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Do Guilt and Whining Work in Fundraising?

It’s the end of the year and countless nonprofits around the country have sent out end of the year appeals by mail, email and television advertising.  In the last couple weeks, I have received a number of mailings, requests in my inbox, and watched too many ads on TV.  Every time I see Alyssa Milano start talking about some starving waif in a third world country, or some other Hollywood celebrity talking about animal abuse with pictures some scruffy looking cat or dog flashing on the TV screen, I want to change the channel.  Those ads are depressing, and I don’t need to be depressed during the holiday season.

I remember being at a fundraising dinner about ten years ago.  The guests were having a good time meeting people, bidding on things during the silent auction, and learning about the organization.  During the dinner, the various program directors went to the podium to share anecdotes about those they served and the great things the organization did for its clients.  Then one speaker started telling this story about a client and her story had no happy ending.  By the end of her story, she was in tears and everyone at my table lost their smiles.  I could tell by the looks on their faces that this tale of woe had changed their attitudes and the donations that they had planned to give had gotten smaller.  The gifts the organization received were not as generous as it had hoped they would be.

Last year, I wrote my first appeal for CNRG.  I wrote about how many of our readers found jobs through postings on our Daily Digest, and I wrote about how many nonprofit organizations benefited by our services.  I made it sound like they owed us their support for all we did for them.  The letter sounded like a parent trying to get their child to act out of guilt rather than appreciation and love.  To put it bluntly, it really sucked and went over like a lead balloon.  It was not affective with the readers, and donations were sparse.

Donors want to know about your successes.  They want to know how their support makes things better for those you serve.  They want to see happy smiling children playing with toys, and cute little puppies and kittens that have found loving homes.  Donors want to read about the homeless person who found the support and training they needed to help escape a life on the streets.  They want to know that their support made something good happen.

These are tough times for many, so money is tight for a lot of people.  If you want them to reach into their pockets and pull out money for your organization or cause, tell them about the good things you have done with your past support, and what you will do with their support in the future.  Don’t sound whiny and sad, and don’t try to use guilt to make them give.

Richard Freedlund, the author, has been involved with nonprofits for over a twenty years in several capacities. He currently serves on the Board of CNRG and is the owner/proprietor of Greater Good Fundraising, a business catering to the needs of small nonprofits and public schools. His opinions are his own and come from his experience, knowledge, and training in development. They do not represent the collective opinions of CNRG board members and volunteers. He welcomes responses to his blog at [email protected]