Today is Giving Tuesday, part of our ongoing parade of post-Black Friday “Days” for this or that. Eventually, every day till Christmas will be spoken for.
In honor of the event, our state’s least needy nonprofit is doing its best to cash in. Vermont Public Radio has a special two-fer-Tuesday deal: give your dollars to VPR and another, much needier, charity will get some spare change.
It’s Giving Tuesday, and for every gift to VPR today only, a generous supporter from Shelburne will donate 15 meals to the Vermont Foodbank.
Okay, this bothers me. And I’ll try to explain why.
VPR has an immense advantage over every other nonprofit in the state: a perpetually open direct line to its constituents. It can interrupt service at any time for fundraising messages.
Imagine if a nonprofit called you on the phone and you couldn’t hang up until they let you. Or it could interrupt your mail service until you read its latest pitch.
So here we are on Giving Tuesday, and VPR is generously lending its megaphone to a worthy cause.
Or it’s cashing in on the occasion and borrowing the Vermont Foodbank’s image for its own benefit. After all, who gets the bulk of the proceeds?
How much does it cost for the Vermont Foodbank to provide 15 meals? Let’s turn to Feeding America, a national foodbank network.
The Meal Cost Calculation (formerly known as the Efficiency Claims) is commonly used throughout the network as a way to express the value we provide to our communities through the generosity of donors. The language usually takes the form of “$1 helps provide X meals.”
… Each $1 donated to Feeding America helps us provide 8 meals to those at risk of hunger.
So you give $50 or $100 or $250 to VPR, and the Vermont Foodbank gets a whole two dollars. Great.
So how did this come about? Did the anonymous “supporter from Shelburne” come to VPR with the proposition? Or did the idea originate with VPR? No evidence, but my money’s on the latter. Public radio stations love to leverage major gifts; they provide a sense of immediacy, the most desirable of fundraising currency. Indeed, when a major donor offers a gift, stations will often ask that it be turned into a leveraged proposition like this.
The constant struggle of any nonprofit is to turn good intentions into concrete action. Everybody has good intentions; only a small fraction actually give. This one-day-only offer provides immediacy in spades. The goal for the day is “15,000 meals,” or 1,000 donations to VPR. If the average donation is $100, then VPR stands to gain $150,000 on an otherwise unremarkable Tuesday.
The Vermont Foodbank? $2,000.
I’m sure the Foodbank appreciates every dollar, and will use them wisely. I’m sure they jumped at the chance when VPR presented it. But you know, if I were going to write a check for Giving Tuesday, I think I’d just give it all to the Vermont Foodbank.
And if I were VPR, instead of leveraging my position and sharing the scraps with the Foodbank, I’d produce a series of spots asking my audience to give directly to Vermont charities. Something like:
“Vermont Public Radio depends on listener support. But many other Vermont charities depend on your support as well. In honor of Giving Tuesday, we are giving our airtime to those worthy causes. So celebrate this very important day by making a gift to [insert charity’s name here].”
Now, that would be a truly charitable act. VPR’s little publicity stunt, not so much.