Don’t listen to “armchair fundraisers” if you need to raise funds

How often have you heard alarming statements like this:

People are tired of emotional, “manipulative” fundraising. Need to change to a calmer, more fact-based form of fundraising.

Extremely bad advice. Follow it, and you can watch your fundraising program shrivel like a garden slug in August.

Here’s a recent example from the New Internationalist blog: Have the public had enough of manipulative charity marketing?

It reports on a forthcoming study that says everyone is mad at international aid fundraisers for the disturbing and negative images and messages they use in fundraising. This “everyone” they talked to is just about ready to give up on helping fight world poverty, they’re so fed up with the fundraising techniques.

Then, the armchair fundraisers go to work and run with these questionable findings, making sweeping statements about how fundraising ought to be. Here’s the New Internationalist’s take:

The research shows people want to hear facts so they can make their own decisions about where to donate. People naturally expect that they will feel sad when hearing about sad events but resent the continuous assailment by emotionally aggressive marketing. Instead, they want to be seen as supporters rather than simply cash donors. They want to donate their time volunteering and attending events. They want more meaningful human communications.

If you take that as advice, you’ll be in deep trouble in a hurry.

Because reciting facts about the problem doesn’t move people to give. And failing to show a problem that people understand means you’ll get far fewer people willing to join you creating a solution.

There are two problems with this (and most similar studies):


  1. It’s based on focus groups. They learn what people say about the topic. Which is not much correlated with what people do. If you know fundraising well, you’ve seen that difference many times.
  2. They’re talking to the general public, not donors. There’s a wide gap between the attitudes of donors and non-donors. You should care a lot more about what donors think than what people who aren’t giving anyway say about these things.

Test it: Fundraising that doesn’t provoke sadness. Fundraising that rationally lays out the facts. Fundraising that’s not aimed at the heart.

You’ll see: it doesn’t work.

Armchair fundraisers don’t know that. Yet they feel free to give you meaningless, unsupported advice that could lead to your destruction. Don’t listen to them!

Effective fundraising is always emotional, and usually sad.

Of course, if it’s only sad, it’s less effective. It should also be hopeful. It must be clear to donors that they can make a difference, that they can change the painful situation you’re showing. (That’s a point some fundraisers miss.)

Base your fundraising decisions on facts, on actual donor behavior. Not on the bloviations of armchair fundraisers.

Thanks to Nonprofit Hub for the tip.


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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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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.