What you can learn from the most hated fundraising TV spot

If you look up the famous Sarah McLachlan ASPCA TV spot, you could easily come to the conclusion that it is an utter failure.

Because everyone hates it so much!

Like a thread on Reddit that starts: “These ads are so damn depressing and long that I loath these ads! I am a huge dog lover and these ads is just torture!”

Others hop in on the hate chorus, adding all kinds of hate-facts about the ASPCA, like the organization’s CEO’s salary, and other reputed misdeeds. Even McLachlan herself has called the spot “brutal” and says she turns the channel any time she sees it.

How could a respected and professional organization somehow produce such a failure, much less keep on showing it for more than 15 years?

Answer: It’s not a failure. It’s an astounding success. It has brought in many tens of millions of dollars, enough to transform the face of animal welfare.

And the things that make people hate it are the very things that make it work.

Which is generally true about fundraising most of them time.

This is one of the most difficult things about fundraising: Being effective is not the same thing as being likable. In fact, they’re directly opposite most of the time.

The winners in fundraising, like this spot…

  1. Grab your attention. In this case, it’s a combination of emotive music and strong images of companion animals. Nearly impossible to ignore, even if you really want to ignore it.
  2. Make you uncomfortable. Effective fundraising is about solving a problem. That means you have to show the problem. Most of us, most of the time, don’t want to think about problems. They put us on edge.
  3. Make it clear that your donation is necessary. It’s not just a problem, but a solution. Thing is, the solution comes from the viewer. And not everyone is willing or able to donate. It makes a nearly iron-clad case for donating … whether you want to or not.

So the spot grabs your attention, displays a distressing problem, and shows that if you care, you really should donate.

For some (for many!) that puts you in an uncomfortable state of cognitive dissonance. Nobody wants that.

So they hate the spot.

If you’re doing powerful fundraising, some people hate that too.

Don’t worry. They’ll recover. But they might complain in the meantime.

That’s why fundraising that generates the most complaints also generates the most revenue. If you make it your goal to eliminate complaints, you’ll also eliminate revenue.


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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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