So, I'm checking my emails today and I see a message from a nonprofit organization. Not that unusual, given that I’m involved with several groups and am on the mailing list for more than a few others. Since I do what I do (and have for 22 years), I tend to look at the communications and fundraising strategies of other organizations from a completely different perspective than most people.
The email stated that the charity really could use some help this summer. Um ... well, yeah. Is there any charity that can't use a little extra at this time of year, in the middle of a never-ending recession that has impacted many nonprofits (and other businesses)? I don't know too many charities that are doing just fine, thank you.
The author of the email went on to say that she hoped I would write a blog post about their organization, or tweet about them, because the readers of my blog might be interested in helping kids. Now, I have all the faith in the world that my readers are, in fact, caring people who would like to help kids. They might even already support this particular charity.
Here's the thing, though: I haven't. Other than recognizing their name, I have absolutely zero connection with this organization. None. I've never made a contribution. I don't Like them on Facebook. I don't follow them on Twitter. I've never been to their website. I don't know anyone who is involved in this organization. I don't know the author of the email and I don't know how she knows of me.
I’d be interested in that information, actually, just from a professional courtesy standpoint. Has she read my development-related tweets? Is she a regular reader of my blog? Do we have a mutual colleague in common? Did we sit next to each other at a conference?
So, this is where my absolute flabbergasted-ness over this solicitation comes into play. Given my complete disconnect from this admittedly worthy group and cause, how does this even make any iota of sense? How can I endorse something that I know nothing about or ever been a part of?
Sure, I could write you a nice post saying that the XYZ organization is great, they do great work, look at their fancy banner, you can follow them on Twitter and like them on Facebook, you should donate some money to them RIGHT NOW.
I could say all of those things, but there's a key credibility issue here - again, because I am not involved with this group. I don't know that they're not cooking their books. I don't know their ratio of administrative costs to program costs. Frankly, I'm not inclined to do the research to find out such because there are other causes that I do support and that I am closely connected to.
In this economy, donors are limiting the number of organizations they support because there's too great of a need and too few resources and funds. So one's philanthropic decisions are made on the basis of connections - which organization you're connected with, charities that have helped you or a loved one out.
Donors are sophisticated and much smarter than ever before. We have more tools at our disposal. You can tell when someone is bullshitting. You know when someone is just paying lip service to a cause, when someone doesn't have the passion. Similarly, you know when someone does.
That's what powers real, authentic, genuine fundraising. That's what will get you the big bucks.
We'll all finding our way in this "new normal." As fundraisers and communicators, we're all chasing that proverbial pot of gold at the end of the URL, trying to figure out how to raise money through this not so newfangled social media thing.
It's really not all that difficult or all that much more different than what we were doing long before Al Gore invented the Internet.
It's about trust. Ethics. Credibility. Connections.
That's what has always made sense. And cents.