The holidays are here, meaning more relatives, more fruitcake, and (of course) more giving. Nearly 25% of all charitable giving happens between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and no, that doesn’t include the socks your mom gives you. While sites like Kiva and Causes are gearing up for the uptake of donations, the question must be asked – why aren’t more people more charitable more often? Why isn’t philanthropy fun, rewarding and easy? What gives? (get it?)
Too many organizations asking the wrong questions
For starters, there are a bazillion different organizations engaged in complex charitable work. Evaluating that work and making an informed decision on who to support is a tall task, too tall for most. Instead, the majority of donors rely on anecdotal experiences and the recommendations of friends and family. That’s hardly ideal for organizations needing to fundraise year in and year out.
Philanthropy can also be surprisingly negative. We’ve all seen it – grainy pictures of abject poverty, used as nonprofit marketing ploys to inspire spontaneous charity. We’re shown starving children, dying villages and people without shoes. We’re told “It’s a terrible world! And you’re not doing anything! Are you? So for only $X you can…” you get the point. Even the Salvation Army’s bells ring of Catholic indulgences. The point is that while organizations have good intentions, their way of asking for support can be unpalatable, which makes giving harder.
Too little feedback
Once you’ve given to an organization, then what? Maybe you’ll receive a newsletter about their work, maybe not. If you do, chances are you’ll read about “deliverables,” the quantitative data that sounds good but means little (“acres saved,” “children served”). Yes, it matters how many acres of rainforest your money helped conserve this quarter. But whatever that number is, it doesn’t mean as much as it should: it doesn’t involve you in the mission, it doesn’t communicate the organization’s actual work, it doesn’t do anything. Without that something – an organization’s story – donors feel lost, inconsequential. That’s not the rewarding feeling they deserve.
Put another way, donating to an organization is an investment in that organization’s mission. What return do most donors see?
The Times They Are A-Changin’
Luckily, the tide is turning on philanthropy. Twitter and Facebook have made connecting with organizations and their missions significantly easier (see the HeroRats twitter account for a particularly cute example). Charity: water, an NYC-based nonprofit, has been wildly successful with “mycharitywater,” an online portal they built where donors can track contributions and the resulting impact. Services like Catchafire, Swipegood and Sparked are thinking up new ways to give and volunteer. It’s a wide-open market.
Of course, the true test of new approaches is whether or not they actually help. The jury is out on how much money new services can raise for nonprofits, or whether or not donors find them rewarding in the long-term. Best case scenario? More people give more often to more organizations, as mediated by rewarding tech platforms. Worse case? We’re stuck with cute pictures of rats.