Tue, December 07 2010

The Best Charity You’ve Never Heard Of - Till Now

Katya Andresen's avatar

Author, Robin Hood Marketing

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Filed under:   Fundraising essentials •

A few weeks ago, Holden Karnofsky of Givewell called me up to discuss an interesting problem: The highest-rated charity for effectiveness according to his rating system was invisible.

The problem: it’s small, it has a small following, and it’s in the sector of “health system logistics.” In other words, VillageReach lacks marketing reach.

Health logistics? I can see your eyes glazing over, right before me now.

Here’s how Holden puts the problem:

It’s been observed before that fundraising seems to work best when you can connect a person’s gift to a tangible, emotional impact. Heifer International can tell you about the “cow you’re giving for Christmas” and how it (ideally) will affect its recipient’s life. Grameen Foundation has anecdotes (example) of women who’ve used a loan as a catalyst to pull themselves out of poverty. DonorsChoose can even arrange for you to get thank-you notes from the students you’ve bought supplies for.

VillageReach’s activities include

•Training health system personnel to become logistics specialists, delivering medical supplies to all the hard-to-reach villages so that health workers working in remote health centers are no longer responsible for making the long journeys to collect their own supplies.
•Developing logistics management information system software to enable more accurate collection and reporting of health data in remote communities.
•Creating a social business to bring propane from south Mozambique to north Mozambique so that refrigerators in health centers can be more reliably powered, and can keep vaccines cold.

How do you tell that story?

One possible response is “Don’t.” In a world full of good causes, why worry about delivery systems, information management and propane in Mozambique, when we can focus on charities with more tangible, “sellable” work?

Yet we feel this response would be tantamount to defeat for the “smart giving” movement. VillageReach embodies the strengths this movement looks for - strengths that are all too hard to find most of the time. After all, if you’re bringing in tens of millions using a decades-old story, why bother with evaluation and accountability for the work happening today? What good is real impact if it isn’t rewarded with funding?

We want to see VillageReach turn its great program into a great pitch, but we’re no good at storytelling. So we’re asking for help.

I had three storytelling ideas to help VillageReach with their existing site and this newer microsite. Please add your own - it’s a good cause!

1. HUMAN FACE: Health logistics is boring if it’s about health logistics, but it’s interesting if it’s about people. The typical approach would be to go to people helped by the improved logistics - like the mother whose baby was vaccinated. I might go a different direction. Who is behind the logistics? Heck, if UPS can build a brand around its brown-clad delivery folks, surely VillageReach can spin some amazing tales about the brave people driving trucks into the middle of nowhere with life-saving vaccines on board. Go out and interview everyone who moves supplies around Mozambique and ask them what it’s like to be behind the wheel of hope. That’s a story I want to hear - and a cause I want to fund.

2. TANGIBILITY: One of the great frustrations of giving to charity is you donate because you’re moved by the idea of helping individuals, but you rarely have a sense of whether or how that happened. I’m always urging charities to show where the money goes. Because VillageReach is about logistics, what if you used that as a huge advantage? You can put a map up and show, in near real time - what supplies are being moved where thanks to donor support. Google Maps mashup anyone? By supporting VillageReach, you can literally experience the delivery of the difference you want to make in the world.

3. RELATABILITY: Storytelling guru Andy Goodman recently talked about the new book the Golden Theme, which says every single great movie (and story) is at its deepest level saying as humans, we are all the same. Can we relate to the story and feel it relates to our own? That’s what VillageReach should seek to do with its new website. Make it about how the people and problems being addressed relate to our own experience. People like to fix things. Let them feel like this is a project to fix something we can all relate to - on a personal level.

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