Posts tagged ‘American Red Cross’

December 12, 2014

Is the American Red Cross Hurting Your Fundraising Efforts?

The American Red Cross regularly touts how responsible it is with donors’ money. ‘We’re very proud of the fact that 91 cents of every dollar that’s donated goes to our services,’ Red Cross CEO Gail McGovern said in a speech in Baltimore last year. ‘That’s world class, obviously.’

“McGovern has often repeated that figure, which has also appeared on the charity’s website.

“The problem with that number: It isn’t true.”

That stunning revelation was made in a recently released investigative report by ProPublica and NPR.

National Red Cross HQ by NCinDC via Flickr

American Red Cross National Headquarters

The Red Cross is a great organization. My wife and I have been donors. I even did a blog post highlighting the effective stewardship practices at the Red Cross and encouraging readers to support the organization. The American Red Cross does not have to “serially mislead” the public.

Yet, that’s exactly what it has been doing according to the reporters. While the organization has told the public that 91 cents of every donated dollar goes to services, its fundraising cost to raise a dollar has been 17 cents on average. And that does not include organization overhead expenses. Clearly, the Red Cross has not been as efficient as its leader has claimed.

When reporters contacted Red Cross officials for more information, those officials were uncooperative. However, the organization did change the claim on its “website to another formulation it frequently uses: that 91 cents of every dollar the charity ‘spends’ goes to humanitarian services. But that too is misleading to donors,” states the investigative report.

Sadly, this is not the first time that the Red Cross has been accused by the media of misleading the public.

As a Red Cross supporter and a fundraising professional, I’m alarmed and disappointed by the behavior of the Red Cross. Misleading the public, either through lies or the clever manipulation of language, is unnecessary, unethical, and unacceptable.

Such inappropriate behavior erodes public trust, which makes fundraising more difficult. Perhaps this is one reason that the Red Cross has had trouble consistently raising more money. In 2009-10, the Red Cross raised $1.1 billion. In 2012-13, the Red Cross again raised $1.1 billion.

In a study that examined the relationship between trust and philanthropy, researchers Adrian Sargeant and Stephen Lee found, “there would appear to be a relationship between trust and a propensity to donate.” In addition, “there is some indication here that a relationship does exist between trust and amount donated, comparatively little increases in the former having a marked impact on the latter.”

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November 26, 2012

Effective Stewardship Before, During, & After the Gift

About a month ago, Hurricane Sandy ravaged the Caribbean and the East Coast of the United States. New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania were especially hard hit. Millions lost electricity and were driven from their homes. Today, thousands remain without power and without homes to return to.

Through it all, the American Red Cross has been there to help those in need.

My wife and I live in Philadelphia. While many in the area were affected by flooding, fallen trees, and loss of power, we were fortunate. We made it through unscathed.

Recognizing that others fared far worse than we did, we went online and donated to the Red Cross. At the time we made the gift, we could designate to a category or to “most needed.” We were able to print a gift receipt on the spot. As an immediate follow-up, the Red Cross emailed a thank you message with a receipt, an outline of all the services the support helps provide, and another opportunity to print out the gift receipt.

Up until that point, the Red Cross had handled the process perfectly and without any surprises.

Then, several days after our contribution, as the disaster began to subside, we received another email with another thank you with the subject line: “You are amazing.” We had to open it. When we did, we were greeted with a personalized salutation and a link to a slideshow illustrating the impact of our giving.

Here’s the text of the email we received:

Dear Lisa and Michael,

My sincere thanks for your generosity over the past ten days. The outpouring of support for the families impacted by Superstorm Sandy has been extraordinary. Whether you have given a financial gift, donated life-saving blood, or volunteered your time, I’m so grateful to so many compassionate people like you in the Red Cross community, as we provide emergency relief and help millions of families recover and get back to their lives. On behalf of the families and individuals we’ve served and will continue to serve in the days and weeks ahead, thank you.

[Slideshow image and link]

We are making a difference together. To date, you have helped us provide more than 61,000 overnight shelter stays, serve 3.2 million meals and snacks to cold and hungry families and distribute more than 121,000 relief items such as warm blankets, cold weather gear, clean-up kits and hygiene kits. We have activated our entire fleet of 323 Emergency Response Vehicles to bring meals, water, information and emotional support to impacted communities and we have deployed nearly 5,900 trained Red Cross workers to support relief efforts.

Our work is far from over, but from the bottom of my heart, thank you. We’ll continue to post updates for those affected by the storm and for our caring Red Cross community on our website.

You are at the heart of our mission to relieve suffering, wherever and whenever we’re needed, and I am so grateful for your support.

Gail McGovern

President and CEO, American Red Cross”

The slideshow contains many moving images of the Red Cross at work. On the same page as the slideshow, there are tabs to access other useful information. For example, visitors can learn how to donate additional funds, how to give blood, how to help beyond donating money, and how to find assistance. The page also contains links to other useful, disaster-related information such as tips for returning home after a disaster and how to download an app to assist with future hurricane preparedness.

The Red Cross giving and thank-you process is effective for a number of reasons:

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March 23, 2012

Are Zombies Philanthropic?

If a person is philanthropic while he’s alive, will he continue to be philanthropic if he were turned into a zombie?

Well, since zombies are soulless and not particularly bright, I think it’s probably safe to say that zombies would not be great philanthropists. However, I have discovered that zombies just might enable philanthropy.

Runner chased by zombies.

Before I explain, let me just say that you don’t need to check your calendar. I know Halloween is not just around the corner. However, the first of a series of nationwide zombie-infested 5K races of 2012 is coming up in May. And, a portion of the proceeds will benefit the American Red Cross.

“Run for Your Lives” is a 5K race through a zombie-infested obstacle course. The races will take place throughout 2012 in 11 cities around the U.S.A.

In an Oct. 26, 2011 article in The Daily, Derrick Smith, co-founder of the race, said that the first race in Maryland in 2011 was expected to attract about 1,000 participants. Instead, the race attracted far more interest and the number of racers had to be capped at 10,000. In addition, tickets were sold to approximately 1,000 spectators. This generated approximately $800,000 in gross revenue for the production company in addition to revenue generated from other related activities.

Race participants, who pay $77 each for the experience, are equipped with three “health flags” similar to what kids wear when playing flag-football in school. To be eligible for prizes, participants must finish the race with at least one health flag, which the zombies will be trying to seize. If a racer has all of his flags snatched away, he’s still allowed to complete the race, but he won’t be eligible for prizes. And, he’ll need to suffer the humiliation of being listed among the undead.

While these races are for-profit events, the race’s website lists the American Red Cross as a “Charitable Partner” with a portion of the proceeds going to the charity in an exhibition of corporate social responsibility.

This looks like a fun series of events. Not only will participants get to enjoy a fun race, they’ll also get to hear live bands, attend an after-party, and can even camp-out.

While the “Run for Your Lives” races look fun, they raise a number of questions:

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August 19, 2011

9 Things a Nonprofit Organization Should Never Do with Twitter

“Overall, participants [in peer-to-peer fundraising efforts] that adopted integrated Social Media tools increased their fundraising [results] by as much as 40 percent compared to their peers who weren’t using the available online tools,” according to a study by Blackbaud. Clearly, Social Media sites such as Twitter can have a significant impact on donor cultivation and fundraising results.

There are already a number of good articles about how nonprofit organizations can get started with Social Media. Four particularly useful articles about getting started with Twitter are:

Because there is increasingly more information about Twitter and other Social Media online and at professional seminars, I will not use my blog to suggest how to get started with Twitter or what you can do with it. Instead, I’m going to look at what you should not do with Twitter. While Twitter can certainly help nonprofit organizations with their development efforts, there are some things you should never do.

Do NOT Expect to Raise Money. I’m not saying you can’t use Twitter to raise money. I’m just say not to expect you’ll raise a lot. Nevertheless, a few charities have enjoyed great fundraising success via Twitter. For example, the American Red Cross has raised money through Twitter in response to various disaster relief efforts. While your organization may be able to raise some money as a result of your efforts on Twitter, that should not be your primary expectation. Instead, use Twitter to cultivate and engage people, promote your cause, and build a following. Overtime, you’ll be able to talk with folks about giving.

Do NOT Use Your Professional Twitter Account for Personal Tweets. Speaking of the American Red Cross, they had an awkward Twitter moment sometime ago, as reported in The High Low. Red Cross staff member Gloria Huang wrote about finding more Dogfish Head beer, accompanied by the hashtag #gettngslizzerd. The only trouble was that Huang accidentally posted the Tweet using the Red Cross account rather than her own. Rather than posting apology after apology, the Red Cross averted potential disaster by simply taking down the Tweet and responding with a reasonable joke: “We’ve deleted the rogue Tweet but rest assured the Red Cross is sober and we’ve confiscated the keys.” The response was so well-received it inspired a blood drive for the Red Cross, partly promoted by Dogfish Head’s Twitter followers. In a charming twist to a Tweet gone wrong and set right, the hashtag for the drive was Huang’s #gettngslizzerd. While all worked out well for the Red Cross, you should be sure to keep personal and professional Tweets in the right place.

Do NOT be Corporate. Ok, I know I just said to keep personal and business Tweets separate. But, that doesn’t mean your Tweets have to be formal or dull. Remember, Twitter is about personal communication. Keep it friendly. Don’t be afraid to comment on things related to but not specifically about your mission. Don’t be stuffy; you want people to like you.

Do NOT Pat Yourself on the Back. My mother told me when I was a child and was boasting about something, “Don’t pat yourself on the back so hard. You might knock yourself over.” This is good advice for Twitter users as well. People do not want to hear you talk about how great you are. They do want to hear what you’re accomplishing that is making life better. They especially want to hear things that are meaningful to them. Share with people the issues your nonprofit is dealing with. Engage them. Cultivate them. Give them information they will find useful.

Photo by Steve Garfield via Flickr

Do NOT be Exploitative. There’s a line between reacting to a crisis and exploiting one. When disasters strike, the Red Cross is there lending a helping hand and raising needed dollars. By contrast, and pulling an example from the corporate world, the Kenneth Cole company exploited the revolution in Egypt to sell its products. Here’s the Kenneth Cole Tweet: “Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online at[…]” When the inevitable backlash came, the company took the Tweet down and apologized. It’s important to know where the line is and to stay on the correct side of it.

Do NOT Use Foul Language. Sometimes, events get the better of us. For example, witnessing a terrible injustice can bring forth the desire to use course language. However, in the Twitterverse, it’s important to avoid naughty words. Unfortunately for Chrysler, their Tweeter snapped one morning and sent this message out, “I find it ironic that Detroit is known as the #motorcity and yet no one here knows how to [expletive deleted] drive.” Chrysler later removed the Tweet and apologized but not before it was Retweeted many times. So, watch your language and expect that some of your Tweets will be Retweeted, even when you don’t necessarily want them to be.

Do NOT Feel You Must Engage Everyone. While you will generally want to engage with people who are Tweeting about your cause or organization, remember you don’t have to engage with everyone. For example, someone might have things to say about your organization that are not particularly nice. Usually, it’s best to leave this alone, particularly if the person is simply being emotional and is off-base. On the other hand, if the person is making a valid point, apologize and respond. If the person is making a factual error, consider correcting it. Above all, be very careful when engaging those who are upset.

Do NOT Expect an Intern to Tweet. Your organization should not become an active user of Social Media, including Twitter, without having a plan in place that includes strategy, tactics, goals, and resources. While an intern can assist with the implementation of a Social Media plan, messages and interactions should be managed by a knowledgeable staff person who knows the organization, understands the plan, and has the maturity to professionally execute. Here’s another example from the corporate world: The Marc Jacobs company had an intern doing its Tweeting. Unfortunately, it seems the intern couldn’t take the pressure and, on his or her last day, decided to blast, using the company’s Twitter account, one of the partners. A more mature, professional individual would likely not have done the same on the way out the door. So, be sure to have the right person representing your organization.

Do NOT Automatically Exclude Twitter from Your Communications Mix. Perhaps the worst mistake you can make is to not realize the reach of Social Media and the impact you can have with it. Facebook claims to have 600 million active users each month. Twitter claims there are 175 million user accounts though at least one source (Business Insider) puts the number of active Twitter users at closer to 85 million, still a large number. Hundreds of millions of people across all demographic and socio-graphic groups are using Social Media. Many of your donors and prospective donors are using it. Your organization should weigh the pros and cons of using Social Media. You may ultimately decide, for whatever reason, that it is not appropriate for you to use Twitter or other Social Media tools. But, it should be a conscious decision one way or the other. Is Twitter right for your organization? Do you have the resources to use it properly? Should it be part of your marketing mix? Don’t ignore Social Media. Evaluate it the way you would any development or marketing strategy.

By the way, you can find me on Twitter @mlinnovations.

Are there any other “Do Nots” that should be added to my list? I invite you to add to the Do-Not list by commenting below.

That’s what Michael Rosen Says… What do you say?

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