Archive for January 2010
Nonprofit infrastructure isn’t sexy. When I started working in it, my friends didn’t understand what I was doing. “What cause are you working for?” they would ask, meaning well and trying to clarify. And when I’d reply that I was working for the health of the entire nonprofit sector, they would ask, “Isn’t that a little too…meta? Helping the helpers?”
Meta, navel-gazing…perhaps. But as unsexy as infrastructure is, it holds the sector together. So when Rosetta described the unexpected and unfortunate struggle of Idealist.org, I picked up the torch in the comments and am carrying it here as well. In my comment I mentioned my concern that associations get mired in the demands of their members and become risk-averse. Idealist isn’t an association and doesn’t pander to the center. It simply connects people and ideas, people and opportunities, people and people.
And like Rosetta and Kevin and other nonprofit bloggers, I ask just one thing. Whether you got a job or volunteer gig from Idealist (as I did), or just peruse it for opportunities–because it’s full of them–you can help save it. Donate to Idealist. Blog and tweet about it. Don’t let one of the beacons of 21st-century infrastructure crumble; our sector will be worse off without it. And I’m not sure we can handle that right now.
Small donors have a lot to feel good about right now. During the 2008 election cycle, our current president benefited from a reinvigorated wave of small donations. In the throes of a recession, small donors are hailed as the great untapped potential of American giving. Donor literature swirls anew with phrases like “every little bit helps!” and “Your dollar makes a difference!”
And in the aftermath of disaster in Haiti, small donors attained new celebrity in the news for collectively contributing millions to relief efforts in $5 and $10 increments via text message. There has never been a better time to be a small donor.
While this is remarkable, there’s a danger in over-celebrating gifts that are small, one-time, and reactive. They’re vital but not enough. People, animals, and the environment suffer even in the absence of earthquakes, hurricanes, wars, and other disasters.
The blogosphere, including the Nonprofit Millennial Bloggers Alliance, is doing an admirable job of a balancing act: on one hand, recognizing the need for and impact of small donations (and by small, I’m talking $5 and $10 a pop, which may be considered “ultra-small” by many fundraisers); on the other, reiterating the need for long-term assistance and for awareness of underlying aggravators such as racism. The American Red Cross and other nonprofits are pushing the message as well, at least as far as I’ve seen in their acknowledgment emails for the small gifts I made in the past week. (Online, not by text, and for general operating funds, since the Red Cross and other agencies do more than just disaster relief.)
As obvious as this message of sustained giving may seem, to stick in the minds of most (actual and would-be) donors, it must overcome a formidable foe: the news cycle. In a matter of days or weeks, another story will take over the airwaves and column inches, and news consumers will begin to forget about Haiti again. Many of us do what we can when reminded, but reminders can be scarce, easily ignored, or even unwelcome. As a result, giving is often ad hoc, not institutionalized. The holidays show us that much every year.
So on a day reserved for remembering a man who, among many things, said “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?”, use the momentum of mobilization around Haiti’s earthquake relief as an opportunity to assess and institutionalize your giving.
- Do you only give after a disaster?
- Do you only give when asked?
- How could you set up monthly donations, weekly volunteering, regular clothing or food drives, etc. to help others year-round?
Texting $10 should be the beginning, not the end.