Think Outside the Box and Inside the Can

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The Internet is mostly about solving problems. Solving problems and playing Farmville. If you have a problem, all you need to do is search Google and within a nano-second you are introduced to over a bazillion (that’s a real number by the way) different solutions to choose from. Unfortunately, you now have a new problem…all of the solutions look the same.

This is what playing it safe looks like. In an effort to please all of the people all of the time, many organizations over-sanitize their online strategy by offering to solve the same old problem with the same old solution in the same old way. The result? Well, there really is no result. It just doesn’t work.

In order to get my point across, I want to pick on non-profit organizations a little bit (only because I love you guys…you know that). The problem that most non-profits have with their online strategy is that they don’t have one. They toss their mission statement on the homepage along with a stock image of a sad person and a “Donate Now!” button and wait. Meanwhile, all they have really done was pass on the responsibility of becoming passionate about their cause onto me, the visitor. No thanks. And no results. Eventually they go back to ole faithful…golf outings and an annual banquet and leave the website in the hands of an intern or unlucky volunteer.

So, when something different comes along that changes the game, it forces you to look at the problem from another angle. It shines a light on what is possible if your organization were to think differently. Meet Nail…a Providence, Rhode Island based agency that came up with a new way to look at an old problem.

There are few problems that are older and more important than feeding the hungry and homeless. It was never more apparent than a few years ago during the last recession when food pantries were in crisis mode from major declines in donations and even bigger increases in clients. Yet, we as a nation have become completely desensitized to it…perhaps due to all of those “for the price of a cup of coffee” commercials we had to suffer through years ago that seemed to belittle an otherwise enormous social issue facing our planet. What did Nail do differently?


They sold cans of nothing. They took what looked like an ordinary can of soup or vegetables but was really an empty can with a label that boldly stated “Nothing: An Unnecessary Tradition” and sold them at grocery stores throughout Rhode Island. The money raised by the sales of these empty cans were then donated to the local food pantries. This was not your ordinary food drive that you donated to by digging up that old can of yams from Thanksgiving 2008 so they would leave you alone as you left the grocery store. This campaign connected people directly to the problem.

Along with the displays they would have a “taste test” booth where participants were introduced to the idea that this is what people within their community ate for dinner every night. Nothing. If you watch the video below, pay attention to the look on each face as they come to realize what just happened. That is the look of someone that has been sucked into your cause. Someone that is now directly connected to the problem. Someone that is committed to helping solve the problem by willingly donating and spreading the word. Unfortunately, that look is seldom seen by most non-profits.

So my question to you is this. Regardless of whether or not you are a non-profit organization, rather than going about business as usual, what can you do differently in order to see the problem you are committed to solving from a new angle? What is something different that missing in your campaign? How can you make a deeper connection with the public and not just your existing base?

Tap into your passion and think outside the box and inside the can and come up with a little something like Nothing.

For more information on Nothing, please visit and get involved by bringing it to your state!

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  • Laura Amerman


    • Marc Ensign

      What’s genius? My post or their idea? I think it’s my post :)

  • Keving Sullivan

    Love it. It’s very difficult to get out of our own routine. Our own thought patterns, etc. Pretty cool seeing great intentions turned into money for improving lives. Nice article. ks :^)

  • Al Zatkow

    Nice article Marc

  • Mat Mendel

    Very interesting … how about a bike ride or a walk ;)