Do shock tactics work in fundraising?

I hear a lot of anxiety about fundraising “shock tactics.” Are they effective? Are they ethical? Could they work for some donors, but turn away many more?

There’s a discussion of this on the Voluntary Sector Network blog at The Guardian: Charity shock tactics – do they work?

The post includes an account of the experience of ActionAid when they experimented with “shock tactics.” The results were typical:

In 2011, the charity ditched traditional images of extreme poverty in favour of a more positive campaign which explained how the organisation supported local grassroots economic development projects and focused on the donor experience.

Head of media relations Jane Moyo admits the donor experience campaign had been “unsuccessful from a fundraising viewpoint”…

Negative images and copy work most of the time.

In my book, whether or not to use shock tactics in fundraising is not the question. What you should ask is whether you’re reaching donors and motivating them to give. Doing that sometimes (not always) requires saying or showing harsh or even shocking things. And if you’re telling the truth, it’s ethical.

Shockvenn

But if you set out with the intention of shocking donors, you stand a good chance of failing to touch donors’ hearts.

Your real goal should always be effective fundraising. And the real tool for that is connecting with donors. That by no means rules out shocking them. But shock is only one way — and it may or may not be what makes a connection for your cause and your donors.

The advanced fundraiser doesn’t seek shocking. The advanced fundraiser seeks connection.


Comments

2 responses to “Do shock tactics work in fundraising?”

  1. Tom Ahern Avatar
    Tom Ahern

    As ever, “right thinking” is the pill of choice. Personally, I love shock. Inertia is the big problem, from a physics standpoint.

  2. Tom Ahern Avatar
    Tom Ahern

    As ever, “right thinking” is the pill of choice. Personally, I love shock. Inertia is the big problem, from a physics standpoint.

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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 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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