Archive for August, 2010
I was at a party this weekend when I met a friend-of-a-friend who does fundraising at an anti-hunger policy organization here in town. He was already familiar with DC Central Kitchen, and so we started talking about some of our newer initiatives, like our recent contract to provide school meals to 7 DC Public Schools.
I mentioned how cool it is that we are now able to hire several more graduates of our culinary job training program to prepare the meals on-site. His comment was that it must also present a challenging messaging problem for us—that people might respond badly to ex-convicts or ex-addicts being hired to cook for schools.
It’s a fair point. A lot of people start to get nervous when you mention the possibility that an ex-con or ex-addict might be cooking at a restaurant they would eat at, not to mention cooking in schools.
But to me, the issue was framed wrong. As stated, the focus of concern is that our nonprofit would have difficulty raising funds for ourselves.
The end of this line of thinking is that it would be easier to raise money if we glossed over this discussion. But the discussion of this issue is not incidental to our fundraising; it is central to our mission. The real problem is that our society can’t find ways to reintegrate people.
In order for us to make meaningful change, we have to challenge the stereotypes and assumptions (some silly and some more legitimate) that serve as hurdles to reintegrating people into our communities.
It is understandable to categorize ex-convicts as more dangerous and less trustworthy than the general population. The problem is that we have a huge blindspot. We see the inherent problem with placing these men and women in jobs at schools, but we fail to see where they would be otherwise.
If we fail to provide opportunities to get counseling and training and find good work, what do you think these people will resort to? And where?
They will go back to what they’ve always done. On the same streets where our children walk to and from school. They will not be magically isolated from children if we simply refuse them these jobs.
I’m not saying we should blindly trust anyone, but we do need to provide opportunities for these people to earn back a place in our workforce. We must find effective ways to train them, vet them, hire them, and trust them.
This discussion is one that I very much want to have. It’s an opportunity to change an entrenched social problem. It’s part of our organization’s most vital work. It’s why I love working in nonprofit communications and fundraising in the first place.No comments
Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal posted an article about the legal battle being waged by Susan G. Komen For the Cure against smaller nonprofits who it feels are infringing on its name and branding elements.
As the leading breast-cancer charity, Susan G. Komen For the Cure helped make “for the cure” a staple of the fund-raising vernacular.
The slogan is so popular that dozens of groups have sought to trademark names incorporating the phrase. Among them are “Juggling for a Cure,” “Bark for the Cure,” and “Blondes for the Cure.”
Komen sees this as imitation, and it’s not flattered. Instead, it’s launching a not-so-friendly legal battle against kite fliers, kayakers and dozens of other themed fund-raisers that it contends are poaching its name. And it’s sternly warning charities against dabbling with pink, its signature hue.
These incidents, and some of the comments on Twitter supportive of them, for me highlight a trend that has been too prominent in the nonprofit sector: taking the same mistaken approach to “branding” that we’ve seen in the business world.
It would be unfair to single out and scapegoat Susan G. Komen For the Cure—this sort of mindset is found to varying degrees throughout the sector. But this case is instructive and should be highlighted as an example of what not to do.
The foundation feels that it owns the symbol of the pink ribbon, that particular shade of pink, and the words “for the cure.” I wonder if their supporters would see it that way? Was it that particular hue of pink that made them donate? Maybe for some, but I’d bet most became supporters because breast cancer had made a very personal impact on their lives.
For them, the issue is bigger than Susan G. Komen Foundation. It is about preventing the suffering of our sisters and mothers and daughters and friends at the hands of this disease.
A pink ribbon or t-shirt is a very personal expression to honor loved ones and demonstrate our shared support for finding a cure. It is not about displaying loyalty to a particular organization.
This distinction is important. The pink ribbon should be about giving people a common voice, empowering them to share their personal stories of survival or loss with each other and to rally our communities. When the foundation shifts its focus to aggressively “protecting its assets,” it has already put itself out of touch with that purpose.
Would supporters be happy that lawyers are being hired instead of researchers? Do they care which particular organization funds the research “for the cure?”
There is legitimacy in preventing outright impersonation by other organizations to avoid mistaken donations, but Komen is going beyond that. Is anyone going to mistakenly donate to a lung cancer organization simply because they saw the words “for the cure?”
Komen’s actions could lead one to ask who they are really acting on behalf of here: the mission of their supporters, or their own ability to cause market for corporations with pink products?
There may be some cost in lost donations to these other groups, but what will be the cost when supporters see Komen starting petty fights over a color or a phrase?
This kind of thinking will eventually lead nonprofits to the same hollow mass marketing practices that irked the authors of The Cluetrain Manifesto. In same way that corporate branding makes us passive consumers, cause branding prevents participation in real conversations about critical social issues.1 comment