A Simple Ask


The Social Innovation Forum, a Boston-based program that helps promising nonprofits improve and grow, just launched an “Innovator Wish List” that details donation requests from its portfolio of organizations. Requests range from a digital camera for the Actors’ Shakespeare Project, to a coat rack for domestic violence organization Close to Home, to board meeting space for Girls’ LEAP.  It’s a great example of a simple, concrete “ask” that goes beyond a request for money to rally resources for deserving organizations.

Most social problems can’t be solved by the barter system, and true social change is complex. Perhaps that’s why initiatives like the Wish List appeal to people – the link between need and solution is compellingly clear. From a communications standpoint, the Wish List is also a great example of how online networks provide an efficient way to deliver personal appeals and to inspire donor action. Two other examples:

  • Modest Needs  has built an online community around fulfilling the unexpected, one-time expenses that threaten to push people living paycheck-to-paycheck into poverty. They vet requests (such as: a car repair so a person can travel to work) and donors fulfill the “modest needs” of others before needs spiral into bigger problems. By detailing specific needs, and providing a way to protect against fraud (through information verification as well as by paying vendors directly on behalf of those in need), Modest Needs has built an effective online exchange; 70% of those who receive help become donors themselves.

  • Donors Choose is perhaps the best-known example here, where teachers provide information about classroom projects that they need funding for, and donors choose those that resonate based on topic, location, or whatever interests and qualifiers they bring to the table. Children then send thank-yous and photos to reinforce the value of the gift and enhance the donor experience.

For those organizations that are not directly connecting donors with people in need, there is still much food for thought: Are the voices of the people you are serving represented in your communications materials? Do donors understand how their donations help? Are there concrete examples and stories you can use to demonstrate impact?

Answering those questions can make fundraising and marketing communications more engaging, and more effective.