This is a rather interesting example. Advent Conspiracy has gives every impression of being an organization to promote the social good within an overtly spiritual and religious context. Their nicely designed background uses photos of people in need & third world country images; they link to and partner with popular charities; their Twitter stream says good things that will appeal to likely folk. Their bio area, however, describes them in colorful but vague ways, while giving a link to a web site. As is not unusual with social good sites, there is a certain amount of intentional bias. That in and of itself is not a bad thing. What I was looking for was some idea of the people behind the stream, the site, and the movement — a sense of transparency and accountability. Who is doing this, why, and what do they hope to see? We’ve all heard of sites that pretend to be charitable, especially during this season, and scam people out of money. Just having a good message is, sadly, not enough.
I clicked through to their website, and looked for more info.
I looked in the logical place — About Advent Conspiracy. That had more about their vision, but nothing about the people, what they do, how they do it. By now, I was pretty perplexed. They LOOKED alright, but I could not prove it! I tried searching outside of Twitter and their site. I found something in Wikipedia, but even that questioned the authenticity of the information about the people who founded it, saying verification was still needed. Starting to be a little alarmed, I tried looking in the Charity Navigator and Better Business Bureau to verify them as a valid charity. Again no luck.
I went back to the site. They have more social media presences, offering to connect via email, Facebook, and Vimeo. I’m always surprised when an organization offers video content only via Vimeo and without duplicating the content in Youtube. Like the webpage and Twitter account, the Facebook page gives absolutely no information about the people, funding, who gets or handles money, how it is accounted for or distributed, or similar information. On the other hand, several of my friends follow them. Unfortunately, at this point, that doesn’t help me feel one jot better about them. I am starting to think the word “Conspiracy” was actually a hint!
Back to the Twitter stream. I see tweets that mention the names of the co-founders listed in the Wikipedia article. Hey, maybe they are real! More digging. I found they have a book for sale in Amazon, and that book is authored by the same three names used in the Wikipedia article. Back to the web site. I start clicking on each link. “About” didn’t help. “Give Water” takes you out of the site without warning, to one of their partner charities. “Resources” mentions their team, but gives no idea who the team is. “Your Story” takes you to a page with an email form, but doesn’t say where the email goes, who receives it, what happens to your story once you send it, who owns the rights to your story. I don’t find anywhere that submitted stories are posted or shared, nor do I see a place for public commentary and conversation. This is really starting to sound very very weird. I am wondering if I need to warn my friends away from it.
The final link, I click on “FAQs.” Finally, some names! It says it was founded by five pastors, but none of those names are provided. It says it was later continued by three people. It doesn’t say if they are pastors or general public. It gives links to the organizations they are associated with. With varying levels of digging into the guts of those sites, I am eventually able to verify that all three names are indeed listed as pastors of their organizations. Whoa. That was way, way, way more work than I expected.
I know, religious folks don’t want to feel like they are tooting their own horns. I do (mostly) believe that Advent Conspiracy is run by decent people who mean well. Still, folks, transparency is partly about honesty and building trust. Especially when you are asking for money, even if the money is not for you. Even Mother Theresa didn’t hide, and let her story be told. In social media and online presence there is a very thin line between humility and being perceived as dishonest, and it can be really hard to tell the difference sometimes. You can help us know that you are ok by telling your own stories and giving us ways to check those stories other places. Don’t look like you are keeping secrets.
“When the enemy of our human nature tempts a just soul with his wiles and seductions, he earnestly desires that they be received secretly and kept secret.” St. Ignatius, Rules for Discernment, 326. http://www.sofc.org/DAILY/discernspirits.htm
When you keep secrets, even if you mean well, it doesn’t make you look like one of the good guys.