Sunday, August 12, 2012

Do Something Awards Get Youth Involved and Gives Out Grants Perhaps In Part Through Crowd Sourcing Which Isn't Clear - And If It Does, It's Not Ultimately Sustainable Fundraising For Nonprofits

Do Something Awards air this Tuesday night August 21 at 9pm on VH1 (hosted by the guys from New Girl).  I am half with this philanthropic and community support rallying effort and half not.

The Do Something Awards are created by, offered through, supposedly selected by, and managed by Do Something.org 

Nonprofit Do Something.org, also Do Something, Inc., was founded in 2003 and co-founded by 1980's heartthrob actor Andrew Shue.  Current Do Something CEO, Nancy Lublin founded the well known and successful nonprofit Dress for Success in 1996.  Charity Navigator states the mission statement as: "Do Something believes young people have the power to make a difference. It is our aim to inspire, support and celebrate a generation of do-ers: people who see the need to do something, believe in their ability to get it done, and then take action. Our website is a community where young people learn, listen, speak, vote, volunteer, ask, and take action to make the world a better place. Currently, only 23% of this generation actively volunteers. Our hope is to create a do something generation: a world where more than 51% of young people are involved with community action."

While the organization provides its own support and programs besides providing the awards, youth and youth welfare is its focus.  Award applicants can only be American or Canadian twenty-five years old or younger, and according to Do Something's home page this Tuesday "...up to five finalists will appear on the... Awards ...and be rewarded with a community grant, media coverage and continued support from DoSomething.org. The grand prize winner will receive $100,000 during the broadcast."

According to the organization's website applicants apply to receive support through the Do Something website, their applications are considered over a three month period, and the applications are reviewed by previous award recipients and staff.  On VH1's Do Something Awards Nominees web page (for the event) they offer the opportunity for website visitors (to log into VH1) and vote for their favorite "Do Something Award" youth contender.  So, it is not clear if these votes are also included in the award recipient consideration or if this is the list of semi-finalists of which VH1 website visitors help select finalists or the grand prize winner.  Either way, Do Something should explain this step on its own Do Something web page, as VH1 should also explain on their Award web page.  Neither organization's Awards web pages explain what this crowd sourcing effort is or how it figures into the selection of the winner(s).

The Do Something Award community grant winners "... receive a minimum of $10,000 in community grants and scholarships. Of those five winners, one will be selected as the grand prize Do Something Award winner and receive a total of $100,000 in community grants."  "The Do Something Award community grant money is paid directly to the nominee's organization or the not-for-profit of the nominee’s choice. All winners have the option of receiving $5,000 of the total money awarded in the form of an educational scholarship." according to their site.

On their site they state:
"2.2 million young people participated in campaigns in the past year.

"We'll give away $600,000+ in scholarships in 2012.
  
"15,000 new donors registered through our 2011 Give a Spit campaign, helping to save the lives of Leukemia patients. 

"4 Star Charity Rating from Charity Navigator (only 9% of U.S. charities get 4 stars) 

"Over 2.5 million jeans collected over the past five years through our Teens for Jeans campaign." among other accomplishments.

Do Something's Grants Database and Grants Database FAQ explain how the organization assists youth to do good in their communities further.

Most of the VH1 web pages dedicated to the Do Something Awards offer site visitors the opportunity to (log in and) vote on favorite celebrities (athletes, comedians, TV, movies, even "cities") who/that are active in the nonprofit sector.  They either win awards or simply kudos for their effort at the Awards.  It is not clear.  Do Something's site offers visitors the ability to see what celebrities affiliated with the organization (it's not clear if they're past winners or current contenders here, either) are doing in the community and lets youth find out how they can get involved with that celebrity's organization or the cause. 

The organization, as it reports (to the IRS in its annual tax filings) and as Charity Navigator has reported on it, appears to operate ethically, efficiently, and on point given its mission.  It appears to do good.  While it is not clear what element crowd sourcing plays in the outcome of who wins Awards (grants), it may simply be a tool to get site visitors involved and excited about the pending Awards, community involvement, and causes supported - but it also may be more involved than that and both Do Something and VH1 need to clarify this.

I've made my feelings clear about Crowd Sourcing as a hardly sustainable method for nonprofit fundraising - meaning crowd sourcing is not a method of fundraising that will allow a nonprofit to raise funds now and in the future repeatedly by potentially retaining some of these new donors.  Crowd sourcing is not advantageous to nonprofit organizations in the long run as crowd sourcing isn't a relationship developed between the nonprofit and the potential new donor.  Nonprofits do not create relationships with those making the funding decisions (the crowd in this case).  The nonprofit's ability, when fundraising, to form relationships with potential and new donors is critical or necessary in order for charities to be able to develop, strengthen, and grow new and current donors and these supporters' understanding of what their contribution does for the organization's beneficiaries, the nonprofit, the goal of its mission, and the outcomes of its programs.  It is in this way that nonprofits bring new donors on board and retains past donors who give again.  Partnerships, in effect, are formed through these relationships that nonprofits work tirelessly to form with potential, new, and current donors.  For more on my take on crowd sourcing, see Is Crowd Sourcing A Viable Sustainable Way for Nonprofits to Raise and Retain Support?  No.

Why then does crowd sourcing exist?  It is terrific for the sponsor and their social media (marketing and public relations) goals.  See, for instance, Huge Inc.'s Pepsi Case Study.  I am not naive enough to imagine that Pepsi's altruism extends beyond its own bottom line (though I applaud its support of nonprofits).  The fact is crowd sourcing and its benefits or outcomes are often weighed based on whether the sponsor (in this case, Pepsi) benefited (by achieving its social media, public relations, or marketing goals) and not whether the recipient nonprofit organizations or community efforts ultimately benefited in the long run or whether the recipient nonprofits are able to sustain themselves beyond say receiving a Pepsi Refresh Project grant.  A nonprofit that is viable has to not just know what its doing with its programs and services, but needs to be able to fund itself so it exists today and tomorrow.  Otherwise, why fund them at all?

Don't get me wrong - getting youth involved and providing innovative, sustainable, viable projects for needy causes and issues is critical and what good philanthropy is about.  In an age, though, where we're still figuring out how Facebook makes money (or whether ultimately it does) we would be wise to stop and also worry about what the ultimate good or even whether there is a long term benefit at all to the nonprofits being put into this supposed altruism (and supposed philanthropy).

Do Something has me in its corner, if not entirely, at least up to a point.  Awarding grants based on credible, demonstrable, quantifiable data that demonstrate the mission is serving a currently unmet but real need, the organization's potential for success, and its expertise to successfully and efficiently solve this issue is one thing.  Do Something does this if not entirely, at least in part.  It's not clear.  An effective grant donor (that enables nonprofits to be viable in successfully and efficiently achieving successful outcomes for the beneficiaries) should be educated, perhaps credentialed, but experienced enough in the causes and issues it assists in order to make viable philanthropic decisions about which organization or effort best merits receiving a grant.  Asking nonprofits to solely fund themselves by throwing their hat into a ring with several or even tens of other nonprofits where some corporation then asks its website visitors to vote (from the hip) which organization should "win" isn't helpful to those organizations' beneficiaries or the organizations themselves, in the long run.  It is not clear whether this is at least in part (or even at all) what Do Something does and it should be clear.

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