The Problem With Raising Awareness

The Problem With Raising Awareness—Lazar Finker

What are you passionate about? There’s a lot worth standing up for, and as an individual on the Internet, you may find yourself bombarded with messages claiming that a particular cause is important enough to warrant further action on your part. Sometimes, you won’t even get that. Plus, depending on what the message is, the way an audience is addressed may change; would you make an anti-smoking PSA the same way you’d make an anti-cancer PSA? You’d be hard pressed to find anybody that is pro-cancer, but for the target audience of a hypothetical anti-smoking ad, you may need to use some measure of persuasion. However, regardless of the cause, the recent trend is to strive to raise awareness regardless of cause or message. While raising awareness isn’t necessarily a bad thing, this trend in activism is worth examining to analyze the good and bad that it is capable of doing.

It’s worth mentioning the sheer number of “awareness” campaigns that occur yearly in the United States. The American Journal of Public Health lists almost 200 health awareness days over the course of the year, not counting the time ostensibly set aside for promoting other causes. So, any citizen hoping to be more informed certainly has their work cut out for them.

Let me be clear that I’m not deriding awareness as a concept; it’s often a vital first step to making a change. Sometimes, it’s one of the few steps necessary; in the case of some diseases, education about signs and symptoms can lead to earlier treatment and save lives. Beyond this, some causes can escape the notice of individuals until awareness campaigns bring them to the forefront; for instance, the issue of racially-rooted police brutality would likely have flew under the radar of the public eye if not for the #blacklivesmatter movement. The trouble comes when organizations focus solely on the nebulous goal of awareness without a concrete goal or next step in mind. Charities dedicate large portions of their funding to “education,” something which has earned them the ire of groups that feel that they are addressing problems without providing solutions.

The start to leveraging awareness campaigns to do good in the world is the aforementioned call to action. Promoting discussion is a good start, but the social gestalt is likely to move on to the next issue without affecting meaningful change unless charities turn that interest into action. In order to do this, they must clearly define their desired outcomes for a campaign. For instance, if they are hoping to encourage people to get tested for or inoculate themselves against a disease, it would be wise to give them instructions on how to do so. If an organization is collecting donations, they should strive to be transparent about where the money’s going and the good it can do. Many nonprofit organizations try to quantify the benefit provided by a donation, citing specific progress made to spur on potential donors and make them feel that their money is well spent.

It also behooves any nonprofit to ensure that they’re reaching the correct audience. When an organization is passionate about a cause, it’s always tempting to adopt a shotgun approach to education, informing as many people as possible without regards to whether or not they’d be in a position to help. Additionally, nonprofits can fall into the trap of continually preaching to the choir, trying to raise awareness among individuals that are likely aware enough as it is. While there is value in leveraging an existing audience to take action, it takes careful planning to reach individuals that may not have had prior knowledge and persuade them of the value of a certain cause. The more segmented your audience, the more likely it is that they’ll be willing to act on your campaign. It’s a case of the bystander effect; the more a request for assistance is publicized, the less likely it is that any given person will answer it. Of course, if a campaign goes viral, so many will respond to it that this will seem a non-issue, but improper targeting can waste resources and even lead to backlash against a cause.

Additionally, when planning an awareness campaign, it’s important to create an engaging message that will last in the minds of an audience. This is a gross oversimplification; there’s no one-size-fits-all way for every nonprofit to effectively reach their audience. However, strong campaigns tend to share well-developed, overarching goals and act as a sort of vessel for a specific call to action.

This is perhaps the worst mistake that any nonprofit can make; assuming that a solution that works for one cause will also work for another. The days of fearmongering PSAs have largely passed, and what has developed is a mire of media competing to win the attention of a massive and often fickle audience. In this free-for-all of memes, fundraising drives, and “challenges,” the truly savvy nonprofit needs to recognize that the value of awareness only goes so far and that further steps must be taken to make a difference.

How Nonprofits Can Leverage Social Media

How Nonprofits Can Leverage Social Media—Lazar Finker

Changes in how information is spread have forced nonprofits to adapt or fall behind. To that end, may of these organizations have tried to create strong brands for themselves online, an endeavor which requires the creation of social media accounts and consistent delivery of content. There’s an audience for every cause; but not all nonprofits are created equal when it comes to generating support through social media.

With this in mind, I’d like to discuss a few of the factors to consider when running a social media account as a nonprofit.

What do you want to achieve?

Social media is an effective tool, but it’s not enough to just start an account and expect followers to come out of the woodwork. Before a nonprofit creates social media properties, it should consider the possible outcomes of their campaign and determine what they’re hoping to achieve. Part of this involves defining an audience; they will inevitably play a role in an organization’s outcomes and should be considered carefully.

Conducting surveys and crafting personas are both solid first steps when it comes to defining an audience; and segmenting it as much as possible can create a few different angles to consider when creating content.

What value do you provide through social media?

Once an audience has been established, nonprofits will need to consider methods to properly engage with them. Often, nonprofits will opt to establish themselves as authoritative figures in their subject of choice by crafting original content. This approach is the most useful for establishing brand recognition for a certain nonprofit and education, as it gives an organization control over the message they are sending.

Alternatively, a nonprofit can become a curator of content in their field of choice, a similar approach that allows for easy sharing of news and establishing relationships with other organizations. Lastly, nonprofits can use social media as a platform for bringing their community together, promoting an exchange of ideas and creating passion for the cause.

Really, all three of these have merit, and a balance of the three depending on objectives is the best way to provide value to an audience.

How do you deliver good content?

Part of prompting engagement and raising a strong audience is delivering solid content to stakeholders. Content should be regular, match an organization’s voice and brand, and, perhaps most importantly, be authentic. Don’t go into a social media endeavor with the open intent of leveraging an audience to accomplish something; provide them with answers, engage frequently, and help them as much as you can. This will keep followers coming back and make them more likely to spread the word on their own volition.

Additionally, organizations should ensure that anything posted is of solid quality; paying for stock images or leveraging existing video of charitable efforts can create interesting, visually-dynamic updates.

What to do with an active audience?

In the best case scenario, all a nonprofit need to do to turn a social media following into capital is ask for donations.

This is, however, only practical with an active and engaged following. For that matter, it helps if a nonprofit has an objective that they’re looking to accomplish; involving social media followers as closely as possible is great for generating further engagement.

In many ways, working with social media followers is fairly close to working with potential customers in a for-profit business. Measuring each step of the process is crucial, and involves monitoring outreach activity, page traffic, conversion rates, and retention rates. It’s all about building a relationship that works two ways, and although nonprofits seldom have time to interact with each and every social media follower, they can still be responsive and prolific enough to make meaningful connections through various networks.

Home for the Holidays—Finker-Frenkel Legacy Foundation Gives Back to Children’s Home

Home For the Holidays—Lazar Finker

Recently, a contribution from the Finker-Frenkel Legacy Foundation was able to fund a Hanukkah party for the Beit Chaya children’s home in Moscow! Raissa and I are happy to continue to support the Solomon Jewish Community Center and see the impact that our donations have made. See the full presentation here.

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Why We Need Millennials—How Generation Y is Redefining Philanthropy

Why We Need Millennials—Lazar Finker

In a recent article of mine, I wrote about how, in 2016, millennials proved that they can have a significant impact on the philanthropy sector. Now, I’d like to delve a little more into this generation, what drives them, and why they have become a valuable asset to the nation.

The term “millennial”—used to define anybody born between 1980 and 2000—is often the subject of derision. Frequently characterized as lazy or oversensitive, studying their giving habits has revealed a much more complex truth. As individuals attuned to recent technology trends, millennials have forced nonprofits to reconsider how they reach out to potential donors. The diversity of social media platforms has given organizations more ways to reach their audience, but has also given them more concerns about how to construe their message.

This is because studies have found that millennials seek a certain authenticity when it comes to causes to support. They don’t just want to give for the sake of giving—they want to be emotionally invested in the charities that they donate to.

Nonprofits will have to adapt their message with consideration to a new generation of givers and realize that it’s not about being trendy—it’s about being passionate about a cause and being willing to engage with both the people they’re supporting and those supporting them.

Millennials, often of modest financial status, are able to give less, but the majority are more than willing to volunteer portions of their time and money to help causes that they feel invested in. In many ways, charity work is tied intrinsically to social activism, the latter reflecting the generation’s desire to affect change in the world.

Indeed, millennial philanthropy is often marked by social connections. The cynical among older generations might argue that sharing charity efforts is done for the sole purpose of gaining attention, but I’d like to believe that the social aspect of charity galvanizes more individuals to action.

For the first time in 2016, an organization attempted to learn about millennial charity habits from their point of view rather than that of nonprofit organizations. Achieve, a research agency, and Case Foundation, an innovative philanthropy foundation, partnered to study the generation’s behaviors.

What they found was that millennials are more inclined to change jobs, relationships, and lifestyles more than their older counterparts. Whether this is positive or negative is up for debate, but the organizations also discovered that this fluidity also encourages dedication to a multitude of causes, regardless of how they got involved with them.

So what does this mean for the future of philanthropy?

It means that nonprofit organizations will need to be more visibly active in communities if they want to gain donors. Technology is, as always, a growing vector for micro-donations, and can enable millennial contribution with a minimal amount of effort.

The connectivity afforded by social media reveals many causes all competing for attention. Oddly enough, this forces nonprofits to improve their branding and marketing if they want to stay afloat, a seemingly disingenuous prospect that can nevertheless lead to a positive outcome.

So, like it or not, the future of our country is in the hands of millennials and, all things considered, I’m not too worried about it. Like the causes that they champion, they strive for authenticity and forward progress, and bring an ardent passion to everything that they do.

Philanthropy in 2016—A Look Back, and a Look Forward

Lazar Finker Talks Philanthropy in 2016Another year has come and gone, and with the new year comes more chances to give back and help those in need. Technology, always improving and changing the landscape of our nation, has altered philanthropic efforts a great deal. Additionally, increased social awareness has driven the millennial generation to contribute to causes that they are passionate about.

With recent political turmoil and deaths of beloved celebrities, it can be easy to condemn 2016 as a subpar year. However, the philanthropy sector paints a very different picture, demonstrating that, for all of the unrest, the number of caring souls willing to make a difference is always growing.

The growth of e-commerce platforms has made donating easier and more productive than ever. Those looking to make charitable contributions are not only able to easily find an outlet, but are more capable than ever of ensuring that their money directly funds a cause that they care about. Additionally, the volume of information available online has led to greater scrutiny in charity, as sites such as Charity Navigator have promoted transparency in nonprofit organizations in a way that has never been seen before.

Perhaps one of the more surprising statistics to see when reviewing this year’s philanthropy efforts is the amount contributed by individuals and households rather than larger foundations. These donations make up a majority (around 70%) of giving for the year, and goes a long way in demonstrating the change that micro-donations can make. Growth in personal incomes has enabled more and more families to give back as much as possible.

Another notable trend is the rise of wealthy millennials are increasingly concerned with balancing work with personal values. Mark Zuckerberg, notable for choosing to donate 90% of his wealth to charity, is the wealthiest millennial on the planet, but in many ways exemplifies the attitude of the generation: determined to make a difference. Often derided as “special snowflakes,” we must understand that millennials may very well be paving the way for a new kind of collective philanthropy.

Still, even though 2016 was a good year to give, it behooves us as a country to look ahead to what we can accomplish in 2017. After the ball has dropped in Times Square, what can we expect next?

Well, so far, projections are looking positive, with an improved GDP cited as reasons for individuals and organizations to give more on all levels of society. New management tactics have served nonprofit organizations well, and now, they’ll have to find new ways to grow to avoid stagnation.

Collaborative efforts between multiple nonprofits are one way for charitable organizations to improve in 2017. Overlapping support networks can broaden the horizons of existing charities while hammering home the message that nobody undertakes a philanthropic effort alone.

An increased adoption rate of technology, both among individuals and organizations, can assist in bolstering peer-to-peer giving, which has become increasingly popular as of late. Giving can now be done at the push of a button, and the connectivity of technology can spur us to imitate peers that have already donated.

The philanthropy sector, having already undergone moderate growth in the past decade, continues to stabilize and improve incrementally. 2016 is a notable year for the diversification of the tools that organizations can use to promote their causes and spread awareness to the rest of the world.

Finker-Frenkel Legacy Foundation Gives Back to Children’s Home

Giving Back—Finker-Frenkel Legacy Foundation Donates to Children's Home

Dr. Lazar Finker and his wife, Dr. Raissa Frenkel, have always been passionate about giving back to the community, whether locally or half a world away. Their organization, the Finker-Frenkel Legacy Foundation, is committed to making an impact by supporting causes in multiple fields such as medical research, education, religious development, and children’s welfare.

With this in mind, the Foundation’s donation to Solomon, a Jewish Community Center in Moscow, is logical, given the couple’s heritage and previous charity work with other Jewish organizations. The funds that they provided went toward providing repairs, food, and clothing to Beit Chaya, a Jewish children’s home.

Beit Chaya Children's Home

With the contribution, Beit Chaya was able to renovate an entire floor of rooms and help give orphaned children a better life. Solomon recently contacted the Foundation with news on how its donations had improved the facilities, including pictures of the updated home and a bio on one of the many children that reside there.

Beit Chaya Children's Home

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Residents of Beit Chaya

The floor that the Finker-Frenkel Foundation improved is home to younger residents, including Artem, a four-year-old whose life has been touched by the home.

Artem, a child living at Beit Chaya

After spending his first few years locked in an apartment with his alcoholic mother, Artem found a home at the Beit Chaya, and has now become much more open to exploring its hallways and interacting with others. It is Raissa and Lazar’s sincere hope that other children like Artem can find happiness with the help of philanthropy.

The couple, along with the rest of the Foundation, is excited to continue to support their home country of Russia and to see what positive change can come about as a result of their giving.

Donations and Determination—Lessons Businesses Can Take From Nonprofits

Donations to Determination

The not-for-profit industry has come under fire as national trust in many philanthropic organizations rapidly declines. The charity sector of the economy is subject to more and more meticulous scrutiny while many of its fundamental institutions are falling by the wayside. Community hospitals are facing closure across the country. Traditional churches and synagogues are emptying their coffers while simultaneously losing membership across nearly every sect affiliation. Moreover, the sector itself hasn’t grown in the last ten to fifteen years, be that with respect to overall revenue or number of employees.

At the same time, it cannot be said that nonprofits are not prolific or motivated. Many have taken lessons from traditional businesses over the years. Though concepts such as strong branding, improved money management, and a robust leadership structure were once taboo among nonprofit organizations, the majority have adopted the conventions of the modern business in order to better deliver on their promises to do good in the world. Now, in an era of suspicion of corporate motives, businesses would do well to learn from the engagement practices of nonprofits.

While the nonprofit sector has not profoundly expanded in recent history, the management skills of the industry have improved exponentially. The stigma behind management, once regarded only as a byproduct of corporate greed, is gone, now exemplifying a commitment to shrewd fiduciary responsibility, especially in a sector where funds are often tight. Therefore, strong financial and logistical planning is generally something that nonprofits do very well, enabling them to focus further on their mission.

With resources scarce, nonprofits must not only rely on effective branding and building strong relationships with stakeholders to gain support. Granted, there’s a big difference between average consumers and the individuals that nonprofits assist, but learning and acting on their needs is necessary for any business.

The difficult part of this process is often finding enough support to effectively complete a mission. In order for this to happen, benefactors will have to care about the cause that the nonprofits are supporting, a tricky proposition with so many charities clamoring for attention. Nonprofits have, as a result, become adept at telling a story. These stories often humanize the community in need of assistance, explain how the nonprofit plans to help, and includes a call to action in which the audience is encouraged to contribute. Even in for-profit businesses, appealing to an audience on an individual level can often drive others to action more effectively than broadly espousing a product or service.

This whole process is about making connections on an emotional level. As nonprofits can rally communities and bring people together for a common cause, so too can businesses create a passion for their products and services that leads to brand loyalty. A consumer should ideally feel that the companies that they support are in turn supporting them; communication is, as previously mentioned, the key to building a significant relationship.

Viral marketing may be one of the latest trends to grace the Internet, but nonprofit organizations codified the process of getting advertising to socially propagate itself. Even on social media today, nonprofit-oriented news stories dominate feeds, encouraging readers and viewers to make some small difference on their own. And this approach works quite well, gathering support through emotions in a way that for-profit businesses stand to learn from.