Over the past several years there’s been an interesting change in non-profit sector – as more and more non-profits try to figure out how to use the Internet to leverage and expand their donor base, more and more donors are starting to take a harder look at their giving and asking more questions about why they should give and what their donations are used for. As charities continue to innovate and respond to the market, however, I think that more and more things will change.
Thanks to the success of sites like GlobalGiving, DonorsChoose, and Kiva, people are realizing that small donations can make a huge difference. And, thanks to the Internet, people are beginning to see that their participation on a site can be as important as making a donation. Offering people the ability to review, comment, and discuss the impact that projects have and to suggest improvements, changes, or even alternative charities, reminds non-profits that quality matters. And more importantly, these discussions can happen at scale, be it reviewing the American Red Cross over at Charity Navigator, or reviewing a grassroots project here on GlobalGiving. No non-profit is too big or too small to participate in the discussion.
What’s most amazing about this open, on-going conversation is that it can happen between donors and the people that they are donating to. For the first time, individuals, not large organizations, are deciding where funds should go. This wisdom of the crowds approach is not only more efficient, it’s also a lot more fun for donors.
Classically, people would give their money to a large organization and the only that they’d expect in return was a tax receipt and some junk mail asking them for more money. As we move forward, I think it’s important for the non-profit sector to realize this and to make some substantial changes in the way that they view donors. I think that the changes that we’re seeing is the emergence of a set of “donors rights.”
Some of these rights are:
- Donors should learn how their money is being used.
- Donors should have a guarantee of their satisfaction, with recourse in the form of a refund or reallocation.
- Donors should have the freedom to remix and redistribute information about the causes that they support and non-profits should enable this through open standards like Creative Commons and published APIs.
- Donors should be allowed to make a donation without their mailbox (or inbox) being filled with junk mail, spam, or bacn.
- Donors should have an equivalent of customer support, where they can easily ask questions about the charity or how their money is being used and get high-quality answers.
- Donors should feel valued and appreciated for their generosity, rather than someone to guilt into giving more.
I think perhaps what’s most interesting is that donors already have all of these “rights” in the retail market. If you walk into a store, “the customer is always right.” So why should non-profits be any different?
This is by no means a complete list, so if you think of something else that should be added, let us know in the comments. This is, after all, an open discussion.