Charity Mobile: 7 Pros and Cons of Controversial Ideas

In 2015, approximately 14 percent of donations came from mobile devices, such as tablets and smart phones. Giving through hand-held devices met or exceeded donations from tablets. The increase of charity mobile reflects the prominence of the use of mobile technology. According to the Pew Research Center, approximately 77 percent of Americans owned a smartphone in 2016. A Pew Research Center survey in 2016 says nearly eight out of ten mobile users are on Facebook, while Twitter claims 24 percent. Accounting for those who do not forge in to the online world at all, approximately 68 percent of Americans use Facebook.

With mobile and social media platforms comes fertile ground for charities to reach donors. If a charity enters into controversial topics, these platforms could generate support for the charity or spawn discord, confusion and perhaps legal traps. If you operate a charity, you need to consider how your opinions on controversial and divisive social and political issues can impact your charity’s mission.

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Charity Mobile Campaigns Pros and Cons

1. Rallying Your Base

Taking a controversial stand will appeal to your like-minded donors, especially if they perceive some threat to a cause or group for whom your charity advocates. For example, Time magazine reported that donations to the American Civil Liberties’ Union reached $7.2 million dollars following the 2016 Presidential election. Planned Parenthood fetched 80,000 donations after the election.

Your followers and allies on social media can share your organization’s positions and reach other potential donors or supporters.

2. Motivating For Social Responsibility

Donors may treat your controversial stands as admirable acts of social responsibility or social justice. This matters to that segment of the population that may engage in charity mobile.

Pew reports that, as of November 6, 2016, 86 percent of Americans aged 18 to 29 and 80 percent of those in the 30 to 49 age bracket use social media. Among millenials, which include these age groups, approximately two out of three are more likely to engage with brands committed to social responsibility. Consider the potential that businesses seeking to ingratiate themselves with socially concisous-minded customers may donate to support your causes.

3. Alienated Donors

Your charity’s stands could drive away donors who see their gifts as an endorsement of and giving aid to an agenda they oppose. For example, Catholics and Evangelicals may have scruples about giving to organizations perceived to be pro-choice or otherwise favorable to abortion or allied with such. In turn, pro-choice donors could spurn religious charities that favor restrictions on abortion or contraceptives. Other donors may view groups with perceived LGBTQ-hostile stands as discriminatory and hateful.

Should you take controversial positions, donors may turn their resources to charities that perform similar work as yours, but don’t share your views.

4. Unwanted Comments

Charity mobile pages often leave space for comments. The section can feature testimonials, statements extolling your charity’s great work, or calls for urgent action to respond to disasters.

However, the comment space can devolve into a debate forum with visitors trading written barbs on positions. Those who don’t see your way or that of the comment contributors can bring vitriol, inappropriate or ugly language that stands at stark odds with your mission and purpose. You risk having not merely the opposing point of view, but calls for people to disassociate themselves with your charity. With this flood of negative comments come diversions from your charity’s goals, interference with its activities and potential loss of contributions.

5. Public Relations Rather Than Aiding the Public

Taking a controversial stand places you in a potentially public storm. The turbulence of discontent is created by negative press and online or social media comments on your charity mobile space. To regain or retain the good graces of current or potential donors, you risk turning your focus to public relations.

A public relations mentality potentially breeds ineffective operations, particularly for charities that provide disaster relief. Responding to storms, mass-casualty incidents, earthquakes and other calamities requires allocating the right quantity and quality of resources to the most affected areas.

When the focus turns primarily to public relations, your people, equipment, food and supplies often go where the public officials, public figures and media gather. These may not constitute the places with the greatest and most urgent needs. In some cases, vehicles that otherwise would transport relief assets instead are reserved for driving people to public appearances.

6. Managing Dissent

A position in the charity’s name bears the appearance of approval of its members and leaders.

Often, though, divergent views may abound in very large groups. Further, a small, but vocal and powerful faction could oppose the position. Personal opposition and concerns of being connected with controversy may cultivate dissent. If the position is adopted, the dissenters may withdrawal their support.

In Thinking of Forming a Non-Profit? What to Consider Before You Begin, the Center for Non-Profits suggests that churches start nonprofits to carry out certain ministries. Therefore, a smaller set of actors can insulate the larger group from the powerful sect of dissenters. Thus, they will allow the mission to proceed free of church politics and administrative barriers.

7. Losing Tax-Exempt Status

With the 501(c)(3) tag, you can access donors for whom a tax deduction offers an incentive to support your efforts.

However, tax-exempt status comes with restrictions on political activity. The IRS does not permit charities to advocate for or against candidates for public office and those who do so will lose tax-exempt status.

Summing Up

Even in the charity mobile world, merely announcing your position on an issue likely will not threaten your tax-exempt status. Even then, you should avoid linking your position to support or opposition to a candidate or office holder. Further, the IRS could strip your status if you expend a considerable amount of your funds on lobbying or related activities.

The charity mobile trend can afford your nonprofit access to motivated donors and activists bent on social justice and improvement. Depending on your mission, though, wading in contentious issues could distract your charity’s work and become a disservice those you consider led to help.

Image from depositphotos.com.