A funny thing happened as I enjoyed my coffee this morning. Actually two funny things happened this morning: I heard a piece on NPR about non-profits looking for new ways to inspire giving and, at the same time, my mother called to tell me she was proud of herself. My 60 year old mother was searching online for the best gas price in her neighborhood.

Just five years ago, I spent hours teaching my parents how to use call waiting. Just last year, I spent much of my weeklong summer vacation teaching my mother how to transfer photos from her camera to her laptop. Now, the pupil has surpassed the teacher. My mother is proactively using the power of the internet to make more informed financial decisions.

As NPR touched on at the end of the piece, and as my mother’s proud moment illustrates, the internet has transformed our lives, and it has transformed the non-profit sector in particular. The way we ask for money is changing. The way donors make financial decisions is changing.

As social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, become ever more present in our lives, donors expect more from the non-profits who serve their community. Donors are doing more research into how their hard earned money will be utilized.  Charity ranking sites like Charity Navigator are changing the face of giving. Even websites like Angie’s List can change the reputation of a healthcare provider or hospital overnight, and Yelp has a whole Community Service/Non-Profit category where constituents can post reviews about their experiences at fundraising events and using a non-profit’s services. As NPR stated, “People no longer just want to write a check.” The internet is becoming a society all its own where people share information and feedback and where reputations are both raised and dashed in seconds.

Yet, in the very same piece where NPR acknowledges increasing donor discernment, the examples they use of non-profit “creativity” include direct mailings on a paw-shaped postcard and silent auctions with tickets to the Country Music Awards. The piece focuses on non-profits working to “get noticed.” But is swag really the way to get noticed?Swag might help, but we advise non-profits  to keep mission at the heart of every campaign.  Your mission will get you noticed. According to a 2007 study by the Fundraising Standards Board in the UK, “70 per cent [of donors] thought charities put [goodies] in to make people feel guilty. A further 93 per cent thought money spent on gifts might be better spent on the cause.”

On Monday I’ll address some innovative alternatives to keep in mind in light of the changing landscape of giving.

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