Have you ever seen a charity commercial and scoffed because they use donations to buy TV time?
If you answered yes, you’re A) not a terrible person and B) not alone at all. In speaking with countless friends, advisors, foundation representatives, and strangers about the world of giving, one common complaint ties into a double standard that exists in the public’s perception of non- and for-profit companies. Sharing is our thing and thus, one such tale.
Three years ago a close friend of Charity Charge gave $100 to a large women’s health organization. A week later, she received a thank you note in the mail and membership card. Both landed promptly in the paper bin but it was nice to have physical — and recyclable — proof that her $100 made it to the coffers.
Fast forward a year and she’d received some thirty letters; reminders of the time elapsed since her last donation, bulletins about the organization’s latest news and needs, and some six dozen personalized address labels. She was peeved enough to pick up the phone and unsubscribe from a cause she believed in.
Turns out she, like so many people faced with persistent phone calls, letters, and emails from nonprofits, felt her funds were misdirected towards advertising. She believed the only thing she’d supported was a self-perpetuating marketing campaign. We quote, “Do [charities] not understand that people donate money to make the world a better place and not their mailboxes more crowded ones?”
Please, do not mail this person.
Agree? Take a step back.
By no fault of her own, her point is misguided (at least partially — we agree that gimmicky address labels need to be stopped). It simply illustrates that many people have a negative gut reaction to nonprofits using funds to advertise. Is it because people unconsciously see all advertisements as money-grabbing campaigns? We don’t blink at Budweiser or StateFarm shelling out millions on SuperBowl spots because we understand the desire of businesses and individuals alike to accumulate wealth. A nonprofit engaging in the capitalist behavior called advertising, however, strikes many as immoral. We don’t trust the sheep’s altruism when its dressed in wolf’s clothing.
But why should we get rid of the double standard? And where do we start?
Watch AIDS Ride founder Dan Pallotta’s TED Talk. He makes an elegant argument for the positive impact of nonprofit advertising and his presentation is a revelation. Does campaigning to a wider, larger audience bring in more business? Yes. It is the same for all corporations, business model non-withstanding. For charities, well-devised advertising can make the difference between raising thousands and raising millions for their cause. If a percentage of those millions go to running the joint and expanding visibility, so be it.
Nonprofits need to make money to function. Accept it. Accept that many of the business practices honed and perfected by Fortune 500 companies should have a place in the nonprofit sector. As Pallotta tells it, the old-school song and dance we expect from charities only goes so far and many causes have reached an impasse. Cut the philosophical marionette strings and we enable nonprofits to operate in innovative ways, to hire (and pay) the brightest minds, and to find new roads to a greater impact.
Still skeptical? Do more research before donating. Check out a nonprofit grading site like charitynavigator.org to see how thousands of different charities divvy incoming contributions to causes, operating, and fundraising. Transparency builds trust and you may find verified stats comforting. On the other hand, the numbers may prompt you to rethink where to donate your hard-earned cash. Just like any for-profit business, a nonprofit that manages its money poorly should go out of business. If change is the product, we should always pick the better good.
Not unlike the product choice you make between Coca-Cola and Pepsi.
Refreshing, isn’t it.
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