What Maximus the Cat teaches us about effective fundraising

Did you know that enough Syrians have been displaced from their homes to fill 221 Yankee Stadiums? That’s 12 million people.

I can’t get my head around either 12 million or 221 Yankee Stadiums full of people. You can’t either.

Yankee_Stadium

Unlike almost all donors living in Western countries, I’ve been to refugee camps — so I have at least some personal experience to help me picture what being displaced means for many of those people. Even so, the staggering numbers defeat my imagination. All I can see is a problem so big there’s no way I can solve it.

It’s not fundraising.

Even though I found these numbers (and a lot more like them) on a nonprofit’s website, a page that was meant to persuade you and me to donate to help.

Would you like to see some fundraising?

Maximus the Cat was a stray living on the streets of Great Barr, UK. He is FIV-positive — that’s the cat equivalent HIV. He has several infections and his untrimmed claws are growing into his paw. Maximus was in rough shape.

Until the Stray Cat Rescue Team West Midlands picked him up and got him into care.

But here’s the amazing part: So far, the Stray Cat Rescue Team has raised more than £8,000 for Maximus, from donors around the world. This a very small organization. If you want to be connected with them, there’s only their Facebook page. And if you want to donate, you’ll have to use their PayPal account.

All they did was tell the story of one very bedraggled cat who really needs help.

Maximus
At this point you might expect a blogger to transition into a rant that asks, “What’s wrong with people these days?”

I’m not doing that. Because whatever might be wrong with people, this story that compares one stray cat with 12 million displaced human beings, is not a story about human disfunction.

If you think of charity as a math problem, Maximus the Cat is the wrong answer. The answer would be to choose the bigger and more urgent problem. But that’s not what charity is. It never has been and never will be.

Humans like to solve problems. So we are drawn to solvable problems. And we tend to turn away from unsolvable ones.

When donors saw Maximus, they saw a problem they believed they could help solve.

Those who have heard about the crisis in Syria were mostly confronted with monstrous facts — 221 Yankee Stadiums full of desperate people. That’s a problem they can’t meaningfully improve, much less “solve.” They can’t even fully comprehend it.

And whose fault is that?

We can blame the media for the way they cover the crisis. But we also need to look at the many fundraisers who are focusing on the big numbers. They have majored in the big numbers for so long and with such creativity that it’s almost impossible to discuss these things without people remembering how big and intractable the problems are.

So if you really want to get donors on board with your cause, think Maximus the Cat. Put a limited, solvable, understandable problem in front of them.

Not Yankee Stadium — those jaw-dropping, imagination-staggering huge problems that nobody can solve.

Thanks to alert reader Stephen Butler for pointing me to Maximus.


Comments

4 responses to “What Maximus the Cat teaches us about effective fundraising”

  1. I love this post. Everything about it. Don’t even need to ramble on about my reason why. The people who get it get it. The rest …

  2. I love this post. Everything about it. Don’t even need to ramble on about my reason why. The people who get it get it. The rest …

  3. Marjorie Fine Avatar
    Marjorie Fine

    There are entities that can solve this- governments. But I get the larger point and agree.

  4. Marjorie Fine Avatar
    Marjorie Fine

    There are entities that can solve this- governments. But I get the larger point and agree.

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