I was at a conference recently, where a clever consultant showed off a massive integrated awareness/fundraising campaign they’d done for a client.
It was good-looking and comprehensive. In addition to direct mail and email, there was print, outdoor advertising, transit ads, and a Facebook strategy.
Slide after slide of the slick, attractive creative went by.
Someone behind me gasped. It was a sound of admiration and envy. No doubt they were feeling sadly inadequate at the dull one-dimensionality of their own fundraising.
Funny thing was, I happened to have some inside knowledge about the campaign. Guess what: It didn’t work. The Facebook part of the campaign brought in five small donations. The print ads did a little better: A few dozen gifts, most of them from current donors. There was no measureable response from the billboards or transit advertising. The only part of the campaign that you could call successful, the direct mail, did worse than it does most years.
The campaign was a dismal, crushing failure.
It was killed by a combination of abstract messaging, an unclear call to action, and (most of all) high spending in unproven media.
But it sure looked good on Powerpoint. And it sure made some of the people in that semi-darkened hotel meeting room feel like sorry rubes — which is exactly the purpose of presentations like that.
The intent is to make you feel stupid and overwhelmed. These consultants know if they show enough pretty pictures, some people will be too distracted to ask the obvious questions, such as Did it work?
They also know that if someone does ask that question, they can answer it with vague, qualitative answer like It generated more talk than anything we’ve ever done. Or half-answers like Average gift went way up (which generally means response was terrible). And they get away with it
We’re all afraid of missing something big, something that matters. We’re all prone to getting tired of the same old same-old.
But don’t let that fear and restlessness make you a target for the conference bullies who depend on insecure fundraisers. Ask the hard, quantitative questions. And if you don’t get answers, don’t agree to anything!
When become fundraisers for the first time, you can do them a big favor by helping “reprogram” them. Most fundraising newbies have some very common-sense opinions about their new profession. If they’ve thought much about it, they’ll probably have a list of reforms they intend bring about. Things like:
- Get rid of direct mail. Nobody responds to it any more.
- If we contact people less, they might give more.
- Short and to-the-point messages will work better.
- We could raise a lot more money if we go to people in their 20s.
- Don’t be so simple and urgent. We’re putting people off.
Common-sense stuff. But wrong.
Writing at the Hilborn Blog, Jonathan Grapsas points out the problem with common sense, at Fundraising reprogramming:
Don’t be one of those people who say, “I wouldn’t respond to this,” or “I don’t like it.” Listen to data, not just your instinct. Often they will be at odds, and direct response is about what the data says, not what you think it might say.
Your own sense of how things ought to be is a terrible barometer for effective fundraising. In fact, you can almost use your own taste and common sense as a counter-indicator: If you like it, if it makes sense to you — it’s probably not going to work.
One of the most destructive attitudes I encounter among fundraisers is that that what they do annoys donors, takes away from them, and is generally a shady practice.
If there was a painter who thought painting was stupid and wasteful, do you think he’d be a very good painter?
The Far Edge of Promise blog throws fundraisers a challenge at Do You Believe In The Benefits of Giving?
The point is this: Giving does not hurt donors. In fact, it does them a huge amount of good. Giving…
- is an important component of a healthy life.
- stimulates our brains in much the same ways that food and sex do.
- reduces chronic pain.
- lowers anxiety.
- increases antibodies in our blood.
- people who give report feeling stronger and more energetic.
- is as good a stress reliever as any relaxation technique.
And, by the way, giving supports the good causes your donors care about and makes the world a better place in exactly the ways they want it to be better.
If you’re serious about fundraising, you need to remind yourself every day that the work you do is not an annoying, unwelcome, or harmful thing in donors’ lives.
It’s a miraculously positive thing that makes their lives better every day.
Believe that and remember it — and you’ll be like a painter who knows that painting is a gift from God.
Because that’s what fundraising is.
After an embarassingly long hiatus, Fundraising Is Beautiful takes a look at the new book The Fundraiser’s Guide to Irresistible Communications: How it can help you raise more money for your cause, and why it may be the most important book ever published. The book is available at: