How you can help stamp out bad fundraising

It’s not that hard to get decent fundraising help. There are capable consultants and freelancers everywhere who can turn out competent fundraising. If you want to do it yourself, they are dozens of books, hundreds of blogs, and all kinds of online and in-person training.

Yet really terrible fundraising is all around us anyway. I’m going to show you part of it because we need to stamp out this kind of work. I’ll tell you how you can do that in a bit.

Here’s a piece I got in the mail. It’s a donor acquisition piece, seemingly sent to all households in a selected area.

Here’s the first paragraph of the letter:

We believe food and hope is a basic human right. But here in [City], our neighbors are experiencing a crisis of living affordability. Over the past 5 years, our city has had the largest increase in rent of any other in the country, has the third-largest homeless population and 1 in 8 neighbors in [County] are food insecure. Many families are forced to make tough financial decisions between food, healthcare, and housing. The thousands of people we serve deserve better. They need a place where they can access emergency food and hygiene items for their families and access other services they qualify for like heating assistance, referrals to medical care, and veterans’ benefits — all under one roof.

That one paragraph can pack in so many bad fundraising practices is pretty astounding. Sure, it’s a long paragraph, but the badness-per-word ratio is amazing:

  • It’s written at a horrific grade 13 reading level (about half of the sentences are categorized as “very hard to read” by the Hemingway App). Its virtually unreadable.
  • It’s one page long, though it’s about 3 pages worth, crammed in with tiny type and narrow margins.
  • It opens with an abstraction, and stays mostly abstract throughout.
  • It relies on statistics to describe the issue. (There is no story later on in the letter.)
  • It majors in large numbers, which we know to be ineffective.
  • The entire letter is about the organization’s processes, not the donor’s impact.
  • There’s only one ask, and it’s indirect.
  • The I-to-You ratio is 25:5. This letter is the equivalent of that bore who corners you at a party and won’t stop talking about himself.

If fundraising like this were rare, I wouldn’t bother sharing it with you. But it’s not rare at all. I see amateurish stumbles like this all the time. So you do.

I don’t know anything about the people who sent this fundraising letter. What caused them to produce such a mess?

It might be pure ignorance about what works in fundraising. But why would anyone embark on an expensive and difficult project like direct mail donor acquisition without finding out a thing or two about how to make it succeed?

Maybe it’s worse than that. Maybe the ignorance is willful. They dislike the conventions of fundraising and simply choose to do it their own way.

I see that attitude frequently. It doesn’t hold up to real-life experience, unless you build an elaborate structure of tunnel-vision and denial.

Who suffers for it? Mostly the people and causes that need the services an organization like this exists to help. Their ineffective and wasteful fundraising directly hurts those who can least afford it.

When you work to improve your skills as a fundraiser, you are fighting this disease of ignorance and arrogance in the best way possible. Keep up the good work, and let’s help stamp it out!

Want to avoid ever creating a bad fundraising appeal? Join The Fundraisingology Lab? It’s the very best membership for smart fundraisers around the world — with the best training, best resources, and best community you’ll find. Enrollment is open just 24 hours — until Thursday, September 19 and not a second longer. Check out The Fundraisingology Lab here!


Comments

2 responses to “How you can help stamp out bad fundraising”

  1. Great blog – and some key points I’ll be thinking about next time I write something.

  2. Great blog – and some key points I’ll be thinking about next time I write something.

Leave a Reply

What this blog is about

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.

Blog policies

Subscribe

Get new posts by email:

About the blogger

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.


Archives

Blogroll

Categories


Search the blog

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.

Recent Comments

About the blogger

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.

Blog Roll

someone’s blog