Frustrated fundraisers sometimes blame donors for their pain

There’s a sloppy set of assumptions floating around the fundraising community that I believe does deep harm to our work and ourselves.

It’s the trope that fundraising is basically dishonest, but it has to be that way because donors force it on us.

If fundraising were really like that, I’d go find something honest to do, like sell used cars.

You can see the “donors make us dishonest” attitude in this recent post at the Guardians’ Voluntary Sector Network blog: We must hook donors in but I feel downright sick at the picture charities paint.

In charity marketing we know that we manipulate the truth — any story told in full detail will lose 99% of readers. So we pick the bits that will have most impact. We miss out the red tape of the process, our frustrations at the charity’s inefficiencies and the confusing extra detail — they are too much to explain in a direct mail letter or hard-hitting advert.

Holding off from publically whining about your organization’s problems while fundraising is not “manipulating the truth.” It’s being mature and aware of your audience.

Telling your most dramatic (true) story rather than an uninteresting story is not dishonest. It’s how you connect with people.

On the other hand, trying to challenge, educate, or “improve” donors via direct mail or email is not only arrogant, it’s doomed to fail.

If you’re a fundraiser, your job is to raise funds. It’s not to express your frustrations to the world; you can do that on your own time. And it’s not to mold your benighted donors into “better” people (i.e. more like you); they’re in charge of their own self-improvement.

Our job is to tell the truth, and tell it in ways that will connect donors to our causes. If that doesn’t seem satisfying, I’d say it’s time to move on. You aren’t doing anyone any favor by hanging around and complaining — least of all yourself.

We must adjust to enter the world of our donors. We have no business trying to bend them into our world. When they don’t give, we should look first at our own work — not blame them.

We’re darned lucky to be involved in fundraising. But it’s not for everyone.


Comments

2 responses to “Frustrated fundraisers sometimes blame donors for their pain”

  1. Donna Knotek Avatar
    Donna Knotek

    Great post Jeff! Your blog is one of my favorite because you tell it like it is and give excellent, grounded advice. It is our job to tell the truth and stop complaining – couldn’t have said it better myself!

  2. Donna Knotek Avatar
    Donna Knotek

    Great post Jeff! Your blog is one of my favorite because you tell it like it is and give excellent, grounded advice. It is our job to tell the truth and stop complaining – couldn’t have said it better myself!

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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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