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December 14, 2016

Nonprofits as Defenders of Truth in a Post-Truth World

What with all the fake news and late night Tweet-storms, things have gotten awfully foggy around here.

Recent op-eds have decried the impact of false news on the political process in general and the outcome of this year’s election specifically.  Add to that the “echo chamber” phenomenon in which we’re all just listening like-minded people who are saying what we want to hear, and it’s hard not to feel like we’re in a pea soup circa London 1880.

And, guess what! The Oxford Dictionary has just announced that its 2016 word of the year is “post-truth,” a descriptor for a circumstance in which objective truth has less influence than emotion.

Of course, there’s nothing new about twisting the truth to make political or social gain. We’ve had fact checkers for years – for good reason!

And, to be honest, we fundraisers know that emotion is the primary driver for most donors.

But in a “post-truth” era, with the rise of fake news and the growing “normalization” of lying, we in the nonprofit sector must be more vigilant than ever.

Nonprofits are in a unique position to bear witness to the reality of what’s happening on the ground. We have a few things in our toolbox that we should be using in full force:

We have facts.  And, by that, I mean facts. While they don’t seem to bear much weight these days, statistics, when used sparingly and forcefully, can help people understand the scope of an issue.

We have stories. This is our most powerful tool and we should use it in every way we can.  Tell stories on social media, in direct marketing, in face to face interactions, from the podium at events.  In short, tell stories wherever and whenever you possibly can.

We have determination. The stakes are high in nonprofit work and we’re not messing around. When we set our minds on something, we are a formidable force.

We have courage.  We must decide what we need to say, to whom we need to say it, and then say it loudly without fear.

We have faith in the power of truth. While truth seems to be on the outs of late, we must continue to believe in its power.  We must represent truth and we must have faith that it will prevail in the end.

There are strong influences driving our society from decades of “truthiness” to an all out “post-truth” epoch.

More than ever, the nonprofit sector has work to do.  And, it all starts with telling the truth – from the rafters, at full volume! 

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