How conference bullies victimize fundraisers

I was at a conference, where a clever consultant showed off a massive integrated awareness/fundraising campaign they’d done for a client.

It was good-looking and comprehensive. In addition to direct mail and email, there was print, outdoor advertising, transit ads, and a Facebook strategy.

Slide after slide of the slick, attractive creative went by.

Someone behind me gasped. It was a sound of admiration and envy. No doubt they were feeling sadly inadequate at the dull one-dimensionality of their own fundraising.

Funny thing was, I happened to have some inside knowledge about the campaign. Guess what: It didn’t work. The Facebook part of the campaign brought in five small donations. The print ads did a little better: A few dozen gifts, most of them from current donors. There was no measurable response from the billboards or transit advertising. The only part of the campaign that you could call successful, the direct mail, did worse than it does most years.

The campaign was a dismal, crushing failure.

It was killed by a combination of abstract messaging, an unclear call to action, and (most of all) high spending in unproven media.

But it sure looked good on Powerpoint. And it sure made some of the people in that semi-darkened hotel meeting room feel like sorry rubes — which is exactly the purpose of presentations like that.

The intent is to make you feel stupid and overwhelmed. These consultants know if they show enough pretty pictures, some people will be too distracted to ask the obvious questions, such as Did it work?

They also know that if someone does ask that question, they can answer it with vague, qualitative answer like It generated more talk than anything we’ve ever done. Or half-answers like Average gift went way up (which generally means response was terrible). And they get away with it

We’re all afraid of missing something big, something that matters. We’re all prone to getting tired of the same old same-old.

But don’t let that fear and restlessness make you a target for the conference bullies who depend on insecure fundraisers. Ask the hard, quantitative questions. And if you don’t get answers, don’t agree to anything!

Want to be a step or two ahead of the conference bullies? Let’s talk. I’m available for free 25-minute coaching sessions. Just click here and directly schedule an online conversation with me or with Sean Triner.

(This post first appeared on February 14, 2013.)


Comments

6 responses to “How conference bullies victimize fundraisers”

  1. I had this exact experience in Dublin. A fancy agency(impressive multi-national name withheld for my own safety) hosted a fundraising seminar to showcase the big, flashy campaign they did for a charity. It had EVERYTHING… TV ad, outdoor advertising, DM, digital and a one-day takeover of a major train station. At the end they took questions and I jumped right in as “awkward question asker”.
    How many donations? 650K views on YouTube…. So how many donations? Looong silence, then jr ad agency staff piped up. “Ummmm…. I think there were about 50”.
    So how did the direct mail do? How about the train station takeover?
    All dismal returns… And yet this fancy agency had the nerve to host a fundraising seminar to showcase this campaign.
    You are so right Jeff!
    ALWAYS BE SKEPTICAL!
    ALWAYS ASK AWKWARD QUESTIONS!

  2. I had this exact experience in Dublin. A fancy agency(impressive multi-national name withheld for my own safety) hosted a fundraising seminar to showcase the big, flashy campaign they did for a charity. It had EVERYTHING… TV ad, outdoor advertising, DM, digital and a one-day takeover of a major train station. At the end they took questions and I jumped right in as “awkward question asker”.
    How many donations? 650K views on YouTube…. So how many donations? Looong silence, then jr ad agency staff piped up. “Ummmm…. I think there were about 50”.
    So how did the direct mail do? How about the train station takeover?
    All dismal returns… And yet this fancy agency had the nerve to host a fundraising seminar to showcase this campaign.
    You are so right Jeff!
    ALWAYS BE SKEPTICAL!
    ALWAYS ASK AWKWARD QUESTIONS!

  3. Just to clarify… It was a fancy corporate ad agency, not an agency dedicated to working for just charity clients.

  4. Just to clarify… It was a fancy corporate ad agency, not an agency dedicated to working for just charity clients.

  5. Thank you for this, Jeff. Which I either forgot about or am just now seeing, thanks to Lisa Sargent’s tweet :). It has always fascinated me how easily taken folks are by flash and BS.

  6. Thank you for this, Jeff. Which I either forgot about or am just now seeing, thanks to Lisa Sargent’s tweet :). It has always fascinated me how easily taken folks are by flash and BS.

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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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