joining me today. It was such a fun conversation and I know there will be many more conversations to come. But for now, make sure you head on over to the show notes at thefirstclick.net/podcast so you can get all the goodies there. And make sure you subscribe wherever you listen so you don't miss an episode and leave us a review. I'd love to hear what you think about it and if there's any other topics that you think you would like us to discuss, okay, but for now, I'll see you in the next one.