Stupid Fundraising Tricks

With Halloween just around the corner, it's time to prepare for goblins at the door and gobs of fundraising appeals in the mailbox… not to mention telephone calls, in-person solicitations, and T.V. commercials asking us to please give generously today.

November is, after all, the most popular time of year for charities to implore anyone worthy of the term 'caring individual' to open their heart and wallet to support said causes.

I really feel for worthwhile charities and the challenges they face these days. In fact, I feel for them so much that I'm not going to identify, by name, those that are guilty of committing stupid fundraising tricks (SFT).

Persist, okay. Pester, no way.

There's a woman I'll call Joan (because that's her name). Joan has always been a generous soul and has made donations to innumerable charities. As a result, a veritable fundraisers' feeding frenzy was taking place in her mailbox each week.

But there were finally so many pleas for financial help that even Generous Joan could stand it no more. For one thing, she had retired and had less discretionary income to support so many causes. For another, she was becoming increasingly concerned that her gargantuan volume of mail was destroying the same Mother Nature that she was paying one charity to protect.

So she wrote to those charities she felt she couldn't support and explained her new financial situation and environmental concerns to them. She told them she'd consider them again in the future but, for now at least, it was a "Don't call me; I'll call you" situation.

But the pleas kept coming. And coming. And now, each time they come, she becomes more determined than ever to never send another penny to the do-not-mail-me violators. Their incessant pestering has killed their golden goose. For good. Too bad.

It's like what happened with me and a pro-environment cause.

I'd donated because I wanted to assuage my guilt about being a high user of paper. I was, therefore, dismayed to discover that my gift resulted in my receiving, on a regular basis, a weighty newspaper (not newsletter… newspaper) about the organization's various activities.

So then I felt guiltier than before I'd made a donation. After all, now they were printing more newspapers and that was causing even more trees to go to the great forest in the sky, poor saps.

To alleviate this additional guilt, I wrote the environmental guardians and asked that they please stop sending me their newspapers, which I didn't read anyway. But they kept coming. So I declined to donate any further. Like Generous Joan, I'd become afraid that if I renewed my support it just might kill another tree.

The lesson for fundraisers? If a donor asks you to leave them alone for a while, respect their request. You can then re-approach them in a couple of years and possibly find an audience willing to consider you again. But if you persist relentlessly, you'll only find your expensive mailings stuck to a no-pest strip.

Why The Money Is Not In Your Bank

I'm always thrilled to hear that anyone’s fundraising package exceeded projections or beat their control. But I'm angered and saddened when I receive packages that feature obvious and needless response-killers. A few examples...

  • I get a letter addressed to "B. Knight". Fine. Except the salutation reads: "Dear B.:" Successful direct mail letters, especially fundraising letters, depend on creating at least the illusion of a one-on-one communication. Who feels like getting comfy-cozy with somebody who calls you "B.:"?
  • I receive a thanks-for-the-pledge-please-pay-now letter. It's printed in eye-blasting purple. I make a mental note not to donate again unless I join a medical plan that offers free ophthalmologic treatments.
  • A package arrives addressed to the previous owner of my house, advising that, inside the envelope, there's important news about his disease. So my letter carrier and I now know what afflicts the former resident. And maybe now the charity knows why so many recipients who like to keep their afflictions private were enraged.
  • I get an envelope with a teaser saying "Thank you for your donation to ABC." Now my letter carrier knows I gave them money. Maybe it's something I didn't want to share with him. Guess which charity won't have reason to thank me next year?

Strategic Suicide

Too few non-profit organizations produce campaigns that break through the media clutter with an incisive strategy. Unfortunately, some who do would have been better to play it safe and boring.

Take the food bank from a suburb that neighbors mine. To begin with, any money that I might give to a food bank is going to go to the one in my own community or the one near my office. So that outside food bank is probably wasting its money even thinking about approaching me.

And they're wasting their money, guaranteed, when their folder lays this old chestnut on me -- "If you give a man a fish, you'll feed him for a day, but if you teach him to fish, you'll feed him for a lifetime".

What?!? They're a food bank. They're in the business of giving people fish. The last thing they should do is encourage me to support fishing lessons instead of forking over for fish.

Then there's the TV commercial put out by a mental health association – a beautifully produced spot featuring extreme close-ups of a young man nuzzling the cherubic face of a baby.

As you're getting into your third ooh and ahh, they inform you that the adoring man has a mental health problem. Then they slug you with their accusation that, "what's really sick is the way your opinion of him just changed" (i.e. it supposedly changed when you found out he had mental problems.)

Excuse me!

What if my opinion of the daddy figure rose when I was told he had a mental handicap? You're saying it's sick for me to think it's admirable that he's loving towards children?

And what about anyone who did react negatively when they discovered the man had a mental illness? They've just been labeled sick by the advertiser. How many of those people are going to feel like sending in a donation?

It pays to not give up because of one rejection from a prospective donor. And utilizing a unique strategy can be extremely effective in any type of communication. But pestering people till they're ready to scream? Or saying their opinion is sick? Those are just stupid fundraising tricks.