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    July 16, 2008

    Show me the ads!

    Every once in a while I manage to get out of the house early enough to tune in to the Marketplace Morning Report on my local NPR station.

    One of this morning's stories was about the "Wikimania"-the annual Wikipedia conference (which is being held in Alexandria, EGYPT).  What caught my ear was the part of the story where we were told that despite its millions of contributors, users, and perusers, Wikipedia is barely making end's meet. Relying entirely on donations is, according to the story, not turning into a successful business model.

    Wikipedia is faced with two options: finding big "Angels" (Venture Capital term for what we call "major donors") or bringing on advertising. The problem with option 2, is that apparently, "a lot of the most dedicated volunteers are vehemently opposed to advertising. If Wikipedia lost their support, it would be extremely detrimenta."

    Sound familiar? Does it ever seem like you have to work extrahard to squeeze donations out of your most devoted volunteers? Perhaps people feel that by giving of their time they have contributed more than sufficiently to your organization. We often scratch our heads as to why "warm prospects" like say some kind of "athon" participants don't turn out to be great direct mail donors. Maybe its because like Wikipedia's most devoted core contributors (not paid), they have given so much of their time, they are almost insulted we also ask them for money.

    The second part was much more interesting to me. The volunteers are very opposed to advertising. I often wonder as to why I almost never see any kind of advertising or sponsor promotions on NGO websites.  How come your really neat new YouTube video about the great work your organization did during that terrible calamity isn't brought to me by my local neighborhood national home builder?

    Instinct would seem to tell us that nonprofit donors would not respond well to banner ads, sponsor promotions, and heavy advertising online and in their email blasts.

    But I suspect that this may not be true with Gen Yers (this is just a theory-I have NO proof of this whatsoever).

    For us, it is par the course that using a service, in particular a free one, goes hand-in-hand with advertising. There is an implicit agreement: I get to use your service for free, you try to make money off of me by showing me ads. Good causes, advertising, product placements are constantly intertwined. Case in point-there is the Red iPod. (get an iPOd, help HIV). And Microsoft's clever ploy to get people to use their messenger and email service by donating a part of the ad proceeds to charitable causes.

    It's everywhere: I read my gmail, and there are ads targeted to the contents of my emails showing up on my screen. I read the news online, and there is the intro ad I have the option of skipping, followed by the banner ad somewhere on the article screen.  I log into Facebook to check up on what my friends are doing, and get shown an ad. 

    So I don't think that people my age would be oh so shocked, and more importantly, oh so repulsed, if we saw ads on the webpages of our favorite charities and in email communications from them. So what if there was an ad for Home Depot on the home page of Habitat for Humanity? As long as Home Depot was donating cash to Habitat, why not have it there? So what if an email from my favorite environmental organization promotes the new environmentally friendly detergent from Tide? Do they get some cash of I click on the Tide ad? Great!

    I know of several nonprofits who had ads in their membership newsletters, organizational magazines, and other publications, so why are we so afraid of having ads on the web? If I have to see an ad on my screen, I'd rather know my "view" of that page might lead to some cash going to a good cause, rather than just some ad placement provider....

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