Death By Flutter: A Cautionary Tale From The Japanese Honey Bee

A few weeks ago I learned about a fascinating phenomenon in the animal kingdom. It had to do with the way Japanese honey bees deal with their foremost predator, the Japanese giant hornet - a technique the honey bees developed over centuries. Whenever a giant hornet enters the honey bees’ hive, the honey bees swarm it, completely envelop it, and vibrate their wings in unison to create a pressure cooker around the hornet. Because the honey bee can tolerate temperatures slightly higher than the giant hornet, this collective buzzing raises the hornet’s body temperature just beyond its breaking point. The bees literally overwhelm the wasp to oblivion. Death by flutter.

So why lead with the parable of the Japanese honey bee and hornet in a blog for nonprofit software tools? Well it seemed an appropriate allegory for a human-induced occurrence we subject each other to everyday. Annihilation by flutter. We’re buzzing each other to death.

It’s not a trend particular to nonprofits. For anyone with a mission and a mailing list (including Totem, obviously), the tendency to want to get your message in front of as many people as possible is as natural as the honey bees’ instinct to protect the hive. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that drive, and we’re certainly not advocating for anyone to shut down their newsletter for the sake of reducing the noise. We do think, though, that it’s worth looking with a critical eye at how your organization communicates with its supporters at an individual level. This is especially true of the nonprofit space for a few reasons. For one, your constituents are uniquely invested in your mission on an emotional level. They really do care. Relatedly, because they care so much that they’re willing to give their time and money without an exchange of products or services, you want to be more sensitive both to that relationship, and about the solicitations you send as an extension.

So what’s our prescription? Use what you know about your supporters to personalize your messaging to them - as granularly as you can. Think about it from their vantage point; after all, we’ve all experienced the crucible of an overheated inbox. We’ve all experienced the anxiety that stems from being perpetually pinged by what feels like the whole of the world, trying to get us to buy something, or download something, or give something - shucks, we’re doing it to you right now (sorry!). But amid the flutter there’s always some honey to be tapped from your inbox. We’re suggesting that in order to cut through the buzz, make your communique as relevant as possible using the data at your disposal.

Consider this; which would you prefer? A general solicitation that can feel cold and computer-generated, or an email that feels like you’re talking to someone you know and like - someone you’re interested in and that is interested in you. Of course it’s the latter, and to the extent your organization can utilize what you know about your supporters to engage with them in deeper and more meaningful ways, the more inclined they will be to support and engage with you in turn.

Data analytics can help with this. We’re betting your organization has a wealth of information already at its disposal that, if properly mobilized, could help you craft more relevant messages to your likely discrete supporter base. Data, when cleaned, segmented, and analyzed, can help nonprofit organizations create targeted and customized solicitations for different types of supporters. In doing so, you’re able to cut through the buzz, cut down your flutter, and develop meaningful relationships with constituents in a more scalable fashion (maybe even avoid overheating some poor donor’s inbox in the process). Fortuitously, a direct result of less flutter happens to be more honey; namely, if you’re messaging is less general and more personal, it will enable your organization to actually ask for more from your supporters.

In our last blog we linked a TedTalk by Dan Pallotta discussing some of the double standards that exist between nonprofits and for profits that impede the success of nonprofits. In that talk, Dan says the following: “People are weary of being asked to do the least they can possibly do. People are yearning to measure the full distance of their potential on behalf of the causes they care about deeply. But they have to be asked.” We agree, but we don’t think it’s enough to be simply asked. You’re probably asked to do a thousand things a day from all sorts of sources. Prioritizing which asks you ultimately answer depends on a number of inputs, and often the most important is how you feel about the asker. Do you know them? Do you like them? Do you feel like they know you? We believe the level of personalization of a message can have a direct correlation with its ultimate success. We believe the more you can distinguish yourself from the digital flutter we all face on a daily basis, the stronger position you put yourself in to be heard.

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Death By Flutter: A Cautionary Tale From The Japanese Honey Bee
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