Ken Goldstein, MPPA

Ken Goldstein has been working in nonprofits and local government agencies from Santa Cruz, to Sacramento, and back to Silicon Valley, since 1989. He's been staff, volunteer, board member, executive director, and, since 2003, a consultant to local nonprofit organizations. For more on Ken's background, click here. If you are interested in retaining Ken's services, you may contact him at ken at

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Donors: Once Bitten, Twice Shy

A posting on About Nonprofit Charitable Orgs quotes an AARP Bulletin that says donors are "scared of scammers." The original AARP alert, "Plucking Your Heart - and Purse - Strings," tells of con artists who prey on the elderly by posing as a charity and asking for a donation.

The organization names the scammers use are similar to those of actualy charities in order to deliberately add to the confusion. The bulletin gives several horror stories of elderly donors who lost their money in such scams, and then gives advice on how to avoid being scammed, such as never giving credit card info to an un-solicited caller, verifying an organization's status on, and requesting printed materials before giving.

The posting on adds some advice to nonprofits to help them avoid being suspected of running a scam, such as never soliciting strangers, build a relationship before you ask, and give multiple giving options.

That is all good advice, both for the donors and the charities, but I do wish the original AARP article had taken a more positive attitude. Like much of the popular media these days, they framed the article as part of the culture of fear that's gripping our nation.

"Preying on heart strings" certainly gets the readers attention, but it also frames the story in a negative manner. A different story designed to educate donors about philanthropy could have included the same information in a much more positive way. My concern here is that while the AARP bulletin throws in some helpful advice at the end, that wasn't its overall purpose or effect. The overall message was that everybody is out to scam you, so watch out. I believe more harm is done this way.

This should be of concern to all of us in the nonprofit field, as we all feel the effect when donors are cautious, burnt out, and distrustful. We should all be involved in donor education. But, let's do it in a positive manner that adds to the bottom line, not by telling donors that they're not smart enough to tell when something is a scam. It's not true, and it's not right.

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