Is your non-profit engaging in #CharityShaming?

charity shamingOK . . . I have a confession to make. When I’m on the road and run down, sometimes I flop into bed and watch an episode or two of South Park on Comedy Central. While the show’s satire is often over the top, their social commentary on all sorts of current events is razor sharp. A few nights ago I found myself caught up in this “travel habit” and engaged in watching season 19 episode five, which was all about Internet Shaming and included a subplot about Charity Shaming.
If you don’t know what charity shaming is, this short YouTube video snippet from the South Park episode captures it perfectly.
Of course, the example South Park uses focuses on a point of purchase transaction that you could assume is likely part of a larger cause related marketing effort. However, this episode kicked me in the brain, and I think there are many other examples of charity shaming that go beyond the cash register.
For example, what about the Salvation Army’s red kettle campaign. I’m greeted by a volunteer who is ringing a bell and wishing me a Merry Christmas and asking for a donation. I need to decide whether or not to publicly walk by the kettle and not support the charity.
If I am right about the Salvation Army aforementioned example, then surely Cub Scouts and Girl Scouts selling stuff outside of grocery stores gets added to the charity shaming category. And my old favorite activity (read this as sarcasm) of selling duck race adoptions to unsuspecting customers exiting the grocery story is another example. Right?
I recently attended a few different charity gala ball charity / auction events in my community. During those events’ live auctions, there was something called “fund-a-need” where attendees are asked to put their bid paddle in the air and make a contribution to support a specific project at a certain funding level. If you want to learn more about this fundraising strategy, our friends at Fundraiser Help blog do a nice job explaining it.
In previous years, I’ve enjoyed putting my bid paddle in the air to support fun projects and programs. One year I think I bid on underwriting the cost of a mattress (or maybe it was a blanket) for our local homeless shelter. Another year, it was underwriting kitchen renovations and a food program at our local Boys & Girls Club.
However, recently the fund-a-need strategy has evolved away from projects / programs and towards a more simple request of “we need your money to underwrite everything we do for our clients“.
There was something I didn’t like about the new fund-a-need strategy, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. At first, I thought maybe I just missed the emotional case for support messaging that came with a specific project or program. However, now I’m beginning to wonder if my objection is bigger than that.
Could it be that asking people to put their bid paddle up in the air in front of their peers and friends to simply give an unrestricted contribution to your organization is nothing more than “Charity Shaming“?
I’ll leave it there today and let you chew on this question. If you have thoughts or opinions, then please use the comment box below to share them. I would love to hear what you have to say because I am honestly struggling with what bothers me about fund-a-need auction strategies that lack project and program components.
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Here’s to your health!
Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Tips to improving your charity auction

Later this morning, I am facilitating a discussion among some non-profit professionals about how to improve your auction fundraiser event. I am apparently itching to get this conversation underway. So, I thought it might be fun to start it online with the DonorDreams blog community. I suspect that I also have auctions on my mind because a number of local charities that I support are gearing up for their 2013 auction fundraising events right now, and I see them working hard at securing donations.

Let me first start by saying that I am not an auction expert, but I attend a number of these type of events and can speak to the issue from a donor’s perspective. In my experience, I am spending money when:

  1. The mood in the room is fun, and I am surrounded by friends who are bidding.
  2. There are auction items that I find appealing.
  3. Alcohol helps open my wallet.
  4. The check-out procedure appears to be easy and hassle-free (e.g. I won’t have to stand in long lines to check-out if I win my bids)
  5. I can bid on a project to directly support the charity (e.g. underwrite a scholarship for a year, purchase a mattress for the homeless shelter, etc)

Here are a few things that I’ve seen fundraising professionals do to support the things I just mentioned:

  • Survey last year’s participants well in advance of the event to get an idea of what types of items that want to see in the auction.
  • Latch onto an event theme and use it throughout the event to create a sense of fun.
  • Offer both a live and silent auction format.
  • Don’t close the silent auction until AFTER the live auction is done. This way people who lost their live auction bids and still have cash in their wallet can still invest it in winning their silent auction bids.
  • Use auction software to automate the check-in and check-out procedures. Integrate other technology into the auction (e.g. electronic bidding) in order to add a new wrinkle.
  • Keep the theme focused on the auction (e.g. don’t mix-and-match your themes such as an awards dinner and auction).

As I always say at the end of my blog posts, “We can all learn from each other.”  Please take a moment this morning to answer one of the following questions (I plan on using these same questions to start my roundtable discussion off on the right foot this morning):

  • What is your check-in and check-out procedures (and what role does accepting credit cards in advance play in that process)?
  • What best practices have you seen used with “silent auctions” vs “live auctions” that can help drive revenue?
  • What kinds of policies do you have around alcohol and getting your bidding public “liquored up”?
  • What kind of data do you collect and how do you use it from year-to-year to drive revenue? How does it line up with pre-event engagement strategies?

I recently bumped into Dave Naffziger’s Blog and I think his post on “How to run a successful charity auction” is one of the better ones that I’ve recently seen. You may want to go check it out.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847