Oh, No, Not Again!
Ah, autumn. The crunch of falling leaves under your feet. The crisp, cool air. Football. And the start of — you guessed it — fundraising season.
This year, like every other, I fully expect my mailbox and inbox to be chockablock with the kind of clichés I used to start this column. You can call it moldering messaging. Yuck.
Let’s make this year different. It’s time to turn over a new leaf.
Cliché No. 1
I have a good place to begin. The No. 1 cliché we need to banish this fall is the “it’s fundraising season” or “it’s that time again” appeal. I’m amazed by how many of these I get. My alma mater likes to inform me that it’s “annual gift time.” My public radio station reminds me every five minutes that it’s time for the “fall fundraising campaign.”
The problem with this framing is that the time of year is not a reason to give, unless it’s the last week of December, in which case there is a tax-year deadline relevant to donors. (This is a notable exception — at Network for Good, Dec. 30 and 31 are the biggest days of the year.) We might live by the campaign calendar, but our audiences do not. They don’t care if it’s time for our annual appeal. That’s why they don’t work in our development department or put our campaign dates in their BlackBerrys and iPhones. They have other lives.
Fortunately, it’s easy enough to fix this problem. The remedy, of course, is to stop waving the fundraising calendar and start looking into donors’ hearts and minds. We need to explain why giving now makes sense for them. Tell them what urgent, compelling, fascinating things they can achieve with their gifts. Express how their money will go further right this instant. Spin them a story that engages them on their terms.