Can you Change my Mind?

When I was researching my book, I interviewed many professionals who represented different segments of the nonprofit world. In doing so, I heard dozens of stories about fundraising tactics and strategies — some that made me queasy. In fact, one researcher told me that he had consulted with a large NPO that directed its fundraising staff to find out what other organizations the donor/prospect on their list gives to. With that information in hand, these fundraisers were told to push the donor to drop the organization they were giving to in favor of the organization being pitched. The premise communicated to the donor was something like “we work in that same general area, and we do it better because…” (fill in the blank as needed).

This practice was, in theory, limited to donors who gave to nonprofits with a similar mission. However, this particular nonprofit worked in a number of different categories, making it fairly easy to find some cause in their portfolio that was similar enough to the one that the donor supported elsewhere.

Not only is this creepy (IMHO), but it’s unprofessional, and it reflects poorly on fundraisers in general. This kind of practice is not going to help instill donor trust in the organizations they fund (or consider funding).

But beyond its creepiness, the “switch” method has little chance of success.

I asked my consumer behavior expert friend Craig Greiwe, Chief Strategy Officer of Rogers & Cowan PMK what he thought about this odd method of fundraising. Here’s his response:

  • This prompted a lot of thinking on my part.  I spend my entire day convincing people to do things - buy things, watch things, take action of some sort—and the entire foundation of my job is finding people who might have a possible interest, reason, or tendency to take action.  It’s so hard to find and convince people who are actually relevant or interested to take any action, I can’t even fathom being asked to find people who are not interested. It’s just not done, it’s such a waste of time.  Billions of dollars in advertising annually, and not one person is doing that, so it’s truly mind-boggling that fundraisers would try.  There’s no body of science behind it because it simply doesn’t happen.

  • The generally accepted principle is that it takes 3-8 touches to get someone to do what they already want to do, in terms of taking an action online, and that’s when people are most accessible.  Out in the offline world, it’s even harder.  We don’t keep stats as consumer marketers on how many touches it takes to get people to do something they don’t want to do — because it’s so hard we don’t do it!

  • The science tells us that once someone has a product they know and use, even if they don’t love it, they will not move to an identical product, even if it is better unless you create an additional incentive to do so, like a lower price or a crazy new benefit.  Which means if you’re trying to get people to move from one charitable cause to one they’re not interested in, you either have to destroy the reputation of the cause they have or convince them your cause is doing something crazy, like particle fission that will solve climate change overnight or super-duper tracking that will eliminate child sex trafficking immediately.  

There are so many existing and not-yet-activated donors out there. Let’s stop focusing on wrestling donors from others in our segment, and instead focus on doing good for our constituents. This isn’t a zero-sum game — we have the opportunity to increase the size of the pie for all of us, so let’s move towards that result.


I’m Saving Giving by providing a clear path to success, supported by data, statistics, and interviews. You can find more of me lifting the lid on the charitable sector here on Philanthropy 451, in my bestselling book, Philanthropy Revolution, or on socials at TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn

- Lisa