Stupid ads tell donors not to give

Stupid ads

I have arthritis. It sucks. But it could be a lot worse.

Not too long ago, someone who had my type of arthritis for as long as I’ve had it would not be able to type, walk, play a musical instrument, or many other activities. Thanks to treatment, I can do those things.

I’m deeply grateful to the researchers and medical professionals who make a reasonable life possible for me and many others — and to the nonprofits that have been supporting that work for so many years. Organizations like Arthritis Society of Canada.

So it pains me (in a distinctly non-arthritic way) to see Stupid visited on a good organization like this. It seems to be an outdoor display ad campaign — Warning, Will Robinson! Danger! Outdoor display ads have not been effective at fundraising for a long time — and here’s one of them:

DontDonate_Amanda_520

There are several other similar ads, urging us not to donate to arthritis, but to “give Cristy a pain-free future” or “Brian the ability to play with his son.”

It’s a strikingly common go-to approach for Brand Experts working on nonprofits to make the message what we don’t do or, in this case, what you shouldn’t do.

Why do they go there so often? Have they seen it work? Ever? Anywhere in advertising, marketing, or anywhere else?

What’s interesting about this is that it’s actually good advice — for arthritis fundraisers. We should always remember that people donate to help people. But it’s a silly thing to say to people you’re hoping will make donations.

If you want to read the oddball, bloviating reasoning behind the campaign, you can find it here:
Arthritis Society ‘turns away’ would-be donors in new campaign
. Their main point is this:

This campaign shifts people’s focus from an abstract idea like ‘arthritis’ to the tangible impact they can have on the lives of real Canadians … who face this relentless, devastating disease every day.

Except that it doesn’t do that. It stays resolutely abstract. The nearest thing they have to a concrete idea in the ad is the word arthritis. Showing photos of people that don’t tell a story about arthritis makes an interesting point. But it’s not a call to action.

Here’s the takeaway: You motivate people to donate by showing them how their values align with your cause and giving them action to take that makes the world better in a way they care about. If you’re giving people a mind puzzle that they have to figure out, you are not raising funds

That’s navel-gazing. And stupid nonprofit advertising.

More Stupid Nonprofit Ads.


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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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