Monday, November 05, 2007

What Matters? A Rock Star, (Red), Consumerism, Or Fundraising?

On About.com this morning, Joanne Fritz, professional fundraising blogger, wrote "Website Takes On Our Lust for Stuff" about global AIDS relief. Grant writing aside for a moment, the (Red) Campaign just turned one year old and the proof of that is none other than Brian Williams interviewed spokesman/Irish band lead singer, U2's, Bono about the project's progress on Friday's evening's news. When we're watching Bono on NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams, he's either making a bench mark in global debt relief or African AIDS relief.

Fritz explains in her post that in contrast to the (Red) Campaign's goal to attract donors through retail (a portion of every (Red) item is given to AIDS relief organization, The Global Fund ), BuyLessCrap.com, is a website that encourages people to give directly to The Global Fund rather than buying items to do so. In direct response to (Red) Campaign, the Buylesscrap.com site mimics the (Red) Campaign logo parenthesises, and The Gap's logo font (one of the retailers who sell (Red) products), for its own look.

In addition to AIDS relief, Buylesscrap.com recommends over ten other nonprofit organizations that one could give to. These other causes range from breast cancer research to providing dairy cattle to impoverished third world families. The listed charities are recommended by visitors to Buylesscrap.com. Unlike the (Red) Campaign, the Buylesscrap.com site does not explicitly focus on global AIDS relief.

buylesscrap.com's mission statement is available on their site, but I can not provide a direct link as their are no individual web pages or page URL's on their site; darn Flash. In their mission they state that giving donations directly to the charity of one's choice is more efficient than buying products to donate. [How they know this and what their research findings data source is not provided. It would help as their whole point is based on this.] They also encourage individuals to not consume so much. They state that their organization's goal is to raise consumer awareness and provoke discussion. [These are two other goals besides getting people to give donations directly to be efficient.] They suggest that consumer awareness and discussion about the issue will lead to: "explicit transparency standards", "the adoption of best practices for all cause-related marketing efforts", and will lead "to greater consumer confidence and more assured revenue streams for charity." [It only takes awareness and discussion for these to occur?]

You may feel that Bono working with Oprah to promote (Red) is The Gap's wet dream, not to mention it's a bit pretentious. One could wonder, 'why don't Bono and Oprah just give a portion of their millions to the organization and leave us to sing "Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" while watching Oprah's 10 Favorite Things?'

And Buylesscrap.com wants us to giving donations directly, buy less, discuss consumerism, and they tell us that these happenings will lead to adoption of best practices, greater consumer confidence, and assured nonprofit revenue streams. I love idealism.

But, we still have this need on our planet. In particular, per Joanne Fritz's post, today, we're considering AIDS relief.

The Global Fund is a legal 501(c)(3) nonprofit that does operate under explicit transparent standards and best practices. On their website they provide, under "Performance", their Monitoring, Results, and Independent Evaluations findings. In addition, look up their federal tax return (which is public information and so, yes, you can on Guidestar.org) and research their finances, spending, ratio of money raised vs. spent on programs, their board of directors, etc. In 2005 they reported taking in $1.4 million and paid out $1.5 million in grants for their programs' beneficiaries, while holding between $2.6 million to $3 million, net, in savings/assets. Neither the board of directors nor the staff were paid. Oprah and Bono were not on the board. Contractors were paid for services such as hotel, agent fees, and accounting. According to their reporting, their rate of funding their relief programs is at a minimum 99%. That is excellent.

People with AIDS are receiving support and funding from this nonprofit that claims that it does so. The Global Fund practically passed all donations received onto those who its mission claims to serve, in 2005, - this is exceptional operations and best practices.

As professional fundraisers, we need to determine how to reach a constituency for our nonprofit agencies; in the best interest of both the nonprofit and the potential donor, volunteer, collaborator, etc. See my post, "Fundraising, Mission-Success, Community Building: It's All the Same". We know that some donors, for instance, like to give to an annual appeal letter one time a year. Others prefer to give through the quarterly newsletter's envelope. Some whipper-snappers like to give through websites, and others prefer to give upon death through a bequest. I just donated to a relative's favorite charity, after he passed on.

As professional fundraisers, it's our responsibility to see donors as individuals choosing to support our organization's cause, in whichever way they prefer. If there is a relationship that your organization can form with a potential constituent, that the donor may prefer, you can offer it to them. The donor always has the right to say 'no'. The donor always has the right to ask for a nonprofit's official documentation, financials, by laws, list of the board of directors, etc. The donor has the right to research nonprofits that they are considering giving to, in order to choose the best possible recipient of their support (whether it be volunteering or donating).

If a donor wants to buy a red t-shirt from The Gap and wear it while using a red cell phone; they have the right to choose to do so and their contributing this way is no less 'helpful' in the fight against AIDS, than any other fundraising method; IF our goal is to help the people with AIDS.

If, though, our goal is to lessen consumerism; or if our goal is to sell khakis then how the funds are raised matters.

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