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Heads They Win, Tails You Lose

July 26th, 2010

Let’s say we’re friends.  We do one another favors: perhaps help each other move, lend money, housesit, babysit, drive one another to work when the car’s in the shop, and so on.  Even good friends realize that there’s a limit to how often one can impose, though.  This currency must be spent wisely, not frivolously.

This is not very different from the relationship an organization has with its constituents.  Indeed, in social media, followers are often referred to as “friends.”  Lately, however, non profits have been spending way too much of their friends’ currency than is warranted, asking for multiple favors that are scarcely related to the organization or its mission.

Reaching multiple audiences (e.g., mail, web, phone, social media, etc.) is part of an excellent plan, but you should ultimately drive your constituents back to your organization’s website and your organization’s mission.

Social media campaigns keep coming up, sponsored by various corporations, that award grants and prizes to non profits whose followers will promote, tweet or otherwise publicly endorse some company, and/or vote for X non profit in the [Company] contest.

What inevitably follows is dozens – or hundreds, thousands – of non profits dedicating a great deal of time to asking their constituents to promote [Company] contest…rather than supporting their mission.  As the prize money gets larger, this can lead to subsequent rounds of voting (“Please vote again!”), as well as animosity between competing non profit organizations, vying for the funds.  There have also been accusations of misconduct, both toward participants and those running the contests.

And how does this make the supporters of the organizations themselves feel?  Disillusioned?  Unlikely to participate in anything the next time they’re asked?  Probably so.

Contests such as these are really no different than asking a non profit to hawk doughnuts, magazines, pizza, or put an Amazon button on their website for people to click through…and when supporters buy, the non profit gets a small portion of the proceeds.  The problem is, unless your mission is related to fast food or periodicals, etc., why are you doing the work for these other companies?  And essentially handing over your carefully cultivated donor list to boot?

Surely you have more important things to do with staff time – and your donors with theirs.

In these tough economic times, it can be tempting to go this route – particularly for smaller, strapped non profits.  The most successful organizations, though, have a broader vision for what makes them more prosperous in the long run.  Two excellent books outline some of these best practices: Forces For Good and The Networked Nonprofit.

So, friend to friend, I’m offering this advice:

•     Don’t badger your constituents incessantly – make requests occasional and relevant to your mission
•     Provide them with useful information in between requests
•     Thank them for being so supportive over the years
•     Repeat!

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Keep the base of the pyramid strong

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