Sign the enclosed placenta: The weird power of errors in fundraising

Don’t you hate making errors? They make you look and feel stupid.

But errors are funny things. It’s impossible to predict what damage they’ll do. Surprisingly often, they hurt your pride a lot more than they hurt anything else.

Since I know you like to gloat about other people’s errors (well, I like to gloat, so I think you might also), here are some examples of painful errors I’ve been part of through the years:

  • Two embarrassing typos: We meant to say, “Sign and return the enclosed placemat.” What we got was, “Sign and return the enclosed placenta.” Second: a “Fill the Pantry” campaign somehow became “Fill the Panty” (I’ve heard from quite a few people who have suffered this exact error!)

    Result: No discernible difference in response from normal. A couple of donors sent back the errors (with their donation) pointing out the typos.
  • The unreadable newsletter: We produced a multi-page newsletter, and the printer failed to trim the paper correctly before mailing it. The tops of some of the pages were connected so the only way to read the inner pages was to tear them apart.

    Result: The newsletter performed quite a bit better than projections.
  • Mixed up letter: To lower costs, we produced two direct mail pieces for two different clients using the same specifications. The printer got confused so that Client A’s letter had Client B’s page 2. And vice versa. Meaning everyone got letters that dramatically changed topic mid-sentence.

    Result: The initial appeal for both clients performed as we’d originally projected. And a handful of donors called or wrote to complain about the error. Response to the apology letter was strong, better than the initial appeal. Meaning we more than doubled revenue to the project because of the error. (It was the printer’s fault so the apology letter was at no cost to us.)

So errors don’t necessarily damage you.

But I don’t want to give the impression that you can be cavalier and sloppy and just let the errors happen.

There’s a class of error that really does materially hurt. That’s when something happens that makes it difficult or confusing for donors to respond. Like inserting the wrong return envelope. Or a dead link to the landing page. Or an incorrect phone number.

Those errors will get you, big time.

Takeaways:

  • Not all errors are the end of the world.
  • Some, though, kind of are.
  • It’s worthwhile to apologize for errors.
  • Some errors are hilarious, even though they’re upsetting.

(This post first appeared on May 11, 2017.)


Comments

6 responses to “Sign the enclosed placenta: The weird power of errors in fundraising”

  1. I used to work for a public broadcasting station – PUBLIC is painfully close to another word. Even knowing this, it sometimes got through.

  2. I used to work for a public broadcasting station – PUBLIC is painfully close to another word. Even knowing this, it sometimes got through.

  3. That’s an incredibly common error! “Public” is a very common word, even if you aren’t in public broadcasting. That other word … you almost never use it, unless you’re working in a few specific areas of healthcare. Tip I’ve heard from proofreaders: Remove that word from your spellcheck dictionary. That way it’ll be flagged as a spelling error every time it shows up.

  4. That’s an incredibly common error! “Public” is a very common word, even if you aren’t in public broadcasting. That other word … you almost never use it, unless you’re working in a few specific areas of healthcare. Tip I’ve heard from proofreaders: Remove that word from your spellcheck dictionary. That way it’ll be flagged as a spelling error every time it shows up.

  5. That’s hilarious. And the spellcheck dictionary idea is a great tip!

  6. That’s hilarious. And the spellcheck dictionary idea is a great tip!

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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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