The Christmas Conspiracy: Spending Less = Giving More

Rather glad to see that Advent Conspiracy that I wrote about earlier is making enough of an impact to warrant an article in Forbes no less! Apart from the fact that it’s a great cause to consider adopting and advocating, this article also points to some fantastic insights from a marketing perspective.

Year one of AC began by raising $500,000 and today that number has grown to several million dollars.  They’re now building awareness of the effort and it has reached global proportions engaging thousands of churches and people around the world.

How did they build awareness for the cause?  The biggest driver was the viral AC video created in 2008 that has been viewed in the neighborhood of 3 million times and passed around the world via Facebook, Twitter, Vimeo, and other social networks.  It’s beautifully done, engaging, and hits that emotional trigger that all good marketing communication delivers.  There are books, DVD’s, brochures, videos, press kits all intended and activated to spread the word about the movement…while utilizing the holiday season as the time to reconsider how all of us spend our time and money.   They have some high profile advocates like Whoopie Goldberg who talked about it last year during an episode of “The View”, a popular Christian rock group named Robby Seay Band, NY Times best selling author Donald Miller, Luis Palau…who’s ministry has engaged over 1 billion people through evangelistic events and media, best selling author of “Purpose Driven Life” Rick Warren, and even Albert Pujols have all promoted the Advent Conspiracy movement and Living Water International.

What’s also pretty amazing about the success of this movement and the quality of the creative is that most of the marketing materials have been generated out of a small creative team on staff at a church called The Crossing in St. Louis led by lead pastor Greg Holder and creative director Tony Biaggne.  When you look at the strategy of the communication, the creative treatment and quality of the overall product, you would think that a large agency had worked on this but that’s not the case.

Challenges: Like all not for profit initiatives, the Advent Conspiracy movement and Living Water International need sustained donations and financial support…which is a big challenge.  People get caught up in “fad giving”.  In other words, what’s the hot cause of the year to be involved with?  Is it Haiti relief efforts? Japan Tsunami relief efforts? AIDS research?  Others?  Part of the problem in general is that people want to be charitable and they end up giving small fragmented donations that I’m certain are helpful but tend to be an inch deep and a mile wide. If focused against one initiative like solving the world’s water crisis, those donations might quite possibly be more effective.

During a 60 minutes segment a couple weeks ago, there was a story on Warren Buffett and his succession plans for Berkshire Hathaway that involve his farmer and charitable philanthropist son, Howard Buffett.  As part of that segment they talked about the $31 billion that Warren Buffett has pledged to Bill and Melinda Gates as part of The Gates Foundation effort.   Just for grins, consider this:  What if Mr. Buffett were to pledge $20 billion to Living Water International or another of the many worthy foundations working to solve the global water crisis?  That kind of focus could possibly solve the problem.  Totally solve it!  Keep in mind, this is no easy task.  It would take time to scale an effort like this as well as requiring sustained levels of investments in equipment and manpower to make this a reality but nonetheless, it’s a very real possibility.  Solving this crisis also solves other problems like education, poverty, crime and many other issues brought on by the root cause of inadequate access to clean water.  So let’s dream for a moment and say that Mr. Buffett actually donated $20 billion towards solving the global water crisis, there would still be another $11 billion left over to donate to the Gates Foundation, which ain’t chump change.  I’m certainly not trying to diminish the incredible generosity of Warren  Buffett or The Gates Foundation.  I’m just suggesting that all charitable giving ends up being more powerful when it’s laser guided to a specific target versus shotgun giving.  Just a thought.

Other Challenges: As year five of Advent Conspiracy’s efforts approach, keeping the movement fresh and finding ways to extend the idea beyond the holiday season and making it more of a year-round mindset is a focus for the AC team and a potential avenue for growth.

While I’m certain big business (particularly large retailers and most consumer durables) won’t like the notion of “Spend Less” during Christmas, one of the things Living Water International could use is a large corporate partner.  Someone like, for example, British Petroleum (who arguably can use some good press after the oil spill in the gulf), and who has access and expertise in drilling.  Perhaps another multinational corporation that does business in third world countries and has access to engineering as well as a thick checkbook to drive their CSR efforts. Getting caught doing good by helping solve the water crisis could be an excellent platform for the right company looking to find the right cause to champion.

Sometimes in order to serve a selfless need, one needs to begin with serving a selfish need.  So if you listen to the folks at Advent Conspiracy and Living Water International, they would say this:  Instead of shop, shop, shop, credit cards, traffic jams, useless gifts, debt, chaos, etc., etc.  Why not try slowing down, reflecting upon the meaning of the season and consider that all this hyper commercialism isn’t the best way to celebrate and show people that we care.   Maybe with a different approach, a focused effort and an examination of what we’re really accomplishing every December, people could bring about a lot of positive change in their own lives as well as the lives of those so unfortunate that they don’t even have something all of us in this country take for granted every day, clean water.  Worship fully, spend less, give more, love all…and in the process save a billion lives.  Makes a lot of sense to me.

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