Keep calm and talk about it

Keep Calm and Talk About It poster imageDonor restrictions on use of funds is nothing new in the nonprofit world. Mostly, those restrictions are in line with the mission priorities of the nonprofit in any case; it just makes the funds a little harder to administer. Charities would of course prefer fully unrestricted money, but cash is tight in nearly every mission-focused effort in the world, and most often these temporary restrictions are accepted. The work gets done.

Not every donor, or every business relationship, is a good fit, however. This week saw the continued crumbling of business relationships for Donald Trump as his previous partners now see him as a liability for his racist comments. The Girl Scouts of Western Washington turned a transphobic donation into both a mission moment and a fundraising opportunity. In both cases, organizations and businesses are talking about it, and talking about it very publicly.

Nonprofits have turned down inappropriate donations before, but the story with the Girl Scouts is a new level of leveraging bad news for the good of the organization. A donor made a $100,000 gift – with the restriction that the money not be used to help transgender girls. This runs counter to the Girl Scout mission, and so they returned the gift. They could have done so quietly, and moved on. But they used this opportunity, much as Macy’s and NBC and others have with Trump, to talk about the issue.

The Girls Scouts of Western Washington, however, talked about it on Indiegogo.

They took their communications about their mission to a crowdfunding platform, and asked donors to make up the lost $100,000. And in the first three days of the campaign donors have tripled that amount and it is still going strong. They did not rail against the anonymous donor, but rather used this moment to help others understand why their contribution, one of several thousands of contributions in this case, makes a lasting difference to keeping the mission strong and independent of funders who want to change an organization with their money.

The Trump story shares some similarities in that businesses did not wait for the nearly inevitable consumer backlash, but positively reached out to talk about ending a business relationship. Charities can and should take note from both of these examples. The fear of lost revenue or of backlash publicity can be overcome by keeping calm, talking to existing supporters, and using the moment to reach new people who may become supporters. The tools are in place, and donors are ready to hear the positive message.