Nonprofit Periscope

Keeping an eye on news of the sector

One-off or a way of life?

with 4 comments

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.

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Written by eclawson

January 18, 2010 at 3:28 PM

4 Responses

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  1. […] One-off or a way of life? (Nonprofit Periscope) Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Are They Just Words?InterpretingA common language of the future. […]

  2. […] and never be heard from again. But building a relationship with those donors who want it is part of creating a culture of giving. And that’s something neither marketing nor canvassing can […]

  3. I absolutely agree relationship building is key to sustainable fundraising. But I don’t think micro donations should be written off as “one time gifts) For disasters, maybe, but what would happen if an organization with on going fundraising needs accepted $10 donations on a regular basis without making givers feel cheap for contributing so little. We might find that people start seeing charitable giving as something they can do now–not something they have to wait to do until they are rich–which would mean building a culture where regular giving is what people do, not what “people with more money than me” do.

    Maureen Carruthers

    February 15, 2010 at 3:08 AM

  4. […] One-off or a way of life? (Nonprofit Periscope) […]


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