Why your mother lies to you about fundraising

Army-boots

I’m not saying your mother wears army boots, but your mother is an unreliable source of marketing information. Regardless of her footwear choices.

I’m only bringing it up because I so often hear about fundraisers who use their mothers as uncompensated one-person focus groups. They learn (correctly) that their target audience is strong on elderly women. And they note (also correctly, in most cases) that Mom is an older woman. It’s possible she’s literally a donor to the cause.

But asking your mother to tell you how effective your fundraising is like asking a fish to tell you the chemical make-up of the ocean. The fish actually knows nothing at all about water. And your mother — even if she’s a generous and experienced donor — knows nothing at all about fundraising.

Actually, it’s worse than that. Your mother can only give you wrong answers to your queries about fundraising.

Here’s why: When you hand your fundraising to Mom and tell her you did it and want to know what she thinks, you’ve already transformed that message into a magic thing that’s not at all like the fundraising that shows up in her mailbox or inbox. For her, it’s a special thing, automatically admirable — not for its motivational qualities, but because you created it. It’s like those drawings of yours she used to post on the fridge. I hate to break it to you, but she didn’t post them because of their quality, but because you drew them.

Even if your mother has a sharp edge and can be counted on to give out criticism — her criticism will give you more insight into your relationship with her than it will about the quality of the piece she’s talking about.

You could lie to her and claim the fundraising was created by someone else and you just want to get her thoughts.

Even then, you’ve created an entirely abnormal situation. Unless all your direct mail pieces are hand-delivered by the donors’ sons or daughters, and they become a tool for social contact. Mom’s comments will tell you more about how she likes interacting with you than how good the fundraising is. (I hope I’m not opening up any old wounds for you!)

Your mother is the worst possible source of marketing information. She is incapable of telling you anything useful. No matter how smart, kind, or demographically correct she is. No matter how hard she tries. Every word that comes out of her mouth will be false and misleading.

Really, I’m not calling your mother a liar or a fraud. She simply has no access to the truth you’re seeking.

Have you talked to her lately? She’d love to hear from you. Just don’t expect her to help you improve your fundraising.

(This post first appeared on December 11, 2013.)


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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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