Why you should consider the “100% to programs” offer

Some folks are virtually apoplectic about Charity:Water‘s claim to donors that 100% of their donation can go to clean water projects.

It’s sleight of hand! It’s dishonest!

I’ll grant it’s something like sleight of hand. But there’s nothing dishonest about it. It’s smart, donor-focused marketing. It’s frankly puzzling that more nonprofits don’t do something like it.

Charity:Water is completely up-front about what they call their 100% Model, which says, “Hey, some people like to fund overhead. Others like to pay for water projects. Take your choice. Life is good!” (My words, not theirs.)

What’s sneaky about letting donors fund their passions? Say you ran an organization that provided services to pregnant giraffes and pregnant zebras. A well-heeled donor might want to generously fund your giraffe program. Then another major donor might offer to fund your zebra program.

Because that’s what they want — and you respect and love your donors. And because doing that means you can do more of your excellent work — and you respect and love the work your organization does.

Isn’t that what Charity:Water is doing?

We live in a world where unfortunately the charity watchdogs and the media have been saying for decades overhead = waste. Shame on them all for spreading such a scurrilous lie. But many people faithfully follow that bad advice, because they don’t know otherwise.

You can work around the real world we live in and find ways to bring people in by giving them what they believe they should want. Or you can hit your head against the brick wall of what people think. Charity:Water is doing the former.

Or, as Tom Ahern says at You know who beat the watchdog system at its own game?:

… it makes Charity:Water look like some kind of magician doing incredible work in a glamorous high profile way without spending donor money on anything but getting people clean drinking water for the first time.

Thus “proving” to a world that skips the details that great good can somehow come from thin air.

Isn’t that a better place to be?


Comments

4 responses to “Why you should consider the “100% to programs” offer”

  1. Nicole Malina Avatar
    Nicole Malina

    Maybe I don’t understand your take on this, but it seems to me that catering to donors in this way works against efforts to “undemonize” overhead/operating support. I know that meeting donors’ needs is of highest importance, but if we don’t start to change the conversation around overhead it’ll spell doom for the sector overall.

  2. Nicole Malina Avatar
    Nicole Malina

    Maybe I don’t understand your take on this, but it seems to me that catering to donors in this way works against efforts to “undemonize” overhead/operating support. I know that meeting donors’ needs is of highest importance, but if we don’t start to change the conversation around overhead it’ll spell doom for the sector overall.

  3. I completely agree with Nicole. I’m frankly not sure I understand what the argument is in favor of this model. Of course we all want our donors to feel that their money is being put to good use, but how do we convince donors that even the leanest of nonprofits still have *some* overhead, and that the programs they love truly cannot exist without that overhead? It just seems to work against the whole sector to suggest otherwise.

  4. I completely agree with Nicole. I’m frankly not sure I understand what the argument is in favor of this model. Of course we all want our donors to feel that their money is being put to good use, but how do we convince donors that even the leanest of nonprofits still have *some* overhead, and that the programs they love truly cannot exist without that overhead? It just seems to work against the whole sector to suggest otherwise.

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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.

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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.


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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.

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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.