The Futility of Educating Donors
Far from it. Nearly everyone has a set of interests that they know a lot about, pursue with passion and give meaningful effort to educate themselves about.
In my own circle of friends, there are people who are uncommonly educated about Thai cooking, church vestments, 19th-century string quartets, stadium architecture and the history of golf. For reasons I don’t fully understand, I’m a sucker for geographic curiosities. (There’s an enclave of India that’s inside an enclave of Bangladesh that’s inside an enclave of India that’s inside Bangladesh. That is just super cool, as far as I’m concerned.)
But my smart, lively, curious Thai-cooking friend would rather make pad thai with elbow macaroni and ketchup than be instructed about geographical curiosities.
Think about it: What’s relevant, interesting and worthwhile comes from within. After childhood — when we’re forced to learn what adults tell us is important — each of us sets our own learning agenda. According to that agenda, things that might seem like critical knowledge to a well-meaning nonprofit likely are just random, unattached (and largely boring) facts that we can happily live without.
Learning is hard work. And the payoff tends to be indirect and long-term. People are busy. They have to be choosy about where they use their energy. Anything that’s not necessary or fun (or best, both) isn’t going to trigger much engagement.
You can educate until you’re blue in the larynx, but it’s not going to get through to people who aren’t already interested.
2. Fundraising media are terrible teaching venues. What does it look like when a donor receives a piece of direct-mail fundraising? It’s not pretty. Picture a mailbox stuffed with bills, catalogs, useless credit card offers, maybe a personal letter — and half a dozen or so fundraising appeals. Every single day, more stuff arrives than she can possibly read in a day. Faced with this avalanche, she stands over the recycle bin and quickly sorts it into categories: