We’ve all heard the term "fake news" in modern media, which has many subjective connotations, but there's a truly malicious falsehood going around the internet about national charities — and it needs to be taken seriously. It first came out as an email and then morphed into a social graphic, which has been circulating for nearly 15 years. Social media allows people to perpetuate the "Think Before You Donate" graphic without validating the content. This graphic holds a collection of false statements about a number of charitable organizations, including Goodwill®, and claims to expose inflated salaries and financial mismanagement.
The graphic makes erroneous claims, such as stating that Mark Curran is the owner of Goodwill, which is impossible because, as a 501(c)(3), none of our 157 local Goodwill organizations have an owner. Social media perpetuates inaccurate information about Goodwill and many other nonprofits, which is then immediately adopted and spread as truth. Readers are more apt to believe these graphics when they are posted by their friends, family or influencers, and they often don’t take the time to look up accurate information about those listed in the graphics. When they do see factual posts that explain Goodwill’s and other nonprofits’ missions, they might skim over or ignore them because they believe they already know what Goodwill or another charity does.
Most of America thinks of Goodwill as thrift shops, but our donated goods actually drive our mission. Donated items are sold through our retail stores, and the revenue funds our employment placement, skills training, career counseling and youth services that help put adults to work and place youth on a positive path of self-discovery and success.
One of our most meaningful recent stories is that of Robert Frank, a kind-hearted gentleman who suffered physical abuse as a child, which left him with a cognitive disability. With support from Goodwill, he learned to read a book for the first time at age 65, giving him new confidence and a more positive outlook on life. More than 87 percent of the collective revenue from the sale of donated goods at Goodwill stores supports and grows critical community-based programs and services, and support services, such as child care, financial education, mentoring and transportation. This is well above the Better Business Bureau’s accountability standards, which require that an organization spend 65 percent of its total expenses on program services.
This viral rumor, “Think Before You Donate,” impacts Goodwill’s reputation and brand, as small, understaffed newsrooms don’t always have time to do their research and may report the graphic as fact, or potential funders and partners believe it to be true. But it is the strength of Goodwill’s collective network that also helps to combat the rumor, and we hope this can serve as a guide for other local nonprofits.
In order to arm our member Goodwill organizations appropriately, Goodwill Industries International first developed a toolkit, which included:
- Fact sheets
- Template ads that directed to mission videos
- Template news releases
- Letters to the editor
- Social media messaging
Additionally, we provided media training to store associates, who are the first to have contact with our shoppers and donors, and we reached out to the PR counterparts at the other nonprofits mentioned in the graphic to create a unified front in combating the rumor.
When the rumor morphed into a viral post a few years ago, we created the following turnkey resources:
- Social design templates and assets
- A graphic that shares the facts about Goodwill
- Facebook and Twitter graphics
- A LinkedIn Pulse guide, which included instructions and key messages, but not verbiage of how the blog should read as we wanted each blog to be authentic.
- A Photoshop how-to guide on how to utilize the customizable templates
- A guide for how to mobilize an online community
We also worked with Snopes and other fact checking sites that dispute false news and hoaxes, expanded our photo library and created motion graphics for short- and long-form videos in order to have one visually unified campaign. We even had our third party ambassadors, stakeholders and constituents write blogs on our behalf.
To further our message, Goodwill Industries International created a single dedicated landing page on our website featuring our GuideStar emblem and our annual report that demonstrates our social impact, and we improved our search engine optimization so that when people were searching about the rumor, they would go to the facts on our webpage rather than to rumor mill websites. This strategy has seen much success, as more than 80 percent of search traffic went to our landing page.
While we turned the tide with our coordinated campaign, we also recognize that the sharing of this graphic has moved from public sharing to sharing within private groups where we cannot have our voice heard.
This is why I encourage and empower you to notify anyone you see sharing this false information on your feed to let them know that it is factually inaccurate. When you read false information on the internet, or if someone brings it up in conversation, set the record straight. Challenge the assertions made and encourage them to think before they share any unsubstantiated rumor.
At Goodwill, we do encourage you to “think before you donate” — which is the one legitimate message that this otherwise spurious email contains — and to research and learn more about the charities you’d like to support. Be certain the organization you choose uses its revenue for charitable purposes that support a mission you can get behind.
Also, do your research on nonprofit organizations using independent charity watchdog resources:
- Charity Navigator – Your Guide to Intelligent Giving
- American Institute of Philanthropy – Charity Watch
- GuideStar – 990 forms and other public financial data
Viral online rumors and memes are no place to make decisions about your valuable nonprofit contributions. Get all the facts before you donate.