(Less Than) Transparent Fundraising: Is This Ever Okay?


Last night on Valentines’s Day, the All Need Love Festival took place in Chicago. Held at the Field Museum it was supported by a PR machine – in less than one month they had built a very strong social media presence, had successfully reached out to and partnered with dozens of media outlets and had worked out a deal with Groupon to help in ticket sales.

I noticed the social media buzz and had seen it mentioned in the Chicago Tribune and The Sun Times. The All Need Love “profile” on foursquare had even sent me a friend request. Still, I didn’t pay too much attention because it fell on my cause community’s awareness day.

Once my work day was done last night I went on their site to figure out what exactly it was. On the bottom of the page along with the logos for the event sponsors and partners I noticed a logo I recognized, SFK: Success for Kids. They used to be named Spirituality For Kids and I had contributed to a project of theirs, Kids Creating Peace, in the past.

Naturally I wondered how they were involved…there was no mention on the home page that a portion of proceeds from this event would benefit a charity, no mention on the information page for tickets and no mention on the purchase page for tickets (priced from $96-$260). The event site has 10 pages and I didn’t notice it anywhere.  I tweeted them to ask, emailed their press contact and called the event hotline. No luck. I checked their facebook page and their tweet stream. Not a single word about it. I went back to the event website and finally found a page that mentioned a portion of proceeds would benefit SFK.

To be honest, at first I thought this was an interesting tactic. SFK was founded in 2001 as a related entity to The Kabbalah Centre. I knew that SFK had been working to make the public perception of the organization less about The Kabbalah Centre because they felt they could raise more money and make bigger impact that way. In January of 2010 they officially reorganized as a separate 501 (c) 3, but the staff, Board of Directors and programs didn’t change in any way and they are still headquartered at the Los Angeles Kabbalah Centre.

It almost seemed smart to market the event to people that weren’t just Kabbalah Centre students. Almost.

I want to say that I have no bias against Kabbalah. I have studied it and as I mentioned, I contributed to SFK in the past. But that’s not true for everyone. There are many orthodox Jews I know who would rather die than support anything related to Kabbalah and more specifically, The Kabbalah Centre. I know a fair amount of people of other faiths who feel the same way (and would about any spiritual practice not their own).

Whether it’s “right” to feel that way is a matter for debate, but what is not up for debate is that religion and our spiritual beliefs are held more sacrosanct than most anything else.

I asked people via twitter how they would feel about buying tickets to an event they weren’t aware was a fundraiser. Not a single person felt positively about this and that was without mention of what kind of charity the fundraiser might be for. What almost everyone said was “what if it was for a cause I didn’t support?”

That is why this situation is not okay. People want to know what their money is supporting and they want to agree to that first.

Did the event organizers lie? No. But their transparency was less than admirable. I found some people who went to the event and asked them if they knew it was a fundraiser when they purchased the tickets, and then asked how transparent it was that a portion of proceeds would benefit SFK once they were at the event. Most people did not know it was a fundraiser. Many people just assumed it benefited The Field Museum if it had any beneficiary at all.

Then I asked people how the event was marketed to them…and that’s how I found out that some of the tickets had been sold outside of the event website through Groupon. The Groupon page for this event is even less than transparent than the All Need Love website! It simply says “portion of proceeds goes to charity”.

This really surprised me. By not posting which charity it benefits Groupon is aiding the event organizers in keeping this information as quiet as possible. That Groupon doesn’t seem to have a policy in place when it comes to charitable events is problematic, and considering the amount of negative press they’ve gotten lately it’s also not prudent.

Again, no one involved with this event  is lying but they’re not telling the whole truth either. Do they have a legal obligation to? No. But that doesn’t make it ethical. Because the charity the event supported is so closely tied to a spiritual belief system I find it especially unethical.

I don’t think it’s ever okay to gain support for a cause through deception cloaked in omission. What about you? Would you ever do this at your organization?



The Road Less Traveled: LBS for Nonprofit Impact vs. Money

The Road Less Traveled

I’m working on my session for the NTEN’s 2011 Non-Profit Technology Conference, a panel on location-based services. As I’m preparing slides for my part of the panel, where I’ll talk about Big Love Little Hearts’ #100X100 campaign, I know that the reason this campaign received so much attention was because we raised $25,000 in 24 hours.

There’s no doubt that I’m proud of that – we were an 8 month old organization at the time. We had only entered social media a few months before, and only seriously weeks before. In fact, the entire idea was born during a late night work session 9 days before it was implemented. To raise $25,000 in 24 hours against that backdrop is plenty to be proud of.

But that’s not what I’m most proud of. I’m most proud that 1,000 people took a political action because of the campaign. That political action in April led to the desired outcome happening in September. We wanted people to express their support of pulse-oximetry as a method of screening newborns for heart defects. Their public support in adjunct with some amazing advocacy work being done by key people in the community led to Secretary Sebelius adding that screening to the National Newborn Screening Panel. This panel is the recommendation that states use to guide their own decisions regarding what tests are mandated.

The $25,000 we raised saved 12 lives. That’s fantastic. States integrating screening for heart defects as part of their mandated panel will save thousands of lives. I am so proud that our campaign played any small part in this that my eyes well up every time I think about it.

My point isn’t to brag about how super duper awesome and smart the campaign was or how we’re the bees knees because it was effective. My point is that the best use of location-based services for non-profits might not be fundraising or the engagement we hope will lead to more effective fundraising. The best use of LBS for some organizations might be to improve or increase their impact.

Yes, fundraising is what makes our programs possible so I’m not suggesting you stop focusing on how LBS or social media can help you do that better. But I am suggesting you start thinking about how it can help you do your mission better. When I look at what’s being written about location-based services in relation to non-profits and what people are asking about LBS in relation to them I don’t see this come up often. I’m definitely not the only person thinking about it but I wish there were more.

One of the panelists in my session is from Feeding America, who used location-based social driving application waze to alert waze users to food donation drop-off locations over Thanksgiving.

The American Red Cross used Foursquare to encourage people to donate blood.

Big Love Little Hearts could use Foursquare to leave tips at OB/GYN offices, maternity clothing stores or baby boutiques about congenital heart defects. Locations like that weren’t part of our #100X100 campaign because we wanted to use locations we thought would have heavy check-in traffic on a Saturday (Target, Starbucks, grocery stores, gyms, airports, etc). But if we wanted to be targeted about raising awareness and encouraging moms to talk to their doctors about what can be done to detect heart defects…well, that would be a better use of Foursquare in the long run for us.

Can you guess what I’m doing right after I finish this post?

What about you? How can your non-profit leverage LBS or other social media applications to raise impact, not just money?

A Place to Grow

About 9 months ago I was leaving my house to meet a friend who was in town. Like me, she is the founder of her own non-profit. I left a facebook status update to that effect and another friend who is the Executive Director of a nonprofit made a comment that the next time I was doing a roundtable lunch I should invite her.

I was getting (and still get) emails everyday from people just like her – they had either just started a nonprofit, wanted to start a nonprofit or were the E.D. of a nonprofit and needed advice and help. I love helping people realize their own vision to make the world a better place, but it was impossible to answer everyone who asked and still run my own organizations effectively.

When my friend left that comment on my facebook status something clicked and I realized that what nonprofit Directors and Founders really needed was each other. They needed a community where they could learn from each others experience and share their own.  That night I filled out the articles of incorporation form for a non-profit that would do just that, The 4F Club.

I gathered a Board of amazing nonprofit Founders and set about talking to our intended community. We wanted them to tell us what they needed and what was missing – not the other way around. A few months into that process I met Chris Brogan at SOBCon (a conference I have spoken about many times here and can’t recommend enough!). After discussing my plans for 4F Club with him, he shared that he was developing a similar community under his new company, Human Business Works.

Both Chris and I really believe in collaboration and that’s exactly what we did. I am really proud to officially announce that I brought everything I was building at the 4F Club over to the kindred home for nonprofit Founders & Executive Directors Chris was already creating, 501 Mission Place.

I’m privileged to not only be the host at 501 Mission Place, but to get to work with very special resident contributors Marc A. Pitman, John Haydon and Rob Hatch. The four of us have created what we know will be a valuable place for you to spend your valuable time. Created specifically for the needs of nonprofit leaders, 501 MP is founded on the idea that in a room full of peers every answer, every resource and every connection already exists.

Each month we’ll bring in new content from thought leaders to veterans in the industry to people just like you (because we’re all experts in our own way) in a format that takes the realities of your busy schedule into consideration. But the real value is the community. You are the value. Your peers are the value. You have knowledge to share that I need to learn and vice versa.

I am beyond excited to share 501 Mission Place with you. Find out more here – can’t wait to see you inside!

*thanks to Veronica Ludwig, Sarah Ahmed, Patty Kerrigan and Robin Katz for your work and inspiration with 4F Club. I am honored and blessed to know such Fabulous Females!

*thanks to Chris Brogan, Rob Hatch, Marc A. Pitman, John Haydon, Liz Stewart, Patrick Iwanicki and 9seeds. You are an amazing team to work with and all of why 501MP is such a wonderful place.


The Power of You

Two weeks ago I came up for air from my summer sabbatical because I was so bothered I couldn’t sit still. Two of Big Love Little Hearts‘ partner organizations, ICHF and Preemptive Love, shared a story that made me so ill I did the only thing I could do in the moment: I wrote about it.

I tweet this phrase almost everyday: “Build Community. Build Change.” Not because it sounds nice, but because I know it’s true. I knew that relaying this story to my community, who would then relay it to their communities, would not just build change – it would save lives. Indeed, that’s exactly what happened.

A lot of you shared my post via twitter (most notably Chris Brogan – thank you for helping this story reach hundreds of thousands people) but the chain that led to change was actually quite short. An hour after I posted the piece Rebecca Self read it and tweeted the link to TED Fellow, Esra’a Al Shafei, and her group Mideast Youth. Esra’a published the story on KurdishRights.org and less than two weeks later a donor read it and funded a mission trip that will save 30 lives.

30 lives were saved because the Founder of ICHF shared an injustice that I then shared that someone else then shared with someone else. Individual decisions to reach out and trust our networks…to trust the communities we cultivate through our blogs, twitter, facebook, etc.

The Power of You saved 30 lives.

The beautiful thing is that you have the opportunity to impact lives every day simply by using your voice. Whether you’re a non-profit or an individual you have a network of friends, colleagues, family, supporters, etc who care about a lot of the same things you do. That’s why they’re in your community. When you’re moved they will be too.

Want to test the Power of You today? Kindred spirit and fellow believer in community Scott Stratten was moved by a little boy named Tanner. Today with a tweet, with a $1, with a moment – you can create change in someone’s life. Find out how here.

Extraordinary thanks to everyone who shared the original post, Rebecca L. Self, Esra’a Al Shafei, the amazing donor who stepped up and to Dr. Bill Novick, Founder of ICHF and my absolute hero.

YOU can change the world. YOU can start now.


A Foursquare Experiment Gone Right

*this post originally appeared in Chronicle of Philanthropy and Community Organizer 2.0

I’d seen some good (and not-so-good) examples of how nonprofit groups had used Foursquare to raise money. But could Foursquare be used for awareness and advocacy?

I began thinking about this question on April 1 related to my work with Big Love Little Hearts, a nonprofit group that focuses on congenital heart defects. And I began framing that question around some basic statistics about these diseases.

One in 100 children are born with a heart defect. When was the 100th day of the year? It happened to be April 10. Could I come up with a campaign in nine days, launch it, and have it be successful?

I had no idea. But I’m not afraid of failure so I set out to create a Foursquare experiment.

We created a hashtag, #100X100, which stood for 1 in 100 on the 100th day of the year. I created a Web site to explain what it was and why it was important and to set the action steps we wanted supporters to take (spread awareness with the hashtag and call or write their representatives asking them to support the Congenital Heart Futures Act and Routine Pulse-Ox Screening). We also created a Facebook fan page and Twitter profile.

Then we recruited volunteers to commit to a guerilla, grass-roots effort to use Foursquare to spread our message.

On the evening of April 9, a few dozen Big Love Little Hearts volunteers added the following as a “tip” to 600 Foursquare locations: “1 in 100 children are born w/ a heart defect. Pulse-Ox screening saves lives – you can too! Check in with the hashtag #100X100”.

We also embedded a link in the tip to the One Hundred Squared site. We chose what we thought would be the most checked-in locations on a Saturday — airports, Starbucks and Target stores, gyms, etc. — in major cities around the U.S.

One of the benefits of using Foursquare as an origin point is that most people who use it sync their check-ins to Twitter and Facebook. This meant that one person checking with #100X100 had the possibility of being viewed across three platforms with three audiences. Talk about bang for your (time) buck!

Did it work? Better than I could have possibly imagined. My goal with this experiment was simply to see how social media worked for advocacy and awareness.

But something extraordinary happened.

I began Foursquaring/Tweeting/Facebooking about #100X100 at 12:01 a.m. on April 10. Big Love Little Hearts supporters followed.

By 7:30 a.m., an angel who was following one of our followers on Twitter (but not us) noticed our hashtag. It turned out that she is an adult with a congenital heart disease who was not diagnosed at birth and who is alive today because she received lifesaving surgery.

Her passion for our work led her to call me and commit to donating $1 for every time someone used the #100X100 hashtag until midnight on April 10.

How much did we raise? She gave me a cap of $25,000. I knew the moment she said it, that our group, which was not quite 10 months old, wouldn’t reach the cap.

But, much to my surprise, our supporters were so engaged that we made it almost halfway to that goal. By 11:45 p.m., the hashtag had been used 11,703 times across all three platforms. Our donor was so impressed that she donated the full $25,000.

That money was enough to pay for 12 surgeries for patients in developing countries. Twelve lives saved in 24 hours. Not bad for something we didn’t even plan for.

That’s great, but did it work for advocacy and awareness? A resounding yes!

What was the advocacy we wanted to accomplish? On April 22, about 100 people from various congenital heart-disease groups were set to meet in Washington for CHD Lobby Day.

We wanted to plant a seed for people who had used #100X100 on April 10 to call their Senator or member of Congress and let them know that they supported measures that would greatly improve the lives of the two million people in the U.S. with congenital heart diseases.

On April 22, we again used the hashtag via Twitter, Facebook, and Foursquare to remind our supporters of our goal. By noon, more people had visited our Web site than had come to the site during the entire day on April 10.

I had seven appointments with senators and members of Congress from Illinois that day. There wasn’t a single one I walked into in which an aide didn’t inform me that constituents had been calling about this all day. People from other states text-messaged or called me to relay similar messages.

More than 500 people let me know they had contacted their representative. Some 300 more contacted the Big Love office to do the same. I cried with pride the entire day.

What was the benefit of using Foursquare as our social-media springboard? The tips we left are still there and will stay there perpetually. For several locations, our tip is still the most recent and therefore what shows up when people check in.

One last nugget—all of this was free. We raised $25,000, saved 12 lives, and set the stage for millions of lives to be changed. If you work at a nonprofit group and don’t feel like you’re using Foursquare, Twitter, or Facebook to its potential, e-mail me: charityestrella@gmail.com.

Find Big Love Little Hearts on twitter and facebook

Find One Hundred Squared on twitter and facebook


A Love Note To Facebook

There’s been an abundance of negative press, blogs, tweets, status updates and conversations surrounding facebook as of late. I don’t disagree with most of what’s been said – like the rest of you I’m no fan of their labyrinthine process to control personal privacy settings and am more than a little perturbed that my entire “info” section all but disappeared just because I didn’t want to link every last interest to some website somewhere.

That being said, when I logged onto facebook this morning something happened that made me want to express my undying love for what a fantastic tool it can be for non-profits. I’ve written before about why I love social media for non-profits – not only does Big Love Little Hearts communicate and engage with our donors and beneficiaries via social media we are also able to get a great deal of our mission accomplished through social media. We have found surgeons and hospitals to help children who need their heart repaired in developing countries in a matter of minutes on facebook and twitter as opposed to the weeks it would take offline.

Recently the families who need our help have sent their requests through facebook and those who have profiles have friended me personally and often post expressions of thanks on my wall or leave updates about their children on my (and Big Love Little Hearts) wall. I love that facebook lends a platform for that kind of public interaction…as many of our donors are facebook friends of mine they get to hear how the work we do is affecting lives straight from the people we’re helping.

This morning that was taken to a whole new level. Yesterday one of our donors made a post on her wall that she tagged me and Big Love Little Hearts in. It read:

Estrella Rosenberg those tickets sold out in like 20 minutes!!!! What a great thing you’re doing with Big Love Little Hearts …inspiring!! Can’t wait to see u at the game:) 🙂 🙂 🙂

Because I was tagged in the post it showed up on my wall where anyone I’m friends with could see it, view the post on her wall and comment on it on her wall. The father of a little boy we’re helping in the Philippines did exactly that – he commented directly on our donors page, sending “appreciation and love” from the Philippines. Without any intervention on our part, facebook created a direct connection between someone we help and someone who funds our mission.

I couldn’t pay for better donor engagement than that…I couldn’t plan better donor engagement than that! The great thing is that I didn’t have to. For all it’s hiccups, facebook offers an unparalleled platform to communicate with your donors and your beneficiaries.  I love facebook and if you’re a non-profit you should too.

Go show your facebook fan page some love today…it’s not just a megaphone for announcements about your next event or all the great work you’re doing. It is a free tool that can be crafted to foster an environment of communication and collaboration between you and your donors, the people you seek to help and the other organizations you work with. Done well it also allows for communication between each of those segments. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Build Community. Build Change.


What Steve Farber Taught Me At SOBCon (part two)


I just spent an entire post talking about Steve Farber‘s concept of making someone Greater Than Yourself, so why do I need to blog about it again?

In my last post I was talking about consciously making someone, or a whole group of someone’s, Greater Than Yourself. In this post I’m suggesting that you already are and that you should start being aware of it! If you tweet a lot, have a blog, have a facebook following, have any kind of following…you are already making someone greater than yourself.

You are influencing the people who read your blog posts religiously. You are informing the decisions of the people who have you on twitter lists. You are shaping the people who interact with you on facebook. Just because that’s not your intention doesn’t mean it’s not true.

A few things happened to me right before, during and after SOBCon that made me realize I needed to be a little more thoughtful in my role as a leader. Right before the conference started I got an email from a student on the east coast who was getting her MBA in Non-Profit. She was writing to ask for my advice and help starting her non-profit but she began her letter thanking me for my blog and informing me what a role model I was to her and her classmates. She told me what an asset my articles were to her and to her class and how necessary it was to have a positive example of a woman doing so much in the non-profit world. These same words were repeated to me by students I met here in Chicago shortly after SOBCon during a mentoring program I participated in.

I’m not sharing this to pump my own ego but because I was floored to realize that anyone outside my close circle of friends and colleagues read my blog or my tweets! I was leading groups of future change-makers and didn’t even know it. Being at SOBCon, and Liz Strauss in particular, made me not just accept that I was a leader in my peer group but embrace being a leader and commit to doing so thoughtfully with trust and purpose.

When thinking about Steve’s call to make someone Greater Than Yourself I realize I need to take that attitude into everything – and every way – I communicate. Every status update, every tweet, every blog post, every video is an opportunity to inspire and share knowledge.

I challenge you to do the same. The moment you make yourself part of the social media fabric by creating a blog, a twitter handle, a facebook profile, a youtube channel, etc…you’re making yourself someone else’s role model. The next time you say something to your audience do it with the awareness that you have the potential to make them greater than you. You have the potential to help them achieve their own version of greatness. You have the opportunity to inspire them to do the same for someone else.

To that end I want to remind all my readers:

YOU can change the world. YOU can start now. Build Community. Build Change.