We all learn from our successes and failures. But it’s easier to focus on the successes and to ignore the failures. That’s why this magazine is called FundRaising Success. No one wants to discuss their failures with colleagues. Whoever’s mug is on the cover of this issue surely wouldn’t have posed gladly if the magazine’s moniker was FundRaising Failures instead.
Nonetheless, let me pass on to you a few of the fundraising mistakes I’ve played a role in, with the hope that these stories will be just as informative as crowing about some of my successes.
Always practice safe mail
While working with an organization fighting the spread of AIDS and HIV, someone in our firm had the idea of enclosing a condom within a direct-mail package. My staff and the development staff of the client thought this was a brilliant idea. After all, can you think of any other up-front premium that has been better suited to an issue?
We spent several months working with vendors, securing affordable pricing and figuring out how to attach the condoms to one of the interior components. The initial mock-up of the package looked fantastic.
However, before the package went to the print shop, someone who worked on safe-sex issues within the organization saw the package and flipped out. He pointed out that once the condom went through the various insertion machines at the mail shop and the sorting machines at the post office, then endured both heat and cold during shipping, its viability would be compromised.
If we had proceeded, we would have sent out hundreds of thousands of potentially flawed condoms — to promote safe sex.
Lesson learned: Always check out a fundraising concept early with the people who actually work on the issue.
Don’t trust Ross Perot
While working with one of the Democratic Party committees during the 1992 presidential election, we scored a coup by securing the use of a fundraising letter from then-Gov. Bill Clinton to be mailed the day after his acceptance of his nomination at the national convention.
This was a great opportunity, because donors undoubtedly would be excited after watching the convention, and this package would be arriving in their mailboxes only days afterward. We were able to create the package in advance, so that it could literally drop early the morning after the speech. We were even able to list the return address as the hotel that Clinton stayed in for the convention. We even dated the letter to illustrate that it was sent the day after his acceptance speech, underlining that Clinton needed the donor’s help to “beat George Bush and Ross Perot.”
We had almost 1 million completed pieces of this solicitation sitting on skids at the mail shop on the day of Clinton’s acceptance speech. I remember being at the convention that day, glad to know that everything was wrapped up and ready to go. That is, until everyone at the convention started talking about the surprising fact that Ross Perot had just pulled out of the presidential race that morning.
There was no choice … we had to mail the piece. It would have taken too much time and money to reprint the solicitation. But I sweated. Would donors be insulted? Would the press notice and point it out — to my embarrassment? Amazingly, and thankfully, neither happened, and the response was great, but at the expense of a couple of sleepless nights.
Lesson learned: When preparing a campaign in advance, avoid the use of specific facts that could change.
Think about Fido
We learned an important fact about the donors of a nonprofit dedicated to the conservation of endangered wildlife: The vast majority had pets, specifically dogs and cats. So why not create an up-front premium for the pets in the direct-mail efforts?
After much discussion between the client, other consultants and vendors, we determined that a pet tag, which could be used on a dog or cat, would be a great premium. Right? Wrong. After sending out a test segment of the mailing, the client received several angry letters from dog owners whose pets had attempted to eat the tags and choked to death. Not good.
Lesson learned: Think about all of the safety factors of a premium before mailing. FS
Jim Hussey is president of Adams Hussey & Associates. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.