Weird fundraising rules that once haunted me

All professions have superstitions. That includes fundraising. Here are some “rules” that I once thought of as absolute … but now know better.

“Don’t use pastel colors.”

This was one of the first fundraising rules I ever learned — from my first boss at my first fundraising job at a small nonprofit. The rule is thoroughly bogus, and you can read the details here.

Reality: Color is complicated. Generally, warm and hot colors are good for fundraising — which may be a vote against pastels — but it’s a lot more complex than that. There are no forbidden colors in fundraising that I know about.

“Don’t call donations ‘donations.’”

I hear this one from time to time, along with the related “Don’t call donors ‘donors.’” One informant confidently told me everyone thinks donations refers to blood, not money — so the word either confuses people or makes them think of giving as an ordeal.

Reality: I used to avoid the word donation for two reasons: It’s three syllables, and gift is only one; and gift is warmer and more emotional, recalling holidays and birthdays. But then I noticed in donor focus groups, participants (all of them donors) used both terms, but donation more often. It’s best to use the words your audience uses, so I use both terms in fundraising. (The word to avoid: contribution. Four syllables, and rarely used by normal people.)

“Don’t call donations ‘gifts.’”

I’m not kidding. This rule came from a client who had worked at some point in a child-sponsorship organization. In that world, the word “gift” is sometimes taken by donors to mean something you put in a box and send. Which is, for most sponsorship organizations, a no-no. So when asking for donations, they must be called donations. Even when you no longer work in a child-sponsorship context. (In fact, the full rule was you had to call them monetary donations, which is a ridiculous tautology.)

Reality: For most of us, “gift” and “donation” are both good terms to use.

“Never use a 6×9 envelope.”

This was a rule at one of my former workplaces. Reasoning: “Commercial direct mail often comes in 6×9 envelopes. People don’t open them.” We should have asked ourselves, Why do commercial mailers use 6x9s? (Also, Do they really use them that much?)

Reality: I use 6×9 (and similar sized) outer envelopes quite often. They work just fine. When they don’t work, it’s because there’s some flaw other than the size of the envelope. Go ahead and include them in your direct mail toolkit.

“Make sure your mail lands in mailboxes the first week of the month.”

This was many years ago, and stemmed from a time when “everyone” got paid on the 1st of every month. So that’s when you knew they had money. As the month wore on, people would become increasingly cash-strapped and less likely to donate.

Reality: I’m not sure that was a reality, even back then. It’s certainly not now. I’ve not found a part of the month that’s better or worse. (If you’ve experienced otherwise, I’m all ears!)


Comments

4 responses to “Weird fundraising rules that once haunted me”

  1. I personally don’t like the word gift, it brings to mind a wrapped box, not a check or credit card. But I actually use the word “money”! Not “Your gift makes a difference” or “Your donation makes a difference” “Your money makes a difference”. I think of it as money and that’s how I refer to it 🙂

  2. I personally don’t like the word gift, it brings to mind a wrapped box, not a check or credit card. But I actually use the word “money”! Not “Your gift makes a difference” or “Your donation makes a difference” “Your money makes a difference”. I think of it as money and that’s how I refer to it 🙂

  3. But how do your donors think of it?

  4. But how do your donors think of it?

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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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