Is fundraising in the time of COVID-19 “creepy”?

A lot of fundraisers are asking. Because nobody wants to be seen as creepy. I know I don’t.

I can think of a few clearly creepy (or worse) fundraising activities that are surely happening right now:

  • Claiming donations will do COVID-19-related good works when that is not going to happen. That’s lying. It’s more than just creepy.
  • Making claims about what giving will do for donors: Donate now, and you will be miraculously spared from getting the virus. The law of karma — that when you do good things, good things tend to happen to you — is real in a general sort of way. But claiming that a specific good deed will profit you in a specific form of good fortune? Creepy.
  • Fear-based fundraising: Give now, our you might get sick! Creepy.
  • Hate (Give to stop those foreigners, homeless people, viola players — or whatever “others” one might choose to scapegoat).
  • Greed (Give and you’ll get rich) andr most fundraising that depends on negative emotions. All creepy.

But if your fundraising is telling the truth about the situation and what their giving can do about it, and you are appealing to the better angels of their natures, that is not creepy.

Go forth and fundraise!

In fact, if your organization is doing something to help people in the face of the virus — and you are not letting your donors be your partners in that — that’s a little bit creepy in my book.

Because remember this: Your donors love to donate. They need to donate. And that’s especially important in a time of crisis. You are not taking away from them when they give to you. They get so much back that you might argue they’re getting the better deal. That’s anti-creepy. It’s beautiful and blessed.

There can be fundraising that’s not creepy — but could seem to be creepy because of the COVID-19 context.

I’ve racked brain and have found only one good example of creepy-seeming fundraising. If you have any other examples, please tell me about them.

Say you have prepared a message to donors asking them to consider putting your organization in their wills. Bequest fundraising is a wonderful, life-affirming, and very important thing to do. But now? Your bequest message will likely be focused on older donors … at a time when they face a real possibility of life-threatening illness. It could easily come across as, Hey, real quick, before you die from COVID-19, could you write us into your will?

That sounds creepy. It really does. I would postpone that project until this crisis is well behind us.

But here’s what I hope you take away from this discussion:

If you are scrupulously telling the truth (as we always must), and you are treating your donors with respect (as we always must) and you are not trying to foster destructive impulses they might have …

…your COVID-19 fundraising is not creepy.

I hope you are giving these issues good and clear thought. And if your organization is helping make the world a better place in the face of this frightening situation, I hope you are bringing donors as empowered people who are tackling the crisis and making a difference. That’s what we’re here to do!


Comments

2 responses to “Is fundraising in the time of COVID-19 “creepy”?”

  1. Thanks for this. As a planned giving direct marketing consultant, some of my clients have asked similar questions. No one wants to seem opportunistic right now. But I think the “creepy” example here is oversimplifying the planned giving ask. As with annual fund fundraising, it’s important to stay in front of the donor right now with a planned giving message too. Organizations that don’t ask for planned gifts right now will dig themselves into a hole years from now–similar to what we saw after the housing market crash with non-profits that cut back on acquisition programs or fundraising all together. Like all fundraising messages right now, PG asks need to be nuanced and consider the donor’s mindset during this time. We are encouraging our PG clients to offer planning materials to help the donor because so many people are updating their estate plans right now. This is still an opportunity to build trust with the donor. People who have reached out to your non-profit and indicated an interest in making a planned gift in the past are likely updating their plans anyway out of a sense of urgency. We can simply remind them why they care about our causes, and offer them materials of value at a time when they are needed. If they’re updating they’re plans anyway, they may as well be reminded that they can include a gift to your organization in their will or trust or beneficiary designations.

  2. Thanks for this. As a planned giving direct marketing consultant, some of my clients have asked similar questions. No one wants to seem opportunistic right now. But I think the “creepy” example here is oversimplifying the planned giving ask. As with annual fund fundraising, it’s important to stay in front of the donor right now with a planned giving message too. Organizations that don’t ask for planned gifts right now will dig themselves into a hole years from now–similar to what we saw after the housing market crash with non-profits that cut back on acquisition programs or fundraising all together. Like all fundraising messages right now, PG asks need to be nuanced and consider the donor’s mindset during this time. We are encouraging our PG clients to offer planning materials to help the donor because so many people are updating their estate plans right now. This is still an opportunity to build trust with the donor. People who have reached out to your non-profit and indicated an interest in making a planned gift in the past are likely updating their plans anyway out of a sense of urgency. We can simply remind them why they care about our causes, and offer them materials of value at a time when they are needed. If they’re updating they’re plans anyway, they may as well be reminded that they can include a gift to your organization in their will or trust or beneficiary designations.

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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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