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    January 27, 2009

    Why is Feedback's "Open Source" Missing from nonprofits?

    What would make you more likely to purchase a new television? The manufacturer telling you it's the best TV ever made, or reading 20 reviews from consumers who have actually purchased said television and have provided feedback on either the manufacturer's or distributor's site?

    This kind of online user reviews, in my mind, are the marketing version of open-source software: a system where everything is transparent and anyone who would like to can get a say in how it develops. Even though there might be some people who don't know what they're doing, common wisdom and experience tells us that opening up software code, and likewise, opening up products to unfiltered feedback from users/consumers ultimately leads to product improvements. Just think of what happened to iPhone applications when the code was opened to the public.

    There are several for-profit organizations leading the way, like Starbucks and Dell, who have devoted entire sites to just hearing back from their customers. This kind of open feedback, that is out in the open for everyone to see, allows for, as one expert referring to what MySpace did to email called it, "the 365 day conversation": No longer are we resigned to sending out letters, surveys, phone calls, or just sitting on our hands waiting for consumers to call us, and then bringing reports up to someone to "evaluate" the feedback. The feedback can flow in realtime and 24/7.

    With the ability to hear back from donors in real time, why is it that no nonprofit I know of is actively pursuing this transparent interaction with its online donors? (If yours is, please let me know!)

    Did you post a new article on your website about some great program you
    ran? How come I can't comment on the article?

    Post a video about your work? How come I can't comment on that

    Do you have an "emergency fund" set up for some natural disaster? Why is
    there nowhere on that page that I can talk about how I have seen (or not seen)
    the funds I gave to you go to work?

    For those of you with "catalog" type items, why can't I comment on a
    specific item: did my friend and family enjoy receiving it? Was it everything I
    expected? Did my e-card go through?

    Why is it that on your "donation page" which is the equivalent of of a
    shopping cart, there is no place for me to rate my experience with your
    organization as a donor? Why is the closest thing we have to "feedback" and
    "rating" as an industry Charity

    Fear of transparency is certainly one reason. We have all endured those disgruntled donors, who apparently have nothing better to do than call up our 1-800 number and yell at the poor person who picks up the phone because they gave us $25 and we did something like call them Mr. instead of Ms. Just imagine what would happen if said person was allowed to rant like that in public, for all to see?

    But, if we are to create conversations with our donors, which is ultimately what will build long-term relationships in the social space, we must allow for those rants, because with the rants will come raves: raves from people we have helped, raves from people who felt great when they gave to us, and maybe, even suggestions for how we could do better. And if the raves are not coming, this would signal us to stop and re-evaluate how our organization is communicating with the people who give to it. We spend so much time worrying about our "donor experience", why do we shy away from letting them tell us all about it?

    And as far as Gen Y is concerned, we are not ones to be shut out of the conversation. And we also expect you to want to hear from us. "Buying" into your organization creates a sense of "ownership"--so let's "opensource" donor feedback and watch the great things that will develop.

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