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, February 18, 2010

Don't Blame Haiti

I was reading an article a few days ago about an issue campaign that had been canceled and was struck by the sentence, "They blamed the tough economy and people focusing charitable efforts on Haiti for the lack of donations to their effort."

Everybody knows the economy is tough, and that many donors have had to reduce their giving. It is also true that some donors have had to chose whether to give their recent gifts to "their usual causes" or to the emergency in Haiti. But it's equally true that there are some organizations that have increased their individual giving in the past year, and even in recent months.

So why have some nonprofits flourished while others have floundered? It's all in the message. Those who have increased donations haven't avoided mentioning the tough economy, but they haven't focused on it either. They've given concrete examples of specific cuts, and then demonstrated their strengths and ability to operate, despite challenges. These are the messages that have instilled donor confidence, and encouraged increased giving.

The last message any donor wants to hear is that you've lost all hope. And they certainly don't want to hear you blaming others for your problems.

The organization in the article may indeed have had some donors reduce their pledges following the Haiti earthquake (and they were certainly aware of the economic situation before they launched their campaign). But more importantly, they failed to make a strong case for their own cause. They failed to demonstrate their ability to follow-through and achieve their mission and they failed to create an urgency around the timing of their own campaign.

Haiti and a down economy may not have helped their situation, but they certainly managed to fail on their own. Not accepting responsibility, and blaming other worthy causes, shows a lack of leadership that donors will not forget should this organization try their campaign again in the future.

End of that rant... Here's one more note about mergers...

I just read a wonderful account of a nonprofit merger in the Guardian (UK) called Braving the new world of a merged charity, the article begins:
For the past year, I have been going through what I imagine a divorce feels like: uncertainty, sleepless nights, and the occasional desire to bawl. But in fact I have been preparing for a marriage of sorts: the merger of the national organisation I founded, Speaking Up, with another charity, Advocacy Partners.
Being chest deep into my third merger, I know exactly how he feels. Read the full article for some excellent merger advice.

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