Don’t tell donors what they are not doing

I visit a lot of nonprofit websites, so I see a lot of banner ads for nonprofits. They follow me around like hopeful little stalkers.

I’m not complaining. And I happen to know that this type of targeted online advertising can be quite effective — when it supports other direct-response fundraising efforts like direct mail.

But I want to complain a little about this one for The International Rescue Committee. I saw a number of versions of it at the end of the year. Here’s one:

Humanity

I also heard public radio underwriter breaks that put it even more baldly: It’s not charity. It’s humanity.

Why would any fundraiser ever want to say that?

They replace “charity” — something donors believe in, understand, and loving doing — with “humanity” — an abstraction without no clear action connected to it. Is that supposed to persuade someone to act? What would the action be? It’s like going to music lovers and saying It’s not music. It’s organized air vibrations.

Oh, the humanity!

Is “charity” something shameful? Anyone who thinks so is so far from the emotional heart of charitable giving, they really need to find some other form of employment.

I don’t know anything about the background of this campaign, but it smacks of the work of clueless Brand Experts: They’re the professional locusts that goad nonprofits into abstract and ineffective messaging. They’re the ones most often responsible for Stupid Nonprofit Ad.

You might be wondering why I’m not labeling this a Stupid Nonprofit Ad. Three reasons:


  1. It’s not really stupid. Wrong-headed, but not stupid.
  2. The image looks like it’s from Typhoon Haiyan, which hit the Philippines shortly before I started encountering this campaign. Points for relevance.
  3. The words “Your gift matched now.” That’s a big step into relevance for donors. That’s smart fundraising, even if they rest of the campaign isn’t.

But really — don’t tell donors what they’re not doing. Give them a real reason to give. Let them change the world. Don’t make them part of someone’s weird philosophical quest.


Comments

2 responses to “Don’t tell donors what they are not doing”

  1. Hi Jeff,
    Some interesting thoughts. I think you need to take into account the difference in terminology between the US and the UK, as this ad was created by the US branch of USA and was aimed at a US audience, and the term has different meanings in the US and the UK.
    While here ‘charity’ is a positive term, in the US its seen as more of a negative & demeaning term that many deliberately avoid – which might explain this ad.
    Mary

  2. Hi Jeff,
    Some interesting thoughts. I think you need to take into account the difference in terminology between the US and the UK, as this ad was created by the US branch of USA and was aimed at a US audience, and the term has different meanings in the US and the UK.
    While here ‘charity’ is a positive term, in the US its seen as more of a negative & demeaning term that many deliberately avoid – which might explain this ad.
    Mary

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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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