Heard on the Web: Questionable Web Pitches For Charities Pulled

Heard on the Web: Questionable Web Pitches For Charities Pulled

News story posted in Ethics, Marketing on 13 October 2009| 9 comments
audience: National Publication | last updated: 18 May 2011


According to a follow-up article in Forbes, "One of the U.S.'s largest charitable fundraising companies has hastily revamped hundreds of Web pages maintained in the name of individual nonprofits touting gift annuities. The firm has removed questionable references to unlikely high returns and acknowledging that the named person giving a testimonial 'may or may not be an actual donor' to that nonprofit."

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The bottom line...

Can we learn from this...and what can we do better? Yep!

It seems a lot of people on

It seems a lot of people on various sites, boards, etc, are confusing loyalty to Charles Schultz with the concerns raised by the Forbes articles. It also seems that most are unwilling to explore these concerns in any real depth, as if self-confidence in the 'intent' to act ethically eliminates the need to examine/improve questionable (or at least "questioned") marketing practices. Ian Percy wrote -- We judge others by their behavior, but we judge ourselves by our intentions. This wisdom seems on full display. Having known Charles professionally, I too am fully confident that he has no malicious intent whatsoever. But the Forbes articles have also raised legitimate questions about the ways non-profit organizations market CGAs. These conclusions are not mutually-exclusive. Thoughtful practitioners will recognize this and improve their efforts. Less thoughtful practitioners will defend their status quo.

Mere Puffery

Nice reply William. And true. But while the article did have some legitimate points, the authors completely failed to discuss any of the detailed analysis that is generally performed before a donor actually commits. I objected not because I was defending Charles Schultz but because I saw such a blatant lack of objectivity. In law school, we learned that stories such as those on the websites are typically dismissed as "mere puffery" should litigation ensue. The lack of objectivity suggests that Forbes has confused mere puffery and the caring and deep analysis generally performed by charities before issuing gift annuities. Marketing materials are just that - they attract interest. The computer software industry seems to get a pass on blatantly dishonest marketing materials - bragging about features that technically exist but don't actually work (there is even a name - vaporware). It just seems the article could easily have been written more objectively and acknowledged that marketing materials merely invite further investigation and scrutiny by savvy consumers. It seems patently unfair to condemn several organization simply based on their marketing materials without investigating the caring and execution that happens behind the scenes.

.. I stand correct (ed)

.. social psychologists Stanley Milgram (Milgram Experiments of 1961), Philip Zimbardo (The Lucifer Effect) and Carl Rogers have provided sufficient data to label the "Bad Apple"-syndrome as 'contributory, but insufficient'. Evil that is done is done when a 'group', an Apple Barrel, is given permission by its leaders (Barrel-Makers) to corrupt its standards and to "seduce" them "to act in..self-destructive, anti-social and mindless way(s)..when immersed in 'total situations'..". The Good, Quality Organizations must deal with this temptation (http://www.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2009/06/24/07-15586.pdf ), accept their complicity because they knew and yet did nothing, then speak with their donors about how they are of Better Seed.

Well, aren't we defensive..? There's the fire!

A. Charles Scultz' intent is not in the content of the Forbes article, just his tolerance of the behaviors of his clients. Deception: when a made-up 'character' 'says', she is "delighted"; when she is "delighted" on 40 different websites. And, Please be careful when saying 'No one', which assumes an absolute, 100% Truth, when there are examples in recent history of the NHF and the history of the actions of the NBA haunting us. I'm not sure if Ms Sangster's comments are from Shame or from Guilt.. either is a good Moral Lesson.

My comments are neither from

My comments are neither from shame nor guilt but from a personal knowledge of the Crescendo staff and Charles Schultz all of whom have impeccable records of integrity. The only shame is that we are all too quick to think the worst in our world and it is time that we stepped up and let the media know that just because there have been a few organizations that have crossed the line that there is no reason to assume that all nonprofits fall into that category. There is not a shred of evidence that any of the nonprofits using the illustration have commited fraud or even mislead a donor--donors using these vehicles have their CGA tailored to their situtation and age. But the implication in the Forbes articles is that there was a concerted effort to deceive by Crescendo (Charles Schultz) and the nonprofit organizations using the software. That is utter nonsense! I don't work for Crescendo and don't use the software but I do know the players. I am sorry that you felt compelled to assume that there was guilt or shame--you make my very point that there must be something to the assertions and never thought there might be a third reason for my comments. I am standing up for quality organizations (Crescendo and the nonprofits using the softward) whose reputations have been damaged--that is the Moral Lesson here.

Not sure I agree entirely.

Not sure I agree entirely. Non-profits have a responsibility to communicate openly and honestly with their prospective donors. Suggesting that people can pay for vacations by funding charitable gift annuities falls short of that standard. Perhaps we need to look in the mirror as well, and not simply react defensively to criticism. This embarrassment can help everyone improve their practices.

Forbes Agenda?

Claudia Sangster's point is right on target. The mission and credibility of Crescendo is well established and highly respected. Is Forbes part of the group that throws rocks at non-profits to the praise of those who would love to regulate and direct where to allocate the contributions and assets of our non-profit sector? The consistent drumbeat of the Forbes criticisms suggests there is something more to their agenda than corecting a few webpage examples illustrating the benefits of gift annuities. We need to be vigilant to prevent the three pillars of our free society (the public, private and non-profit sectors) from being replaced by an overpowering regulator. Do any our our national associations for fund raisers see this as part of their mission . . . or even dare to voice thier concern? Do fundraisers understand what is at risk? Did I miss the debate or is the silence is deafening?

Forbes' article

Once again, Forbes takes something good and implies something nefarious. Deception was not the basis of any of the CGA examples--it was merely an illustration to show how a CGA works. No one goes through this type of planning without "running the numbers" and therefore Forbes cast aspersions on a quality organization--Crescendo--just to create controversy. In this case, there was no fire no matter how much smoke Forbes tried to create. No one or nonprofit was trying to be deceptive but I am not sure the same can be said of Forbes!

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