Organizational Management

The Case Against Charitable Giving

A reporter friend of mine who always has the scoop on weird or interesting stories had the following post on Facebook this week:

If you'd like to support efforts to help our returning military veterans at home, you could donate directly to a number of national or local charities that provide great services. Or you can buy an $800 washer/dryer pair at Sears and have the retailer donate $20 of that. Because #America.

That's right, friends. A company that is on the brink of bankruptcy is trying to cash in on goodwill toward our troops to sell appliances. If you'd like to read more about it, here's the article my friend linked to.

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Here's the deal: corporations and for-profit business have a long history of using causes to boost sales. In the case of restaurant fundraisers, where 10-15% of a customer's bill goes to support an organization on a given day, I think it's a good fit for schools or small organizations that don't have the manpower or expertise to fundraise. In fact, most of the time, these arrangements are beneficial to both the business and the nonprofit. Nobody's winning big, but everyone is winning.

The problem with this initiative from Sears is that the amount going back to charity is abysmal. Only 0.05% of the total cost is actually being donated. Look, the organization that Sears is donating to will be glad to receive up to $200,000, and will certainly do great work with the funds. Rebuilding Together is a national nonprofit with local branches, including one in my own community. It's a worthy cause. It's an odd choice for this initiative, considering it doesn't exclusively serve active military or veterans, but it's still a great organization.

Rather than purchasing one of these washers or dryers for your feel-good moment of supporting the troops, do a little research and make a direct donation to any one of the more than 400,000 nonprofits that serve our military. If you don't know of an organization that serves troops in your community, call your local United Way or a local community foundation to see if they can point you in the right direction. CharityWatch and Great Nonprofits both have good resources to find national organizations, but I recommend checking out Charity Navigator, where you can  find organizations that serve military families, provide social services or support wounded troops.

And hey, if you're going to give a gift directly to a nonprofit organization, but still need a washer and dryer, check out your local Habitat for Humanity ReStore, where you might be able to find a great bargain and support another local nonprofit.

A final thought for nonprofit leaders: Promotions like these are not a healthy thing for the world of nonprofits. In this field, we're always fighting against negative perceptions of high salaries and boycotts due to overhead – you'll soon start seeing the misleading, inaccurate and out-of-date chart circulate amongst your Facebook friends which tells you which nonprofits to avoid this holiday season. We're always fighting to demonstrate our missions are worthy of a person's hard-earned and usually stretched dollar. It's our responsibility in the nonprofit world to set the standard regarding donations. And this standard is absurdly low. So initiatives like this, where a company is donating less than one percent of the buyer's total cost, are damaging. We must demand better.

Gotta Catch 'Em All: Pokemon Go & Nonprofits

Have you heard of the newest phenomenon taking the world by storm? (If you haven’t, you probably live under a rock.) It’s Pokemon Go--a mobile app game where users roam the outdoors to catch Pokemon monsters. As you walk around, the game uses location services to create augmented reality of the little creatures.

And the game has gained some insane traction. As of July 8, the app has been downloaded on 5.16% of all Android devices in the US and is being used on average 43 minutes, 23 seconds a day (higher than Instagram, Snapchat, and Messenger!). Whether people are jumping on the Poketrain to feel that ’90s nostalgia or to get their steps in, Pokemon Go is being played by millions.

So, what the heck does that mean for your organization? Well, it’s one great way to raise awareness and attract volunteers.

Right in our back yard, Muncie Animal Shelter has got the right idea. They’re leveraging the game to encourage people to come volunteer. Walk a dog, catch some Pokemon!

It’s all about finding a creative way to mesh your cause with the game. Maybe your organization is hosting a fundraising or community engagement event. Consider investing a few bucks to drop a lure that attracts the monsters to your location for 30 minutes. Then you can take advantage of the increased foot traffic to share your mission. Here’s an example of how 3Wisemen in Broad Ripple did this.

If there’s a Pokemon Gym or Pokestop near you, let your followers on social media know. Just getting traffic near your organization can raise awareness of your cause. You might even be able to find a creature that’s related to your cause, and you can share that information with cute signage outside of your facilities.

Whether or not the phenomenon is here to stay, your organization should catch ‘em all while you can!

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Danke schoen, donors.

In the nonprofit world, cash isn’t always king. Sometimes the best currency is gratitude. And for my money, there’s no better way to express gratitude than with a handwritten thank you note. That’s why, taking a cue from Jimmy Fallon, I’ve designated Fridays as my “thank you notes” day. I write out thank you and congratulatory notes every week for people in my network. Those notes are about gratitude, certainly, and celebrating good news, but it’s more than that. It’s an investment in a relationship.

Handwritten notes of all varieties (thank you, congratulations, condolences, thinking of you, etc.) all serve one purpose, regardless of the message they carry. Taking the time to write a letter to someone is, I think, the clearest way to say, “I care about you. I value our relationship.”

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I almost always hear back from the people I send a note to. Those handwritten notes, particularly in the digital age, mean a lot to the recipients. My best friend just sent me a handwritten thank you this week for helping her with a special project. It made me smile, and it made me feel cherished and important. I like to think that everyone I send a note also feels that way, too.

Of course, not all notes can be meaningful handwritten missives. I send about 20 letters a week to people who have donated merchandise to my organization. While I do frequently jot down quick notes at the bottom of letters I’m sending to frequent donors or friends, the thank you notes I send to donors tend to be formal letters. That’s not only to save some time, but to ensure that we’re complying with IRS regulations and donor expectations.

When is the last time you sent a handwritten note to someone? Or better yet, when’s the last time you received a handwritten note? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.