Humor Them: Sharing A Laugh Always Connects (Part One)

Humor is powerful. But the humor you enjoy in your favorite TV shows and YouTube videos or that book you’re laughing out loud out at is just a hint of the impact humor can have.

Humor’s value goes far beyond entertaining to help people deal with pain, stress and other challenges. Clown Care, Big Apple Circus’ community outreach program, is a classic example. The program brings the delight of classical circus to hospitalized children at 16 leading pediatric facilities across the U. S.

There’s more. Humor is also the WD-40 of relationships, soothing the bite of criticism and sparking connections among people from different backgrounds and points of view. Laughter can transcend age, race, gender, belief or class barriers.

When done right, that is.

Proving It: Humor Can Work Wonders
A classic 1993 Journal of Marketing study that examined multinational effects of humor on marketing worldwide found that messages are “more likely to secure audience attention, increase memorability, overcome resistance, and enhance message persuasiveness.”

But humor works only when it’s:

  • A strong match with your objective and call to action
  • Relevant to your objective, and
  • Seen as appropriate.


It’s Tough to Weave Humor Into Nonprofit Marketing…
You know how challenging it is to integrate humor into messages focused on issues and causes. We see a lot more of it in consumer marketing, where the issue covered isn’t so serious or meaningful.

When we take ourselves too seriously, an occupational hazard for nonprofit staffers, we’re unlikely to weave humor into our messages. And it can be hard to get the OK to use humor, especially when it deviates significantly from your organization’s usual tone or it’s the first time.

But Worth the Effort

The folks in your network are humans, too, and enjoy a good laugh just like you do.

And, just as when you share a laugh with a colleague or friend, that grin or guffaw can draw the two of you closer together, enriching your relationship.

Humor brings people together!

It also relaxes your audience, releases tension and puts them in a more receptive mood. After you’ve made them laugh, they are far more likely to listen to you.

6 Steps to Sharing a Laugh That Connects

Follow this path to shape humor that connects for your organization:

1) Know what your organization and your base have in common, and play on that in your humor.

That’s the point of connection for all messages, but especially for humor. The only way to find it is to know your audiences well.

Here’s a strong model which I found on my LinkedIn page last April Fools Day:

This works because the LinkedIn team knows what we have in common: We both know who Albert Einstein and Robin Hood were (being that LinkedIn is mainly a professional networking social media tool, and the assumption is that participants have completed high school or above in most cases). We shared the joke!

Humor based on common experience unites the group. So dig deep to learn as much as you can about your base. Personas are a great place to start.

A joke told without deep understanding of your audience is dangerous. How do you know that they won’t be offended, or just not get it? If you can’t get those insights, skip the laughs…for now.

2) Find a genuine, believable way to integrate humor into your content.

If you’re incorporating humor because you think it’s the funniest thing in the world and bound to get laughs, but it has nothing to do with your core topic, then skip it. It might be hilarious, but it’s not relevant.

In fact, it will only distract your audience from what’s really important in your outreach.

3) Delivery is everything.

When you integrate humor into a video, e-newsletter, Facebook post or conversation, it’s crucial that you fine-tune delivery…from where it falls in the flow of messages, your tone, the pause before or after…

No one delivers it better than The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy in their humor-based outreach to teens.

Knowing that teens and young adults are likely to have less experience (and less comfort) in discussing issues like birth control, The Campaign leans heavily on humor in their print and video campaigns.

Take a look at Itchy Situation, an  old-style-cartoon video The Campaign created to bust myths on how to know if your partner has a STD (sexually-transmitted disease).

The video uses humor to open the conversation on this squirm-inducing topic and warns “even if you have special x-ray glasses or the observation skills of ninja, you still can’t tell if someone has an STD just by looking.”

The message gets across, clearly and memorably.

4) Test it first

Take a look at comedy writers. I’ve learned a lot from 30 Rock, and those writers do it right.

Tina Fey’s team doesn’t just toss a new joke on the live show. Instead, they try it out on colleagues and see how it rolls. If it flies, it’s used. If it doesn’t, it’s trashed.

Although you don’t have a team of humor writers to work with, you do have colleagues, families and friends. So draft up your humorous blog post or that joke you want to tell at the fall gala, and test it out tonight at dinner or tomorrow at your meeting.

Those numbers are going to be small, so if you want a broader yea (or nay), drip the joke or the humorous part of the post out via your organization’s Facebook page. That feedback will give you an immediate sense of your humor is going to generate laughs or fury.

Keep Facebook’s demographics in mind if you use this test. More seniors are there than ever before, but many aren’t.

No matter your testing technique, listen closely to the feedback. It may be that the subject is wrong for the situation, your delivery needs work or your language choice needs altering. Any of those issues could cause your humor to fall flat.

5) Keep it brief and use only periodically.

Humor is a “less is more” tactic. That ups the ante—it has to be right.

The exception is when you are reaching out to a well-known and narrowly-defined audience segment (or group) whom you are certain will respond positively to your humor. Then you can share laughs much more frequently, as The Campaign does.

6) Wrap it up while they’re still laughing.

Don’t push it.

Instead, pause, return to your more typical tone (although serious shouldn’t mean deadly) and cycle in humor from time to time when the opportunity arises.


Don’t forgo humor just because you’re scared, or your boss is.

Follow this step-by-step approach and you’re  likely to be able to share a good laugh. There’s nothing like it to strengthen connections.

I’ll be back with more models of nonprofit humor that connects in Part Two! Keep posted.

Please share your take on

  • What are humor use do’s and don’ts can you add?
  • How is your organization using humor? Does it work?
  • What humor wins, or huge fails, have you seen from other organizations?