‘Nonprofit CEO Salary’ Meme Offers a Lesson on Responding to False Claims Online

Steve Bailey
Dec 5, 2017 · 4 min read

While I try to stay off Facebook as much as possible, the other day I was scrolling through my news feed and came across this meme:

I must admit that, with my defenses down, I initially accepted what was being presented in the image. I even failed to notice that UNICEF was missing an “E.” (Separate note: why does every meme have at least one spelling or punctuation error?)

I didn’t think much of it in the moment and continued to scroll down for more random cat pictures and to find out what an old high school classmate had for dinner. But later, while I was out for a walk, the meme popped back into my head. Clearly, it had made an impact.

I soon realized I had no reason to believe any of the salary data the meme presented.

Where did those numbers come from? Could someone have an ulterior motive for promoting certain organizations and harming others? And does the CEO of UNICEF really ride around in a Rolls Royce?

As I should have suspected from the start, the meme is mostly B.S. In fact, a version of it has been circulating through email and text since at least 2005. The numbers were always inaccurate.

For example, Charity Navigator reports that UNICEF’s CEO actually makes $537,682 per year — a lot of money, but a far cry from the $1.2 million cited in the meme. Only about 2.7 percent of the organization’s revenue goes toward administrative expenses, while more than 89 percent is allocated to program and service delivery.

(Also, according to the UNICEF website, the charity’s CEO “drives a 2007 Prius, which she purchased in 2009.”)

World Vision, meanwhile, was cited as an example of a good charity in the meme. It certainly is just that — the organization provides incredible humanitarian aid across the globe. However, its current administrative expenses make up 5.3 percent of its budget. Its president makes $451,254 per year, which is 2.5 times more than the number reflected in the meme.

The idea that higher overhead costs somehow reduce the value of an organization’s work is nonsense anyway. In fact, a nonprofit that invests in healthy management processes and structures can be much more effective in the long run. Most major grant-makers and donors realize this.

Social media is amazing/terrible

I feel about social media the same way I do beer. It can bring a lot of joy to our lives and allow us to more easily connect with others, but too much of it can make us feel sick. If we have way too much, it can ruin our lives.

It’s not a perfect analogy, but let’s go with it.

In the nonprofit world, social media has helped a lot of organizations further their missions. More than half of wealthy donors prefer to give online. About 9 percent of all charitable contributions come through online platforms — a number that will most certainly grow in the years to come.

On the other hand, rumors and inaccurate information can spread quickly. How many people have seen the above meme and taken it at face value? And how many of those allowed this bad information to affect where they gave their money?

Unfortunately, we cannot expect most social media users to fact check everything presented to them online. But we can use the tools at our disposal to push back and make sure our stories are heard.

To start, all nonprofit organizations should have a process to observe what is being said about them online. The sooner you know about a potential problem, the more quickly you can work on your response. Set up a Google Alert for your organization’s name and use Hootsuite or Buffly to monitor any social media mentions.

This is quite common in the for-profit world, especially within large companies. “Brand managers” and social media coordinators are always keeping tabs on what people are posting about their brands online.

Responding to digital hate

If you do find users posting inaccurate or defamatory content about your organization through social media, it’s important to respond as quickly as possible. You have a responsibility to tell your side of the story and correct any misleading or false information users may be spreading.

Proceed with caution when taking this step. Be professional and respectful, and focus on providing a clear and concise response to each inaccurate claim levied against you. If possible, include links to credible sources and provide any data that supports your argument.

Remember: the facts are on your side.

Avoid getting into arguments and never make a personal attack. Don’t publicly question the motives of others. Keep reaffirming your organization’s mission and highlight the positive work you do.

In severe cases, the false information presented may be so defamatory that it violates a social media network’s terms of service. If that’s the case, you may ask that the content be removed from the site. You won’t always be successful, however, and it’s a step you should only take in the most egregious situations.

Just like with any business, a nonprofit organization must develop, maintain and defend its online reputation. While social media offers us incredible tools as we build capacity and raise funds for the people we serve, it certainly has some ugliness to it.

Be alert to what others are saying about your nonprofit online, and always be ready to set the record straight.

Steve Bailey

Written by

Helping nonprofits & schools communicate better. Senior Associate w/ @donovangroup & President of @ProPRcopy.

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