Illusion Has No Place in Philanthropy
It’s transparency, authenticity, and honesty, not illusion, that will help you to meet your fundraising goals. Isn’t that logical? It seems that many charity marketers don’t see that. Yes, illusion can work short-term, but long-standing relationships can rarely be sustained if not authentic.
I thought about this as I received yet another email today telling me that “It’s Your Last Day to Give!” which may sound exciting to some, but that verbiage is likely to kill most donors’ interest in your organization. Do any of us really think that the organization won’t accept my money tomorrow — or the next day? The “Last Day” thing just isn’t honest.
I love (not really) the ones that say “Only Hours Left to Meet our Fundraising Goal!” Do you really think that I or others care about your fundraising goal, especially when we know full well that you’ll accept money tomorrow? Again, not honest (and a bit condescending, really.)
It doesn’t have to be this way. In fact, you could change that to “Only Hours Left To Achieve our Matching Grant!” which offers a clear explanation for the time sensitivity — it’s clearly to bring in enough money to obtain the full matching grant that’s been offered/advertised. If I want a nonprofit to be sustainable and well-resourced long-term, a matching grant can be very compelling and a great CTA (Call to Action). As a fundraiser, I want donors who are interested in our organization being well-financed. As an organization, we need donors who will give on an ongoing basis.
As you might know, 80% of first-time donors don’t give the next year (to that same organization). It surely took a lot of time and money to bring in these new donors, so why aren’t we focusing more of our efforts on retaining them?
There’s good reason — other than not wanting to waste resources — to make donor retention a priority. In fact, the research shows that each year a donor continues to give to a particular organization, they’re more likely to continue giving to that organization.
But some nonprofits don’t seem to care so much about the long-term. Otherwise, why would they hide information about their core reason for being?
Here’s one very common example (although there are many others.)
There’s something called a “Friends of” group, and often they’re opaque about what they actually do.
Here’s how it works: A nonprofit (mostly, but not always, in another part of the world) wants to raise money in, say, the United States. Sometimes these entities are called “Friends of (name of nonprofit)”, but often the “Friends of” prefix isn’t part of the name that the organization represents. These “supporting entities” really don’t have much (or any) involvement in the organization’s mission — they exist solely to raise money. Sometimes these entities create the illusion that they are involved in mission delivery, policy and strategy, but more often than not, there’s a wall between the Friends of organization and the “mother ship” (the nonprofit that actually works on the cause/mission). This happens much more often than people would think, and it’s made me and other donors, after financially supporting these nonprofits, feel like a bit of a chump.
Donors don’t usually know what the “Friends of” moniker means. If you obfuscate the fact that you have no impact on (or even communication with) the organization’s work other than sending money, the donor will think that you’re lying and that you might not be being so truthful in other areas, too.
Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s 100% fine if you represent your nonprofit as having one mission only, and that mission is to send funding to a given working organization that needs financing to do its work. Just be clear about it! It’s totally okay to represent yourself as a fundraising arm of the organization and to clearly explain that the work produced happens within a different organizational structure — one that “Friends of” isn’t involved in. Transparency helps to increase (or create) trust.
Are these types of organizations a problem? No — not if they’re honest about what they do and don’t do. In this world where many new donors want to volunteer and help a nonprofit in ways beyond giving money, the realization that the organization you’ve given to has zero connection to the actual work is a realization that might not feel so great. Why would a donor feel that way? Because the donor feels like they’ve been lied to.
Can we please stop the come-ons, mistruths, and made-up stories, thinking that they’ll all bring in money? Donors who aren’t so savvy might send you a donation if you “market” in these ways, but don’t expect a further donation, since it likely won’t come once the donor does their homework.
Oh, and the donor will likely also, in this world of social media, tell their friends and colleagues about their experience. It won’t end well.
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