The tragic oil spill off the Gulf Coast has given rise to a second tragedy which, while infinitely less tragic, offers a crucial future-leaning lesson for all nonprofits.
Steve Gelsi of Marketwatch has a fascinating update on something about which you’ll vaguely recall hearing, namely, that people are giving the hair off their heads for oil cleanup.
Stoked by social-networking sites as well as coverage in the mainstream media, San Francisco-based charity Matter of Trust now reports hundreds of thousands of pounds of hair have been donated from every state in the United States, as well as from Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom.
It’s the latest Signature Participation Project (click here to stroll back through all the previous posts defining and describing that term, which is near ‘n’ dear to Transformational Giving):
Volunteers on the Gulf Coast are hosting parties, called “Boom B Qs,” to assemble hair booms in backyards, according to co-founder [of nonprofit Matter of Trust, which is coordinating the thing] Lisa Craig Gautier.
But here’s the sad turn of events from which nonprofits need to learn:
BP, the oil spiller in question, wants nothing to do with the project.
The oil major is aware of the hair-based booms, but it’s decided to stick with Sorbent booms for now, BP spokesman Mark Salt said Tuesday. The Sorbent booms are made by Andax Industries, based in St. Marys, Kan.
“It’s great that people are involved, but we’re sticking with the Sorbent booms, since there’s no shortage of them at the moment,” Salt commented. “We don’t want to dismiss the hair booms, but the Sorbent boom is superior.”
“It’s great that people are involved”?
There’s something more at issue here than a missed PR opportunity for BP–though let me at least take a minute to note that that’s no small massive PR opportunity that BP is passing up here, which is saying something given that the company isn’t exactly riding a wave of public confidence and goodwill.
Good heavens, imagine the marketing potential for BP gas stations to encourage people to bring their hair clippings in for a discount with every fill-up.
Instead, the company will undoubtedly mop up the oil and then seek to mop up its image problems with a full-page ad from their president in the New York Times noting their renewed commitment to something or other, followed by funding of a new Bill Nye the Science Guy curriculum for middle schools, etc etc.
What’s at issue–no less for oil companies, but especially for us nonprofit types–is a point Katya Andresen makes expertly in her post this week, Why Millennials Are Going To Keep You On Your Toes, namely:
We can no longer expect donors to line up at our door or pore over our fundraising letters, saying, “Please tell me what I can do to help!”
Instead, they are pressing ahead and figuring that out for themselves–and they’re more than happy to implement the (often very creative and effective) solutions they create. On their own. Outside of a nonprofit organization.
Meaning we no longer hold the corner on the market as the one-stop shop where people go to be directed what to do in the event of a tragedy.
Katya puts it this way:
The biggest thing that needs to change this year is how we think about our donors. We are in the midst of an enormous generational shift that has major implications for our work. Younger donors expect engagement and involvement. They are anything but passive. Think of it this way. Just as in marketing we have left the broadcast era where consumers passively take in promotional messages, we have left the low-expectation donor era. This generation is going to keep us on our toes. Let’s not disappoint this bright-eyed, eager group of budding activists. And let’s be glad they aren’t rolling their eyes at us either.
Not rolling their eyes at us too much yet. I hope. Anyway.
In the case of the hair boom, Gelsi notes that the inventor was, interestingly, a hair stylist with no formal science background:
What inventions and insights are your champions developing in relation to your cause in their backyards? And what would it look like for you to use your expertise in the cause to help them–and incubate further inventions–instead of trying desperately to sell them your own?
Bit of oil-soaked advice here:
Don’t be like BP, saying, “It’s great that people are involved in our cause, but we’re sticking with our approach, since it’s working and there’s no shortage of financial need for us at the moment. We don’t want to dismiss the ideas of others, but our approach is superior.”
In the future which is now washing up on shore, that’s a public statement you won’t be around long enough to make twice.