Random Thoughts on Life and Work

June 20, 2007

Control vs Enablement

In “enablement” even a word?  Hmmm. 

I recently ran into the wall (again) regarding the issue of control of how donations are “collected” and how donors are acknowledged.  I am a little puzzled by the response but I do understand it in a way. 

A donor recently set up a fundraising page using FirstGiving.  The donor and her spouse were off to run a marathon and thought it would be a great way to raise money for their favorite cause.  I would hazard a guess that many readers are quite familiar with FirstGiving and similar sites.   Their goal was a modest $3,000 and I think to-date they have raised about $2,500.  The event was in early May.  (A minor critique of FirstGiving – I didn’t know the donor had done this until the first check arrived.  FG should set a notification system to help charities be aware of what is being done on their behalf.)

So now we have money coming in, opportunity to respond to the supporters of this couple, but I am trapped in procedure.  Our Finance staff is concerned with how we account for the fees that are taken by FirstGiving.  Our legal office is concerned about the lack of a formal agreement between us and FirstGiving for facilitating the activity.  There is the question of FirstGiving being a “paid fundraiser” for us since they are taking a fee for “raising money”.  And a couple others are asking why we can’t set up our own similar service through our website.

Now, I am not saying that these are not valid questions to ask.  The issue has more to do with perspective than with the questions themselves.  I have tried to explain that FirstGiving is not the entity making “the ask”.  It is the individual who sets up the page.  They are just using the technology that FirstGiving supplies.  However, this seems to be falling on deaf ears. 

I offer this case study as a lesson for others.  While most of us understand how we can take advantage of this kind of web technology, there are others who are focused on “typical fundraising”.  Be aware that you will run into the occasional wall or resistance to new things.  Build your case for why this new technology is a good thing.  Focus on the advantages for donors and secondarily on the benefits to your organization.  Point out the relationship building that can be done with donors by allowing (facilitating) them to help you. 

One other thing.  Think through the issues about acknowledging donors to a fundraising activity organized by one of your donors.  Remember that they are supporting their friends and may not be connected to you at all.  You probably don’t want to automatically put them on your mailing list.  But you do want to offer them the opportunity to be involved with your organization if they choose.  Provide enough information to interest them and maybe raise their curiosity.  Then let them choose how they want to interact with you.


1 Comment »

  1. Hi, this is Mark Sutton, CEO of Firstgiving. You have put your finger on a important dynamic that will increasingly challenge the conventional wisdom of ‘controllers’. As social networking, blogs and other interaction amongst individuals on the web continues to gain momentum, it will become increasingly difficult for organizations maintain control over things like how their messaging is presented and in cases like the one you describe who acts on behalf of a cause that they care passionately about. It’s understandable how diminishing ability to control causes discomfort to individuals and organizations who have previously maintained control. You bring up a few great examples on this as it relates to the Firstgiving site. We are finding that the anxiety which comes along with a loss of control is replaced by pure amazement and even joy when the fruits of enablement are realized. In the case of Firstgiving, this looks like many people acting to raise lots of money for an organization with no or minimal effort required by the organization. New people are made aware of the cause and become donors.
    Of course, this isn’t to belittle the concerns that you mention in your post and I invite you or anyone in your organization to contact me to discuss as they pertain to Firstgiving (mark@firstgiving.com). Thanks again for your post.


    Mark, thank you for your comments. It is true – the web is ‘enabling’ a loss of control for organizations. Those organizations that can successfully grasp that concept and provide opportunities for individuals to take control will have great success in developing relationships with their supporters. I certainly appreciate what FirstGiving does and hope to make use of it in the future.

    Comment by Mark Sutton — June 20, 2007 @ 11:34 pm | Reply

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