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Add the Word 'No' To Your Cause Marketing Toolkit

Every business day in this blog I chronicle the best and worst of cause marketing. As you seek inspiration for where to take your own cause marketing you must eschew the bad. But you must also learn how to refuse the good.

I was reminded of this by an anecdote about Steve Jobs in a book I’ve been reading called ‘The Idea Hunter,’ by Andy Boynton and Bill Fischer. They tell about how Jobs was speaking to a group of executives at Yahoo when the subject of saying no to bad ideas came up.

“That’s easy,” said Jobs. “The challenge is in saying no to good ideas.”

Jobs came back to this theme more than once and in one instance was quoted thusly:
“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully.”
Anyone with a modicum of judgment knows the stinkers. But it’s the good ideas that require real expertise to deal with. That’s because if you let them the good ideas take resources away from the great ideas.

In fact, I heard this exact point made by my former boss and the founder of Children’s Miracle Network, Mick Shannon, a good 10 years before the Jobs quote.

Many charities reach a point where people start coming to them with ideas of every stripe. It’s a matter of scale; St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital gets called on more often than the local food bank. But even the food bank almost certainly hears from dozens of people a year who have an idea for them.

Mick Shannon is a difficult guy to characterize. He and Joe Lake founded Children’s Miracle Network with not much more than moxie and Shinola. He was renowned for his screaming matches with employees (and others) and he has a crazy lateral lisp. He would fly a redeye cross-country, but stand for the whole flight, chatting up the flight attendants. He was a tough guy with a volatile temper, although he was always good to me. But put him in a children’s hospital with sick kids and he’d melt like a all-day sucker left out in the Florida rain.

Mick ran Children’s Miracle Network for more than 20 years. Once he left his contradictions became even more pronounced.

But Mick was more right about saying no to good ideas than even Jobs was.

Here’s why; a cause has less leeway, less rope, less patience from its stakeholders for mistakes and miscues. The recent Komen debacle is good example of just how little leeway nonprofit leaders really have, notwithstanding the good they do.

Jobs was wrong about John Sculley, NeXT, the Newton, telling people to hold the iPhone in a certain way so that calls wouldn’t drop, sticking with AT&T for too long, staying estranged from his oldest daughter for so much of her youth, not owing up to the working conditions of workers in Apple factories, and many more.

And, yet, we nonetheless hail him as one of the greatest CEOs of all time.

But the CEO of a cause doesn’t often get that many chances at failure. In such an environment, saying no to the merely good is therefore doubly prudent.

So keep ‘no’ in mind as you put together the elements of your next cause marketing effort.

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