What are you looking for?

AJWS+Apatow: Funny, But Is It Good?

Posted by on November 5th, 2010
Posted in Blog, Nonprofit Communications, Nonprofit Messaging, Storytelling, Videos    Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

So Judd Apatow is funny. There’s no question about that. But in this five minute short he created for American Jewish World Service (AJWS), we also see some of the worst practices in nonprofit communications.

Don’t believe me? Give yourself this test — watch the movie above, wait 15 minutes, and see if you can answer any of these questions:

  1. How many organizations does AJWS fund worldwide to alleviate hunger?
  2. How many grants did AJWS give away last year? In how many different countries?
  3. After which natural disaster did AJWS commit $11 million?
  4. According to Helen Hunt, what values does AJWS foster?
  5. Is Tracy Morgan Jewish?

If you’re like most people, question 5 was the only question you could answer. Don’t blame yourself. It’s not because you weren’t paying attention. It’s because our brains aren’t wired to remember facts and figures the way they’re presented in the AJWS video.

Our brains are wired to remember stories.

And there’s only one story being told in the video. That story is that non-Jews support AJWS, and many of them are famous.

In our opinion, this is a lost opportunity. This hilarious video will travel around the world and will be seen by millions. But at the end of the day, no one will remember what AJWS does or why it’s needed. All a viewer will remember is that Brian Williams does a great rendition of Fiddler on the Roof.

Good nonprofit communications remind us why we should care and show us how we can do something to address the problem. They are focused on the reader or viewer. They show the viewer what the problem is and how he or she can do something to make a difference.

Bad nonprofit communications list programs and services. They overwhelm the viewer with information.

In essence, bad communication talks about HOW an organization does the work. Good communication shows WHY an organization is needed and WHAT happens in the world as a result of its work.

As hilarious as this video is, it fails in its primary goal, which is to connect more people to the mission of AJWS.

Oy, The Name!

Kudos, though, to the great commentary on AJWS’ name. Julia Louis-Dreyfus says that “it sounds like a scam from Nigeria. Really.” And Dane Cook’s comment, “It’s like saying ‘California United States Lutheran Earth Services of the Moon'” had us in stitches.

Joking aside, there’s a real lesson in here. Acronyms and long names don’t bring donors closer to your organization.

Compare “American Jewish World Service” with “Mercy Corps” or “Salvation Army”. Their missions are similar, but the latter names are visual, short and compelling. The names focus on service and those who are served, not those who are delivering the service.

So as much as we love seeing great comedians telling great jokes, put this video in your “Practices to Avoid” list. Your organization can do better.

Want to learn more about great nonprofit communication? Come join us at one of our upcoming trainings!


Zach Hochstadt is a Mission Minded Founding Partner and runs Mission Minded’s Denver office, leading the company’s creative teams in the areas of message development, writing, graphic design, and web design and development.

See all posts by

3 responses to “AJWS+Apatow: Funny, But Is It Good?”

  1. Saw the video last week, Zach, and I think you might be being a bit harsh on it. I totally agree that it’s too heavy on stats that no one is going to remember, but I think that it does move the ball forward on the brand of American Jewish World Service– and gosh that IS a terrible name, isn’t it?

    Considering that I’d never heard of the organization, the video had some work to do, branding-wise. Having viewed it, I now know:

    1. AWJS does good work worldwide.
    2. You don’t have to be Jewish to support them.
    3. Gilbert Gottfried still isn’t funny.

    Did they miss an opportunity for some story-telling? Definitely. But they did move the ball forward a bit on introducing themselves to new audiences. Now they just need to demonstrate their impact to those audiences.

  2. So now you know them, Heath. But did the video make you want to give? I didn’t inspire me to get out my checkbook, despite the fact that I agree with everything that they do.

    Compare the video with the Girl Effect. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WIvmE4_KMNw

    Here’s an organization that managed to introduce itself to me for the first time AND make me want to support it. A good video can do both. As much as I laughed at AJWS, I still don’t think it did a good job making me care about its issues.

  3. No way do I feel motivated to donate to them after this. Nor would I have ever watched such a long video if you hadn’t told me so many times how funny it was. They broke most of our rules, BUT now I know them and I didn’t before. So next time I hear about them I might pay more attention. Then I’ll go on a second date, maybe a third. And eventually I might want to marry them and make a donation. (But then they’ll break up with me because I’m a shiksa.) In short, the video didn’t open my wallet, but it opened my mind.