Fundraising is unfair: What you can do about it

News flash: The way people decide to give to charitable causes is not rational.

One of the common critiques of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has gone something like this:

We shouldn’t be paying so much attention (and money) to ALS, because it’s a relatively rare disease. So many more people die from [name a more common disease that you think matters more than ALS], that’s where the money should be going.

Then there’s this strange infographic, that first appeared in a Vox article, The truth about the Ice Bucket Challenge: Viral memes shouldn’t dictate our charitable giving.

Donatevkill

Ignore the extreme factual cherry.jpgcking the graph demonstrates and take note of what it seems to imply: The amount of money being raised for these diseases has no correlation with the number of deaths they cause. Something is wrong with donors!

The problem is, donors will never base their giving on numbers. Never. And there’s nothing we can do to change that. It’s the way our brains work.

The fact is, a lot of people gave to ALS recently because famous people picturesquely dumped cold water on themselves. Or, to put it in a more general way: People donate to the causes that are best at reaching them.

The organizations that rake in the donations are the best fundraisers.

There are some truly superb organizations that do great work on extremely important issues — but they’re lousy fundraisers. There are ineffective organizations that are great fundraisers.

Guess who raises more money.

It’s not fair. It’s not rational. But it’s reality.

You can complain about it all you want, but it won’t change.

You can spend millions of dollars trying to supply donors with “better” information. That’s what the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation tried to do. It didn’t work. They’ve given up.

Until some nightmare dystopian future overtakes us and reduces us all to robots, humans will continue to be ruled by their hearts, not their rational, calculating heads.

There’s one solution: Be a better fundraiser.

Meet donors where they are — not where they “should” be. Speak to their dreams — not your dreams. Don’t complain about them — win them over.

Being a better fundraiser is possible for anyone who wants to do it. And it’s the only way to raise more money — no matter what your cause.


Comments

8 responses to “Fundraising is unfair: What you can do about it”

  1. Jeff, your case underscores the need for charities to invest in marketing, branding, and innovation. How can prospective donors give to worthy organizations they have never heard of or know about?

  2. Jeff, your case underscores the need for charities to invest in marketing, branding, and innovation. How can prospective donors give to worthy organizations they have never heard of or know about?

  3. Great post Jeff.
    I’ve also heard complaining about how all the money ALS is raking in thanks to the Ice Bucket is going to cannibalize donations to other organizations.
    To me this is just straight B.S.
    If you’re doing a good job stewarding your donors the Ice Bucket Challenge should pose no threat.

  4. Great post Jeff.
    I’ve also heard complaining about how all the money ALS is raking in thanks to the Ice Bucket is going to cannibalize donations to other organizations.
    To me this is just straight B.S.
    If you’re doing a good job stewarding your donors the Ice Bucket Challenge should pose no threat.

  5. Jeff, you always say what I want to say. To this one I say a big AMEN.
    Probably the most common complaint I get from charities is “If they knew about us they would give.” They think all they need is money to hire a marketing person or publish a newsletter. Wrong. Just knowing a charity exists will not persuade folks to give. You’ve still got to reach their hearts and, as you so eloquently put it, “speak to THEIR dreams.”

  6. Jeff, you always say what I want to say. To this one I say a big AMEN.
    Probably the most common complaint I get from charities is “If they knew about us they would give.” They think all they need is money to hire a marketing person or publish a newsletter. Wrong. Just knowing a charity exists will not persuade folks to give. You’ve still got to reach their hearts and, as you so eloquently put it, “speak to THEIR dreams.”

  7. Jeff – I couldn’t agree with you more. Giving is a two-way street. People give not just to causes but to fill a need within themselves, i.e. they give from the heart, not just the head. I wrote a blog post on this topic as well, Is ALS and the Ice Bucket Challenge Worthy of My Donation?after reading some of the backlash against the challenge. You can read it at http://www.thefundraisingresource.com/wp/donors/is-als-and-the-ice-bucket-challenge-worthy-of-my-donation/

  8. Jeff – I couldn’t agree with you more. Giving is a two-way street. People give not just to causes but to fill a need within themselves, i.e. they give from the heart, not just the head. I wrote a blog post on this topic as well, Is ALS and the Ice Bucket Challenge Worthy of My Donation?after reading some of the backlash against the challenge. You can read it at http://www.thefundraisingresource.com/wp/donors/is-als-and-the-ice-bucket-challenge-worthy-of-my-donation/

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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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