The Double-Edged Sword of a Celebrity Spokesperson

The Double-Edged Sword of a Celebrity Spokesperson

Jan 12

A celebrity spokesperson can be a huge boon for a nonprofit organization, but on the other hand, they can also be a huge roadblock. Take Tom Hiddleston, for example. Hiddleston recently earned the wrath of the Internet for expressing pride that a show he worked on was appreciated by medics from Doctors Without Borders. Twitter users accused the actor of being a “white savior” because he was trying to bring attention to humanitarian efforts in the South Sudan. The whole debacle was taken out of context and blown way out of proportion. But that’s not the point. Because he now has some negative press about him, so does the United Nations Children’s Fund (the nonprofit organization that he was serving as spokesman for). It goes to show that high-profile allies can and will be criticized for everything they do, and any affiliated organizations will have to suffer those consequences as well. Angelina Jolie is another good example. She has done a great deal of good work with the United Nations since 2001. However, if social media worked then like it does now, that career would have been cut short because at some point she probably would have said or done something that the Internet could jump all over. Social media is a powerful tool, but it’s far too often used to bully people, famous or otherwise. When a nonprofit teams up with a celebrity, they have to carefully consider what kinds of social media fallout they might have to face. While there are some celebrities who are obviously not worth working with, there are others who would make for excellent spokespeople. The downside is that it’s impossible to predict the future and what could happen down the line at an awards show or red carpet event. In considering whether or not to partner up with a celebrity, it’s important for nonprofits to have an eye on social media, which is where any little mistake is going develop into a full-blown scandal. The cult of celebrity status is much more fragile now that news spreads like wildfire. It’s important to think ahead, and be ready for “damage control” should something go wrong. Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore at Flickr Creative...

Nonprofits Need to Think about Security

Nonprofits Need to Think about Security

Dec 14

Preventing fraud in nonprofits is sometimes just a matter of actually thinking about accountability. The Lumberton High School band’s booster club had one person handling the mostly cash donations that they took in, which is how that person managed to steal over $70,800 dollars from the group. If there had been even one additional person responsible for that money, that theft could likely have been reduced or even prevented. The nonprofit sector is so vulnerable to fraud because, unlike the for-profit or public sectors, there are far less security measures in place, either required by law or simply put in place by ethical practices. While there are certainly more security minded nonprofits out there, most are small organizations with few employees that, though they mean well, can easily succumb to relatively simple fraud schemes. So how do we fix this? By becoming, as an entire sector of the economy, more security conscious. This means more checks and balances. Everything from writing ethical guidelines to tasking multiple people with keeping track of donations and expenditures should be included. For some nonprofits, it could even mean not taking cash donations at all, or at least making it a rule that two people have to be working together when accepting such donations. The needs of an individual organization are going to vary, of course, which means that the security concerns will vary as well. But the first step has to be realizing that security is a concern, and then sitting down to address it. Even if an organization has no history of fraud, that doesn’t mean it will never be subject to it in the future. In the case of the aforementioned Lumberton band booster club, that theft was happening over several years, so its possible to have a history of fraud without even knowing it. Why should an organization wait until after they’ve been victimized to put preventative measures in...

The Season of Giving: Breast Cancer Edition

The Season of Giving: Breast Cancer Edition

Dec 09

‘Tis the season…of donating to charities. The Breast Cancer Research Foundation offers a great way to give to a community working hard to treat and ultimately end breast cancer. And there are many other nonprofits also working to educate the public and support research. Unfortunately, we live in an age where giving to a charity isn’t as easy as it ought to be. If you’re looking to support breast cancer research and survivors this holiday season, here’s what you need to know. Where should my donations go? The Breast Cancer Research Foundation is a great place to start. With high-profile donors including Owl Rock’s Marc Lipschultz, Discovery Capital Management’s Rob Citrone, and billionaire media investor Herbert J. Siegel, the BCRF’s work draws the support of big names from all walks of life. Other great foundations waiting for your donations: Living Beyond Breast Cancer, The National Breast Cancer Foundation, and The Breast Cancer Fund. (All of these organizations received a rating of three stars or higher from Charity Navigator.) Should I go pink? Every October, all manner of companies and organizations put out pink products and advertisements in honor of breast cancer survivors and those doing research on the disease. But how much good do these campaigns really do? Getting to the truth can be tricky. Gayle Sulik, author of Pink Ribbon Blues: How Breast Cancer Culture Undermines Women’s Health, notes that a lot of these companies don’t actually donate anything to breast cancer charities. Instead, they “raise awareness”—a pretty vague notion. And some of these companies, Sulik writes, simultaneously produce products that can cause breast cancer even while they paint the walls pink. “It doesn’t make much sense to buy pink ribbon products,” says Samantha King, author of Pink Ribbons, Inc.: Breast Cancer and the Politics of Philanthropy. “By doing so, you’re simply subsidizing corporate marketing campaigns. If you want to give, give directly to the breast cancer organization.” And as an added bonus, when you give directly, you get the tax deduction—not the corporation. What else should I look out for when donating? Use websites like Charity Watch or Charity Navigator to check on the credibility of the organization you want to donate to. These sites can also tell you exactly where your money will go. If you want to dig deeper, take a look at the nonprofit’s financial reports to get a feel for their health and...

Funding Leadership Training in the Nonprofit Sector

Funding Leadership Training in the Nonprofit Sector

Dec 08

Leadership training and education is an important part of keeping nonprofits healthy, especially when it comes to transitioning between CEOs or other major leadership positions. The problem is, different organizations take different views on what kind of training is needed and funders have different ideas of what kind of training is worth funding. But according to Bridgespan, a nonprofit organization that works with other groups to improve leadership and subsequent impact, there is a gulf between what funders fund and what grantees need. Much of this seems to come down to the ability of organizations to communicate their needs to funders, but in order to do that, the organization needs to understand what those needs are in the first place. Some might put the focus on individual training of leaders or even employees who could transition into such roles. Others might put the focus on larger changes to organizational culture, allowing them to instill certain leadership mentalities in employees across the board, hoping to improve the group as a whole. What works for one nonprofit isn’t necessarily going to work for another, and figuring out what works in a given organization may take time and effort, all of which needs to be funded in the first place. As with so many other aspects of the nonprofit sector, the key to doing so is transparency. Donors need to know how money is being spent, and if that includes exploratory studies to figure out the best way to educate an organization’s leaders in order to improve its ability to follow through with it’s mission, then they need to know that. Of course, once an organization knows what kinds of leadership training it needs to engage in to improve impact, that needs to be made clear as well. Funders want to help nonprofits achieve their missions, and if the argument can be made that leadership training will improve the chances of doing that, then those efforts should be able to secure...

Diversifying Nonprofit Income

Diversifying Nonprofit Income

Nov 29

The Business Weekly section of the Reading Eagle (based out of Reading, PA) did one of those things that local papers are so good at: they wrote about local news in a way that’s actually quite useful to people who aren’t local. In this case, they have a piece about two local charities: Bethany Children’s Home and Opportunity House. Both of these organizations have diversified their revenue streams in order to prevent a reduction in federal grants. It’s the “diversifying revenue streams” that classifies this as a business article. Their point, and it’s a good one, is that sometimes nonprofits should think like for-profits, which at a certain size, tend to look for multiple income streams in case one doesn’t do so great. It’s fine for a small business to focus on manufacturing one specific item, but if demand for that item drops, or doesn’t keep pace with growth, or material prices go up, it can tank the company. That’s why you diversify in such a situation. Nonprofits can benefit from the same thinking. Federal and state grants can dry up or be awarded to other organizations. Donations rise and fall with the economy. But thrift stores, which you’ll notice are frequently run by nonprofits, tend to weather economic downturns really well. That’s probably why Goodwill and the Salvation Army have been using them for so long. It’s also what Opportunity House is doing in Reading now, with their new OppShop store that allows them to keep items out of landfills while employing underserved people. Bethany Children’s Home, which helps abused and neglected children, has been operating a dairy farm since 1873. Bethany Children’s Home has also operated its own freshwater spring since 2012. It really boils down to this age-old advice: don’t put all your eggs in one basket, even if you’re a...

The Nonprofit Sector is Failing the People it Means to Serve

The Nonprofit Sector is Failing the People it Means to Serve

Nov 17

The nonprofit sector is failing people of color and other under-served communities. While there are plenty of organizations that work with these groups, rarely are they actually run by people from these communities. Even when they are, these organizations tend to be lacking in the kinds of operational capital that makes other organizations successful. As Candi Cdebaca, the young CEO of Project VOYCE points out, this is because the nonprofit sector is predicated on privilege. It was founded by rich white people to help others and has developed into a system that maintains both privilege and poverty. After all, without people to help, there would be no nonprofit sector. That may sound hard to swallow, but if it is, it may be because you’re a part of the problem. This isn’t to say that you, dear reader, are actively working to oppress people and further the goals of privilege and white supremacy. In fact, if you’re reading this, you probably aren’t consciously doing these things. But the problem is, as 2016 in general has done an excellent job of showing, these systems perpetuate themselves subtly. Cdebaca doesn’t suggest some overarching solution to the problem, that’s beyond the scope of her piece and well beyond the scope of this website as well. But what’s important is that we realize these issues exist, and begin a conversation—locally, nationally, globally, about how to fix this issue. Many of us have argued that having more people of color at the head of nonprofits, especially those geared towards the issues faced by people of color, would make a big difference. Although it definitely would, it’s something that we haven’t even come close to accomplishing yet. But diversity on it’s own isn’t enough. Diversity needs support in order to work, because all the nonprofit CEOs of color in the world can’t help if the color of their skin continues to prevent them from having access to capital and...