A chance for charities


When you ask people in their early to mid 20s whether they donate to charity, you inevitably hear the same response:

“Not right now, but I’d like to”

The intention is there. The action isn’t.

To me this reflects real social conscious among our peers but charities coming up short in capitalizing off of it. Unless you are very wealthy, the charitable giving experience usually involves small donations on the internet. In return we get that form thank you email and a hastily compiled monthly newsletter.

This system has four primary defficiencies
1) It is passive and easy to ignore and push off until later
2) It does not start a conversation or educate the donor
3) It is a private experience. We like public, social experiences with our charity (e.g. Relay for Life)
4) Most importantly, it does not engage the donor or create participation

The idea of what it means to support a charity needs to evolve. Seth Godin sums it up nicely:

The big win is in changing the very nature of what it means to support a charity … It’s super easy to ignore a direct mail solicitation when all you have to do is hit delete and no one notices.

The big win is in turning donors into patrons and activists and participants. The biggest donors are the ones who not only give, but do the work. The ones who make the soup or feed the hungry or hang the art…

The internet allows some organizations to embrace long-distance involvement. It lets charities flip the funnel, not through some simple hand waving, but by reorganizing around the idea of engagement online. It means opening yourself up to volunteers, encouraging them to network, to connect with each other, and yes, even to mutiny. It means giving every one of your professionals a blog and the freedom to use it. It means mixing it up with volunteers, so they have something truly at stake. This is understandably scary for many non-profits, but I’m not so sure you have a choice.

I know what charities are thinking right now: Why should they spend resources courting young people? Young people are relatively poor, high-maintenance, and require the charity to rethink it’s donation apparatus.

The answer is this: Do it for the same reason RJ Reynolds created Joe Camel. Get them while they’re young, build a brand and create a habit. Like smoking, charitable participation is a lifestyle. An investment in engaging us young will pay off big later.


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