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    August 10, 2008

    Anonymity-giving's greatest foe

    The other day, I was standing at an intersection. A man holding a sign was walking between the two rows of cars-"Homeless, please help." When I was younger, I went back and forth about giving money to the homeless-are these people really homeless? How do I know they won't spend the money on drugs? Would it be better to just buy the guy a sandwich?

    At some point, I realized, that it didn't really matter why the person was really holding the sign or what they were going to spend the money on-I just felt lucky to be the one sitting inside the car, not the one holding the sign.
    As the guy headed toward my car, not one person had rolled down their window to give him some change.
    I rolled down my window and gave him some quarters I had lying around.
    I was absolutely convinced that now that I had taken that first step, windows would start rolling down left and right to help the guy out.

    I looked in my rear view mirror. The guy kept walking, and not one window rolled down.

    That's the thing about being in a car. You can just look away from the guy walking toward you and pretend you don't see him. You are just an anonymous Honda, or Ford, or Mazda, and you can't really shame a car.

    At the heart of it, that's why I think getting your donors to fundraise for you works so much better. Even if it's just a friend sending another friend an email, it's the virtual equivalent of "looking" someone in the eye, and on top of that, the person doing the looking is someone who knows you, so they'll know if you didn't give.
    The way that Gen Yers are interconnected with each other, constantly checking each other's "status", "following" each other on Twitter, recruiting their friends and family to help them move for the 15th time in 3 years, they are really well-placed to capitalize on looking each other in virtual eye.

    Traditional fundraising tools on the other hand rely on breaking the anonymity threshold to find those donors who give just for the sake of giving-a threshold that while harder to break, certainly gets at your most determined and devoted donors. But still, if there was a way to make every potential donor feel like we are looking them straight in the eye, I bet giving rates would skyrocket.


    Sam Davidson said...

    You draw a great conclusion here. I agree that anonymity (or not) is a factor in giving, just like it's a factor in online community. In most situations, anonymity is bad for the Internet, or online community. If you don't have to leave your name, or you can be anonymous, there is a temptation to leave crass comments or even be hateful.

    But, when people leave their name or their email with a comment, it means more as well. Gen Y gets this, I think. As you point out, the 'look each other in the eye' online.

    And, as you point out, the question is how to get them to do this from a donor standpoint, and how nonprofits can work with or encourage it.

    That's why I encourage nonprofits to develop giving opportunities (whether with time or money) that lend themselves to getting Gen Yers to donate with friends. Then, others see it and get involved.

    Great post, and great blog.

    vanessamason said...

    This reminds me of an example that I read about in an old psychology class.

    A researcher wanted to look at what motivated privileged white college students to participate in the Freedom Rides of the civil rights movements. The Freedom Rides brought the students to the Deep South to educate about the importance of ending segregation.

    The key conclusion is that students were more likely to participate if a friend was participating due to the social pressure.

    If you are talking about Gen Y and philanthropy, I think that nonprofits need to foster giving opportunities that encourage donors to get their friends involved as well. This might be a different way of saying thank you or encouraging online and mobile giving, both of which are means of communication that Gen Y uses frequently.

    John Lepp said...

    I agree Miriam. Great post. I think more and more charities are understanding the importance of the "Forward to a friend" button in their e-appeals - and how it will pay off in the long run for their cause. And - obviously this sort of "looking the donor in the eyes" approach works for every generation - it just differs depending on the medium.