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Note to Kristof: We Are Not Selling Toothpaste

Nicholas Kristof, first, toothpaste sells because people have dirty teeth and bad breath.  They need and will buy toothpaste to get the girl or boy, job, sale, customer, etc., of their dreams.  Most importantly, people buy toothpaste to serve their own self interest–no one wants rotting teeth.

Unlike toothpaste companies, nonprofits have a harder sell.  They are appealing to people’s selflessness, asking them to rise above their personal needs and wants, and to dedicate their time, treasure, and emotions to others. There is no risk of gingivitis or a looming threat of a root canal for a person who declines to give to a nonprofit.

Given this large hurdle, the real story is how well the nonprofit ethic is actually selling, with total giving to U.S. charities exceeding $300 billion for the second year in a row in 2008, including more than $15 billion in online contributions alone.  Additionally, Gen Y’s wanting to work for employers who will provide them with opportunities to advance good causes is more proof that the nonprofit ethic is selling.

In fact, businesses have been adopting innovative business practices and shifting their philanthropic approaches to involve employees simply to attract and retain the most talented employees and to gain public approval.

Mr. Kristof, it’s time to wake up and smell the Starbucks coffee (Starbucks is a collaborator and investor with Root Capital)–after you brush your teeth of course.

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