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Charities should focus on good news

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By Katya Andresen

If you chart charitable donations through Network for Good’s giving site since the summer, you get a line shaped strikingly similar to a camel’s back – a big bump in giving after devastating Hurricane Katrina and another, smaller one after the tragic earthquake in South Asia.

The twin spikes rise and fall off sharply, each covering just a few days post-crisis.

The camel metaphor seems fitting.

I’ve already received a handful of calls from journalists asking if charities can expect an imminent, desert-like dry spell in giving.

It’s the right question to be asking.

According to Giving USA, most people consistently give about 2 percent of their income to charity each year.

If they’ve already given to nonprofits assisting victims of the tsunami, hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma or the South Asia earthquake, will they have anything left come December?

Will short donor attention spans, fleeting charitable impulses and compassion fatigue lead to a flat-line holiday season?

It’s certainly possible, which is why marketing assumes added importance for charities right now.

Donors may need some added motivation to open their wallets, yet again, before crisis-plagued 2005 draws to a close.

Unfortunately, lately I’ve seen evidence of two questionable marketing approaches – finger-wagging and hand-wringing.

The wagging-finger approach chides donors for losing interest in crises of the year and non-crisis-related charities.

The wringing-hand approach dwells on massive unmet needs, telling us that even though much has been raised this year, it’s nearly not enough to address the enormous challenges ahead.

Both of these messages focus on the perspective of nonprofit organizations, their missions and their bottom lines.

They are messages that dwell on the troughs of this year’s camelback pattern, and both make donors feel discouraged.

They create a sense that contributions have not made a sufficient difference and that scale of the catastrophes we’ve seen – or the needs being neglected elsewhere – is insurmountable.

A better approach for reviving our donors’ charitable impulses would be to focus on the people who support us.

By acknowledging the fact that this has been an exceptional year and reminding our donors of the rewards of giving, we can revive their generosity of spirit and keep the threat of donor fatigue at bay.

The antidote to compassion fatigue is not to reinforce the bad news of the year but rather the good news that donors are making a difference and that they can accomplish still more.

Donors need to see real, tangible and human examples of the further good they can achieve with whatever gift they can afford.  We want them to feel good about themselves doing good.

I have always liked Mercy Corps’ slogan, “Be the change,” because it puts the spotlight on both the donor and the beneficiaries of the donor’s generosity.

It’s not about Mercy Corps; it’s about donors and the difference they can achieve.

That approach is what we need now more than ever, because it’s the way out of the desert and straight to our donors’ hearts and minds.


Katya Andresen is vice president for marketing for Network for Good and author of a soon-to-be published book, “Robin Hood Marketing: Stealing Corporate Savvy to Sell Just Causes.”

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