Fundraising failure shows you can’t take donors where they don’t want to go

It takes some doing to lose money with a direct-mail piece to current donors. The economics of the medium almost guarantee that you’re going to come out ahead, no matter how bad your work is.


Guess what: I once beat the odds and lost money.


It was for a religious organization, one that was known mainly for its work in Communist and former Communist nations. They also worked in a lot of other areas, including among tribal groups in places like the Amazon and New Guinea. Few people were aware of this side of their work, and they seldom specifically raised funds for it.


Well, time came to raise funds for the tribal work. At first I was skeptical about something so different from what it usually talked to its donors about, but when I got the material about one of the tribes it worked with, I began to change my mind. It was dramatic, exciting stuff.


This particular tribe (let’s call them the Kavira Tribe) until recently had been hostile and warlike. But changes in their environment had caused them to put down their weapons seek spiritual help. It was an irresistible story. I even remember my opening sentence: Three years ago, if you’d visited the Kavira Tribe, they would have greeted you with a quick spear-thrust through your neck.


It was a great direct-mail package: good writing, great design and a cool fundraising offer.


But when the results came in, we learned the harsh truth. A stunningly low response rate. A not-so-hot average gift. It added up to negative net revenue.


Turns out you can’t just raise funds for anything you want. If you go to your donors with an offer they don’t associate you with, they just might ignore you in droves. No matter how great your work is.


Charitable giving is complex. It works when a lot of factors all come together. When you change one or more of those factors — like talk to donors about something they don’t feel signed on to support — you can actually lose money in direct mail.


Comments

Leave a Reply

What this blog is about

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.

Blog policies

Subscribe

Get new posts by email:

About the blogger

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.


Archives

Blogroll

Categories


Search the blog

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.

Recent Comments

About the blogger

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.

Blog Roll

someone’s blog