I’m writing on a topic that has been a “pet peeve” of mine for many years. It’s an issue that is being discussed more and more these days. The issue is nonprofits who are in the awareness business versus those who are actually solving problems. Whether you’re an individual, corporate or foundation donor, you need to know if an organization is actually trying to solve problems or simply raising an awareness of an issue.
The title for this blog comes from a recent article that was in the Chronicle of Philanthropy entitled Is Raising Visibility a Waste of Time?
Here’s an excerpt from the article:
“Brian Reich, a marketing consultant who has worked for groups like the American Red Cross, Feeding America, and Planned Parenthood said "What’s the next ice-bucket challenge? Will it be bungee jumping for cleft palates? It’s crazy."
“The large number of campaigns aimed heavily at boosting awareness worries people like Mr. Reich, who fear that charities have become addicted to the approach, sometimes to the long-term detriment of their causes.
"Awareness does not solve complex problems," he says. "If we know that—and I think we do—why are we concentrating so much on it?"
"There’s more to solving problems than running your organization or getting people to like you," he adds. "What the nonprofit world needs is not more awareness. It needs more disruptive ideas," more fresh solutions to old, nagging problems.”
I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Reich. Why do donors give to ALS, Komen Foundation, HSUS, Livestrong and many others, when most of their donations are spent on raising awareness? At the same time, other nonprofits who are actually attempting to help solve society’s challenges cannot raise adequate funding that they need for their programs.
Many donors give based on emotion. Your donation should not be based just on your passion for a cause. Make your donations using sound business principles, also. You can go to GuideStar and BBB Wise Giving Alliance to check on charities. However, be aware that some nonprofits are very good at disguising how they are spending…even on their IRS 990 reporting form.
Meet with organizational leaders at the nonprofit and ask them tough questions. Are you making a difference? How are you making a difference? Are you addressing an issue and actually trying to solve problems? How are you doing this? Ask to see their audited financial statements and ask questions about their spending. What is your mission statement and how are you accomplishing your mission? If the organization is not willing to be transparent and answer your questions, that should be a red flag for you.
Consider your donation an investment. Determine what the organization is actually doing with donations before you make a contribution. There are many organizations who are truly making a difference and changing lives for the better.
For additional information on this issue, check out these links:
Is Raising Visibility a Waste of Time?
Ice Bucket Challenge: When Success Creates Problems of Its Own
Stop Measuring Activities and Start Measuring Outcomes