The importance of consistent nonprofit character

17 Jan

I’m not going to name the charity that I’ve long supported but am now reconsidering. I’m not going to tell you in detail about the fundraisers I’ve hosted for this charity, or about how it’s been the single largest cause I’ve supported for each of the past three years running. I’ve admired this charity for its long term commitment to work in some of the toughest global environments, its creative domestic programs, and its transparency in reporting. I love that it’s based where I live. But now I’m doubting whether I want to continue to have this be my most favored charity, and am taking a more critical eye toward its communications and its differentiation from others doing similar work. Why?

I wish I could say I’m wavering because something big and concrete happened. But really, nothing big happened, and that’s the big lesson. It takes so little to lose supporters in a stretched funding environment: in this case, it’s my trusted friend’s personal interaction with the organization that’s causing me pause. She recently experienced a competitive, “holier than thou” attitude when she approached this organization to collaborate on a local project. They declined to participate, which is certainly their right, but they did so in a way that left a bad taste in her mouth. That’s all.

Now perhaps the representative from this charity was just having a bad day. Perhaps my friend was having a bad day, though she has a finely-honed sixth sense that I envy. All I know is that her experience with this organization, this one small experience, is making me question my own commitment. Am I being shallow to even consider making a judgement on such a small thing? Yes, perhaps. I am sure, however, that I’m not alone in being highly influenced by good friends.

I don’t doubt that this charity’s vision and stated values must include collaboration given the nature of its work, and that it does in fact collaborate extensively in the field or it wouldn’t have survived. But, that one day, one person represented the organization poorly. The character of the organization was either revealed or misrepresented. In either case, it seemed inconsistent with my vision of how the organization operates.

I’m not making any decision yet. That I am on the fence, however, strikes me as an important lesson about how every interaction with our audience matters. It’s a critical job of nonprofit leaders to be sure that even the smallest of interactions reflect the true character of their organizations.