In light of The Nonprofit Times’ annual ‘Best Nonprofits to work for 2013’, I figured it best to dust the cobwebs off of this blog and reflect on the changing nature of charity. Charity has always been a pretty boring aspect of our lives. We all know we should give generously to charity so that nonprofit organizations can put our money to good use and help the less fortunate. But that doesn’t make parting ways with our hard earned cash any easier. Why? Because blindly giving away money is about as satisfying as pouring off milk into the last of your cheerios.
The problem with charities is that there is rarely anything to show for your donation. This is why traditional nonprofits struggle to compete with for-profit companies who offer their customers tangible value through a good or service. Look at it this way; if you pay twenty dollars for a haircut, you get a haircut. On the flipside, if you give that twenty dollars to charity, you get a pat on the back and you’re out twenty dollars. You have no idea where your money goes and your hair still looks like a dead cat. This is why charity is in dire need of a change.
At the end of the day, people will always have that underlying desire for some kind of value. For nonprofits to believe that their donors subscribe to some higher moral standard will only hurt them in the long run. Therefore, it is in the best interest of these nonprofits to start thinking like for-profit companies and start to create some genuine value for their donors. This can be done by creating a strong brand identity, targeting niche markets, and producing an end product. Charity has been missing some much needed inspiration. And inspiration can only been achieved by making donors feel as if they have made a real difference. For years, World Vision has been teetering on inspiration by allowing donors to sponsor a child and have regular updates on how they are progressing. In this case, the end product comes as you see the change you’re making in a person’s life.
New York based charity, charity: water, is on the forefront of a new movement in the nonprofit sector that focuses on two main ideals; transparency and a donor model they call the ‘100% model’. charity: water was founded in 2006 by former New York nightclub promoter Scott Harrison and has revamped an aged charity model into one that is inspirational, effective, and transparent. The ‘100% model’ guarantees that all public donations go directly to water projects in developing countries while private donors cover operational costs. This empowers donors as they know even the smallest donation will ultimately go where it is needed most. charity: water inspire their donors by tracking their donations around the world and providing them with a report full of GPS locations and images of the water projects that their donations helped create (See an example here). Since their foundation, charity: water have completed over eight thousand projects and provided over three million people with sustainable access to clean water.
This focus on entrepreneurial innovation in the nonprofit sector has seen organizations grow using new, imaginative ways of generating revenue. Not For Sale, a nonprofit out of Half Moon Bay in California, is doing just that. In order to help end human trafficking and slavery around the world, Not For Sale have recently incubated and launched REBBL, a socially responsible beverage company that will employ freed slaves in the Amazon, and reinvest proceeds into projects that combat human trafficking. Founded by University of San Francisco’s Dave Batstone, Not For Sale are demonstrating that there is in fact a grey line between the nonprofit and for-profit sectors. By ethically generating revenue in accordance with their mission, Not For Sale have paved the way forward for other nonprofits to follow suit. Although Not For Sale’s revenue from REBBL may only account for a fraction of their operating budget, it shows that there are unique avenues for nonprofits to explore in order to secure more revenue. Coupled with an interactive infographic donor reporting model, Not For Sale are pioneering positive change to end human trafficking and also to improve the way nonprofits are operating around the world.
The Nonprofit Times’ annual report shows that not only are charities changing the way they present themselves, they are changing the way they work from within. Organizations such as the Wounded Warrior Project have recognized the importance of a mission driven workforce and work hard to inspire their staff to share the goals and ambitions of the organization. The WWP have been voted the best nonprofit to work for in the United States for three years in a row as a result of their awesome company culture. Establishing an organizational culture that mirrors that of a Silicon Valley startup will encourage employees to work harder, leaner, and with a stronger underlying mission.
At the end of the day, people will always want to donate to charity. The good news is that donating to a charity can now be a fulfilling and rewarding experience that keeps us coming back. Whether it be by showing you where your money goes with satellite imagery, or creating a desirable brand name that donors are proud to support, the new age of charity is surely here to stay. So get out there and give away all your money. God knows your hair will look horrible anyway.