A Beautiful, Shiny Failure

Last week, I had dinner with my parents at their apartment.  It wasn’t anything special, just sharing some leftovers, but it was time together that I enjoyed.

After we finished the meal, my mom brought me something she recently received in the mail and asked me to look at it.  It was a shiny tri-fold pamphlet sent to her from an organization I had never heard of before.  It was nicely done piece of work with glossy pictures of elderly people with their arms around adult children.  The text included quotes from grateful people around the United States and Canada about how great the organization was and how it helped them.  The organization even thanked the reader for past support.

Of course, the group was asking for money.  It suggested different ways to donate, including online gifts, planned gifts, and it even provided postage paid envelope to send a check or money order.  They suggested having dinner parties to raise money for the organization, mailing campaigns to solicit money from your friends and family members, and even offered to set up a donation webpage for the respondent where one could post pictures and stories.  The organization bent over backwards giving the potential supporter ways to make a difference.  It was actually quite impressive, and an almost perfect appeal.

Except for two things.

The first problem was that my parents had never heard of this organization before and had never donated to it.  Why would an organization thank for past support it had not received?  I have often said that you cannot thank too much or too often, but in this case I am wrong.  You have to have something to thank a person for, which this group did not have.

The second problem was that the organization that was trying to find a cure never really identified the malady that they are trying to cure.  They mentioned several three lettered acronyms a number of times, but never said what the letters stood for.  I read the brochure over and over, thinking I missed it.  I have heard of diseases like ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), CF (Cystic Fibrosis), MS (Multiple Sclerosis) and MD (Muscular Dystrophy), but these combinations of letters were unknown to me.   After scouring the entire pamphlet for a clue, I finally broke down and used my parents’ computer to Google the letters they mentioned, just to find what they were talking about.  The odds are pretty good that unless you have a loved one with one of these medical issues, you would have absolutely no idea what they were talking about.

In my opinion, those two issues made this very nice looking, glossy pamphlet a failure and a waste of money for the organization that mailed it to my parents.  My parents are not going to give money to an organization that thanked them for support they had never given, and they are not going to donate money to a group that could not make the effort to fully name the maladies they are trying to cure.   Had the organization named the diseases and discussed how the symptoms affect those who have them, it would have been far more effective.  I wonder how much it cost to print and mail thousands of these brochures to people who have no idea what diseases this group is trying to cure?

If you are going to use direct mail to solicit donations, make sure your mailings tell as much information about your cause as possible.  Don’t assume people know what your acronyms stand for.   The more you make your potential donor work to find out what you are talking about, the more likely your potential donor will simply throw your brochure in the recycling bin.   I believe it is better to have too much information than not enough, and in the case of this beautiful brochure, it definitely did not have enough information.  It’s too bad too, because it could have been a great example of what a fundraising effort could be, but it became an example of what not to be.


About greatergoodfundraising

Richard Freedlund has been active in the nonprofit sector in a number of ways, both professionally and as a volunteer. He is the founder of Greater Good Fundraising, a business that helps schools and organizations raise money for their programs while accomplishing something positive for the community. After living in Oregon for 27 years, he has returned to his hometown of Rockford, Illinois and hopes to make his mark on the nonprofit sector there. He is the father of a talented jazz musician and the son of philanthropic parents that continue to support multiple causes. To contact Richard for consulting, fundraising, or speaking opportunities, email greatergoodfundraising@gmail.com or reach him on Twitter.com @ggfundraise
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8 Responses to A Beautiful, Shiny Failure

  1. Richard, I enjoyed reading your post. Your parents are turning out to be a good source of blog material for you. 🙂 I appreciate your analysis of the direct mail package and the gratuitous thank you it contained. Sometime ago, I wrote a piece that asked “Can you thank people too much?” (http://michaelrosensays.wordpress.com/2013/08/30/can-you-thank-people-too-much/) You’ve provided an excellent example of how one can.

  2. All that effort on the externals, without a thought to the real cause or the real donor. Such a shame!

    • Mary, I agree. I wonder about the review process when the group decided to send this out.

      The pictures they used pulled at the heart strings, and the ideas for involving the recipient in fundraising were great. I am surprised that no one thought about the fact that they didn’t explain what the disease(s) they are trying to cure were.

  3. A good reminder Richard. It’s always a good idea to test a piece especially if it’s of higher quality and cost. Give it to someone outside of the group to check for jargon or ambiguity.

  4. Kay Harrison says:

    My first thought might be that this is a possible scam perpetrated on unsuspecting people. Otherwise I think a direct mail piece must have a delicate balance of information so as not to be too wordy or people may just not bother to read it.

    Enjoyed your thoughts

  5. *I am posting this on behalf of a reader who had technical issues.

    I’d be willing to bet that the organization sent out messages to folks whose addresses they had received by buying a list of some sort.
    And, the organization probably receives a (large?) number of donations because of this mailing.
    Why? I bet many people don’t check things out as well as your folks did, and merely send in a contribution.

    Good for your folks to notice this and bring it to your attention.
    And good for you to bring the issue up on your blog.


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