While the national American Cancer Society has remained mum on an organizational opinion regarding the cold-water challenge, which has swept the nation in recent weeks, one local chapter leader decided to publicly question the viral awareness effort.
This local leader said, “I will tell you, I have a few misgivings about the activity,” and also indicated that her local chapter had not seen an increase in donations because of the challenge. As a cancer survivor herself, I respect her opinion on the meaning behind the cold-water challenge – it’s supposed to represent the shock someone feels when they learn for the first time that they have cancer. I agree and don’t think the two compare; however, I can’t help but see a big PR failure in what she said to the media.
First, whatever your opinion may be on the cold-water challenge, she missed an opportunity to capitalize locally on a nationally recognized effort. Instead, in my opinion, her words only hurt her case. Her message came through as unappreciative. Even though her local chapter was not seeing a direct correlation from the effort to an increase in donations, she could have used local examples as a way to remind supporters of how important continued awareness is, and then added information to the messaging to encourage donations.
There is no way to know how many people are doing the challenge just because it’s a fad or if they are truly trying to support the cause, but don’t tell people you think their effort is a waste. Chances are, you’re going to offend someone, even if they understand and respect your opinion. You also run the risk of backtracking on community engagement. Why would anyone want to engage with your organization after you say his or her efforts aren’t worth it?
Secondly, her negative comments completely overshadowed what her local chapter was doing to raise awareness and raise funds. Instead of talking about upcoming events, volunteer opportunities and ways to give, it’s lumped into one sentence at the end of the article after the audience was probably already lost.
Thirdly, she missed the opportunity to turn the national effort into a localized effort for her own chapter. Why not host an event like “the largest local cold-water challenge for the American Cancer Society ” and suggest a $5 donation for participation. Invite the media and push the awareness even further.
Finally, I believe that she jeopardized future awareness campaigns and fundraising events for her local chapter. Her comments probably turned off some current donors from being as supportive as they’ve been in the past. Volunteer and donor appreciation is important, and her public message gave the impression that any effort, whether grassroots or not, that didn’t specifically raise money for the organization was a waste of time.
Knowing when and when not to interject personal opinion into a situation is important for leaders of organizations. When it’s a potential detriment to the success of your mission, make sure to consider your statements before giving them publicly. It may even be worth it to write some talking points and practice your answer.