Say ‘No’ to Donor Extortion
Here’s a novel concept: Donor extortion isn’t fun. In fact, it’s pretty darn terrible. Duh. So, can someone please tell me why I keep seeing so much of this demeaning practice going on in the fundraising space?!
Some background: We all know that telling a compelling story to raise funds from our constituency is critical. Creating awareness and providing context about the needs and current state of the causes we represent is our responsibility as nonprofit professionals. But it has gone too far; we are taking our donors for fools, and we are extorting them for their money. Let me break down what I’ve seen into four things that need to stop.
I am all for telling things exactly the way they are and not shying away from showing all the gory details that infect the melodies of our world. Hunger is real. Slavery is real. Lack of education is real. Immigration is real. But none of those horrible things are your donors fault!
I've seen fundraising letters that attack the very same people they’re trying to get money from, saying things like: “Our children don’t have the luxuries that the more affluent and lucky do.” Excuse me? Just because you need help does not mean that you have to make people feel guilty about how they live their lives. It just won’t work. Just focus on the problems and inspire those who are of greater means to make a real impact; inspiration, not insultation.
2. Tax benefits
When tax season comes around, we’re all hopping around like a wild bunch of loose bunnies. With rebates in hand people are ready to just throw their money at anything, so that, of course, means that we need to set the widest net possible, be in every email inbox and practically abuse our donors, making them completely forget why they’re giving in the first place, right? Wrong.
Did you know that giving solely because of tax rebates is way back at No. 7 on the list of why people give? That’s right—people are statistically much more likely to donate to a cause that they feel passionate about and not just because they suddenly have more money to toss around. See, what separates charity from a standard business transaction is the love that’s inherent in it or the benevolence that flows from the donor to the recipient.
By focusing only on the fact that your donor has more money to give than they did yesterday, you’ll lose out to another nonprofit that genuinely tugs on their heart strings. Stick to the story that got you to where you are, as opposed to guilting them to part with their newly-awarded rebates; effectively communicate the efforts of your cause, and the rest will follow.
What’s the rush? Arbitrary timelines that mislead your audience aren’t cool. You need to be honest and transparent about the urgency of the projects you are raising funds for, or people will be less likely to trust your cause—which may very well be noble—in the future. Instead, a successful method that I suggest is something that I like to call “positive urgency.”
Rather than trying to shock or scare somebody into being charitable, this strategy seeks to inspire. Once again, it’s a matter of communication—your fundraiser isn’t titled something jarring like, “we need the money NOW, or we’ll foreclose,” but “we have a capital opportunity with a time frame.” See how passive and—more importantly—positively engaging it is?
Positive urgency doesn’t stop there—you relay the incredible donation results as they happen in real time, filling the donor with the excitement and motivation that comes naturally from giving under a deadline. Because of this method, you can spend less of your time actively raising through repeated “shock headlines,” and more time making the world a better place. Save the “doom and gloom” announcements for when it’s really an emergency!
4. All or Nothing
The Internet is an extremely powerful tool, but sometimes this awesome means of helping people makes us lazy with the stories and requests we make; we take its empowerment for granted. Because of that sense of complacency we don’t take the messaging that we put out there as seriously as we would if we were talking to that very same donor face-to-face.
We have to change that harmful way of thinking. Something like creating a contingency factor for your gifts is an amazing approach, but advertising that your matching campaign is “all-or-nothing,” when it really isn't is blatant donor extortion. Everyone needs to be on the same page for a charity to be just. If you want to make an all-or-nothing campaign, I’m game, but the conditions have to be right—the matching donor has to agree that he or she is not obligated to donate if the community does not come fulfill the designated goal.
What he or she does after that is his or her choice, and his or her choice alone—but the conditions need to be in place. Or, if you are launching a campaign for a particular project that costs a specific amount, you have to communicate a reality. The truck costs $80,000—you can’t buy it with just $15,000. If your conditions are appropriate, by all means, let the community shvitz!
Most importantly, if your campaign does not reach its goal, you must be prepared to return the funds.
Remember, before there was GDPR and firewalls and ad blockers, there was the Donor Bill of Rights. Let’s stick to them.
Moshe Hecht, winner of the 2017 NonProfit PRO Technology Professional of the Year, is a philanthropy futurist, public speaker and chief innovation officer of Charidy, a crowdfunding platform and consulting company that has helped 3,000 organizations raise over $700 million.
Moshe's passion lies at the intersection of technology and charitable giving. When Moshe is not at the office, he is writing music and enjoying downtime with his wife and three redheaded children.