Friday, June 29, 2007

Causes Vs. Organizations

A new thought has been percolating for some time and I think maybe I can finally articulate what's in my head. Once again, we're seeing that technology is enabling and creating an entirely new set of problems (and opportunities) for non-profit fundraisers.

Once upon a time, donors (or suckers on a list) would get a piece of mail or see a telethon on the telly and be moved to give money. The donor would rarely TELL anyone that they gave money or even that they supported charities. It just wasn't done. To be honest, I'm too young to remember this - but my mom's giving habits suggest that I'm right.

Then, charity walks happened - and person to person fundraising en masse was born. Along with community style campaigns donors needed to also become marketers of the organization and the cause they were raising money for. Fundraisers needed to leverage their contact lists - write letters to their dentist, lawyer and mother-in-law. Eventually, they could e-mail their friends and set up personal fundraising pages that would take online donations from their friends. Socially, telling others what charity you support was built-in to the very mechanism of raising money (this was a big deal because it essentially changed our society's view and would pave the way for what's next).

What's next is what everyone in fundraising is struggling to understand. I belive what's next is a continuation of what we're seeing else where on the Internet - users maintain their control and get to define how they raise money, who they raise money for and who they'll tell.

Here's my hypothesis: While there many, many organizations, there are many, many more causes. And people more often than not raise money for a cause, not for an organization - even if they themselves don't know the difference!

As a marketer though - it's extremely important to know the difference and be able to craft messages, systems and technology to support this phenomenon.

If my theory is right, it would partially explain why Sixdegrees can raise almost $700,000 in less than a year - and why Facebook Causes and are getting so much attention. It's also why sites like have almost 7.4 million registered users.

What we are seeing is a migration in giving that appears to be cause driven as opposed to organization focused. I'm sure to some of you, this is not new news - and in fact for some organizations is actually very old news (Greenpeace comes to mind).

Why is it that seems that no single organization "owns" Global Warming? There certainly are good organizations out there. Am I missing something or are the issues trumping the organizations right now? I even think that this is flowing over into politics - if I care about healthcare (a cause), I'd vote one way. If I think we can win in Iraq (a cause), I'd vote another way - irregardless of the candidate to a large extent.

Am I wrongheaded here? What am I missing?

Another example: look at the screenshot below, taken from Notice that there isn't a single tag that is about a specific organization. Where's "I want to fund American Cancer Society?" It's all causes that are connected to organizations that can get stuff done. But those very organizations have to get very savvy about how they position themsleves in relation to the causes their donors want to support.


From a donor/fundraiser perspective, International Rescue Committee has at least a few dozen "causes" - but in the end, we're not a cause unto itself. The long tail theory would suggest to us if we were paying attention, that we'd better get good at exposing ourselves to different causes - how the work that we do affects that causes that people care about. Literacy, Aids, Poverty, Water sanitation, financial literacy are all examples of "causes" that are within our domain to influence.

I better get back to work.

Agree or disagree, leave a comment.


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