Some people you respect because they're so smart, some people you respect because they're so decent, and some people you just want to kick back and have a drink with because they're so fun. Michael Stein is on all three lists in my book. In addition to his regular posts at Aether Madness, Michael's now putting out Word of Net twice a month for GetActive, where he's the "in-house storyteller."
In his latest column, Michael talks about what we can learn from the outpouring of charitable support that followed the disastrous December 2004 tsunami. His primary point is that the growth in online giving continues: "The Internet accounted for over $350 million in tsunami relief contributions, eclipsing the previous online record of $211 million after the September 11 attacks in the United States...[and] Save the Children, CARE USA, and Oxfam America reported that 31%, 38%, and 80%, respectively, of total tsunami giving has come in via their websites."
But he draws another conclusion that I think is even more important:
More than half of new online donors toward tsunami relief asked to not be contacted again by relief agencies. Individual donors are shifting to giving on an as-needed basis, not on a regular, sustainable basis, as they had in the past. A growing percentage of the online population is feeling the effects of information overload. With today’s Internet tools, individuals can find news and information quickly and monitor the activities of a group or an issue without “opting in” to a traditional membership relationship. More and more, people are seeking authentic opportunities to be more fully a part of campaigns and causes, not just check writers or names on a membership list. [Emphasis mine]
What's happening here? We need more data, but here are two hunches:
- Supporters don't want to be members. As Michael noted, people are increasingly giving on an "as-needed basis," and I think this stems from a desire to be helpful while protecting one's privacy and identity. People who are happy to support your cause in a variety of temporary ways are reluctant to become permanently affiliated with your organization. As I said recently, "People want to give, but they don't want to be on your email list, because they're not going to read your boring newsletter, and they don't trust you to keep their address out of the wrong hands."
- Don't email them, they'll Google you (or read your feed, or search for your tags.) Michael also cites "information overload," and I think this is significantly eroding (or at least transforming) the value of email as a mass communication channel. Everyone's Inbox is too full these days. Non-essential messages get deleted immediately. Email's not going away anytime soon, but relying on it as the only online channel is going to yield diminishing returns.
So how should nonprofits respond? No one's about to stop recruiting full-fledged members, and email's not going away anytime soon. But nonprofits should be thinking about how they can use alternative "push" channels (like RSS and web tags) to promote their cause to a wider, more loosely affiliated network of supporters. These folks are never going to subscribe to your list, and they don't want you to count them among your membership, but if you can reach them at the right moment via the right channel, they'll give willingly.