Posts tagged nonprofits

Social entrepreneurs: the next generation of philanthropy?

The word “philanthropy” translates literally to love of humans or love of mankind, but we typically define philanthropy as giving money, providing in-kind goods and services, and volunteering time to charitable causes and nonprofit organizations. Traditionally, charities are held responsible for affecting positive change and meeting needs that government and private enterprise have inadequately served.   

According to a recent article in The Tennessean by Jeff Cornwall,the Millennial Generation (that’s me!) is expanding beyond this common definition by harnessing the power of free market capitalism to benefit relevant social causes. “Social entrepreneurs,” seek to create sustainable, profitable business that are independent from reliance on benefactors but still bring about positive results in the community.

Cornwall cites this generation’s lack of trust in government to solve social problems as one of the main motivators for this new movement:

“Several surveys have found that many people in this generation don’t believe that government is the most effective means to solve many of today’s social problems — the private sector offers more efficient and effective solutions. They no longer believe that massive programs work. Instead, they hope to create solutions that solve one small problem at a time.”

So, what does this new trend mean for traditional nonprofits and charity organizations? As a millennial myself, I can vouch for the lure of the efficiency and efficacy of companies driven by profit-demanding management. However, I also doubt that public trust in the socially-responsible business management of corporations, eroded by recent scandals (ahem, Enron), will be completely restored anytime soon.

In the end, our perceptions of organization value have a lot to do with marketing, communication, and an attention to public-organization relationships; certainly some for-profits give me the warm fuzzies much more than steely and holier-than-thou charity organizations. I admit it’s mostly in the messaging I receive and my personal experiences interacting with the organizations. For-profit companies succeeding with a social mission likely make that social priority clear to consumers and other stakeholders. More importantly, they make that priority clear to others who care as well.

Which is not to say it’s all a marketing ploy. Instead, I see it as the best of both worlds: creating sustainable, profitable businesses driven by philanthropic (and phyto-thropic?) principles for the benefit of the whole community. Nonprofits can learn from this strategy by likewise engaging donors not with a “what you can do for us” message but instead “here’s what we can do for you.” Of course, donors need to be assured that their money is going to a good cause. For some, that’s all they need to know. But many of us, millennials especially, want to have our cake and eat it too. Does it make us greedy or selfish? Perhaps, but I suspect many of us simply want to erase the delineation between socially-beneficial charity and profitable business.

Nonprofits today can take advantage of this trend by exploring ways they can mimic capitalist business strategies while maintaining a mission for social good. In my research for my honors thesis, I’m finding that in the right context, fund-raising events can provide a great opportunity for nonprofits to offer donors unique benefits in exchange for their dollars and time. Capitalist? Maybe a little. Philanthropic? Yes. In every sense of the word.

Thanks to Sam Davidson, in his post “Millenials and Social Enterprise” for directing me to the article.

Image courtesy of


Comments (1) »

Celebrities at face value


Several of my recent posts have discussed building relationships and putting a human face on your organization. While perusing the blogosphere this week, I came across a post by Nedra Weinreich on her blog “Spare Change” about literally putting a face on your organization with a celebrity spokesperson. She highlighted some important pieces of advice, such as:

  • Make sure the celebrity is prepared to speak intelligently about the issue.
  • Work through the celebrity’s publicist, not their agent.
  • Prepare the celebrity to deal with any controversial questions that may arise from their affiliation with your organization.
  • Understand what motivations the celebrity has for being involved. In other words, do they have a genuine belief in the message or are they just doing it to look good?

Of course, this is all based on the assumption that using a celebrity is right for your organization in the first place. Celebrities attract attention; they can give your organization star power. But not all donors are interested in the concept of celebrity. Some people are turned off by it. It would be smart to first consider why you’re using a celebrity spokesperson; then you will be equipped to select a celebrity that can help accomplish your specific objectives.

In an advertising class last term, we discussed some other guides to follow when choosing a celebrity spokesperson for promotional work. I’m kicking myself now for not keeping better track of my notes, but from what I remember, it’s more important to your audience whether the celebrity is credible than how famous or beautiful they are. Do they know what they’re talking about? Do they walk the walk in addition to the talk? Are they in it for the long run? The product and celebrity need to be congruent – how congruent depends, again, on your audience. The gist of it is: Does it make sense? Using a celebrity that has little to do with your mission may do more harm than good.

And let’s not forget the threat of the celebrity scandal! Putting a face on your organization can be a liability as much as an asset. When pictures of Kate Moss surfaced showing the supermodel allegedly snorting cocainesurfaced in the British tabloids, Burberry, H&M, Chanel and others quickly dropped her contracts. Aligning your organization with a celebrity can put you at major risk of a similar situation.

Inviting a celebrity to attend an event as a guest, speaker, or performer carries significantly less risk, but certain considerations should still be made. I believe that, as with the rest of the event planning and preparations, some strategic thinking should go into any special celebrity guests.

And who knows – if you’re lucky, the right celebrity might begin as a special guest and develop into an engaged, active proponent of your organization.

Does anyone have any experience working with celebrity guests? I would love to hear your stories, advice, and feedback.

Image of Operation Smile Youth Ambassador Jessica Simpson courtesy of

Comments (1) »

Yes, I am pro bono


(…a cheesy play on words, I know, but I do love U2)   

This month, the Business of Design Online has been discussing the value of working pro bono for design professionals. The most recent post outlined these top benefits for designers:

  • self-promotion
  • networking opportunities
  • portfolio puffing
  • experience
  • “the warm and fuzzies”

Okay so being the rosy-spectacled, hopeless idealist that I am, I was a little disappointed to see no truly altruistic motivations. No “because it’s the right thing to do” justification. But I understand – and not just because I live in capitalist America. Generating a good reputation is important – especially for the self-employed. Pro bono work appears to provide an excellent opportunity to do so.

I hadn’t thought about it this way before, but the work I do for Ballet Fantastique could qualify as pro bono, with a few tweaks. According to Thomas Stephan in his post “Don’t Work For Free Ever Again” the difference between volunteering and working pro bono lies somewhere in performing professional services, within the parameters of a previously agreed upon contract, but waiving the traditional financial compensation. With my work for Ballet Fantastique (where I started as an intern), I haven’t used contracts or developed complicated strategic plans, so Stephan would likely classify my work as volunteerism. 

Working for non-profits and charities has always been something important to me, but not really for any of the above-mentioned reasons. I’ve just felt responsible to use my talents to benefit others. I do believe, however, that it will be important to protect myself as a professional and to make informed, intelligent, mutually-beneficial decisions when considering offering my services pro bono; and to create clear, well-defined guidelines for working with such clients.

Just the other day I was wondering how professionals decide when and for whom to work pro bono, and what sorts of ethical questions arise surrounding these choices. How do you decide whom to charge and whom to not? Are there any regulations on this, either within industry bodies or professional organizations? Please, let me know if anyone has experience here. 

Image courtesy of

    Comments (2) »

    Are nonprofit-donor relationships just a click away?


    Last week’s BusinessWeekonline article ‘Click Here to Save Darfur’ by Catherine Holahan explains how online social networking sites like Facebook or Myspace have enabled charity and activist groups to quickly rally support and turn it into real dollars and feet on the street.

    For example, Camp Darfur in Second Life(a virtual reality world where users live through an avatar) allows visitors to tour a simulated refugee camp to educate them about the conflict in Sudan. It also provides visitors with ways to get more involved in raising awareness about the Darfur genocide.

    My question is, how do online social networks translate to the fundraising and marketing world? Are the online relationships initiated through sites like Facebook or Second Life replacing traditional relationships, or are they filling a new niche? Personally, I  believe that the proliferation of such online opportunities does not signal a decline in demand for real-world interaction with brands (be they nonprofit organizations, politicians, activist groups, or corporations). The ease of bringing charitable or other causes to the Internet also impacts the public’s perception of their credibility. When any Joe Schmoe with a domain name can set up a fraudulent charity, it’s hard to judge the authenticity of a legit organization. It’s like the e-mail from the Nigerian Prince, but more sophisticated.

    This is why I think it’s still paramount for ‘brands’ to cultivate personal relationships with their publics – whether they are donors, customers, or voters – on a physical level. But they shouldn’t ignore the popularity and success of online tools. Instead, I think the answer lies in forming a strategy that integrates online social networking with real-life, personal encounters. In cases where this is impossible, due to monetary or physical constraints, then Web 2.0 seems to provide an excellent solution. Either way, we’re talking about a means to an end – if the desired outcome can be best achieved purely through online interaction, then that’s what the organization should do.

    In the end, for the same reason that brick and mortar stores have not been demolished by online retailers like Amazon, I doubt that online social networking will replace all traditional relationship management strategies. But, in the same way that online shopping has changed consumer’s habits, this new opportunity will certainly influence the next generation of donors.

    Image courtesy of

    Comments (2) »