My sister brought my 9-year old niece and 7-year old nephew to visit New York City for the first time last week. They were giddy with excitement about the Big Apple.

My sis arrived with many plans in the works — foremost among them a kids tour at the United Nations. (She’s a bit of a geek). She said, “Alia, there is this cool-looking tour at the UN that they designed specifically for kids.” I went to the website and indeed the UN promised a tour geared towards children that would provide a “fun and memorable experience.”

Although I was still a bit skeptical — when have fun and the UN gone together after all? — I encouraged her to check out what they pitched as “interactive games, quizzes, puzzles and more that will help young visitors understand the work of the Organization and how it relates to their daily lives.”

Last Thursday, my sister — with niece and nephew in tow – braved the lines and took the tour. And what did she have to say? It was the worst tour of her life. The kids agreed.

  • There was no interactivity.
  • The guide they had was difficult for the children to understand.
  • They spent most of the time in shabby halls that looked like standard offices.
  • They were trapped in the hour-long tour. They couldn’t leave early.
  • The kids had no idea what the United Nations did or how it related to their lives after the tour.
  • The grown ups on the tour thought it was boring. The kids thought it was excruciating.

Seth Godin would call this a meatball sundae. The marketing of the tour was completely out of sync with the product — the whipped cream on top of a big ole meatball.

This happens all the time. Marketers — in our pursuit of sales, tickets bought, dollars raised — stretch the truth about our products and programs. And product/program designers don’t bring the marketers in early enough to influence the final product we must sell.

The cycle results in a complete lack of trust on the part of our audiences. They get duped. They stop trusting us. Our relationship is over.

Ending the meatball sundae cycle is a HUGE area of opportunity for non profits — particularly as we grapple with how to retain donors over time. Selling our donors a meatball sundae might get them in the door, but it won’t create a lasting relationship.