Affecting lives and helping others has never been so easy. The mere click of the mouse yields extraordinary power as websites such as Kickstarter can make anyone with access to a computer a donor. Point, click, donate. The fundraising process is simplified and donating is democratized. And therein lies the problem.
The nonprofit world (and particularly the New York nonprofit world) is a hierarchical, competitive place. Whether it's educating the youth, feeding and housing the homeless, supporting the arts, caring for the elderly, or assisting the disabled, philanthropic causes abound. Donations do not. So charities must compete for donors and the rules of the game are rapidly changing.
Chess-in-the-Schools is one such nonprofit: with its scholastic chess programs established in 1986, the organization has taught almost half a million public school students how to play chess. Through in-class instruction, weekend tournaments, and college prep program, chess is the tool used to motivate and inspire economically disadvantaged students. Chess-in-the-Schools and its programs help kids into college.
Few will debate the merits of aiding inner-city youth. However, making a difference and being a positive force in the community isn't enough; nonprofits now must be as skilled in the online community as they are in the real-life community. Chess-in-the-Schools is fortunate to have longstanding supporters such as Lewis Cullman. Our success is due in large part to philanthropists such as Mr. Lewis Cullman, who have embraced our organization as their personal cause. We are enormously appreciative. However, the recession has been a reality check, demonstrating that the sustainability and longevity of our organization is largely dependent on finding new sources of funding. As in younger people. And finding a younger demographic means using those ubiquitous buzz words: social media.
Traditional nonprofit marketing has always consisted of four instruments: newsletters, annual appeals, direct mail, and the black tie benefit. The traditional donor was older, affluent, high society.
Now with programs like Text-to-Donate, the fundraising experience has become more open, more global. Giving to a nonprofit is no longer solely the domain of the elite. It can be anonymous, universal, and spontaneous. This is exciting but also nerve wracking -- how do one-off donations like these build that coveted donor base nonprofits so desperately need? While random donations are always welcome, continuous contributions are vital. Every business needs loyal customers and so do nonprofits.
Lasting relationships are made through personal connections. But what about online connections? Nonprofits must be more creative in order to establish a sense of personal investment in a virtual world. Building a base of loyal donors is imperative. However, the irony is thus: social media -- the marketing tool with endless potential for brand awareness -- may also be the exact thing that makes it harder for nonprofits to connect with donors in a lasting way. While Twitter stalls at over-capacity, perhaps we should take a minute to ask ourselves if tweets and texts are the inevitable goldmine of new donors.
In her Huffington Post blog post, What's Wrong With Chase Community Giving?, Kelly Kleiman also discusses the inherent disconnect between building relationships and one-click donations. She says, "This lazy and manipulative approach to corporate giving also diverts the attention of nonprofits from real fundraising -- which involves long-term relationships and commitment to mission -- to point-and-click fundraising, which costs "donors" nothing and therefore gives them no stake in the institution."
But tweet we must. And update our Facebook page. And apply to foundations for grants. And send newsletters and annual reports to donors and prospective donors. And above all, continue to provide chess tournaments, open and free of charge to children. In order to stay relevant and on the radar of potential donors, nonprofits must explore the new frontier of fundraising, the wild west of the World Wide Web. Chess-in-the-Schools accepts the challenges of this uncharted territory of using social media as a way to build the donor base. The next step is taking those Tweets and converting them into something tangible; something that helps us grow and progress as an organization.
The stakes are high. In the 21st century, students will need to be better prepared than ever before. The age-old game of chess trains young minds to be agile and rigorous. It helps put inner-city kids on a college-bound track. We see success in the thousands of students that have benefited from our work in the classroom, in our after-school programs, and our tournaments. We must not fail them. For their success is ours too.