Last night was municipal election night.  I’m proud to say I voted, and happy to say I felt very comfortable with my choices.

This is because I attended a wonderful event called Candi-date .  It was like speed dating for politics.  Each candidate was seated at his or her own table.  Participants (like me) were invited to sit with anyone we’d like to know more about, and chat.  Candidates were instructed to spend only a couple of minutes delivering their initial spiel, after which the interaction became very conversational as the participants asked questions, and often argued with the answers!  Every 20 minutes, a bell rang and participants were asked to move on to a new table and candidate.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that I loved this format.  Getting a chance to talk with a candidate as opposed to just listen to a canned speech or read printed materials gave me a much better sense of who these people are, and what they stand for.  It’s the difference between one-way communication and a broad conversation.

I was reminded of the difference again today while watching news coverage of the amazing and unlikely underdog who was elected to be Calgary’s new mayor.  Analysts are claiming that one thing that helped him win was his use of social media to get input from community members about everything from the issues to what tie to wear on election night.  Again, a victory of conversation over one-way communication.

Thinking about it, I realized how relevant this question of communication also is to the relationship between charities and donors.  As in politics, the one-way approach is falling out of favour.  I believe the donors of the future will want not only more information about how their money is being used, they’ll want it delivered in a more interactive way. 

I hope that soon we will be able to say goodbye to the days when charities take in money from donors and respond with annual reports, updates on websites, shiny brochures, and requests for more money.  I hope we’ll soon consider it completely normal for charities and donors to be in an ongoing and productive conversation about how resources are being used. 

Some of this change in the way we communicate is technology-driven, but it’s also a matter of shifting the way we think about charity and doing good.

It’s my impression that in the past, questioning charitable efforts was sort of taboo.  If a cause was deemed good, then good people handed over their money and trusted that the charitable organization would take care of things from there.  It wasn’t nice to be ‘too hard’ on the charities.  I believe that’s changing.  I believe that more and more people want to dig deeper, look closer, and be more involved in their charitable giving beyond the transfer of funds.

And of course, I think that when donors and charities treat each other as partners, we can accomplish more good – together.  This shift in communication from one-way to conversational seems to be part of that trend – how encouraging!

Now, if you’re thinking that this sounds like a lot of work, when you can barely keep up with the piles of info charities are already sending you, this is good news for you, too!  In a conversation (likely made possible by new technology), we donors would be able to ask for the information we want – and refuse the information we don’t want. 

Charities send us those piles of brochures, emails, etc., in the hopes that somewhere in the flood, something will catch our eye and resonate.  The overkill of one-way communication is a direct result of charities not knowing exactly what we want, and trying to appeal to everyone at the same time with volume.

But if we were in a conversation with the charities, each of us could tell the charities what information we find inspiring, and what’s less useful.  That way, they will know what to share and what not to.  Wouldn’t that be great?

I realize this post is coming out rather speech-ey.  Maybe I’m just infected with election fever!  But I hope not – I hope we really are seeing a trend towards more participatory relationships with the people who put our money to work –  be it tax money or charitable donations.