She's Making Make-a-Wish's Dreams Come True
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because millennials donate with their eyes.
By Tracy Moran
Kobe Bryant wasn’t attracting much attention. The 18-time NBA All-Star and Lakers shooting guard might’ve been accustomed to cheering fans, but a video he shot for Make-A-Wish America just wasn’t drawing as many eyeballs as he or the charity had hoped. Until, that is, Amber J. Lawson grabbed the ball.
This is Lawson’s game: helping nonprofits score YouTube traffic — and ad revenue. Her Good Amplified is the first and only multichannel network dedicated solely to helping charities tell their stories and boost revenue via the Internet’s most popular video platform. Feel-good video attracts eyeballs, as we know, and Lawson is trying to harness all that Internet lovey-doveyness into dollar signs. She uses major YouTube influencers like Shira Lazar, Matthew Santoro and Monica Church, whom many people over the age of 20 probably haven’t heard of, to help push her clients’ messages.
In the U.S. alone, charitable giving generated more than $358 billion in 2015, according to The NonProfit Times. But in the age of social media and YouTube, charities face a “tricky marketing situation,” says Kelly Collins, CEO of Vult Lab, a social media group specializing in nonprofit community building. She notes how organizations have long relied on fundraising campaigns powered by snail mail, telemarketing and email. But to thrive, she says, these groups must “learn how to interact with millennials on mobile platforms.”
The main goal for nonprofits, Collins says, is to simply engage with millennials. They’re not playing the “everything must go viral” game so much because, Collins says, “they don’t expect young people to give money.” Instead, they’re striving for Likes and Follows to make an initial, lasting connection with millennials before worrying about getting donations from them. “If they can’t figure out how to convert their audiences from brick-and-mortar to digital, I think many nonprofits will disappear by 2025,” Collins warns.
— AmberJLawson (@AmberJLawson) March 11, 2016
But there’s no need to shoot in the dark to net this demographic, Lawson says, because they’re already on YouTube. More than a billion users visit the video platform each month — adding up to more than 4 billion hours of video watching, according to the network. Considering that shoppers who view video are 174 percent likelier to purchase something, according to Retail TouchPoints, YouTube is quickly becoming a mecca for finding the cause-driven donors of the future. Lawson is simply, but cleverly, helping charities “fish where the fish are,” as she puts it.
And it’s working so far: Since Lawson and her team started working with Make-A-Wish America in the spring of 2015, the organization’s subscribers are up 107 percent, views are up 70 percent and minutes watched have surged 91 percent. Bryant’s video, which had netted only around 600,000 views after nearly four years, has now racked up more than 2 million views thanks to Lawson’s help. And after just two months with Good Amplified, Teen Cancer America saw its subscribers soar by 45 percent.
But Lawson isn’t doing anything — not even a Skype interview — before touching up her makeup. When she comes into view, lip gloss freshly reapplied, she’s donning sunglasses atop her head and petting a “big-boned” 14-year-old Chihuahua named Lola. Serious and stuffy she is not, so much as loud, bubbly, likable. She’s quick to laugh, and her Midwestern accent — she proudly says she was “buddies” with Mad Men’s Jon Hamm while studying theater at the University of Missouri — oozes sincerity. Offering a helping hand runs in the family: Lawson can remember her dad, Charles, trying to flip real estate when she was young, but he ended up falling in love with the properties and instead rented them as low-income housing. Mom Tina Peters, meanwhile, remains “big in the church,” delivers flowers to the elderly and serves as the “shuttle service for all of Kansas City.”
Lawson started her professional life as a performer, quickly moved into producing and then ran networks like ManiaTV and Babelgum. Then, AOL, where she managed programming with “every resource in the world at [her] fingertips” (apart from sleep). “I figured out making money,” she says, but decided there had to be a “bigger endgame.” So she aimed to become a “conscious capitalist” and launched Comedy Gives Back with a couple of friends, live-streaming events across platforms and raising funds for charities. When she saw what heavy lifting such events required for charities, she began asking herself, “How do you do good in your sleep?”
Jono Smith, Make-A-Wish America’s director of brand marketing and digital strategy, says the charity was originally “just feeding [YouTube] with videos and hoping people would show up and watch.” Now, Lawson is helping them score. She and her team leverage storytelling on YouTube and help charitable organizations manage their channels by optimizing videos to build audiences and what she calls a “donor retention program.” And when organizations are part of the Good Amplified Network, they are included in what Lawson refers to as “value adds,” like an activation that debuted at SXSW called #DonatetheBars.
What really matters? “She and her team get things done,” Smith says.