Who Threw the Donor Off the Bridge?
The poor nonprofit donor. So compassionate. So generous. All she wanted was to help others and be appreciated for her kindness.
Yet here she lay, struggling in the deep water, fighting for breath, praying for someone to notice her and care enough to reach her.
Meanwhile, on the bridge above the troubled water, the fundraising community looked down in pity and alarm. "How could this have happened?" the fundraisers said, wringing their hands. And they all looked at each other accusingly. "Who did this?" each person asked in turn. "Who threw the donor off the bridge?"
"Not I," said the postal agent. "I was in D.C. adjusting raising postage rates at the time. Yes, I understand the cost of mailing is high and getting higher. And spiraling postage inhibits how effectively organizations can reach out to their donors. But it's not my fault their results are down. Besides, can't you see I'm drowning too?"
"Not I," said the copywriter. "I was trying to hold the donor close by writing emotional packages full of components that motivate her to give. But then so much of the emotion gets watered down in the approval process. Besides, it's too risky to stray very far outside the box."
"Not I," said the art director. "Budgets are tighter than ever, and there's only so much I can do with two colors and a No. 10 envelope. Besides, everybody says they want to see something different, but then they complain, 'Oh that's too different.'"
"Not I," said the production manager. "My resources are limited, my deadlines are tight and my vendors won't negotiate. Besides, I was at the printer when it happened."
"Not I," said the account executive. "The stakes are high so we have to stick with what we know will work. Testing is expensive, and experimentation is risky. Besides I already know the client won't go for it."
"Not I," said the program director. "Sure, I'm for creativity and all that, but the work we do is so important. We need to tell the donor everything we do in great detail. I know it's a lot to read, but what the donor really wants is information, right?"
"Not us," said the social-media team. "The donors love us. We tweet and post and pin all day every day. We're engaging people all over the place. We've got thousands of likes to prove it."
"Not I," said the development director. "Attrition is making our file dwindle, but acquisition is too expensive. Besides, our board demands better results in every fiscal cycle. So with fewer donors we have to keep our costs low."
"Not us," said the board of directors. "These things they want to put in the mail are just not sophisticated. We don't want to talk down to our donors. At the end of the day, what matters most is that we comport ourselves with dignity."
"Not I," said the charity watchdog. "I rank all these nonprofits by the same cost-to-program ratio. That's only fair, isn't it? What do I care about lifetime value or long-term strategy? All I know is that if an organization invests too much in a given year, they won't look as good on our pie charts."
And so it went. The strange and terrible thing was that every word the fundraisers said was true. And everyone was truly alarmed about the donor's demise. And yet, there she remains, floundering in the water. Soon she'll be gone. So, who threw her off the bridge? And more important, who will rescue her?
Willis believes in expressive writing, exceptional fundraising, and exuberant living.
Willis Turner is the senior copywriter at Huntsinger & Jeffer. He was an experienced writer and creative director in the traditional advertising world for more than 20 years before making the switch to fundraising nearly 15 years ago. In his work with nonprofit organizations and associations, he has written thousands of appeals, renewals and acquisition communications for every medium. He creates direct-response campaigns, as well as collateral materials and communications, that get attention, tell emotional stories, and persuade people to take action or make a donation.