Bad fundraising often works, but that’s still no excuse

As someone who cares about fundraising, you may have noticed something: There’s a lot of truly terrible fundraising out there: Sloppy, vague, full-of-itself, donor-blind fundraising.

It persists because it works. If it didn’t, there’d be much less of it.

And bad fundraising works because of a curious truth: Bad fundraising works because of good donors.

Donors want to give. Some are so determined to give, they do the work bad fundraisers fail to do. They fill in what the fundraisers left out, and then respond.

  • When there’s no clear call to action, some donors imagine one of their own.
  • When there’s no story, some donors author a wonderful, donor-focused story that makes them want to give.
  • When the images are off-target, some donors visualize the right images, drawing from pictures they’ve seen elsewhere or from their life experience.

With help like that, it’s hard to go wrong.

Which can be just plain discouraging if you’re a fundraiser who cares about quality and works hard to get it right. Don’t despair. Your excellence matters: Bad fundraising works less well all the time.

The demographic group most likely to do bad fundraisers’ jobs for them are those we call the World War II or “Silent” generation: People born between around 1920 and 1945. These people are strongly motivated by duty, and they know they have a duty to give. But they are disappearing.

Every day, more members of the WWII generation die. And every day in the United States, they are replaced by 7,000 more demanding, more skeptical Baby Boomers. The demographic and cultural patterns are similar throughout the Western world.

These Boomers — and the generations following them — are less likely to rewrite bad fundraising into good. They’re too skeptical to do that. These Boomers now make up a slight and fast-increasing majority of the 55-85 population in the United States — that is, the prime donor age.

Organizations that have skated by with bad fundraising because they have good donors face hard times in the coming years. Anyway, even with the most angelic do-your-job-for you donors, good fundraising works better than bad.

Don’t be discouraged when you see bad fundraising. It is, thankfully, an endangered species.

(Excerpted from The Money-Raising Nonprofit Brand by Jeff Brooks.)

(This post first appeared on July 11, 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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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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