Sunday, November 15, 2009

Charity Marketing

If you're anything like me, you routinely receive emails from various charity organizations soliciting you for their latest and greatest fundraiser. One of my more frequent organizations is Invisible Children. Their latest campaign is called the Legacy Fund. It's really just the same old same old with a new simplistic idea on why you need to give them money. If I take the time to click the link and watch the video, I find myself annoyed with their solicitation. Am I just the outlier in their campaign focus, or are their others out there like me?

For example, here's a video explaining their Tri Campaign.

I actually am curious to know if I'm the oddball; am I the only one annoyed by campaigns like this? The video gives you no real explanation of what is done with your money, other than that it is really needed.

My opinion might be skewed by the fact that I got to see Invisible Children's programs on the ground in Uganda in 2006 and 2007. At the time, I was disappointed. The general consensus from the locals was that it was a young NGO that was still trying to figure itself out. My opinion was that they put young, inexperienced people in positions of power and were thus very ineffective considering the amount of money in their organization.

But as it turns out, my opinion of IC has changed considerably. When I investigated IC's latest capaign, the Legacy Fund, I came across a series of videos from their mission director, Adam Fink. Here's one of them where he explains the Schools 4 Schools program:

Schools for Schools from INVISIBLE CHILDREN on Vimeo.

This video is one of four where Adam explains how IC is using their money effectively. As far as my interest is concerned, these 4 videos are by far and away the best videos ever produced by IC; they clearly and tangibly explain what IC is doing in Northern Uganda. I'm not surprised that IC has become a very effective NGO over these past 2 years, but I am surprised that I had to surf around for these videos. I get an email from IC just about every week, trying to motivate me to "make a difference", but never have they sent me an email showing me in much detail how they would make a difference. Why is that?

I've had it up to here with organizations telling me why I need to donate, and there is a definite lack of marketing focus on how an organization actually uses the money you donate.

A perfect example of this is the organization, One Day's Wage.

The Movement of One Day's Wages from One Day's Wages on Vimeo.

I get it, their's a lot of sick, starving children out there. But I can't figure out what this organization is doing about it. There are a lot of organization out there like this one. I personally don't understand it. In this case, I especially don't understand the "100%" promise. Eugene makes it sound like 100% of your money will be used on the ground. I think this 100% promise was innovated by Charity: Water and has since been used by many non profits. But the promise here is simply to get 100% of your donation into another charity, kinda of like a free middle man of sorts. Why not just use the website to promote other organizations, rather than just promote the idea of giving?

What I've concluded is that the majority of donors must not be motivated by how their money is used, they simply need a push to give some of it away. This realization makes me feel sorry for my friends who have to solicit donations in order to run their organizations. I think my friend Hugh refers to this as "pimping the Gospel". My discussions with Hugh have more than motivated me to keep my paid profession.

My biggest distaste with charity marketing is this notion that you are somehow saving the world by giving a monthly donation. In a sense, these charities are selling this idea to their donors. Shame on them. If you really want to make a difference in the world, I think you need to put away your wallet, and simply find some tangible ways to love your neighbor. I'm not sold on the power of money to transform the world; especially the amount of money I have in my wallet. Unless you're a millionaire, your potential to "make a difference" goes far beyond what you can do with your money. Once your heart is in the right place, your wallet will follow; I don't think it works the other way around.

I don't mean to belittle the need of money for non profit organizations to function, so I will suggest two organizations that I feel are very worthy and doing things the right way (and really need your money). Lemonade International is by far the best foreign aid group I know, and Love Wins a worthy local ministry. Despite my cynicism, I do like the way some groups are getting it done.


Chris said...


Bill Cummings said...

Waluk... as usual you have challenged the system with your thoughts. You've made me think about the approach to "marketing" charity work... which is a good thing.

I still wish that guy would have given $500K to Lemonade Int'l rather than buying the Silverdome!

ReallyWhite10 said...

Love the post and I totally agree, Invisible Children has changed a lot in a short period of time...they've only been around for four years, kind of mind blowing. What exactly do you mean by love your neighbor?

Part of me feels like "marketing" is targeting people in a certain way because most aren't as thoughtful or as informed as you.

Would love more thoughts man.