Top-rated charity needs to grow up

The GiveWell Blog issued an interesting challenge: The Best Charity that No One Has Heard Of: How Would You Tell Its Story?

GiveWell evaluates nonprofits (mainly international poverty-reduction organizations) on their impact. Recently, they gave a small Seattle-based organization called VillageReach their #1 rating.

VillageReach works to improve healthcare logistics in rural Africa — “last mile communities” in their words, where lack of infrastructure keeps healthcare inadequate or nonexistent. We’re talking cold chain, logistics, information management, things like that.

You can see the fundraising challenge.

Fortunately, there’s a solution. But it’s not easy.

Check out the VillageReach website. It’s a good-looking, very complete site. Lots of information. There’s even a blog.

The website resolutely refuses to speak the language of ordinary people. It’s squarely aimed at experts and insiders.

For example, the visual centerpiece of the homepage is a billboard of rotating images:

Villagereachbanner

Here’s the problem: VillageReach is like a smart, geeky, promising adolescent; they are apparently not interested in connecting with people outside their circle.

There’s nothing wrong with that. Adolescence is a necessary stage. It’s the forge where we create who we are.

I think all organizations go through adolescence in their early years. It’s how they refine their mission, build their competency, create their culture — reach their potential. It’s all the more so with innovative, trailblazing organizations. But as with human adolescents, that period needs to come to an end, and they need to learn how to connect with outsiders.

Grown-ups who stay self-focused like adolescents are pretty ghastly. And seldom very successful.

If VillageReach wants to meaningfully increase fundraising revenue, they’re going to have to “grow up” and learn to talk to non-experts. Hardly anybody has the capacity or the time to dig deep into how your programs work. But quite a few people would love to join you and save some lives.

Here’s how to reach them:


  • Giving decisions are emotional, not rational. All the facts about your work — critical to your success on the ground — are not persuasive to the vast majority of potential donors. You need to find the emotional core of the problem you’re solving and make that the center of your messaging.
  • You can’t educate people into giving. You have to win them over. Tell stories.
  • Complexity may be necessary to accomplish program goals, but it kills fundraising. Simplify!
  • Hardly anyone is motivated to be a tiny part of a big solution to a massive problem. Almost everyone wants to make a meaningful difference, even if it’s in a small way. Make your work bite-sized.

That’s a broad outline. Maybe too broad to mean much to VillageReach. But if they’ll use these principles in their messaging, they just might start to grow their revenue so they can put a lot more of their mojo to work in the field.

If they don’t, they will never be more than a favorite of smart, geeky donors who are able and willing to grasp the complexity of their mission. That’s not very many people. It gives you the growth potential of a table-top bonsai, when the problem really needs a full-grown coast redwood.

If the “smart giving” movement is going to be any more than a euphemism for the “stupid marketing” movement, nonprofits like VillageReach are going to have to grow up, go beyond themselves, swallow their pride, and enter the world of real-life donors.


Comments

2 responses to “Top-rated charity needs to grow up”

  1. Hmm, disagreeing almost two posts in a row, does this make me a troll?
    I guess I disagree with the mindset that in order to “grow up” a nonprofit has to grow.
    What if VillageReach always wants to be small? Is there anything wrong with that? What if the future is more smaller nonprofits that are more agile and transparent?
    I would guess the current donors to VillageReach would consider themselves “real-life donors.” And I think we should leave it to VillageReach to decide who their audience is and will be.

  2. Hmm, disagreeing almost two posts in a row, does this make me a troll?
    I guess I disagree with the mindset that in order to “grow up” a nonprofit has to grow.
    What if VillageReach always wants to be small? Is there anything wrong with that? What if the future is more smaller nonprofits that are more agile and transparent?
    I would guess the current donors to VillageReach would consider themselves “real-life donors.” And I think we should leave it to VillageReach to decide who their audience is and will be.

Leave a Reply

What this blog is about

The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

Blog policies

Subscribe

Get new posts by email:

About the blogger

Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


Archives

Blogroll

Categories


Search the blog

The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

Recent Comments

About the blogger

Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

Blog Roll

someone’s blog