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Stay Off the Internet’s Nonprofit Naughty List

Updated on June 26, 2015
Gennady Barsky's Naughty List
Gennady Barsky's Naughty List

CNN recently published an article calling Kids Wish Network the “worst charity in America.” When trust is your stock in trade, you cannot afford to be tarred with the Scarlet Letter of the Internet. And, if you are attempting to operate as a charity, bad publicity of this sort can be a death sentence … if not managed properly.

That sort of extreme crisis PR is better managed on a one-to-one basis. Not something that can really be covered in a general blog, but what we can talk about it how to avoid that path that leads you there. And, believe me, it is a path. Very few except the truly evil wake up one day and decide to defraud children of health and happiness. However, some initially well-meaning folks end up doing some desperate or ignorant or just plain stupid things in an effort to salvage what they can from an ever-increasing mess of their own making.

There are several ways to avoid either falling into this trap or being compromised from guilt by association.

First, always consider the reality of The Percentage. Most reasonable people understand that a charity will have overhead. No matter what the figure is in your case, it should fall roughly within the perimeters of known and accepted organizations similar to yours. Too far below the line and expect to receive criticism, if not outright denigration online. In the case of Kids Wish Network, CNN said the organization “less than 3 cents on the dollar” actually helping kids. The balance goes to either the charity directors or the companies they use to compel donations. That totaled more than 100 million in the past decade, a “success” on paper that might have worked before, but cannot survive the digital age.

Pick your own name. Some shady charities choose names that sound close – very close – to those of reputable charities. While this might be tempting to avoid the long, slow slog of generating name recognition, it will eventually come back to bite you. Yes, it could work short-term, but eventually, you will learn the hard way that dynamic branding works best when people are not confused by who you are and what you are doing.

Do actual work. Yes, you need to do more than survive to do your best work, but you also have to do more than promise to make a difference if you want to survive for any length of time. You must channel funds – even if they are relatively meager – into doing some sort of good work that can be used to prove your right to exist and worthiness of continued support.

Gennady Barsky is a real estate mogul and the CFO of JetSmarter

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