The first order of business was to pull a slip of paper from a bowl—my fictional persona for the evening. I was Enrique, a 40 year-old farmer in Guatemala, who recently bought a cow with money he received from Mercy Corps (which sponsors the Action Center). I don’t look or sound anything like an Enrique, but I was willing to play along. Almost immediately I learned that “playing along” included sitting on the floor for the event. My slip of paper was green, identifying me as one of the roughly 50% of humanity considered “low income,” meaning they earn less than $800 per person per year.
On March 1 the Cape Fear Chapter tweeted an intriguing question: “What is your favorite experience with the Red Cross?” After almost nine and a half years, it’s difficult to think about a favorite experience. Perhaps handing out hot chocolate at the Brooklyn Bridge on the last day of the 2005 New York City transit strike. We’d just heard that the strike was over and transit would be running again the next morning, so it took on a party atmosphere. It was cold that evening, but the hot chocolate and the end of the strike made it better. Then a young woman came down the ramp from the Bridge, cell phone clasped to her ear, and squealed into the phone, “It’s the Red Cross… and they have hot chocolate!!!” (We don’t always get such immediate gratification on the larger disasters.)
It seems that every article I’ve read recently about social media engagement and non-profit management emphasizes the importance of a call to action. It’s not enough to tell your readers about yourself; you need to give them a push to follow it up with some kind of action. On that point I do not disagree. But these arbitrary deadlines remind me of infomercials and are at odds with the behavior I expect from respected non-profits. I’ve seen a few that, in my eyes, fail in a bit way: these arbitrary deadlines can make a casual reader think that donations are not needed after the deadline.
After spending the New Year’s weekend offline, I had a lot of catching up to do. Twitter and LinkedIn go on without me and some of my blogger friends didn’t take the weekend off.
In January 2002 the thing I wanted most in the world was a “hold” button. But, hey, it was a disaster. I mean really a disaster: I was working for the American Red Cross Disaster Services, we were crazy busy, but I was sharing a phone with four other colleagues in a large, bare-bones office.
I’ve worked in non-profit organizations most of my career, and fortunately for me most of them have been large and well-funded, including the American Red Cross. But comparing my non-profit experience to my rare forays into for-profit work, it is impossible to imagine working in any for-profit corporation for six months without a hold button on my telephone. Never mind that the phone was on a plastic folding table, not a desk, so I didn’t have a desk drawer, either. The cultural divide isn’t always so extreme, but there are certain things that can happen in one world that are unimaginable in the other.