Editor's Note: Little Disasters
Great news! Your organization made it another year without a major disaster. No one spent your endowment funds on gin and Jacuzzis. No one hacked into your donor files, and, as far as you know, your celebrity spokesperson still wears underwear when she’s out in public.
But what about the seemingly minor disasters? Did your Web site skitz out in the middle of an online donation? Did a cancelled check in a bank statement suddenly remind a donor that she never got a thank-you for her donation?
Last December, I went to a highly respected organization’s Web site to make modest gift donations in my bosses’ names. The site explained that each person would receive a note announcing the gift. At the end, there was a glitch that left me wondering if my transaction actually had gone through, so I spoke with a very helpful woman who assured me that it had and that the acknowledgements would go out within days. The withdrawal showed up immediately in my bank account, as well.
Skip ahead to mid-March, when it occurred to me that I hadn’t heard a word from my bosses about their gifts. Odd, in that they’re certainly gracious people who don’t normally forget little niceties like “thank you.”
What to do? What’s worse? Looking like an oaf who goes chasing down acknowledgment of the gifts she gives or an oaf who couldn’t bother to do something nice for her supervisors (and friends, I should add) at the holidays? I swallowed hard and asked them about it, and — you’ve probably guessed it — neither had received any announcement of the donations. Are you shocked? I sure was. And embarrassed. And pretty peeved.
Unfortunately, huge disasters — misrepresentation, misuse of funds, personal greed and stupidity on the part of higher-ups — happen. And when they do, they hurt the nonprofit sector in big, heartbreaking, 60-point-headline ways.
Fortunately, they’re also few and far between, and they often hinge on the bad behavior of just a few people within an organization. But things like what I’m talking about here are all too common, and they often speak to a dangerously casual disregard for donors. To an underlying indifference or inefficiency that permeates the organization and quietly, insidiously eats away at its credibility. They seem smaller and less disastrous than the headline-scale messes, but are they?
How great would it be if even half of the money spent on trinkets and trivialities for holidays and other special occasions went instead to nonprofit organizations via gift donations? How likely is it that the trend will catch on if people who do it find — even once — that their friends and loved ones felt they had been forgotten because an organization failed to inform them of donations made in their names?
Crap like this hurts your organization. And it hurts other organizations by association. And that hurts missions and, ultimately, without exaggeration, the very world we live in and are trying to make better. Looking at the bigger picture, your little disasters don’t really seem so little after all, do they?