Chuggers in Cyberspace
I'm starting to get a bit bothered by the innovative fundraisers in BINGO's who are pushing in to places like MySpace & Second Life, because I'm afraid that hunting for donations in the new virtual spaces will put people off the other things an NGO can offer (like opportunities for activism). It's ungrateful, I know, considering the fact that fundraisers bring in the money to pay my wages. And I feel quite ambivalent about it, because at least the fundraisers are agile enough to know that MySpace & Second Life are important developments, which is more than can be said for many campaigners!
So I applaud their drive to innovate, but I'm concerned about face-to-face fundraising leaking over in to experiments with social networking. (According to the Guardian newspaper, face-to-face fundraising "is the name given to the fundraising technique where teams of cheery, bib-wearing young people in the street sign up passers-by to give money regularly to charity via a direct debit. But people who are not fans of the fundraising teams have been known to refer to them as "charity muggers" or "chuggers".)
The participative nature of the social web makes it a place where people can go beyond a passive role, and potentially become part of the solution they want to see. Of course I understand that many folk don't have much time to give, and sometimes giving money is all that is possible (hey, i've got a family too). But what happens when folk in Second Life start to teleport past the office of the human rights organisation, because they don't want to get hassled for a donation? Or when people reject MySpace friend requests from campaigns because they can sense it's just a sting?
I know I'm pointing the finger at the wrong people. It's not the fundraisers' fault that they're being creative - that's a good thing! But it would be a shame to see NGO's written off because something as interesting as Save the Children's virtual yak gets hammered in the same way as Heifer's water buffalo (a critique that resulted in widely-watched YouTube video, BTW). The root of the problem is the strategic failure of non-profits to embrace the disruptive nature of the Net. Perhaps, as some suggest, the corporate model is no longer well suited to public benefit work, and the internet itself will play a part in the emergence of new structures for organising around social impact.