Looking to the Stars

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on December 22nd, 2011 in Articles, Thoughts & Commentary

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This is going to sound all wrong, but would everyone and their mothers, brothers, aunts and uncles just stop fundraising? Please!

I just went to my browser and there was a message asking me to join a bunch of celebrities and “do good for the world this holiday season.”  Seriously?  My browser is now doing fundraising?  It wants me to give money to celebrities’ causes merely because they are celebrities?  How dumb does my browser think I am?  (Or, how dumb is the vast majority of the world?)  I know the intentions are good, but I fear more harm than good is actually resulting.

First, intellectually I understand the draw of stars (though personally it makes zero sense to me), but what my browser and its celebrities are doing is creating competition in a one-off venture instead of creating one-on-one sustained relationships.  It would be a much more powerful and beneficial arrangement if each celebrity worked directly with a charity, becoming its celebrity spokesperson and working with the charity to craft a special holiday campaign message.  And then, not to disappear after the holidays are over.  Truth is, charities need money to do good for the world all year ‘round. And truth is, people get the same tax break, if that matters to them, whether they give January 1st, December 31st  and any time in between.

Second, people should be giving to good causes who run good businesses and do an excellent job of delivering on their mission.  Just because a celebrity selects a charity doesn’t mean that the organization is doing a good job of delivering on that mission.  As you may recall from my previous post, this year’s purchase of Christmas ornaments that I bought for my nieces and nephews all support a nonprofit.  Before I purchased the ornaments, I checked out the 990s of all of the organizations.  Even though my contribution was small by many standards, I wanted to be as confident as I could, not knowing the organizations personally, that my money would be used well and wisely.  Over the decades, I’ve seen too many celebrities endorse organizations that are, sadly, more flash than delivery, more Oz than function.  We should all want our contributions, regardless of the amount, to be used for really doing good—and doing it well.

Third, in this particular event, the browser will donate $25,000 to the cause that raises the most money during this challenge.  I’d much prefer that the company make a smart, business decision on where to give its $25K rather than rewarding a popularity contest.  All of these on-line contests where people “vote” for their favorite charities and that brings in money is nice for revenue but it isn’t good for building a donor base which is what builds sustainable donors and, in turn, sustainable nonprofits.  One-time money is nice if there is a one-time need.  But if it isn’t for that purpose, then it is anything but nice unless the organization has the ability to replace that money going forward with continuous funds.

Fourth, while the vast majorities of nonprofits can always use more financial assistance today, and every day, we all also need our donors to be committed donors.  Thus, we need them to be thinking donors, donors who have not just a true passion for our mission but who also believe in the ways and means in which we are delivering our mission.  We need them to like and believe in what and how we do things more than the next organization feeding the homeless, protecting the environment, educating our youth, exposing us to culture, etc.  We need them to love us for us, and not for the celebrity who linked his/her name to us for the holidays.

And fifth, celebrities tend to pick “big” nonprofits to support—nonprofits that work across the globe, a continent, a country.  These are important causes and many do great work.  Just as there is a “Small Business Saturday” where shoppers are supposed to forsake the large, chain retailers and shop the small, local businesses, we need always to “shop” the small, local nonprofits that day in and day out work to make the communities where we live and work healthier, stronger, better, more vibrant, and so much more.

Development, or should I say good development, to be of true, lasting value to an organization must be tied to that organization’s ability to reach out to that donor again and again and again.  It must be a thoughtfully created cycle that is designed to nurture and value tried and true donors while always bringing on new donors.  For this to happen, donors must believe in the organization and its work, not follow their browsers.

The opinions expressed in Nonprofit University Blog are those of writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of La Salle University or any other institution or individual.