Why donations of free media are almost always a bad deal

Hey! Someone’s offering us free media — a billboard, a print ad, bus or subway ads. Drop everything to take advantage of this amazing opportunity!

Wait! It’s not that simple.

The offer may not be nearly as good as it sounds. You may be about to waste a lot of time (that is, money). Worse yet, you’re about to do some really stupid stuff.

Here’s why:

When someone gives away free media, it’s possible they’re being truly philanthropic and donating something of value. More likely, though, they’re unloading “garbage” on you — media they haven’t been able to sell because it has little or no value in the marketplace. They’re just going for the tax deduction.

You might say, as many others do, “Heck, what’s the harm in it? Even if it performs terribly and all we get are a few responses, those responses are gravy, right?”

Not quite.

There are two downsides to accepting free low-value media:


  1. Opportunity cost. Every moment you spend creating and managing campaigns for free media is a moment you’re not working on something that might actually get you somewhere. I don’t know too many nonprofit fundraisers who have extra time on their hands.
  2. Free media breeds stupidity. It actually makes you do stupid, goofy, wasteful, even harmful, things. That’s because the donation almost always comes with strings or difficulties: Ridiculously tight deadlines. Strange restrictions that keep you from communicating properly. Sometimes they require you to use their creative instead of your own.

So next time you’re offered free media — whether it’s print ad space, broadcast, outdoor, or anything else — look at it with a jaded, cynical eye. Follow this rule: If you wouldn’t pay for it, don’t’ take it free.


Comments

2 responses to “Why donations of free media are almost always a bad deal”

  1. It’s not just free media – it’s free anything. Like free donor database – can there be any such thing? Or new website for free… Or free social media posts…

  2. It’s not just free media – it’s free anything. Like free donor database – can there be any such thing? Or new website for free… Or free social media posts…

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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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