When it’s okay to lie to donors

I got a telemarketing call from an arts organization. They wanted me to donate. I found the pitch compelling; the cause was good and so were the donor benefits.

Let’s pick up the conversation as it neared the “close”:

Me: That sounds interesting. Could you send me this information by mail so I can make my decision?

Telemarketer: I can’t do that. We want to sign people up by phone, because we can’t afford to send letters.

Whoops. That last part is not true. A phone call is more expensive than a mailing. Of course, most donors wouldn’t know that. It’s probably believable that a letter costs more than a call if you’ve never looked at the cost of campaigns.

But it was a lie.

Why lie? No doubt because the caller knew the chance of closing the deal dropped quite a lot if we hung up without a commitment. So she told me a plausible and pretty much harmless lie.

Still, a lie.

I’m not going to donate to that organization. Ever.

I’m sure lying to donors isn’t their policy. It was probably just a zealous telemarketer on commission.

But lying isn’t appropriate. Under any circumstances, even if the lie is “small” and expedient. It would have been better to tell me the truth, even if it feels funny: We prefer not to send you something in the mail, because in our experience when we do that, many people never get around to saying yes.

You might be surprised how powerful the truth can be.

Lies breed more lies. Even tiny lies done in service of a good cause.

Don’t let it happen to you.


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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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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.

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