No matter what your mission, your location, or the age of your organization, there is one thing that binds all nonprofit organizations together. Development Directors can't stop thinking about them. Board Members covet them. Executive Directors court them. Who are they?
And they're what makes all the good work we do possible. But amidst all the cultivation practices, website revamps and key messaging strategies, we sometimes spend so much time creating strategy and talking amongst ourselves, that we miss the mark. Why aren't we asking donors why they really give? In this multi-part story, we've asked donors to give to a BRAND NEW charity of their choice - and write about it. They come from many backgrounds and sectors, have different passions and experiences, and what they end up finding important may surprise you.
MY DONOR JOURNEY - MARY
Mary is our marketing master. She knows SEO and speaks tech in a way that makes most of our heads spin. She's resourceful, smart and detailed. She's an amazing writer and a keen content strategist who has a deep-seated passion for women's rights and social justice. She also happens to be a millennial (you know, one of those donors who "don't give"). Well, surprise, she does. Who made the cut for Mary?
My donor journey is frazzled. Cut to: a fast approaching deadline, the time has come to make a choice. I owe my bosses a check-in. After all, I spearheaded this project with wide eyes, “Hey, let’s all find our perfect nonprofit match! This is what blogging dreams are made of!”
And how does my little search go?
Cut to: countless nights curled up with my iPhone, hoping that the great lord “Google” will quickly present me with the perfect nonprofit results.
Alas, as a former search engine optimization slave, I know all too well that many of the places that need my dollars most are not going to pop up in those first few pages. No matter how many keywords I slap together, it’s just not looking promising.
What am I looking for anyway? I want to see some thought-provoking content, some beautiful design, the underdog swinging across the nonprofit forest canopy, ready to strike society with DO-GOODING (insert tarzan yell).
Who am I? I am a dreaded early 20's millennial with an iPhone 6. I come from a place where I'm willing to spend more than my next paycheck on a cellphone, because it's where I live. I rely heavily on the phone for everything: from getting me home to getting me my next date. There's an app for everything I need, or at least that's what I truly believe. I am constantly scouting the web for my next download. In fact, while typing this I am also staring longingly and lovingly at my peacefully charging iPhone. So, to wrap this 'ode to Apple' up, my journey starts and ends on mobile. So, if you're not optimized nonprofits, get outta here!
What kind of social missions am I down to support? Remember, I am a dreaded early 20's millennial. My particular passion is women's health and empowerment. I raise my fists to legislators trying to control women's bodies, I scoff at anybody who tries to tell me the pay gap is a myth and I found most of Lena Dunham’s “Girls” to be bearable. In short, I’m the quintessential contemporary card-carrying feminist.
How long does it take me to come up with a place I'm down to support? Well, dear reader, if you're a tired and fickle youth who is mobile reliant....you're going to shoot down a lot of organizations. It took me 3 weeks to make my final decision. I was hoping to get this baby wrapped up in 3 hours. Alas, when many of the nonprofits I stumbled upon had to go through the "Mary Checklist"- most failed, I mean, really bombed.
What Defines a "Good" Nonprofit?
The clincher here is that I just started working in the nonprofit sector. Every time I thought I stumbled upon my perfect organization and started dreaming of becoming a Board member and helping them change the world, I was slyly prompted by management to take a closer peak. In order to make a choice I had to really break down, what I thought, made a nonprofit good. Does this organization have solid financials, a clear vision and a programming model that truly has sparked change in the community it hopes to impact?
Here come the 990’s. First off, I’m totally “down” with investment overhead. But when that beautiful website becomes a clear cover-up for an overpaid Executive Director and a quarter-million dollar event that better have matched the Kardashian/West wedding in regards to flowers and catering- I’m out (unless I can get a table at the next gala). If you're looking to support an organization, I highly recommend checking out how the nonprofit measures up on Guidestar (great FREE tool).
Here comes the vision. I want to see women empowered, but I’m done with nebulous missions. It was honestly exhausting (and at one point nauseating) to read so many, dare I say, LAME vision statements. I'm not looking for creative writing prowess, but I really don't want to have the veil put over my eyes. The biggest problem I had with many organizations that I came close to support was no matter how much time I spent dissecting their websites, I still couldn't quite figure out what they really wanted to do. This is an especially big problem in women-focused nonprofits. Fine, I get the buzzwords: empowerment, growth, equality, but how the heck are you going to accomplish that?
Who I Picked and Why They WON?
Drumroll please. At the end of the day my charity of choice was Girls Who Code. This organization has experienced incredible and well documeneted financial growth since their 2012 inception. You can view their last 990 as a stylized scroll through on their website. I love that they walked me through their spending so transparently. And most importantly, they're following through on a crystal clear vision: Girls Who Code programs work to inspire, educate, and equip girls with the computing skills to pursue 21st century opportunities.
They're tackling the gender disparity in computing fields. I feel more strongly about this than I thought I did when I started my search. Their website and the facts it presented pushed me to FEEL that their cause matters. I walked into this search, mostly hoping to support some women's health initiative, but I'm proud that I contributed to Girls Who Code. Because I know that the money will go to pushing an agenda that's clear, concise and empowering. I want the opportunity to work with more female developers, I want to learn to be more proficient at code. Even though I grew up with a mom as a computer programmer, I felt my whole life like I just couldn't do it. My "female" brain just isn't built for tech.
It was easy to donate on their page. Super easy. They had pre-filled "most frequently" donated amounts to select, the interface was clean and at the end of the day I got an IMMEDIATE (yes, I know it was automated) but I appreciated it anyway, thank you. I gave them $50. They thanked me. I follow them on social media and constantly get to see updates of the good they do. Their networks are really well run. I'm a happy giver.
My donor journey was tough, because I have learned to hold nonprofits to a higher standard than many have been expected to meet. There are too many problems that we need to tackle as a society and as a disgruntled, often overlooked voice, I have no patience for organizations that do a 'half-ass' job. I am passionate about charity. I love coming in to work and helping to grow many admirable nonprofits with powerful missions. But it's time for many organizations to truly step back and take a look at how they present themselves and why they're really choosing to stay open. Make it worth it for your donors. If you don't aim to do more good in your communty, I mean really do more good- don't even bother. It's a myth that millennials don't care. We want to feel invigorated and inspired by your missions. So make it count.
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