Does Writing a Check to a Nonprofit Equal Social Change?

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photo from ehow.com

I was listening to Rosetta Thurman’s blogtalk radio program on full-blast while preparing to head to campus on Wednesday morning, when a question arose on the program that stopped me dead in my  mid-mascara application tracks: Does writing a check equal social change?

Rosetta featured a roundtable discussion with Allison Jones and Elisa Ortiz, two fellow members of the Nonprofit Millennial Bloggers Alliance.  During a portion of the program, these bloggers discussed how different sectors engage in social change in different ways. “Being able to write a check for $10,000 for a juvenile prevention program is very different from sitting in a room everyday with those kids in that program,” Allison said. She stated that we do a big disservice to social change if we pretend that these two players [donor and administrator] don’t play very important– but also very different– roles.

Rosetta concluded that the action of writing a check should not be lumped under the umbrella of social change, and she brought up an interesting and eloquent perspective in her response (at 15:50 or so). She said,

Philanthropy by itself, in the writing of a check example, is not social change to me because the money has to then do something. It has to cause some type of action or activity that actually does change a community. You don’t know that right away when you write a check. It’s what happens afterwards.”

It is then that social change—and what constitutes social change– begs to be defined. And Rosetta may be right about the lumping; the term “social change” is popping up everywhere. There are 241 blogs on the List of Change and they cover everything from fundraising, to cause-related marketing, to mentoring and teaching.

So what is social change? According to Wikipedia, social change is any event or action that affects a group of individuals who have shared values or characteristics, or acts of advocacy for the cause of changing society in a way subjectively perceived as normatively desirable. Unfortunately, I don’t think this definition helps tighten up the term. Perhaps it really is as vast as our many ways of classifying it.

In my opinion, there’s a gap in our language– the way that we talk about “doing good”– that the term social change is filling. Why might a person give a monetary gift to a homeless shelter? Why might the Entertainment Industry Foundation launch the iParticipate initiative? Albeit overused, I think, “to aid in social change” may be a logical and appropriate answer to these questions.

Perhaps writing a check is to social change as putting a ‘hire me’ tab on your blog is to establishing yourself as a worthy job candidate. They are baby-steps. They are mini-means to an end… but it is difficult to be hired if you do not take that first step to sell yourself, just as it is difficult to initiate social change without capital.

The donor supplies the financial means for social change. I agree that social change cannot be measured immediately upon the presentation of a check to an organization. Perhaps the funds won’t successfully further social change at all– but the intent of the donor to further social change still stands, and it’s still important.

While I agree that the term social change is widening, I think  it’s important that we allow it to widen if it allows people to connect to causes. If a donor aligning his or herself with social change encourages more giving, then bring it on, I say.

But Rosetta’s perspective poses an interesting question: how will we adapt our language to clarify the roles that sectors, individuals, donors, and administrators play in supporting social change?

How lovely that we discuss charity, social change, and philanthropy so frequently that we need even more words to define our roles in the endeavor!

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Trends 14 Comments

About the author

Colleen Dilenschneider

MPA. Chief Market Engagement Officer at IMPACTS Research & Development. Nonprofit marketer, Generation Y museum, zoo & aquarium writer/speaker, web engagement geek, data nerd, marathoner, nomad, herbivore