Tea Test

A simple test for honest and respectful nonprofit marketing and communication:

Imagine you’ve just arrived in the city or village where your program recipients / beneficiaries live. They’ve invited you into their house for tea. You happen to have copies of your organization’s website, blog posts, or email fundraising appeals with you, translated into the local language. Is it uncomfortable to share those materials with your hosts? Are there parts you skip over when reading aloud, or hesitate to hand over? Would you be insulting their hospitality by sharing?

I think very few communiqués and/or organizations would pass the test completely, because we either aren’t honest, or more often, aren’t respectful. And we never expect the things we write about people to get back to them. If your website or blog or email doesn’t pass the test, do you have a very good reason? I’m not convinced that everything should pass the test in every instance, but I think it’s  good aspiration — and gut check — for messaging.

The Tea Test was inspired by a passage in Jon Krakauer’s Three Cups of Deceit, which describes  outrage amongst Pakistani community leaders when they learned what Greg Mortenson’s Three Cups of Tea said about them. More here.

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  1. Angela Shaw #

    For some reason this story is really breaking my heart. I know that Mortenson is human and therefore fallible, but I guess I had so fully bought into the story and held him in such high esteem that he’s know taken a tumble off of the pedestal on which I’d placed him.

    I guess the story is less compelling if he didn’t stumble, sick and disoriented, into Korphe. Surely, though, the cause, and his passion for that cause, would have garnered interest and concern (and donations) even without the fabrications.

  2. 2

    Angela — you’re right, it’s heartbreaking. I think the most valuable lesson re: Mortenson and CAI is that the cult of personality is dangerous. An accountable, effective organization is such a different thing than an inspiring individual — sometimes they go hand in hand, but one doesn’t necessitate the other. I agree that his story could have been presented to be almost as compelling had it stuck closer to the facts, so it’s a tragedy that it didn’t. But the allegations about the management of CAI are a much bigger deal, and more relevant to broader debates about what donors should fund. We should be drawn to organizations because they are good organizations and do good work, rather than because the individual who started it has a compelling story. It’s all about making our efforts at aid and development about the recipients, rather than us / the doers. There are a lot of good things being written about this. On education in Pakistan, check out
    http://www.brookings.edu/opinions/2011/0418_pakistan_education_winthrop.aspx And lots of stuff about not relying solely on charismatic individuals here: http://goodintents.org/aid-debates/3-cups-of-tea

  3. 3

    The Tea Test is an excellent outcome of all of this 3 Cup discussion. I wrote about a similar idea… developing a “pre nup” agreement between US and international partner that includes a discussion about translation between the two (http://socialchangecollaboratory.files.wordpress.com/2011/03/2011_0311_checklist.pdf). Recently, an NGO executive director working in a related org to mine spoke with someone visiting his program site on a tourist trip. He implored the visitor not to mention his name… local people weren’t appreciating his NGOs work. Looks like a case for a Tea Test.


  1. The Tea Test – Brett Keller 19 04 11

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