Monday, September 2, 2013

“Pretend” Summer service now over, charities now have to do real work until December

For most US charities Labour Day has a special meaning. That’s when the “pretend” service they provided during the summer finally has to end and they have to do real work until at least the end of November.

“Labour Day is always a time of transition for most US charities. It’s when they have to actually start working again,” says Dibble Brewer, CEO of the League of Big Honking Charities, which represents the 5,000 largest charitable organizations in the country. “That’s why Labour Day is such a bummer for charity people.”

Nearly all US charities go into summer mode at the end of the school year. Unaware to donors and the public, almost all real functioning stops. Staff take long vacations, take sunny afternoons off or go for long lunches at outdoor cafes. Hardly any work gets done. Charities put on a skeleton staff to keep their organizations going and give the appearance that they are still there.

The pretend summer service has really taken off in the last decade with the rise of new technology that helps charities operate when they’re actually not there. Brewer says a number of charities use automated systems during the summer to help provide pretend service.

“Most of our charities have an elaborate system of automation that kicks into gear in June. Telephones, emails, websites and social media are all set to automatically respond in a clever way that makes it seem like the charity is still on the job and still cares,” says Brewer.

One major US charity sets all of its emails to vacation responses. Each one refers donors to re-send their email to another person in the organization who is also on vacation. That person then refers the donor to another staff member on vacation and so on. The donors usually give up after being referred three or four times.

Many charities have all of their phones switched to voicemail. Brewer says research by the League showed that most calls during the regular year wind up going to voicemail anyways. Making all phone calls go to voicemail automatically and take a long summer vacation would likely not arouse suspicion.

Social media, email newsletters and web changes are usually written in advance and posted automatically during summer months. But for one US charity, that nearly backfired.

“One communication staffer at this one health charity got his social media posts mixed up. Their Twitter feed was talking about their summer health tips one minute and was talking about how to avoid frostbite the other,” says Brewer. “Luckily, no one takes charity Twitter posts seriously anyways. It wasn’t noticed.”

Most US charities will not have to work until the beginning of the Christmas season in December.

“I hear a lot of griping from my colleagues about having to go back to work in September,” says Brewer. “But I remind them that’s just three months until Christmas and then another two month holiday.”

“That makes them feel a lot better.”