An Alternative to Black Friday, #GivingTuesday

Gearing up for December 2, organizers for #GivingTuesday expect to double their reach with twice as many participants as last year.

Conceptualized in October 2012 by the 92nd Street Y in New York City, #GivingTuesday was meant to serve as a counterbalance to the consumer-oriented days around Thanksgiving time—Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Instead of focusing on material goods, the day encourages people to give back, or to spend money on alternative gifts such as donations made on friends and family members’ behalf.

The amount of money given during #GivingTuesday has doubled every year since 2012. Last year helped raise $27 million for nonprofits. From 2012 to 2013, the number of participating non-profits expanded threefold from 2,5000 to 7,000.

The hashtag for #GivingTuesday is trending well. Google Analytics show that interest in the day has doubled since last year, with users searching #GivingTuesday as well as discussing the event on social media. Broadening their outreach effort, organizers have also teamed up with corporate sponsors, including Honest Tea, which will host a social media campaign on behalf of #GivingTuesday.

The accelerated pace of #GivingTuesday’s growth is a positive sign for the fundraising industry. By using media tactics used to target millennials, the event is working proof that a new generation of donors are stepping up to the fundraising challenges that face the nation’s 1.5 million non-profit organizations.

There is some criticism of the event. Some fundraising professionals contend that the emphasis on giving right after Thanksgiving will detract from donors’ interest in holiday giving, the most important fundraising period of the year. Still others think that by asking for people to give on just one day will help foster a culture of “slackstervism”—or charitable behavior that is minimal and relegated to easy actions such as clicking a donate button.

While #GivingTuesday grows in popularity, it will be interesting to keep track of how it affects fundraising trends; how donors interact with the event and how it alters their giving habits will become more evident with increasing numbers of participants and a higher profile.

The likely result is the growth of a younger donor base connecting organizations that share their concerns, passions, and interests.

Indian Boarding School Uses Fake Students in Direct Mail Campaign

A boarding school for Indian children has come under fire this week for misleading donors. St. Joseph’s Indian School—located in Chamberlain, South Dakota—has apparently raised millions of dollars via direct mail campaigns that utilized fake stories told from the perspective of fictitious students to generate donations during its annual fundraising drive.

A CNN report release Monday revealed that appeal letters from the school featured profiles of students who suffered abuse at the hands of troubled parents and experienced abject poverty. One such letter featured the testimony of a student named Josh Little Bear, who wrote, “My dad drinks and hits me . . . my mom chose drugs over me . . . my home on the reservation isn’t a safe place for me to be.” As the report uncovers, not only is there no Little Bear, but there is no actual student for which the name serves as a protective pseudonym.

The scope of the school’s mail fundraising is tremendous. Annually, the private institution sends out approximately 30 million direct mail pieces asking its largely Catholic donor base for money. Last year alone, the campaign generated $51 million dollars.

These actions create a host of questions about what constitutes acceptable fundraising practices. How much creative license does one have in crafting his/her institution’s identity? What are the ethical limits behind a non-profit’s messaging strategy? Can a certain element in an organization’s identity or messaging offend and alienate a group of people?

The fallout from these revelations is manifold. Native American leaders have already responded to the falsified stories. The president of the First Nations Development Institute accused the school of using “poverty porn” to solicit sympathy and philanthropy, projecting racist tropes of Native Americans in order to catch the attention of middle-class caucasian donors. Indeed, the donors themselves will likely be frustrated at having been deceived and may even cease their giving.

Others in the debate, however, contend that the school was merely aggregating students’ experiences and then fundraising for what is ultimately an invaluable service for hundreds of kids. The school has shot back at CNN for being “loose with the facts,” ignoring the honest operations of the school and the good it does for its pupils.

What remains to be seen is whether or not the fictionalized accounts—which, up until now, were chiefly responsible for St. Joseph’s successful fundraising—will end up tanking the school’s annual earnings.

Sendak Foundation Withholds Collection Bequeathed to Rosenbach Museum

The executors of Maurice Sendak’s will are at odds with the Rosenbach Museum and Library; the Sendak foundation has failed to hand over a multi-million dollar rare book collection the famous author reportedly gave to the Rosenbach. The museum has filed a lawsuit against the foundation.

Two and a half years after Sendak’s death, the Sendak Foundation is planning an auction—scheduled for January—that the Rosenbach fears could feature items included in the collection bequeathed to it. The Foundation has argued that it will not hand over several particular items, including valuable editions of Peter the Rabbit, because they are not technically rare books but are rather children’s books. An ironic argument, considering that Sendak viewed the distinctions between children and adult literature to be largely constructed and invalid.

There’s more at stake then the Rosenbach not receiving the items currently withheld. The Sendak Foundation is also looking to reclaim 10,000 works shared by Sendak with the Rosenbach since the 1960s. Citing similar research and collecting interests, Sendak contributed thousands of art pieces, manuscripts, and books over the years to the museum.

Non-profits Struggle to Fund Fight Against Ebola

This year’s Ebola outbreak has sparked a global response. Governments, aid organizations, and public health groups from across the world are pledging billions of dollars and sending personnel to provide relief in affected areas.

The situation is urgent. The World Health Organization projects that anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 new cases will occur weekly by December. The current outbreak has already claimed more lives than all previous ebola outbreaks put together.

At this rate, the already high cost of containment will only continue to grow. The ebola treatment camp in Bong County, Liberia (built by Save the Children, operated by the International Medical Corps) cost $175,000 to build. It employs a paid staff of 165 and goes through 100 sets of gowns, sheets, and other basic patient supplies a day. Monthly, the operating cost is around $1 million, or $15,000 per bed. According to figures from the WHO, operating 100,000 beds would cost West Africa $1 to $2 billion a month.

Frontline non-profits are struggling with these costs. Natural disaster development professionals are at pains to formulate effective fundraising strategies. While a couple of high-profile donations have secured media attention for the fundraising effort—Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg donated $250 million the the Centers for Disease Conrol, and the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation pledged $50 million to UN agencies and various non-profits operating in West Africa—fundraisers face an uphill battle appealing to grass-roots funding.

According to Joel Charny of InterAction, this is because donors respond to cataclysmic events. Highly visible natural disasters such as the 2010 earthquake in Haiti and the 2013 typhoon in the Philippines generate not only billions in fundraising, but also volunteers. According to David Wightwick of Save the Children, planes were overflowing with volunteers after Typhhon Haiyan struck the Philippines. But when his organization requested 28 logisticians to work in countries affected by ebola, 21 declined.

Gary Shaye, who also works for Save the Children, commented that “until [ebola] is something much more visible in the media, it’s almost impossible to raise funds.”

Finding a way to tap into the public’s philanthropic spirit is a paramount issue facing frontline non-profits working to contain ebola. Once fundraisers craft a message that connects their potential donors to the plight of ebola sufferers—just as donors felt connected to the victims of other recent natural disasters—disaster relief organizations will be able to move forward in their hugely important work.

This process may now be under way. Mark Zuckerberg has announced a fundraising drive that will be featured on Facebook, where users will be asked to help stop ebola with a donation to the response effort.

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