The avoidable ways we make fundraising dull and ineffective

I once posted about the importance of authenticity: Fundraising and authenticity: what is it, and how to do it.

Authenticmeteorite

I told about a piece of art that featured a small chunk of a particular meteor that hit South America about 4,000 years ago, along with an artist’s rendition of a meteor about to hit planet earth, as if seen from space.

My point was about the importance of that little rock being an actual chunk of meteorite, and not some random rock, because realness matters. And it matters in fundraising.

Alert reader and podcast co-host Steven Screen thought I was going in a different direction:

I thought you were going to say that no one at the company said, “Wait, this picture isn’t an actual picture of the Campo del Cielo meteorite. We can’t use this picture, because we’ll get complaints!”

Because people at nonprofits say things just like that all the time. A paralyzing terror of complaints combined with a strangely literal approach to the world and a lawyer’s instinct for finding trouble where there is none leads so many to avoid being specific in their fundraising. Things like these:

  • “We can’t say we’re finding ‘homes’ for the homeless because the units we’re placing them in are small apartments, not houses.” (Apartments aren’t homes?)
  • “We must not show a photo of a child eating food, because we didn’t send the food; we only sent the seeds, the farming tools, and the training that allowed the family to raise their own food.” (Only actually placing food in their hands counts as helping them?)
  • “We can’t use that photo of the very cute kitten we rescued, because most of the cats we rescue are much more bedraggled and ugly than that!” (When you choose your personal portrait, do you use the best looking one, or the one where your eyes are shut and you look like you’re trying to cough up a popcorn hull because it’s more “typical”?)
  • “We can’t say we hope to cure the disease some day, because our researchers tell us a full cure isn’t likely for another 10 years or more.” (Ten years isn’t some day?)

(I’m not making these up! Just changing the details enough to protect the identities of the various guilty parties!)

Just as the people who buy the Campo del Cielo meteorite picture fully understand that the picture wasn’t somehow photographed from space 4,000 years ago — and can handle that fact without freaking out, your donors are adults who can handle “representations.” And they know you pick your best photos, not your most typical ones.

And they rarely complain about things like that. (Those who do, you’ll usually find, are usually not current donors.)

Always tell the truth. Don’t stretch it, even a little bit.

But also remember that your donors are adults. They live in the real world. They want good fundraising that persuades them to give. They want you to succeed.

So do your best fundraising. Cast away your fear and that focus on unlikely trouble. Your fundraising will work better. And you’ll enjoy your work a lot more!

(This post first appeared on June 13, 2018.)


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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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