A Heavy Responsibility
Last month, the American Red Cross was under the microscope again, this time for questions surrounding how it raised funds for Hurricane Sandy relief and, subsequently, how it spent those funds. I did an admittedly unscientific poll of more than a dozen people, asking simply, "What are your thoughts on the Red Cross?" Here's a sampling of their responses: "All we ever hear about anymore is how they're not using the money they raise the right way." "What are they trying to hide?" The word "suspicious" came up a lot. And save for a few folks who had positive associations with the organization and three others who were ambivalent, the majority of responses were negative.
I don’t know enough about the situation to draw solid conclusions, and I tend to give nonprofits the benefit of the doubt anyway. But in light of any questions — about any organization — an already wary public is going to assume the worst.
It pains me when organizations like the Red Cross seemingly forget that they are venerable nonprofits that represent the entire sector to donors … that this is the age of transparency, where murkiness and “trade secrets” (as was quoted by Red Cross) are frowned upon as vestiges of fundraising past and, worse, red flags to donors who more and more are demanding full disclosure from the organizations they choose to support. Fundraising is a challenge in the best of times. A constant — albeit highly noble and rewarding — challenge. But in a time when donors are stretched to the max, when one tragedy just barely fades out of the headlines before another strikes, it’s even harder.
Even the tiniest hint of impropriety by any nonprofit sends skittish donors back into the shadows. And when it’s the big guys that are raising eyebrows, it casts doubt on the sector as a whole. All of a sudden, churchgoers are a little more suspicious of where their weekly donations go once they leave the collection plate. Maybe a direct-mail appeal that would have resulted in a donation gets tossed, or an email gets deleted or more telefundraisers get hung up on.