What Messages Are You (Inadvertently) Sending Donors?
Quite a while ago, when newspapers were still being produced with cropping wheels, X-acto knives and wax rollers, I was toiling away at a daily that also produced a weekly entertainment section called (we’ll say) “In Springfield.”
As was the norm, the production folks kept a drawer full of pre-made promo ads for various causes and its own products to be popped onto a page when a story ran a little short or there was an odd space to fill. One of the ads was a plain white box with bold black letters that spelled out “IT HAPPENS” with a row of smaller letters beneath it reading “In Springfield.”
At some point, a ballsy prankster or some miffed staffer penciled in the letters “SH” in front of the “IT HAPPENS.” And because it was impossible for it NOT to happen, the doctored ad got plopped onto a page and — you know it — made it to print.
Lots of snickering took place the next day, but the fallout wasn’t pretty. There was no way of knowing who marked up the ad or who placed it on the page. Fifteen people coulda/woulda/shoulda caught it before it went to print, but ultimately, one person was responsible for signing off on the page. He kept his job by the skin of his teeth.
Not long afterwards, at the same paper, an editor arranged the daily listing of world temperatures so if you thought to read the first letter of each city from top to bottom, you got the message that “John Doe is an a**h***.” (“John Doe,” of course, standing in here for the actual name that appeared, which was that of the paper’s managing editor.) That one was easy to trace, and that editor was indeed fired.
I was reminded of those incidents a while back when I gave an admittedly small online donation to a presidential hopeful and got a lightning-fast e-mail response that read something like this:
"Dear Margaret ...
Thank you for your recent donation. Even a contribution of that size can help ... "
Hmmm, I wondered, does the campaign know how deeply that annoyed me? Maybe I was feeling guilty to begin with for not sending a larger donation and was therefore overly sensitive, but that didn't strike me as being a very sincere thank-you. They might just as well have said "yeah, thanks for throwing us a bone, you cheapskate." Or maybe just sent the donation back to me with a note that said, "Keep it … apparently you need it more than we do."
While it certainly didn't change my opinion of the candidate, it did make me wonder how on-the-ball his staff was. I know they weren't deliberately trying to make low-dollar donors feel bad, but surely someone, somewhere in the trenches, should have recognized how condescending that thank-you note was.
And I was reminded of that letter recently when I was ordering flowers for an acquaintance who was feeling under the weather. She wasn't a close friend; it wasn't a serious illness. So I wound up clicking on the "Under $30" section of the category pull-down menu on the online florist's website. My connection was running slow, so I had a chance to glance at the url that was blipping at the top of the page as it loaded.
Nestled in among all of the HTTPs and slashes and dashes and dots were the words "cheap flowers."
Yes, I kmow $30 (or less) makes for a cheap flower arrangement. But come on, give me a break. Couldn’t they have gone with “inexpensive flowers” or even “bargain gifts?”
These offenses vary in nature and seriousness, of course, but they all point to the same idea: There are myriad ways for you to send messages to your customers, readers, donors — both intentionally and completely by accident.
Who's minding the store at your organization? Who’s watching the little things as well as the big things? Does everyone who places a photo on your website, for example, now that as a page it loading visitors might see the name that was assigned to the photo? Are you sure?
Point is … competition for donors — for their dollars and their precious time — is tough, and the Internet is a perfect vehicle for making a quick getaway if something annoys them. It would be a shame to get them all the way to your homepage or, worse, your donation page and have them bolt because of something unintentionally insulting or just plain stupid that slipped through the cracks.