15 March 2012 ~ 15 Comments

Focus on HOW

“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it,” says Simon Sinek in his very popular TEDx talk. And he’s right. People buy thy WHY. The thing is… this is a big problem in development work! People buy the WHY – which means they are fueling good intentions, not necessarily good impacts. Here are some thoughts about this that our team at PEPY  & PEPY Tours put together via video (thanks for the animations, Wei!):

Selling the WHY works for companies selling products or services, like in Simon’s example, Apple. If Apple sells their WHY – like “Being Different” – people can get on board with that. They buy into the WHY and then they buy the product. But if the WHAT fails (ie: if the product breaks, isn’t really all that “different” or just doesn’t fit the person’s need), then the person wont buy from that company again, and in today’s world, they’d use social media to let all of their friends know not to buy it either.

But if the WHAT fails in development work (ie: people really weren’t “saved” from XYZ disease, kids didn’t show up to the school, the well as broken, the micro-loans caused more debt than gains in wealth, etc), the donor who was so moved to fund the project because she believed in the WHY sometimes never finds out. And when the annual collection information touting the WHY of the organization ends up in her inbox again, she might send another check, again, and again, and again….

So we need to stop buying WHYs and start buying HOWs. And if donors start buying good HOWs, then NGOs will start selling their HOWs, and we can use our fundraising for more education, rather than emotions fueling good intentions.

Pass this on if too want to be part of a HOW and IMPACT focused movement.

Pssst – we have some beta info up on www.investingtimeinpeople.org – a loose collection of people (like you?!) who share similar ideas about development work. We are looking to apply for a grant that is coming up in a few months with regards to creating an ad campaign around the HOWs of high impact development work. Want to be involved? Drop a note!

  • http://twitter.com/intldogooder How Matters

     I’m in!

  • Sallie

    Count people and places very definitely in

  • Dave Vann

    Nice video – challenging stuff…particularly for someone involved in both Marketing and Development! (That would be me). It seems to me we need to start with the WHY (no effective fundraising, no funds for development!) but then move people to the HOW (it’s about the solutions for local people, at the end of the day). So maybe it’s a ‘WHY+HOW’ movement (!?!)

  • Anonymous

     Indeed – agreed! The WHY will never leave our advertising – but what needs to change is what makes us decide to give our time or money to an organization. That decision should be focused on the best HOW within a given WHY – and if supporters start making judgements that way, then organizations will have to start marketing their HOW along with their WHY. If we start a community of sharing HOWs, we’ll also be educating others on how we achieved the things we have, thereby generating more skills sharing.  Would love to talk to you more, Dave – re:your marketing/development work!

  • Jeffstrax

    D, great video and superb animation from Wei. The beta test sounds interesting.

    What if we were to think that the WHY is the HOW. Sometimes the WHY is mistaken as a tangible all to often, particularly in marketing the WHY is overlooked, yet the way we do business should be as important as the business we do. It’s so rare to see marketing work that revolves around integrity and behavior and so much easier to advertise the physical product. why ? Well if a physical product breaks, it is just a broken product. If integrity breaks, all trust is lost and generally a business is gone. So begs the question, who has the courage to market integrity as the WHY and the HOW?

  • Peter Siliesilie

    I think you missunderstood Simon Sineks model for inspirational leadership.

    The nagative examples in his Video were all companys who knew what and how to do. But they failed. And Simon Sinek just wants to explain why they fail even though they know what to do and how to do it.

  • Anonymous

    Hi Peter – I love Simon’s talk. It is probably my favorite TEDx talk and we often show it to our teams when working on strategy or marketing ideas. The point of my video is not to critique Simon’s talk – as I agree with it. It is to shed light on how that reality – that “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it” – effects development work. People buy the “WHY” – but are not the end users of the product or service most of the time, so they can’t always easily evaluate the WHAT. Therefore, if they focus on buying the HOW instead of just the WHY, they can hopefully buy into more positive impacts.  There is also a conversation about this going on here: http://www.ted.com/conversations/10077/people_buy_the_why_and_thi.html

  • Jacqueline Kronk

    You continue to inspire me D!!

  • Laura Hughes

    I definitely agree. Focusing on seeking ways on “how” we could implement our aims is much better than always finding out the reason “why” we should do it. 
    I just blogged about volunteering abroad.

  • http://www.facebook.com/oscar.hernandez.santos Óscar Hernández Santos

    I see the How as a result by developing the Why, and the What as a result by developing the How. Every part (Why, How and What) must be focused at a certain different point. But the Why should be always the background, and the “energy” to move forward in one direction.

    A Why is the base to create and innovate in a specific way. Are we looking for better way to live? Are we trying to improve our lives? Then, let’s start by looking to our Whys, and Hows will flow like whater in a river!

    In my opinion, looking directly to Hows, is a way of trying to obtain results or impact, whithout giving the proper attention to what really matters…
    Why we do what we do right now? That means… what should I do right now to be happy?

    The answer will never come with a How, but a Why.

    I am –> I interact with the world for some Reason –> I find the way to get the best Impact in the world according to the way I am–> I discover What to do at any moment

    I hope it helps!

  • Terry

    No one is leaving out the how or what. They are important. They are in the Golden Circle. Without them there will be breakdown. Clearly logistics, ramifications and results are important. But that is not what makes us decide to donate money. It is the why that motivates donations. The “why” is what is more commonly called your vision and or mission statements. Have a clear, intentional, purpose driven and powerfully connecting why and your how and what will be overcome.  The why is your purpose for existing as an organisation. Without it you may as well close up shop. You absolutely must first have a handle on the why. Otherwise your how and your what will fall apart. The why drives both regardless the type of entity, regardless the size, regardless the location, regardless what is being supplied, delivered or serviced.

  • Anonymous

    Hi guys!  Thanks for all of the comments!  I have not been keeping up with emails/blog enough so sorry for the delay in getting those comments up (and I will be traveling for the next few weeks as well – so pre-forgive any delays.)  I would love to let the comments just go straight up, but I continue to get a lot of spam comments on here if I do, so moderating and just approving any real comments seems to make the most sense (though I do leave them off if people post twice like one of these below was).

    Anyway, to the WHY/HOW/WHAT-ness.  Terry/Oscar – I agree with you that the WHY is very important. As you pointed out Terry, and as Simon’s talk highlights, people buy the WHY when they donate.  It’s true.  My little video was not intended to inspire NGOs to lead the change in focus, as they use their fundraising to do just that: raise funds.  If we as donors continue to follow our natural instincts to donate because of the WHYs, then NGOs will continue to sell the WHY, as that will continue to be the best way to make money.

    But there are a lot of organizations who are great at selling their WHY, and they are causing little to no good, and sometimes harm.  Consider in Cambodia that there are a large number of orphanages (growing at the rate of tourism, not rate of orphaning, which you can read more about here http://www.thinkchildsafe.org/thinkbeforevisiting/ ) and many of them are GREAT at selling their WHY.  People get so moved by the idea that there are poor kids who need their support, that they donate…. a ton.  And this allows the most corrupt orphanages to bribe the police to let them fundraise on “bar street” pulling young kids along who should be sleeping, and it feeds both corruption and pulling kids from their families.  People are buying the WHY, not the HOW or WHAT, and this is causing harm.

    Or, take a handful or organizations working in education or trafficking in the area. There are some that are great at selling the WHY – some of them have huge international donations due to their skill at selling the WHY…. but there are empty schools, schools full of locked boxes of rat-infested donations of toys and books from abroad, and a growing number of “shelters for trafficked women” which are not what they claim to be at all: the shelters have no social workers and many of the women were not ever trafficked. 

    When it comes to international development work, as the feedback loop is not closed, it is very hard to understand the WHAT.  So many people seem to be looking to a way to have metrics to compare NGOs (which is why the Trasi website has hundreds of impact assessment tools: http://trasi.foundationcenter.org/ ) but unfortunately selling the WHAT doesn’t usually translate well into a measure of impact. In other words, building 100 schools which each have 100 students does not mean 10000 kids got a better education than they did before the build. Are teachers coming, what is the quality of education, are students paid to register but then never come?  If instead we start to vote with our money on the HOW of people´s plans, we might have a better chance of voting for success.  I wish someone had said to me, when I was helping to fundraise for a school in Cambodia ¨so, you are building a building, but HOW is that improving education?¨ If donors don’t start considering the HOWs of the work they vote for with their money, they might continue to fuel wasteful or damaging work.  We will indeed always continue to fuel failures of some sort, as we need to fail in order to learn,but if we keep fueling the same failures over and over and over again, then shame on us.

    With that context, does asking donors to focus more on HOW than just WHY make sense to you? And if that did happen, and then NGOs were incentivized to sell more of their HOWs, do you think we might see some small shifts in improvement in development work? What other ideas fo you have that might help decrease donation waste?  Thanks for joining the conversation!

    (sorry for the spelling errors… writing from a Spanish keyboard!)

  • Sallie

    Completely understand spam situation Daniela – some of the spam i get makes my ears curl!
    that said I am with you one hundred per cent in that orgs must demonstrate the how and the what after they have detailed the why and we need to help donors of time skills and money understand better how important the HOW and the WHAT are. 
    We often have dialogues with donors – mainly financial – where we sound ungrateful – yes we want and need your funds and we kinda agree on the why but we disagree very strongly on the WHAT and the HOW – we need to invest in people not things and most donors can’t get their heads round this – we have a recent example of someone who had serious and I mean serious bucks  to build a school – we explained that this particular community didnt need a fancy  school building and a fancy road leading to it – they need training and trained teachers and maybe we could spend a little on infra structure but invest most in people – POOF – the suggested donation disappeared – broke my heart – all that money could have paid to train 5 teachers and pay their salaries for 5 years! You can bet your bottom dollar that someone somewhere has taken their money and there will be yet another fancy school building with no teachers!
    So count us in we – the WHY is pretty obvious the HOW and the WHAT are tougher – we need to educate donors and volunteers – without preaching – thats down to us to find a way to redirect their philanthropy

  • Sophie Davis

    I completely agree with this post. Charity:Water is a great example of this way of thinking. In their fundraising and marketing materials, they focus on HOW by showing where the money will go and HOW it will be used exactly. 

    I think Why and How are inter-related. You can’t leave the Why out of the How, but you can leave the How out of Why. And the latter explains what you talk about in the video, you want to do something good because you feel you should do it, you feel guilty or feel like it’s the right thing to do, without questioning the HOW it should be done. 

    For NGOs, learning to focus on HOW is important because playing on donor’s emotions doesn’t work that well anymore (has it ever really worked?). Making people feel guilty isn’t constructive I think. It makes people do something without thinking about how they should do it. Focusing on a no nonsense, HOW, is much more constructive I think and leaves the guilt out of the matter. 

  • John B

    I’m not sure that’s the right solution.  I think the point is that the WHY is unavoidably pertinent.  If you stop selling it, people will buy into someone else (with a better marketing strategy).

    That doesn’t mean you need to have style over substance, though. It just means that there needs to be better connections between impacts on the ground, and the reason people are buying in.  In other words, we need better WHYs.

    The WHY still needs to be the result, the reason for doing it in the first place (and this still needs to be something people/donors buy into).