Doctors find wrong cure for fund designation problem

A donor moved to respond to the Haiti Quake through Doctors Without Borders will end up on a giving page that has, in part, this copy:



We are now asking our donors to give to our Emergency Relief Fund. These types of funds ensure that our medical teams can react to the Haiti emergency and humanitarian crises all over the world, particularly neglected crises that remain outside the media spotlight. Your gift via this website will be earmarked for our Emergency Relief Fund.

I understand the problem. A large-scale disaster like the Haiti Earthquake can motivate so much giving that it swamps an organization’s ability to spend the revenue effectively. At the same time, lesser-known situations go under-funded. Naturally, it would be better if the funds that are pouring in for Haiti relief could be used more flexibly to save lives in Haiti or in the next disaster.


But why are they taking the decision out of their donors’ hands? By doing so, they force each donor to make a decision:



  1. “That’s okay, no problem. I was moved to give by the situation in Haiti, but I see your point and I’ll gladly help in this way.”
  2. “No, I specifically want to make a difference right now in Haiti, not elsewhere.”

I’ll guess a lot of people go with #1. Those who say #2 have to go find another place to give. Or not give at all.


Doctors Without Borders is missing an opportunity here. If they would let the donors choose whether their gift goes to Haiti or the Emergency Relief Fund, they’d see three things happen:



  1. They get the revenue that they’re now turning away from those who are determined to give to Haiti and nothing else.
  2. They’d also get the revenue from the others who are okay with the beyond-Haiti choice — probably more of this than they get when they don’t give a choice.
  3. Better yet, they’d see improved giving across the board. Testing shows that giving donors meaningful choice increases average gift as well as subsequent gift frequency and retention

By unilaterally taking choice away from their donors and would-be donors, the organization limits their own revenue. That’s too bad.


Donors don’t automatically do exactly what we want them to do. Rather than limit their options and force their behavior, why not act in partnership, treating them as adults who can make meaningful choices?


Thanks to Prospecting for the tip.


Comments

8 responses to “Doctors find wrong cure for fund designation problem”

  1. What if people continue to give to Haiti and they already have more than they can spend there? Now they need the staff resources to call all those donors and ask for permission to allocate the donation differently or send it back.
    The cost of doing that can be prohibitive and some people who donate online may choose to ignore the email sent to them asking for permission, which also results in lost funds.
    Perhaps I’m misinformed – but it was my understanding that this has been an issue in the past for disaster relief organizations and quite expensive to address. Perhaps someone did a cost/benefit analysis and decided it was worth losing a few donations, given the cost of trying to deal with contacting donors who contribute to a designated fund that can no longer be used?

  2. What if people continue to give to Haiti and they already have more than they can spend there? Now they need the staff resources to call all those donors and ask for permission to allocate the donation differently or send it back.
    The cost of doing that can be prohibitive and some people who donate online may choose to ignore the email sent to them asking for permission, which also results in lost funds.
    Perhaps I’m misinformed – but it was my understanding that this has been an issue in the past for disaster relief organizations and quite expensive to address. Perhaps someone did a cost/benefit analysis and decided it was worth losing a few donations, given the cost of trying to deal with contacting donors who contribute to a designated fund that can no longer be used?

  3. Nicole Adair Avatar
    Nicole Adair

    Jeff,
    I know this has always been a sticky wicket with the Red Cross and other relief agencies. You ask why they don’t just treat them like adults who can make meaningful choices–I think that works if you assume that the choices will be based on logic, but giving is usually driven by emotion. People may see the logic in the choices presented, but their emotional response to the disaster is likely what drove them to the site in the first place and will drive their choice. I’ve seen studies about how choice can lift response, but I wonder if disasters are just a different animal?

  4. Nicole Adair Avatar
    Nicole Adair

    Jeff,
    I know this has always been a sticky wicket with the Red Cross and other relief agencies. You ask why they don’t just treat them like adults who can make meaningful choices–I think that works if you assume that the choices will be based on logic, but giving is usually driven by emotion. People may see the logic in the choices presented, but their emotional response to the disaster is likely what drove them to the site in the first place and will drive their choice. I’ve seen studies about how choice can lift response, but I wonder if disasters are just a different animal?

  5. Another way to look at this is Doctors without Borders is being honest. I know I personally wonder if everything given to the Red Cross for Haiti will go to Haiti. And in fact it can be manipulated by allocating everything they can to the Haiti Fund.
    I like the fact that Doctors without Borders reminds us that there is dire need in other places too and they will decide the priorites thoughtfully. Personally I trust them and their honest approach.
    Marion

  6. Another way to look at this is Doctors without Borders is being honest. I know I personally wonder if everything given to the Red Cross for Haiti will go to Haiti. And in fact it can be manipulated by allocating everything they can to the Haiti Fund.
    I like the fact that Doctors without Borders reminds us that there is dire need in other places too and they will decide the priorites thoughtfully. Personally I trust them and their honest approach.
    Marion

  7. The answer is not necessarily “tell them” or “don’t tell them” how to give their money away. I suggest the “ask them, educate them and advise them” strategy. The latter two – as appropriate.

  8. The answer is not necessarily “tell them” or “don’t tell them” how to give their money away. I suggest the “ask them, educate them and advise them” strategy. The latter two – as appropriate.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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