Mistakes in fundraising that work out well

Cross-posted at The Better Fundraising Blog.

What do you think when you see this direct mail fundraising envelope?

Mistake envleope small

A mistake? The handwriting goes across the window … that can’t be on purpose, can it?

Turns out, this was a mistake. A miscommunication between the designer and the printer.

Big problem?

Nope. It worked great.

It’s the kind of “mistake” that usually improves fundraising. An odd, out-of-place, not-the-done-thing that grabs your eye and makes you cringe.

More often than not, this kind of mistake works for you.

I was once involved in a direct mail piece that included a bounce back paper placemat. Donors were asked to sign the placemat and return it with their donation. The placemat would be put on the table at a meal the donation helped fund. It’s a good (and proven) way to increase response to meal-focused offers.

But here’s the error: on the reply coupon, there was a quick reminder about the placemat. Despite many layers of quality proofreading, the printed final that went to out donors said:

Please sign the enclosed placenta and return it with your donation.

Are you cringing?

Whether you’re cringing or not, the piece broke records for response. A few donors wrote to point out the bizarre error — mostly along with their donation.

Why did this mistake seemingly boost response?

Our theory: Errors grab attention. And someone who’s paying attention is a lot more likely to donate.

So when an error happens, it may not be a problem. It might even be great! So great you’d consider making a mistake on purpose.


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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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