Oregon Standoff: Group Says #ServiceNotSeizure

(A view of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge)

As federal authorities enter negotiations with the 20 or so extremists currently held up at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in southeastern Oregon, one environmental nonprofit is stepping up to offer everyday citizens appalled at the situation the opportunity to contribute positively.

Conservation Lands Foundation rolled out the #ServiceNotSeizure hashtag in an effort to raise funds to put young people and veterans to work maintaining precious nature reserves in government possession.

On the organization’s website:

The Bundy family from southern Nevada has been in a decades’ long feud with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) over the family’s use of public lands for grazing, but the recent militant takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon has taken the dispute to a new level…Here’s a way to direct your frustration toward helping our public lands: the Conservation Lands Foundation has launched a Crowdrise campaign to invite donations that will support veterans, youth, and Native Americans who want to work as conservation stewards on BLM’s National Conservation Lands.

The organization is tapping into popular sentiment against the gun-toting posse of anti-government extremists, whose behavior is endangering the health of the refuge. In ridicule, people have shipped a number of vulgar or demeaning items to the occupiers. Conservation Land Foundation thinks that people can better spend their energies counteracting the extremists’ noxious behavior through good deeds. The money raised through the group’s #ServiceNotSeuzure campaign will generate job opportunities as well as the staff power to help preserve public lands.

These are imitation-worthy tactics for fundraisers interested in leveraging breaking news stories for specially targeted fundraising campaigns.

PA Ballet Scores Social Media Win

The Pennsylvania Ballet made waves on December 30, responding to a disgruntled Philadelphia Eagles fan who made a sexist remark on social media.

Mourning the failure of this year’s season, the fan wrote that the team played as if “they were wearing tutus.” The disparaging remark did not go unanswered. In a social media coup, the Pennsylvania Ballet penned a thoughtful response on Facebook.

“A Facebook user recently commented that the Eagles had ‘played like they were wearing tutus!!!,’” the company’s post began.

With all due respect to the Eagles, let’s take a minute to look at what our tutu wearing women have done this month:

By tomorrow afternoon, the ballerinas that wear tutus at Pennsylvania Ballet will have performed The Nutcracker 27 times in 21 days. Some of those women have performed the Snow scene and the Waltz of the Flowers without an understudy or second cast. No ‘second string’ to come in and spell them when they needed a break. When they have been sick they have come to the theater, put on make up and costume, smiled and performed. When they have felt an injury in the middle of a show there have been no injury timeouts. They have kept smiling, finished their job, bowed, left the stage, and then dealt with what hurts… So no, the Eagles have not played like they were wearing tutus. If they had, Chip Kelly would still be a head coach and we’d all be looking forward to the playoffs.

The post attracted 22,000 likes, over 1,000 comments, and was shared 13,000 times.

Taking chances doesn’t always work, as social media managers get themselves in hot water from time-to-time. From companies attaching their brands to tragic anniversaries (as Build-a-Bear Workshop and CVS did with 9/11), to clueless attempts to enter social justice conversations (Starbucks’ “Let’s Race Together” campaign comes to mind), businesses and organizations have become the subject of ridicule over failed social media stunts.

That doesn’t mean that organizations shouldn’t put themselves out there. The Pennsylvania Ballet safely used an objectively demeaning tweet, refrained from ad hominem attacks on the poster, and used the opportunity to frame the physical and athletic demands that professional ballet dancers face. The end result is a message of empowerment and a highly shareable piece of content that is both informative and humorous.

Fundraising Progress in Ebola Fight

In September 2014, several reports explored the difficulty that fundraisers were having as they struggled to raise money for the fight against ebola. A number of factors – from the seeming remoteness of the disease in Africa, to the expectation for the government to simply deal with these sort of issues – left people in a state of passivity, while the disease continued to ravage cities in West Africa and NGOs battling the disease were left with increasingly steep bills.

Then there were scares at home. Here in the United States, a couple of cases brought the reality of the disease to the attention of the nation’s news media. A man in Dallas, having travelled to Liberia, passed away from the disease in a Texas hospital. A New York doctor contracted the disease while working abroad and caused a stir by having a night out on the town shortly before the symptoms appeared (the disease only being contagious, of course, once a carrier is symptomatic).

But as time went on and no new cases popped up, the fear dissipated – and so did the media attention.

While the disease still threatens many communities in West Africa, the situation has certainly improved. In conjunction with the brave work of many NGOs – as well as government personnel from a score of nations, including the United States and Cuba – donors finally broke the dry spell last fall by opening their wallets. Beginning with high profile philanthropists from the tech sector, the flush of fundraising and government-vowed assistance at least partially ameliorated the peak level of carnage wrought by the virus. Now, Mali is ebola-free, and Liberia and Guinea are moving to reopen schools in the coming months.

Bill Gates began the big donor trend in September 2014, when he committed $50 million to fight ebola. He donated another $5.7 million in November. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife followed suit, pledging $25 million to the cause last October.

Facebook went on to initiate a crowdsourcing campaign to raise money for ebola. Big tech is also providing logistical support for the effort, as recent news out of the Davos summit reveal that a collaboration of companies including NetHope, Facebook, Cisco, and Inveneo will work to provide reliable internet connectivity to support NGO work in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea.

Compared to fall 2014, there also appears to be a significant increase in bottom-up fundraising: a Liberian student at Eastern Mennonite University is teaming up with Nobel Peace laureate Leymah Gbowee to raise money; organizers in Winnipeg are putting together a concert to benefit children orphaned by the disease; to date, the crowdfunding site GlobalGiving has helped raise $3 million for 29 community organizations on the frontline of the fight against ebola.

The path to eradicating this horrible virus is still long and difficult, but global efforts that arose from the uproar over the initially weak and non-unified response to the disaster appear to be making a very tangible impact.

As Donor Behavior Shifts Online, Salvation Army Struggles to Raise Funds

The last few years have seen tremendous growth in philanthropic fundraising, as the economy slowly but surely emerges from the recession. Recent figures indicate that nonprofits raised $335.17 billion in 2013, a 4.4 percent increase from the previous year. This amounted to a 22 percent increase in charitable giving since 2009 (the year many analysts consider the official end of the recession).

With falling oil prices and 2014’s widely publicized online giving campaigns, this year should follow the growth trend. On #GivingTuesday alone, donors contributed a sizable $45.7 million, heralding the start of a new, lucrative tradition, and perhaps showing early signs of improving consumer confidence as energy costs begin stabilizing at low levels.

Not all nonprofits are feeling the love, however.

The Salvation Army’s red kettle fundraisers – stationed outside of retail outlets around the country – are a cultural staple of the giving season. The jingling bells and friendly volunteers remind gift-hunting consumers that there is more to the holidays than materialism. But this fundraising strategy is proving less effective than ever before, as Salvation Army chapters across the United States struggle to meet their fundraising goals.

Programs from Upstate New York to Kansas, Missouri to Wisconsin, and Iowa to North Dakota are falling far behind their goals. Some Salvation Army efforts have raised as little as 50 percent of their targets as they enter the final days of the holiday season.

So why are the red kettles empty? Specialists point to the shift in donor behavior toward internet-based donations. The online giving trend emerged in early 2012, when analysts noted a 14 percent leap in online fundraising from the previous year.

Web-based fundraising has a number of benefits. Development professionals and data analysts can comb social media and advocacy forums to find particularly vocal or committed prospective donors. Web-based monthly donations are also an easy sell, offering streamlined and paper-free subscription services that simplify the giving process.

Indeed, scores of the most impactful fundraising initiatives these days are only actionable on the internet, as evidenced by the wild success of the ALS bucket challenge. Friends and family members challenged each other using social media, exercising an effective, digital brand of peer pressure to solicit over $100 million in donations.

Another huge component to the digital transformation of U.S. giving behavior? Millennials.

Young adults are more likely to consider themselves philanthropists, with 26 percent of them self-designating as such as opposed to only 18 percent of baby boomers. The growing generosity of millennials goes hand-in-hand with recent fundraising developments on social media, where younger demographics are disproportionately represented compared to other age groups.

Salvation Army volunteers may be getting the snub because donor behavior is shifting solidly in the direction of online charity, as younger generations of donors become increasingly habituated to digital fundraising and other prospective donors have already been tapped by social media campaigns and other online nonprofit initiatives.

Consumer spending also appears to play an important role in Salvation Army’s troubles. Retailers had a slow start this year, with lackluster figures for Black Friday and a growing number of consumers shopping online. With fewer people walking in and out of stores, there are fewer prospective donors. The biggest shopping day of the year, however, is just around the corner, and perhaps a late surge in shopper confidence will help fill the empty red kettles.

But the needy are already feeling the effects of Salvation Army’s poor performance. In Elgin, Illinois, families lined up outside the area-Salvation Army headquarters to receive food stuffs for the holidays. Many were turned away empty-handed. One of the staff commented that it “was sad to see the need but even sadder to watch all the food dwindle away as the line of those seeking help grew shorter, then turning those in need away due to the lack of our food donations.”

No nonprofit wants its operations to shrink, especially one providing basic needs. If traditional means of fundraising are no longer sufficient to meet the same demand for its services, Salvation Army should look to expand its methods and strategies for 2015, exploring the possibilities of online fundraising and integrating with new charitable institutions such as #GivingTuesday.

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.

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