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3 Fundraising Myths Busted

3 Fundraising Myths Busted

Urban legends. Folklore. Misinformation. Rumors. Myths. We’ve all heard plenty of myths debunked by the plain, simple truth over the years. Oftentimes, a myth stubbornly holds on simply because “that’s the way we’ve always done it” or because the same words get repeated and passed down. But let’s look at the facts and do a little myth-busting about fundraising.

1. The myth of “too much mail”

All donors complain about “too much mail,” right? Have you ever actually heard a donor say this?
Research shows that the culprit is the relevance of the mail, not the volume. What donors complain about is a mailbox or inbox full of junk that doesn’t make sense. Who thinks I need more credit cards? Who got the idea I want to elect Republicans/Democrats? Who thinks we have a child living with us who needs math skills-enhancing software? Why do I get all this dumb, wasteful, annoying junk mail?

In reality, when your mail is relevant to the donor, she welcomes it. When the information fits into her world and speaks to issues she cares about, you make her feel empowered and connected. You give her an opportunity to contribute and make a difference.

When your fundraising is targeted to the right donor and segmented to the right group of donors (see the related story on page 1), you’ll get fewer complaints – even if you send a lot of mail.

2. The myth of the “Rested Donor”

The myth: Once a donor gives, you should let him “rest” from hearing from you. This lets him rejuvenate from giving. If you ask again too soon, you risk doing irreparable damage.
The reverse could also be true. Leave a donor alone too long and they’ll think you don’t really care much about them or their donation. Does any healthy relationship improve with no communication? Donors who don’t hear from an organization for months after they give are far less likely to ever give again.

By giving, donors experience joy….

The joy of knowing that he is a loving person

The joy of knowing he is a contributor to society

The joy of seeing himself as a problem solver

Always remember, the donor is giving, not to you or your organization, but through you to fulfill a mission that he believes in.

3. The myth of the “Killer Complaints”

If you say anything at all to a large group of people, some of them will complain.
While it is true that some donors will complain no matter what you do or do not do, that shouldn’t make you kill your entire campaign.

Yes, it feels bad when donors complain. But about all that gets hurt by complaints is your feelings. Still, some nonprofits are so fearful of donor complaints that they kill successful campaigns all because of a few complainers. Do you really want to give any disgruntled person with the energy to write a note or an email more power than the thousands of satisfied donors who voted “yes” with their wallets for your cause?

All fundraising programs generate complaints. In fact, the more successful the program, the more complaints. That’s the nature of motivation. Most strong fundraising campaigns put real emotions in play. Urgency and need – keys to successful fundraising – can make people feel uncomfortable. And some uncomfortable people complain.

Don’t ignore the complainers. Pay close attention to them. After all, they care enough to communicate with you. If you handle it well, you can turn a complainer into a loyal friend. Most complainers really just need to be heard. A quick and thoughtful explanation will mollify them. Assure them you understand their concerns and explain the organization’s goals and motivations. If all goes well, you’ll win over a campaign ambassador by the end of the conversation.

You might need to make a few tweaks to the program. However, do not change your entire program just to satisfy a few complainers. Only program-wide results should guide how you act program-wide.

Truth: Fundraising Shouldn’t Hurt

What these three myths have in common is an erroneous belief that fundraising hurts donors. If you think your fundraising is a painful experience for your donors, you might be right. You may think that asking for money is bad. You might be sending out another tired, well-worn appeal as often as you think your donors can stomach it, and then crossing your fingers that someone responds.

Don’t do that!

Treat your fundraising as a team relationship. Together, you and your donor are going to change the world. With this attitude, you’ll treat donors with respect and be thankful for their giving. You’ll tell them they make a difference and ask on their terms. And your asking will be as welcome (and sincere) as your thanking.

And that’s the truth!!

Persuasive Copy Using The Principle of Reciprocity

Jennifer Shang a professor of philanthropic psychology, has identified nine specific motivations that compel people to give. These moral adjectives are the criteria that individuals use to define themselves in the context of their generosity. One such moral adjective is ‘fair’ – that is, people want to think of themselves as being fair and will therefore give in accordance with this value. A self appraisal of fairness, meanwhile, will drive donors and members to contribute generously if they feel that a person, cause, or organization has been generous towards them. This is the principle of reciprocity.

Achieving reciprocity is challenging however, because your org must first do something meaningful for your supporter. This is relatively straightforward for associations which produce tangible benefits for their members, but for non-profit the task is less obvious. Here’s an example by legendary fundraising copywriter Tom Ahern, excerpted from a letter written on behalf of the Sharp HealthCare Foundation.

Dear Reader,

You came to our hospital as a patient, in need of help. Thank you for that profound act of trust.

Now we come to you, humbly, to ask for your help in turn. The cause for excellent health care, here in the community, needs you. Will you consider becoming its champion… by making a gift?

Aside from its elegance and simplicity, this piece of copy is persuasive precisely because it reminds the donor of the org’s support during her time of need while simultaneously revealing the org’s own vulnerability and dependence on the donor.  This is the emotional mechanism by which Sharp Healthcare evokes a sense of trust and motivates the donor to respond magnanimously in a manner that is not at all transactional. Results have been very positive, the fundraising letter has drawn gifts from roughly 35000 supporters over the span of a decade – with some individual contributions reaching $20,000.

Of course, in the above example, the org was already well positioned to capitalize on the reciprocity effect by virtue of its work in the healthcare field and its contact with numerous patients. Reciprocity seems to work best with nonprofits that provide a service available to ordinary citizens and not just those in need. For example, historical societies that strive to preserve works of art could ask supporters who appreciate such art to consider the benefits already accrued to them (via the enjoyment of the preserved pieces) and to give accordingly. Communications directors should emphasize the specific service already performed on behalf of the donor and then skilfully request the donor to place a value on those benefits. In doing so, supporters will acknowledge the non-profit’s important role in their individual lives and will give back accordingly – thereby reinforcing their sense of duty and symbiosis that is vital to the health of every organization.

And in case you were wondering, the other eight moral adjectives are: kind, compassionate, helpful, caring, friendly, generous, honest and hard working. In the future we’ll explore how these qualities can be beautifully woven into the tapestry of fundraising communication.

Editor’s note:     As we’ve discussed in past issues, the use of the pronoun ‘you’ is indispensible with regard to your donor communications. In the Sharp Healthcare example presented above, note how the word ‘you’ appears in every sentence.


Tom Ahern, Sharp Healthcare Letter