Vice Magazine recently did an article that takes the words right out of my mouth.
“Dumping a bucket of ice over your head doesn’t make you a philanthropist.”
I’m deeply concerned as I watch facebook sharing and liking replace giving, volunteering, and actual engagement with a nonprofit. I understand that things are fast and digital now but at what cost?
The entire premise that someone would rather dump freezing water over his/her face rather than donate to a nonprofit should prompt little more than an eye roll, but instead thousands of people are standing outside during the hottest months of the year, cooling themselves off, giggling, and genuinely believing that it makes a difference. Perhaps the worst part is that most of these people have a vague understanding (at best) of ALS, who suffers, and what organizations are out there to assist.
Yes, the ALS Association chapters are reporting a multi-million increase in donations compared to 2013, but I urge them to think about the number of people who ARENT giving but feel like they’re doing something altruistic. Double edged sword, that #IceBucketChallenge. Longterm, I think they'll see a downtick of new donor engagement because rather than give during a holiday campaign or annual gift drive, they'll simply say "oh, I already did the ice bucket challenge - I'm good."
Another response is to say, "This engagement opportunity is great because these folks wouldn't be giving anyway." While true, ice bucket participants will be tough to steward, translate to donors, or generate recurring gifts, the bloodline of nonprofit operations. They could stray resources (dollars and valuable staff time) away from real donor prospects. The true cost of non-givers in this challenge won't be realized for a long time.
The Vice article highlights how short-lived our social memories are. Remember #bringbackourgirls and Michelle Obama with a pouty face? Those girls are still missing folks. The minute it became unfashionable to tweet a photo, we forgot. So much so that the Nigerian government ended their investigation.
From bracelet campaigns (ONE and LIVESTRONG) to these hashtag driven conversations #yesallwomen, people post a few sentences on social media and suddenly they feel like they’ve participated in a movement. Sorry, but MLK Jr. didn’t tweet his way through Civil Rights. To anyone who thinks we are going to facebook our way out of gender discrimination or sexual inequality, you’ve got another thing coming.
As a nonprofit professional, I see this on a consumer level too. From toms and bobs to wine with proceeds benefitting charity, we all have to be careful to ensure that regular consumerism doesn’t replace philanthropy. While I see the benefit to more stable revenue models (like products), nothing replaces traditional volunteering, giving, and engaging with a nonprofit.
I’ll say it one more time so it sinks in: Nothing replaces Giving. Nothing replaces Volunteering. Nothing replaces charity for charity’s sake.