It’s time to talk about how to brainstorm interesting ideas for a book – a collaborative e-book for fundraising, that is.
In Part 1 of this series, I introduced the 5 steps to create a collaborative e-book and even made the handy dandy graphic to the left so that you would have a high-level reminder (or mantra, even) whenever you feel stuck.
The first step is to brainstorm all kinds of possible topics. The challenge? The concept of brainstorming sounds easy but proves difficult.
Sometimes finding the right idea is the hardest part in the process because people fall into analysis paralysis.
They overthink and second guess the ideas that come easily to them. They worry about “getting it right” and lose their ability to be creative and have fun.
In fact, I have the perfect story about how analysis paralysis can happen in even the most ideal situations. I recently witnessed this phenomenon with one of my clients who, for the sake of this post, we’ll call “Jim”.
Jim is a bright and charismatic guy. He always paints a clear and colorful picture with descriptive words when he recounts stories from his life. He remembers even the tiniest of details and can recognize patterns across what may seem like very different concepts.
Jim also has a great sense of make believe and professes a childhood love of “choose your own adventure” books, not to mention speaking fluent Calvin & Hobbes (affiliate link).
When it comes to answering writing prompts relevant to his business and interesting ideas for a book, however, he has a total creative block. I have watched as he stares at the piece of paper with the prompt as though it’s an alien visiting from an unrecognized planet. And his pen serves as nothing more than a tool to release nervous energy as he taps it on the table.
At first, I thought Jim was self-conscious since I was in the room; because let’s face it, no one likes to be watched when they’re thinking deeply. This happened more than once though and it had me stumped. How can someone who is so creative and such a great communicator have such a hard time generating high-level concepts related to something in which he is an expert?
If he can’t brainstorm easily, who can?
Brainstorming Isn’t The Big Bad Wolf
So I decided to ask even more people from small nonprofit organizations about their experiences with dedicated brainstorming sessions as an approach to add new initiatives to their fundraising. I also wanted to learn more about why they aren’t more creative with their strategic planning and promotion.Small nonprofits with limited staff explained they feel their time is better spent with 'boots on the ground' work than dedicated brainstorming sessions for new and creative marketing and fundraising strategies.Click To Tweet
And while brainstorming did not make the list of America’s top fears in 2016, for small nonprofits, there is trepidation around the time that it would take for, what one person called, “pie in the sky thinking.” With the limited staff they have, they are constantly focused on the “boots on the ground” efforts because that is where they have historically reaped the most returns.
They recognize marketing and promotion are important, but it’s easier to spend time on proven strategies which mostly entail fundraising through large events, maintaining an up-to-date website, and sending out their newsletters (either snail mail or electronically). Some even throw social media in there, but without a lot of strategic planning and consistency.
So brainstorming interesting ideas for a book? It sounds like a good idea but since the whole concept of an e-book already feels daunting it’s hard to take the time to play around thinking about possibilities that might not pan out.
Generate Interesting Ideas For A Book
So Jim is not the only one who has a hard time tackling the “creative stuff”. I am therefore going to break it down so brainstorming ideas for a book so it’s less intimidating. This approach will let you jump off the high dive immediately and into a pool of possibility.
This brainstorming process is similar to a movie opening that starts with a bird’s eye view of a city then zooms closer and closer until you’re in a home office and see someone’s hand, writing notes on a piece of paper.
Think about your small nonprofit’s mission and goals at a high level, then channel your favorite elementary school teacher reminding you to refer to the 5 questions of writing.
First, take some time to think about who your donors are.
Some questions to ask are:
- How would you describe your typical donor?
- How do the donors behave as an everyday consumer? You may or may not have standard demographic data about them so use whatever you have even if it’s just a quick paragraph you’ve pulled together to stay focused when you are crafting your giving campaigns.
- What roles do your donors hold within their daily lives? Are they mothers, fathers, grandparents, caregivers, single parents, just plain single? What kinds of work do they do?
- How does your donor identify culturally?
- What types of fundraising events have been most successful for you in the past?
- What types of themes did people like best? Was it travel-focused, food-focused, fitness-focused, etc.?
Once you have a strong sense who your e-book audience is, it’s time to discuss the things they need.
Focus on questions like:
- What can I create that will make my donors lives easier, more enjoyable, or more enriched?
- What things do they like to do, experience, read, and use?
- What kinds of information will appeal to the largest number of people?
So, you’ve defined for whom you’re creating the e-book and what need the book will fill. Now, as cliched as it sounds, you need to define “the why”.
Why would a current or prospective donor be compelled to buy your e-book? While it would be wonderful if hundreds of people would buy it just because they want to help your small nonprofit, the likelihood isn’t high if it means they are purchasing something that doesn’t provide value to them.
In addition to providing value to your audience, you also want to take this opportunity to solidify your small nonprofit’s messaging around your mission and goals. This will not only allow you to use the information and expertise that your team already has, but also tap into your network for collaboration.While it would be wonderful if hundreds of people would buy it just because they want to help your small nonprofit, the likelihood isn't high if it means they are purchasing something that doesn't provide value to them.Click To Tweet
The topics shouldn’t be something a person would review before preparing for their PhD thesis, but instead solve an everyday problem in easy-to-understand language. Your small nonprofit’s fundraising mission and goals also shouldn’t be so obvious the reader feels like it’s just an advertisement; instead, it should be more organic to your industry.
If you’re a food-focused nonprofit, for example, e-book ideas might include recipes with easy-to-use shopping lists, or how to shop for food on a budget that includes actionable advice and worksheets/checklists.
If you’re an animal-focused nonprofit, ideas might include a guide on how to choose the best animal for your family or DIY tutorials on how to make a variety of toys for animals.
The most important thing is to be willing to consider all options (even the funky ones) and have fun.
You have finished the heavy lifting of brainstorming interesting ideas for a book after answering who, what, and why. Now you need to decide when you’d like to launch the book.
Put yourself in the shoes of a general consumer, and this pair of shoes should be familiar because you are one. So focus on the key times of the year where there is a marketing push (even the ones you don’t like). The easiest places to start are the standard holidays, seasonal changes, and family/life events.
Deciding when you’d like to launch the e-book will also allow you to hone in even more on the specific topic area of your book. What do I mean? Let’s use our food-focused small nonprofit as an example again and focus on the recipe book idea.
There are recipes for everything and packaging them around a theme makes them more enticing. To give you a sense of how to approach it, here are some ideas for book content that uses a seasonal theme:
- soups and stews for Fall or Winter
- the perfect drink recipes for Summer
- small dishes and super salads for Spring
It is smart to have several different possible themes to explore so that, as you keep moving through the process, you have options if one of them doesn’t come together easily.
The e-book concept is starting to take shape so the last step in this process is to define where you’re going to sell the virtual product. This answer is easy! You’ll be selling the book online. You don’t need to define the exact places online the book will be offered just yet, but should have some general ideas. Consider selling it on your small nonprofit’s website, as well as connecting with your network and any bloggers with whom you have a relationship. At this point, you just need to keep a running list of your ideas but don’t need to make any finite decisions.
Consider selling it on your small nonprofit’s website, as well as connecting with your network and any bloggers with whom you have a relationship. At this point, you just need to keep a running list of your ideas but don’t need to make any finite decisions.
All Ideas Are Welcome For A Fundraising E-Book
You should have a good list of ideas and options to use as you work your way through the remainder of the fundraising e-book process after all five questions have been answered. At this point, it’s good to have chosen at least one idea to implement, but nothing has to be finalized.
The best thing about brainstorming ideas for an e-book is that you have already documented a bunch of alternatives so if you need to make changes, you can!
What’s The Next Step?
The next step in the process of creating a collaborative e-book for fundraising is to create the project timeline and infrastructure. The project will run more smoothly (making it much more enjoyable) if everything is set up properly before soliciting contributions. So, keep your eye out for Part 3 coming soon!
Share The Goods
What type of e-book do you think your small nonprofit’s audience would respond to best?