Sunday, July 18, 2010

A Tale of Two Charities

Each year I make a contribution to several charities. Usually my donation is self-initiated, but sometimes I'm persuaded by a particularly good fundraising pitch. Recently, I received mail from two such charities: the World Wildlife Fund and OxFam America. Although both pamphlets were thin and measured 8.5x11 inches, their effect on my opinion of the charity couldn't have been more different.

The World Wildlife Fund piece was a four-color calendar, with pictures of animals for each month. It was--dare I say....junk mail. In the past, I've also received address labels, cards, and a even a nickel from the WWF. Besides the address labels--of which I have used perhaps four--and the nickel, all of these promotional items went straight into the recycling bin. I simply have no need for kitchy greeting cards or a cheap wall calendar. Perhaps some people like them, but I hazard to guess that those who use greeting cards and wall calendars prefer to pick out their own.

For me, all of this stuff was worthless, and moreover it annoyed me that my money was paying for it. I intended my donation to help preserve habitat, rescue endangered animals, and push for eco-friendly legislation. Of course charities must continue to raise money, but sending out silly gifts is not the way to win me over.

OxFam, on the other hand, impressed me very much with their mailing. It was a well-designed report (printed on handsome matte paper) on what the organization had done to help the relief effort in Haiti. With articles, diagrams, and interviews, this timely brochure was proof of their commitment to fighting poverty. OxFam sends things like this only periodically, and they are not overt requests for money like the WWF mailing. Instead, they subtly demonstrate the value of my contribution, making me feel good about my donation and likely to give again.

As a marketing person, I appreciate this soft sell. Making an emotional connection with your audience, whether it be a potential customer or philanthropist, is much more effective than surprising them with useless stationery-store items. I hope that more organizations follow the lead of OxFam, rather than wasting precious resources on questionable promotional materials that often end up in the garbage, thereby negating the very principles they stand for.

For more info on which charities are ranked highest for efficient use of resources, visit Charity Navigator. (Surprisingly, OxFam is rated only marginally higher than the WWF).
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Thursday, July 1, 2010

Hoping to Beta Test New Facebook Answers Product

Yesterday I applied to be a beta tester for Facebook's new project, which allows members to answer questions submitted by others (similar to the start-up Quora, founded by early Facebook employee Adam D'Angelo). To apply, I had to submit a "provocative" question and answer. Here was what I wrote:

Is there a place for religion in modern society?

In short, yes.

Religion has proven itself remarkably resilient, rivaling only our capacity for speech in terms of its presence and impact on human civilization. And although I myself am not a religious person, I confidently believe this deep-rooted institution will continue to evolve with society, playing whatever role is necessary to survive.

In his book The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins coined the term "meme" to describe certain inherited human beliefs and behaviors, such as religion. [In the contemporary vernacular, a meme is a popular (viral) concept or catchphrase that spreads via the internet.] Dawkins goes on to compare genes to "memes," saying that as the former influence biological evolution, so too does the latter influence cultural evolution.

As long as there is mystery and misery in the world, people will continue to turn to religion for answers and comfort. Bioethics, artificial intelligence, and other emerging sciences will provide new arenas for the application of moral/religious analysis, and for this reason I foresee the future of religion being long indeed.

For further information, I recommend the following Wikipedia articles:
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