Respecting Nonprofits

I wrote a couple of days ago about how tactless and tasteless I found the ongoing Bobblehead media contest, to which I refuse  to post a link. I object to it, in large part, because the names of valued, valuable nonprofit organizations are being tossed about to give the thing some nobility and purpose, but the amount of benefit that (some of) the nonprofits will receive is woefully inadequate when compared to the value of their good names, reputations and work, which aren’t being fairly considered in the hubbub.

There are thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars worth of media time and space being dedicated to this thing, and the “winning” nonprofit will get $600. That’s borderline insulting. But, to be clear, the insult doesn’t stem from the ValleyCats’ marketing department (which gets a pat on the back and a hearty “well done” for being so adept at manipulating the media), it stems from the media outlets and figures who are wasting their valuable clout and reach on something so absurdly pointless.

While the $900 total prize kitty that the ValleyCats put up may be a significant sum to a small, minor-league, seasonal sports franchise, it’s chump change to the television and radio stations and newspapers that are pimping this thing as though it were some combination of a universal health care package and a landmark peace settlement in Palestine. Shame on you. Put your money where your mouths are, or move on to something meaningful, please and thanks.

That $900 should have been viewed by you all as seed money, and every media outlet and talking/writing head that’s playing along with this thing should be putting up matching gifts, soliciting funds, or giving legitimate advertising time and space to every one of the nonprofits whose names are being used to give this promotion its legitimacy. Use your media presence to add value, not vanity. Please.

I’ve spent my entire career working in the public domain, first with the government, now in the nonprofit sector, and I cherish the work that the employees, boards and volunteers of these organizations do, largely out of sight, and often out of mind. They deserve to be treated with respect for that work, and tossing some coins in their cups as justifications for media narcissism and obsession with hit counts, unique visits, and press mentions doesn’t quite count as respectful.

Yes, every dollar counts to a struggling nonprofit. As the Chief Executive Officer of one, however, I can tell you that I’m not so stupid as to feel like I should be fawningly grateful for every $100 corporate contribution offered in exchange for my organization’s good name, especially when the contributing organization does something as absurd as putting huge sums of money into promoting personalized plastic dolls, cast in their employees’ likenesses.

As I noted in the earlier post, a two dollar gift made from the heart by someone with limited resources means much more to me than a toss-off corporate gift that has nothing to do with my organization’s mission, work, values, and ethics. In fact, as a fundraising director and executive, I have declined contributions and refused to allow my organizations’ names to be used in marketing events numerous times over the years. I respectfully encourage my colleagues in the nonprofit sector to do the same, if the events and gifts are not in keeping with your mission, your clients’ needs, or with maintaining the dignity of your organization’s name and work.

Your organizations have true value, and you have something to offer the corporations in the Capital Region. So I hope you don’t feel like you have to sit there with your begging bowls, hoping that your “champion” makes it through three rounds of bobblehead competition so you can get $100 or $600 out of the deal. That’s a poor trade for organizational dignity. You have clout and power, especially collaboratively, and you should use it.

I post these thoughts not to be a party-pooper, or to be a crabby old man, but rather because I’m truly, deeply disappointed at the ugliness of this contest, and also in the hopes that the corporations that are using our valuable community nonprofits’ names will all step up to the plate and make meaningful, purposeful contributions to their work, maybe not now, but soon. They deserve that.

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