On the matter of Boom B Qs: Tragic oil spill offers crucial lesson for all nonprofits

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:

The name of Alabama hair cutter Phil McCrory comes up frequently in the effort as an inventor of hairy booms for oil cleanups.

In a 2008 interview with National Public Radio, McCrory said he got the idea after looking at the oil-soaked fur of otters in Alaska during the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster, and decided to try it on hair he swept up at his shop.

“I took the hair home, put it in my wife’s panty hose, created a little imaginary spill there in my little pool and cleaned the water up,” he said in the interview. “Within a minute and a half, I had the water crystal clear, and all the oil was in the panty hose loaded with hair.”

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.

About Pastor Foley

The Reverend Dr. Eric Foley is CEO and Co-Founder, with his wife Dr. Hyun Sook Foley, of Voice of the Martyrs Korea, supporting the work of persecuted Christians in North Korea and around the world and spreading their discipleship practices worldwide. He is also the International Ambassador for the International Christian Association, the global fellowship of Voice of the Martyrs sister ministries. Pastor Foley is a much sought after speaker, analyst, and project consultant on the North Korean underground church, North Korean defectors, and underground church discipleship. He and Dr. Foley oversee a far-flung staff across Asia that is working to help North Koreans and Christians everywhere grow to fullness in Christ. He earned the Doctor of Management at Case Western Reserve University's Weatherhead School of Management in Cleveland, Ohio.
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7 Responses to On the matter of Boom B Qs: Tragic oil spill offers crucial lesson for all nonprofits

  1. Pingback: Best Links: Sustainable Social Media, Stealth Interviews, and the Aging Brain « My Blog

  2. robbie says:

    Ah, corporate-speak. Seems BP is just too narrow-minded, full of themselves, and obviously full of a never-ending flow of money. What a missed opportunity…

    I won’t be visiting my local BP again. But, really, does BP really care?
    CLUELESS.

    • EFoley says:

      That’s the real challenge, Robbie–BP’s response on this point doesn’t seem to exactly ooze with care. Their spokesman’s statement that they are “aware” of the Boom B Q efforts doesn’t quite ooze with appreciation either…

  3. Jane Lance says:

    No one in the Hair Boom movement has dared to say that the Hair Booms are THE answer. What has happened is that BP has failed to protect our estuaries and shores. First, by not following safety procedures, etc., and then making so many formal statements, followed by admitting that former statements were not accurate! The Hair Boom movement is just the groundswell of regular people wanting to do something to help. Give us something else we can do and we’ll do it! As of now, we know that hair booms can soak up the oil (look at the animals!), so until we see that BP and the government have a solution, humor us! But don’t discount the fact that they work!

    • EFoley says:

      Great comments, Jane. I especially appreciate your saying, “Give us something else we can do and we’ll do it!” There’s a message there that not only BP but all nonprofits need to hear.

  4. Lisa Gautier says:

    Hi – great article – Last night’s calls with BP were quite the eye opener.

    When I introduced the BP Public Affairs spokesman to the BP department we were working with, the intake of breath was notable. Clearly it was not even suspected that we could be legitimate on our website when we said BP had contacted us.

    Why not, isn’t BP supposed to be reaching out now to the 10,000 alternative ideas? That’s what they said. Although, we were told by the Critical Resource Mat Mgt that they had heard about us from watching the Rachel Maddow show.

    The second call was kinder but he was rock solid in the stance.

    It became clear to me, over the long conversation that followed that this man is either in need of some time off or he should not be in public relations. 🙂

    Thank God for municipalities and the good people of the South!

    • EFoley says:

      Great to have you check in, Lisa. Sadly, I suspect that not only BP but few nonprofits are reaching out to the 10,000 alternative ideas that grass roots champions are researching, testing, and recommending.

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