Thursday, November 12, 2009


Today's Giving Section in the New York Times includes a flurry of articles related to nonprofit organizations and philanthropy.  I will mention three, two of which are merely topical (but contain buzzwords that made me giggle) and one of which is troubling.

The first topical article, "Clicking for a Cause," reports the increasing use of social media as a means of both fundraising and constituency-building for nonprofit organizations.  It mentions that Facebook (which I have not yet joined) offers a program called "Causes" that allows individuals to easily link their profile pages to charities.  The article quotes one man as saying he was able to use the "Causes" function to raise approximately $4,000 for his favorite charity in only a few weeks.  Others criticize the use of social media for charitable fundraising and organizing, arguing that it permits people to feel that they are contributing to society in meaningful ways without ever having to leave their desk chairs.  This has given rise to one of the giggle inducing terms: "slacktavism."

The second topical article, "For Causes, It's a Tougher Sell," describes the rise of cause-related marketing through the 1980s and 90s and concludes, rather unsurprisingly and unsatisfyingly, that cause-related marketing is tougher in this economic climate, but is likely to survive.  Somewhat like the use of social media, cause-related advertising is criticized by some for "trivializing important issues by wrapping them in ribbons and bracelets."  And this leads to the second giggle inducing term: "charitainment."

The troubling article, "Charity Bankruptcy Leaves Many Donors in Distress," reports that the National Heritage Foundation, which held approximately 9000 donor-advised funds, recently underwent bankruptcy reorganization.  The bankruptcy court counted the $25 million held in donor-advised funds as assets of the Foundation and used the money to reimburse creditors.  This obviously was bad news for donors and for charitable beneficiaries.  Individuals who had entered into charitable gift annuity contracts with the Foundation were counted among the unsecured creditors and given lump sum payments that amounted to a fraction of their initial investment.  The article closes by recommending that -- particularly in this economic climate -- donors check with and similar sites before committing their money.


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