My Big Mistakes — And What I Learned From Them
The problem was that our data was a mess. One of THT's volunteers, who was also caring for his very ill boyfriend, was included in our fundraising program. He was not at all pleased to receive a phone call asking him for money and made sure to tell everyone what happened. It was not a lot of fun to be summoned to a date to meet volunteers who proceeded to tell me in very clear terms what they thought of my treatment of, by then, an angry and distressed volunteer.
What I learned: Dirty data can leave you eating dirt. However, dirty data can also be your friend. Just a little later, through a misunderstanding with our data services team, we ended up mailing a large group of supporters who had requested no contact. Of course, we got some complaints, but we also got our best-ever response and made £15,000 ($23,308), which was a lot of money in those days and badly needed.
We had a successful television telethon called Hysteria, which included a lot of comedians and performers. In 1993 the income had fallen so we decided to do a telephone campaign to those who had donated to Hysteria, explaining that the results were disappointing and how urgent our needs were. Rock star Freddie Mercury had just died of HIV/AIDS, which made our appeal even more poignant. The problem was that one of the supporters we rang with the disappointing results was the producer's father, who told on us. Neither the producer nor the television company that had sponsored the telethon were very impressed with us, and some very grumpy letters were soon whizzing around. Despite this, it was a brilliantly successful appeal and brought in a terrific amount of regular givers.
What I learned: Poor results or disappointing donations can be a platform for very successful appeals if you move quickly and are not afraid of the possible consequences. The value to THT of those thousands of supporters was far higher long term than the bruised egos of a few grumpy television people.