Could December be the month when you will LOSE the most donors?

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Greg Warner is CEO and Founder of MarketSmart, a revolutionary marketing software and services firm that helps nonprofits raise more for less. In 2012 Greg coined the phrase “Engagement Fundraising” to encapsulate his breakthrough fundraising formula for achieving extraordinary results. Using their own innovative strategies and technologies, MarketSmart helps fundraisers around the world zero in on the donors most ready to support their organizations and institutions with major and legacy gifts.

I’m worried about fundraisers who get too excited about Giving Tuesday.
Yesterday I received Giving Tuesday emails from a bunch of charities and I was surprised at how self-centered and disrespectful they were. That led me to wonder if December might be when nonprofits end up losing a ton of donors as a result of their abuse of the permission bestowed upon them by their donors (investors).
I’m not the only one feeling this way. Tom Belford (a.k.a the Agitator) conveyed similar concerns in his post on the subject yesterday.
I’m worried because:

  • December seems to be when too many nonprofits spam like crazy.
  • December seems to be when too many nonprofits send tons of emails or letters beginning with “Dear Friend” to their most valued supporters (instead of their names).
  • December seems to be when too many nonprofits make it all about them— bragging about how great they are or whining about their problems.

The emails I received yesterday from my beloved charities were uninspiring (at best) and downright offensive (at worst)— and that made me sad.
Here’s a quick story about one in particular. First, as many of you know, the disease that inspired me to develop Engagement Fundraising is diabetes. Yet, recently one of my diabetes-related charities sent us a half dozen recipes that mostly included loads of sugar in the instructions. Sugar!?! My wife can’t eat sugary deserts. She almost broke into tears as she silently passed the letter and accompanying recipes to me. “Good grief!” I thought to myself.
Then yesterday I received an email from the Chairman of the same organization. I held my breath thinking that, perhaps, he got so many complaints about the recipes that he figured he ought to apologize. But that was not the case. Instead, it was an email about Giving Tuesday that didn’t recognize who I was by name even though I’ve been supporting their cause for decades and also previously told them they were in my will.
Their Giving Tuesday email challenged me to help the organization “finish the year strong” without giving me anything in return. It felt like a very organization-centric appeal.
Of course, I support them because I want them to find a cure for diabetes. I don’t support them so they can achieve a vague, ambiguous, one-time, short-sighted, unnamed, monetary goal.  To me, it was a pretty selfish appeal that did more damage than good. It disrespected me by ignoring who I was and it abused our relationship.
Did they lose me as a donor? No. I’m too committed to their cause. My wife and I desperately want them to find a cure.
But, did they lose a bunch of other supporters? Maybe. Probably. And, because I’m so committed to the mission, that’s what worries me most.

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Saren Spicer
Saren Spicer
6 years ago

The other unfortunate thing is an organization, where you are known, does not ask you for fundraising advice or to serve as a volunteer on the development committee of their Board of Directors.

Greg Warner
6 years ago
Reply to  Saren Spicer

Thanks Saren. I’ve actually worked with three of the top diabetes-related charities and none of them “get it.” In other words, their staff and/or leaders won’t let me help them in the way that works. During my time working with them I generated a total (among all three) of over 11,000 planned gift leads and found/uncovered about 700 previously undisclosed (hidden) planned gifts. It breaks my heart and I am currently working towards creating my own Foundation so I won’t have to tangle with their bloated bureaucracies any longer.

Pamela Miller
Pamela Miller
6 years ago

I felt much the same way, Greg. We had already made our gifts for the year during the year and just before Thanksgiving. Maybe this is a good way to attract more modest gifts from those who are nor regular donors or need such prompting, but organizations can adjust parameters for that. As for the sugary recipes…gee, what about healthy treats that don’t contain sugar? I would find that helpful as something to include for all my guests. Each cause needs to devote the time to what is most appropriate for their constituents and not hop on every bandwagon.

Greg Warner
6 years ago
Reply to  Pamela Miller

Agreed Pam. Thanks for chiming in.

Margie McCurry
6 years ago

as usual, Greg, I agree with you totally… my vote is still out on the value of Giving Tuesday and I haven’t encouraged any of my clients to adopt it, for many of the reasons you cite. It smells just like a for-profit business approach…. not the humanistic tone that fundraising should embrace. Keep on saying what you’re saying… maybe some charities will listen!

Greg Warner
6 years ago
Reply to  Margie McCurry

Thanks for providing a cheering section Margie. Many are listening. You can see a small part of the list here: Just scroll down.

Lisa Chmiola
6 years ago

Greg, I expressed some mixed feelings in my blog on it too:

Charlie Crowe
6 years ago

Well said. I would like permission to post a link to this article in my next blog, Thank you for your excellent insights and articles.
I work specifically with ministries, churches and faith based organizations. Your experience reminds me of numerous tacky and goofy appeals I have heard from churches.
Charlie Crowe

Greg Warner
6 years ago
Reply to  Charlie Crowe

Thanks Charlie. I’d be honored if you’d repost the link. Terrific!

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