Recycling Pixels and Bytes

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For a variety of reasons, we are all hearing more these days about our need to be better stewards of the earth’s resources. Even for tangible resources like water, minerals and fossil fuels, the idea that we all can and should do more to ensure that these resources are available for all of our brothers and sisters, not to mention future generations, can  be divisive.

So, since I don’t have the gravitas of Pope Francis, I’m not going to discuss those resources. I want to talk to you about the proper stewardship of some of the ‘virtual’ resources that we have in abundance here at IVC. No, not Bitcoins, but rather, the stories we’ve been capturing and sharing on the IVC website.

I’ve been struggling with an issue for the past 14 years or so (since I first moved from the corporate world into the nonprofit sector). Here’s the issue: When it comes to charity, we are all much more likely to be moved by and respond to a story (whether written, audio, video, or in-person) of a particular person, family or village, than we are by statistics describing the situation of that same person, family, or village. While I’m not a neuroscientist, I’ve done enough reading about neuroscience to understand that our emotions are much more involved in what we pay attention to and in our decision-making than we previously thought, and this has been pretty well proven in the nonprofit sector.

So, it’s an accepted tenet of nonprofit fundraising and marketing that, if you want to move people to get involved in your cause, you have to put a face on – and give a name to – the people you serve, so that volunteers, donors, funders and advocates will be moved to do something to help.

The good folks at IVC have been diligently interviewing volunteers, nonprofit partner staff, and the people we jointly serve, and writing their stories for many years (when I came to work for IVC, I inherited the files of the original IVC paper newsletters that appeared from 1995 until 2009). And you’ll find a treasure trove of ‘human interest stories’ on the IVC website.

“OK, so what’s the problem?” you may ask. The problem is, once the story has been run, whether in print or online, it is fairly quickly (in our case, about one month later) replaced by another, newer and equally engaging story. Don’t get me wrong, new stories are good. And IVC, now with over 500 amazing volunteers, has way more stories-in-waiting than we’ll ever be able to capture, much less share.  But once a story goes ‘below the fold’ as the newspaper folks like to say, it ends up in the IVC story archive, where it gets seen by very few people, despite the fact that the work that the story exemplifies continues in one form or another for years after the story first appears.

It is often said that ‘the Lord works in mysterious ways.’ The situation that IVC finds itself in this summer represents a confluence of events that may be a small example. The events include a poor year of financial results last year (fiscal year 2014), followed by a strong effort this year to both raise more and spend less money (successfully, so far) so as to erase our deficit.  As a result, we have pared back staff positions at headquarters and cut back funding this summer for our freelance writer, who captures the majority of our stories.

The good news is, in the case of stories, the ones we have captured through the years continue to be available, and really just need to have a light focused on them so that they can move more hearts and minds to get involved in the mission of IVC. And like a good book or short story, they can often be just as good in the re-reading as they were the first time around.

So, while we’re short of fresh stories this summer, we are re-discovering the treasure trove of stories in the IVC online archive. And while the bytes and pixels that they are stored in are much more abundant than paper or fossil fuels, I encourage you to embrace our stewardship-by-necessity recycling effort and read (or re-read) some of the great stories we have to offer – all of them should exceed the standard of the current schedule of prime-time reality-show re-runs.

Here’s an example: in the spirit of our nation’s independence it’s a story, titled ‘Coming Home,’ about a different kind of independence; the kind that Ignatian Volunteers help to provide every day.  I hope that you’ll find it to be both a good use of your time, and a reflection of IVC’s work to properly steward the resources that you entrust to us.

 

Paul Tillman joined IVC at the national office in 2013, after a 15 year corporate career in consumer products Marketing and 11 years overseeing Marketing and Communications at a Catholic international nonprofit. In addition to his role as Marketing Director, Paul is also a one-day-per-week volunteer in the Baltimore region.

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