Do You Think I’m Sexy?

My question: What makes an organization or cause “sexy?” Is it a charismatic leader, a great spokesperson or a good story? How does an organization’s or cause’s ability to promote and tell the story impact their ability to draw broad support and raise enough funds to make meaningful and lasting change?

I was reminded of my fairly recent trip to East Africa, doing site visits. One of them was to a game reserve whose guests supported local community projects. We went to see the school complex with multiple school rooms w/ plaques bearing donor names, teachers’ quarters, solar panel, and even transportation for weekly trips for teachers to go into town and run errands. All funded by donor money. It seems that there was tremendous interest on the part of guests/donors in educating children, and because of that the organization’s effort to support it was robust.

Right next door was the clinic: one small room, no beds or separate examination room, small closet with supplies, one overworked nurse and his assistant — we met them on the road walking back from a house call. Real hospital with equipment, hours away. (Photo is above.)

I couldn’t understand how there was such an inequity in funding when there were two equally important needs literally right next to each other. So, I started asking every organization I met on the trip about why there was not more funding for clinics, clearly health is a huge issue. Someone told me that cute children, hungry children, AIDS is sexy to fund; clinics not so sexy. Other people I met on the trip agreed with that statement. That information/opinion hit me like a ton of bricks.

An organization in Uganda told me that there is an area in Kampala where there is only one clinic for 400,000 + people, no medicine. I seem to remember more disastrous figures quoted on Twitter recently. I’m sure there are similar statistics in other developing countries and we might be surprised at what we might find here in the rural U.S.

So much need. So many important, critical issues to address….now. Most of these issues, not so sexy. No judgements. Unfortunately, no solutions to offer. Just wondering if other people ask similar questions. And how can we bring the “not so sexy” stuff to the table?


~ by Maryann Fernandez on August 6, 2009.

2 Responses to “Do You Think I’m Sexy?”

  1. The debate about sexiness and its role in the social sector seems to strike a raw nerve among those committed purely to adding value and those who recognize that to effectively market any concept/social good, there has to be a level of sexiness and brand appeal. This is not to say philanthropists shouldn’t be doing their due diligence to unearth underfunded needs such as the hospital next door, nor does it mean we should lose focus from the core value offering or mission of the social org. Simply, it means we (the social entrepreneurs) have to be strategic about branding our initiatives and realizing we are selling a concept, just as much as the cookie store needs to worry about its packaging to get that next sale.

  2. To me, a “sexy cause” also says, ask questions. After having worked in development for a few years, I now feel that the “sexier” the organization, or the topic, the more questions I’m going to start asking before I am convinced I have found an organization worth investing in. I do not think effective marketing and effective development work are inversely proportional, but sometimes making a program very sexy can take away focus from making a program very good. By asking questions, learning more about the industry, visiting the area/people/or programs being served or speaking with people who have, we can learn if the program is as worthwhile on the inside as it is on the outside.

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