3 key lessons for nonprofit innovation

3 Key Lessons for Nonprofit Innovation and Facebook Horses

Gabe Cooper

So, my dad is on Facebook… which you would find SHOCKING if you knew my dad. See, my dad’s a child of the 60’s. He listened to Bob Dylan, hitchhiked across the country, spent time at Haight-Ashbury, the whole nine yards. But, like many in his generation, he is largely a technology neophyte. He’s perpetually 15 years behind on every major technology advancement – except for Facebook. For some reason my dad got hooked on the magical Book of Faces a few years ago, and he has become one of the most prolific Facebook posters that I know. And, like most ex-hippies, his posts are typically equal parts weird and inspiring. For example, a few years ago, my dad invented a fictional horse, and then gave the horse (“Bobby”) a separate Facebook profile in order to document its exploits in the golden age of silver screen cowboys. It is both endearing… and uncomfortably strange.

All that said, as my dad has aged he has become wiser – and increasingly less patient with pretense. Thus, his Facebook posts occasionally include incredibly profound and unfiltered wisdom. A couple of weeks ago I came across the post below, and I thought it perfectly summed up several of our core beliefs at Virtuous.

He said…

“Several years ago I was involved with a charity that gave away bicycles at Christmas. On “give away day” we noticed that kids and moms showed up, but not dads. When researched, it was found that dads felt embarrassed and were saddened that they were unable to meet their own child’s needs. Their self-respect was shattered. We found a better way to accomplish the goals and still preserve dignity. Here is the point: When the local Television crew or sports hero parades a family in front of the cameras at Christmas time and says, “These people are impoverished and broken, but I saved the day,” or “look at how disadvantaged these folks were until I came along,” dignity is tarnished, self-respect diminished. I believe that there is a way to accomplish both the giving and the reception of good works without the embarrassment. Discretion just takes a little forethought. Please don’t think that I am against giving, because that is not the case. Giving is crucial and necessary. Think on humility, graciousness, and self-respect of all concerned when giving a gift. It may allow everyone to fully participate in kindness. Remember, Mr. TV guy or Mr. Sports Star… it’s not all about you.”

I love this post for several reasons. It exemplifies our mission at Virtuous – and it illustrates 3 key principals that are crucial for any donor or charity:

It’s Not All About You

Whether you’re a rich celebrity or a Joe Blow $10-per-month donor, your gift isn’t about you. Yes, you get joy from giving. But you don’t get joy because you’re a big deal. You get joy from giving because it truly is far better to give than receive. As a charity, it’s important that you get to know your donors personally. At the same time, you never want to build an army of donors who believe that their giving is all about them. You want to grow donors who are truly focused on others and swept up in your mission.

Everyone is a Giver

All humans have dignity – and we all have something to give. The biggest “financial” donors I know often have huge needs in other, “non-financial” areas of their lives. The person who you are giving to today might be giving back to you in unexpected ways tomorrow. Never use marketing or fundraising tactics that degrade (even unintentionally) the dignity of the “givers” or “receivers” at your organization.

Embrace Innovation

In my dad’s story you may have missed THE most important lesson for nonprofits. My dad and his friends monitored results closely and then made the appropriate changes. They “noticed” that dads didn’t show up and then they “researched” why. And once the research was analyzed they changed their approach!

I can’t overemphasize the importance of innovation for nonprofits. The best organizations are the ones who closely measure the results of their program and fundraising efforts and are then willing to fearlessly change direction to accomplish the mission. This is not only true of nonprofit organizations, but it’s a game changing mind-set for business at large.

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